The time has come, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation — a time we have been waiting for seemingly forever. Tonight, Big Blue Madness descends upon Kentucky, and the advent of a new college basketball season has arrived. This is your Big Blue Madness open thread to talk about the event.
Every year begins the same way, in a broad sense, for Kentucky fans; with hope. Hope not just for a good season, but a great one, a season which sees Kentucky hang yet another banner in the rafters of storied Rupp Arena. Sometimes these aspirations are unrealistic, like last season. Many of us, including your humble correspondent, were still intoxicated by the then-recent memory of capturing NCAA Tournament championship #8 just a few months prior. Our optimism for all things John Calipari was understandably at an all time high. Unfortunately, hope met with the reality Calipari tried to warn us about and the result was — unpleasant.
This year, however, is much more like 20122-12 than 2012-13. This year, the Big Blue Nation welcomes in a team of such awesome talent, size, and skill that the recruiting class alone has been lauded as the best in college basketball history — and rightly so. Never before has a school enticed so many of the nation's top players to attend the same school, and most of this year's freshman class is projected to go in the first round, from the lottery on down, of the 2014 NBA Draft. John Calipari thinks as many as seven Wildcats could be shaking Adam Silver's hand after this season, and who am I to gainsay him?
But all that is the future. This is the now, the time that we've anxiously awaited for the last six and a half months. Here's what I'll be looking for:
- Willingness to share the ball. You know Calipari will be looking for this as well.
- Shooters we don't already know about. Can Julius Randle shoot it reliably from the perimeter? Does Dakari Johnson have a face-up game? How about Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee?
- Shooters we do know about. How deadly are they?
- Body language and chemistry — is it obviously missing, or is it there in some measure?
- Since these guys have had some practice, way more than other classes before them, will that translate into anything tangible?
- Free throw strokes — who's is "wobbly?"
- Are they having fun?
A lot of these things are too much to really ask from a showcase scrimmage, that's why I don't care a whit about defense (there won't be any) or the highlight-reel dunks. Those will be fun, but I want to see if we have the makings of a basketball team. That may not be obvious tonight, but we could get an idea of a few things, and if nothing else, a list of things to watch for as time goes on.
The production cost of this year's Madness is said to be over $400,000, and it is supposed to be the most interactive ever with apps in the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace That's an awful lot of money for a pre-season scrimmage event, and I kind of wonder if we're going to see anything like a reasonable return on that investment. It seems a tall mountain to climb for me, but who knows? The previous high was last year, said to be around $250k.
For those of you wondering about viewing availability:
For fans unable to make it to Rupp Arena, Big Blue Madness can be seen live on the UK IMG Sports Network (Hazard – WYMT, 7:00 p.m. ET; Huntington, W. Va. - WSAZ-DT (My Z), 7:00 p.m. ET; Lexington – WKYT, 7:00 p.m. ET; Louisville – WMYO, 7:00 p.m. ET; Paducah, Ky./Cape Girardeau, Mo. – WDKA, 6:00 p.m. CT). The event will be televised on a delayed basis on UK IMG Sports Network affiliates in Bowling Green (WBKO-FOX, 9:00 p.m. CT) and Evansville, Ind. (WTVW-TV, 12:30 a.m. CT).
This is unquestionably the most raw basketball talent ever assembled at Kentucky at one time. What we don't know yet is whether or not this talent can be a basketball team, or just a bunch of guys that are really good trying to score on the same goal. If I know Calipari, and I suspect we all do by now, they'll be a team by hook, crook, or benching.
What could be the greatest season in Kentucky history starts tonight. Enjoy, and talk all about it here; what you hope, what you see, and what you think we need to keep an eye on.