The Morning Newspaper is likely to be a bit more of a brunch today, because the nation is buzzing about the performance of the Kentucky Wildcats in general, and Jodie Meeks in particular.
That felt really good to say, so I'll paraphrase it again: The nation is buzzing about the Kentucky Wildcats. Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, we haven't been able to say that in a good way for a long, long, long time by UK basketball standards. But there they are, and I must say that my fingers are feeling the thrill of pleasure at the typing of them.
Even though I was around 12 when Dan Issel went off for 53 against Ole Miss on the road back in 1970, I had just come to Kentucky from Tennessee, where as we all know, football is king. I could count the number of times I had played basketball on the fingers of one hand at that time, and even though I had watched basketball with interest, I had no concept of the tradition of Kentucky.
It's an amazing thing watching a player drop 54 points on a team. Mike Miller of MSNBC's Beyond the Arc was up late last night watching the game, and did some calculations (so I don't have to):
Meeks made 10-of-15 3-point attempts, made all 14 free throws and even dished four assists (to 1 turnover). He missed just seven shots total. For tempo-free nuts, that’s a 1.885 PPWS and an eFG% of 90.9. When it comes to offense, you won’t see a more efficient, remarkable night. Simple as that.
Remarkable, indeed. Believe it or not, however, it was not the best individual performance so far this year. That honor belongs to Ben Woodside of North Dakota State University, who dropped 60 on Stephen F. Austin University. But that does nothing to minimize Meeks' achievement -- in fact, it enhances it. Meeks' game came against a team that has beaten two teams in the top 25 this year and has been ranked up until two days ago. It was also a true road game that UK won -- Woodside's magnificent game was at a neutral site in a game the Bison ultimately lost.
I think it's time to go collect a few accolades from the media now. We'll lead off with Pat Forde:
The 54 points broke the 39-year-old school record of Dan Issel, who scored 53 against Mississippi. It should be noted that Kentucky scored 120 points that day, which means Issel scored 44 percent of the Wildcats' total. Meeks racked up a ridiculous 60 percent of Kentucky's points here -- an extraordinary display of shooting and stamina stretched over 39 jaw-dropping minutes.
When you say Issel's name aloud in the commonwealth of Kentucky, a heavenly chorus follows and those within earshot bow their heads. It's a state law. He is the greatest scorer in the history of a program that has won 1,979 games, and its most revered player.
Heh. Don't you just love hyperbole? I love Dan Issel, but I kind of wonder if even a plurality of Kentucky fans would consider him our "most revered player." He's certainly one of them, to be sure, but then again, there are lots and lots to choose from. That whole second paragraph was a really nice imagery, though.
Apparently, some of the Volunteer players decided to resort to verbal histrionics to get Meeks off his game. Patrick Patterson found that a bit ironic:
No matter how many shots Meeks hit, he didn’t shut up the UT defense, according to Patterson.
"Even in the last minute of the game, they were still talking trash," Patterson said. "When somebody scores 50 in your gym, I wouldn’t have been talking.
"My mouth would have been shut."
Having played a bit of ball myself, I do wonder if the Vols might have been wiser to redirect all the mental machinations required to come up with creative language to hurl at the 'Cats into an effort to come up with something more immediately useful ... like creative defense. But that's just me.
Mike Strange of Knoxnews.com comes out with the "J" word:
Nobody, I would argue, has played a better game wearing a jersey No. 23 since Michael Jordan. And what Meeks did to Tennessee was Jordanesque.
He was simply unstoppable, scoring 54 points. Nobody had ever scored that many in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Bruce Pearl goes on to describe UT's defense as, "Pitiful." I beg to differ. There is no defense available to him, in my opinion, that could have stopped Meeks last night except maybe the double-team, and I'm not convinced that would have worked. You see, Meeks is quite likely the fastest player ever to wear a Kentucky uniform. He was an all-state track athlete in high school, and although he is only an above-average leaper, his "0-60" speed is breathtaking. I would not be at all surprised to learn he runs a sub 4.3 40-yard dash. Most college basketball players simply don't have that -- it is a rare gift. Combine that with limitless stamina, a great touch and a hot hand and you get ... well, 54 points.
But overlooked amid all the scoring was Meeks total line: 54 points on 15-22 shooting (68%), 14-14 from the line, 8 total rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover and 1 steal. He not only scored 54 points and outrebounded every individual on the Vol's team except one (Chism had 9), but he had a 4-1 assist to turnover ratio. Against a highly regarded team, in their own gym. There is no defense against that except maybe a .357 magnum or a well placed thrust from a bodkin.
To further the point I just made, Mark Wiedmer from the Chattanooga Times Free Press had this:
More than a few Big Orange fans will no doubt fault Tennessee’s defense this night, and they would no doubt have an argument. But they might also want to listen to Vols junior forward Wayne Chism describe one of Meeks’ 3-pointers.
“I can’t tell you about all of them,” Chism said. “But he hit one right in my face. I had my hand in his face and I’m 6-9. Sometimes you’ve just got to give a guy credit.”
There was no defense against Meeks last night short of physical injury. He was off in the land where only gods like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are normally allowed to tread, and in that country, defense is irrelevant.
The Bruceball Blog regrets an earlier comment, but not how you think:
Yesterday I said this about Jodie Meeks:
I think he’s going to need a huge game if Patterson can’t dominate the block.
Son of a . . .
He was right, though.
Bozich gives us this:
Luke Harangody, Stephen Curry, Tyler Hansbrough and Blake Griffin better make room for Meeks in the national player of the year debate.
Yep. Coming-out parties don't get any bigger or more dramatic than this. Keep in mind, it is one thing to put up a big number at home. It is a different thing altogether to do it on the road.
Rush The Court has more analysis, including this gem:
Meeks was simply unconscious - several of the threes he nailed were well behind the line, and rarely did the net so much as shiver as the ball dropped through again and again. It got absurd - the UT crowd sat there in complete shock, having never witnessed such a prodigious explosion of the kind Meeks dropped in their house tonight. Seriously, during times in this game, we felt like we were watching a game at the Y where the former local college player comes over and completely destroys the regulars’ egos for an evening - the looks on the faces of Wayne Chism, Bobby Maze and the other Vols told a similar story. It was quite simply the most astonishing display of target practice we’ve seen this side of KB81. [81 pts. by Kobe Bryant vs Toronto in 2006 -- Ed.]
The UT fans weren't alone. I was just amazed at how unstoppable Jodie was tonight. I knew he was going to be a good player, but if you told me at the beginning of the season that he would average 24 points/game over the first 17 games, I would have said you were nuts.
When it comes to turns of phrase, few writers can match Eric Crawford of the Courier-Journal:
Tennessee wasn't passive with him. It ran everybody on the roster at him. At one point in the first half, Patterson faked a handoff to him and the entire Tennessee defense shifted. Patterson held onto the ball and bounced in for a dunk. Teams shade him, they dog him. They give him the Batman treatment, tie him to a board and send him inching toward the buzz saw. Then in the next instant, he has escaped and is burying a three.
He just scores. The guy could score in a convent. His release is quick as a cat.
Heh. That's just brilliant. The imagery is what I love. But Crawford also comes up with a great question, one that I expect will resonate with the Big Blue Faithful for many days:
Why is this guy not getting more national notoriety?
If Jodie Meeks were doing this at Duke or North Carolina, you'd have to cancel your cable subscription to keep him off the screen. You'd have to have Dick Vitale surgically removed from him.
He'd be a can't miss candidate for national player of the year, and at the very least, a solid All-American pick.
Good question. It isn't as if Meeks has suddenly gone from a 10 point-per-game scorer to a torrid hot streak. The national media barely noticed his 37 against Kansas State and 46 against Appalachian State in a neutral gym, and his fifth-in-the-nation scoring average. Yeah, Meeks really snuck up on everyone, all right.
Crawford also says that "[Bill Keightley would] have remembered every basket of Issel's 53-point game in 1970." Too right. He would have loved this one just as much.
For more on the "Who is this guy?" meme now circulating in the mainstream sports media, we have this from Herwitt's College Corner, who looks to be about 12 years old, but is apparently an editor for FoxSports.com. Must be an old picture. Anyway, to wit:
But with Curry’s dazzling postseason performance last year and the junior now leading the nation in scoring, the son of former NBA veteran Dell Curry is no longer a secret by any means — and neither will his brother, Seth, be soon enough at Liberty.
That said, if Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks continues to do anything like he did in Tuesday night’s win on SEC rival Tennessee’s home floor, then the junior guard has be to considered along side Curry and Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin for Player of the Year honors.
And lest you think that Meeks' performance was only of note in the Bluegrass, take a look at what Heavy Soul, the self-styled "Snarkiest Blog in Nebraska" had to say:
In the words of Jim Rome: Jodie...FREAKING...Meeks. Do you guys understand what 54 points is in a college game? That's like 70-80 in an NBA game. He broke Dan Issel's--a basketball Hall of Famer, and considered the greatest player in the history of the greatest college program of all-time--39-year-old single-game record of 53.
So there we go. I could continue, but I don't want to turn a 20-minute read into a half-hour. Suffice it to say that, when all the superlatives are exhausted, Jodie Meeks now stands alone at the top of the college basketball heap today. It must be a great feeling for both him and the team, and trust me, it is a great feeling for the Big Blue Nation.