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Friday Quickies: Derek Willis' Tattoos/Frontcourt Edition

My view on BBN's hot takey reactions to the frontcourt's struggles, UK Hoops, WCS is a great pro, a pair of 'Cats make the midseason Wooden Award list, and dinosaurs highlight the end-of-week Quickies.

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I'm a Derek Willis fan for a number of reasons.  Among those reasons, his shoulder tattoos are paramount.  One appears to be a Native American chief and the other is a skull-centric design.  They were more prominent than ever during Tuesday's home tilt with Mississippi State and they're fantastic.  I feel like I'm too old (EDIT: chubby) to get a tattoo at this point and I'm somewhat jealous.  Anyway.

I want to offer my take on the 'Cats' frontcourt struggles before we get to the links.  It appears that BBN's kneejerk reactions of the week are: 1) the frontcourt would be magically better if Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard saw the floor and 2) Calipari's coaching is stunting the team's growth and inhibiting its success, especially when it comes the frontcourt.

In 1), we encounter the classic, typical and flawed fan theory of "change for the sake of change" -- using unproven players or strategy -- will equal success.  We saw this (futilely) bandied about during NCAAF season in the form of the Towles vs. Barker QB debate.  It generally advances the foolhardy and naive belief that there has to be a solution to every problem or that a problem cannot work itself out and, in this specific context, that UK is simply incapable of claiming a NCAAT unless this relatively new concern is not rectified immediately via significant rotational changes.

I'm not saying that making adjustments can't improve things, but turning to indeterminate commodities and using "change for the sake of change" as the sole justification for the adjustments frightens me.  It's not as though UK is currently floundering to the point that everything is on the table.  The 'Cats are still a top 15 group with a projected #2 NCAAT seed in the offing.

The current outlook isn't impeccably sanguine, but Cal and his staff are a lot closer to starting to put the finishing touches on a potential modern masterpiece (in a year where the Polls' Top 10s are constantly changing) than haphazardly trying to fit together a group of mismatched Ferrari parts.  Also, keep in mind that we are dealing with inconsistent, not poor, frontcourt play.

Consider the distinct possibility that Humphries (who just turned 18) simply isn't playing well enough right now in practice to get minutes without negatively affecting the team or being a liability and/or that Wynyard is very unlikely to be some sort of monstrous savior in the paint, especially having not practiced with the the team until just a few weeks ago.

I am thrilled to have Wynyard and expect him to eventually contribute (though not this season), but we all need to be mindful that, outside of UK fans and some extremely dedicated international basketball junkies, not many people really know who Wynyard is.  Considering Wynyard to be UK's great frontcourt deliverer is a risky proposition and pins unrealistic expectations on the New Zealander.

2) is equally silly.  At some point, we must accept the fact that certain players are what they are, for better or worse, and coaching is not going to change that.  Let's use the upperclassmen frontcourt players as an example.

We've witnessed Alex Poythress epitomize the term "inconsistency" going back to his freshman season.  Seriously.  Check his Game Logs.  Marcus Lee, now a junior, sports a similar trend game-to-game and was never recruited to be the cornerstone of an entire UK team, much less its frontcourt unit.  The same, to an even greater degree perhaps, for Derek Willis.  Even though there is nearly a decade of NCAAB experience among the three, it's still impossible to ascertain exactly what this trio of 'Cats has to offer.  All we know for sure is that any of them is just as likely to put up a game MVP performance as they are to produce a complete dud.

Also, with respect to both of these reactions, I know we always need something to talk about, but maybe we should trust the coach, who's led our esteemed university men's basketball program to to 1 Title, 1 Runner-Up, a pair of Final Fours and an Elite Eight.

If Cal thought making significant changes to the rotation or his coaching style would benefit the team, I believe he'd do it.  I think he is sometimes unfairly accused of risking team success for individual development, especially for the NBA-bound players, and I definitely don't see that here.  If Cal were doing that, Skal would be on the floor for more than 18.4 minutes per game.

I've said it before -- I'm on #TeamChill because I'm used to fun but frustrating January Cal teams that eventually transform into March/April gladiators.


*UK Hoops dropped a heartbreaker to USC last night.  They had the lead at times and an upset looked possible, but USC ultimately withstood UK's onslaught.  Warren will have his takeaways later today.


*In games that matter from last night...Denzel Valentine looked rusty in his return for #4 Michigan State as they were blown out by by #16 Iowa in East Lansing...BYU beat #25 Gonzaga despite a double-double (35 points and ten (!) rebounds) from Kyle Wiltjer...#18 Arizona destroyed Washington...featuring the worst first half in recent memory (20-17), #21 U of L defeated #20 Pitt 59-41.

As with every other week in the season, expect another Top 25 shakeup when the next Polls are released.  There were at least five Top 25 upsets over the past few days.

*John Clay examines UK's declining defensive efficiency, etc.  Mississippi State was one of just nine teams that has shot 52%+ from the field against a Cal team.  Given that the 'Cats have only played sixteen games, the MSU game probably had an inordinate bearing on the efficiency numbers, so I expect the number to normalize and improve as SEC play continues.  While I was somewhat dismayed by the defensive display on Tuesday night, MSU was hitting a lot of inadvisable and contested jumpers.  Sometimes a team just gets hot.

*Jamal Murray appears on the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Watchlist as one of only two freshmen (which is unusual in this era), along with Tyler Ulis.  Eamonn Brennan handicaps the field here.

*Here is a Canadian piece on Jamal Murray that includes plenty of praise from DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony.

*Speaking of DraftExpress, here is a Video Analysis of Tyler Ulis' performance against Louisville.

*Every single one of UK's 2016 commitments are on the Midseason Naismith List.  Undecided UK offerees Marques Bolden and Kobi Simmons also appear.  In case you missed it, Simmons is announcing his decision tomorrow.

*This Week in UK Basketball History.  50 years ago today, #2 UK defeated #3 Vandy with Louie Dampier leading the way.

*Kyle Wiltjer's Gonzaga Bulldogs will be starring in a five-episode reality series on HBO, debuting next month. Someday, we will learn that this was John Calipari's idea.

*As a Columbus resident who has more exposure Ohio State basketball than the average NCAAB fan, I figured that OSU would only be as good as freshman PG JaQuan Lyle.  As soon as he started playing like the elite 5* he was supposed to be, OSU could make a NCAAT push.  Well, that may have happened on Wednesday night, as Lyle recorded a triple-double in a win over Rutgers.

*Texas has completed an internal investigation that revealed no recent academic misconduct in the men's basketball program.


*Tony Xypteras at Sactown Royalty thinks that WCS needs more playing time out west.  I concur.  Get this:

Cauley-Stein still has the highest net rating of any rotation player (+3.5), second highest rebound percentage (11.9), he's shooting a ridiculous 62% from the field because he never forces offense. The Kings are 4.7 points better when Cauley-Stein is on the court, no matter which lineup he's in. This is also a team high.

*You can find three former 'Cats (and an awesome mock Kristaps Porzingis poster) in Ananth Pandian's NBA Rookie Power Rankings.

*The New Orleans Pelicans are now 12-26, which places them firmly in the bottom 5 of the NBA, among the hapless 76ers, Kobe-hampered Lakers, impossibly young Timberwolves, and Nets (see immediately below).  The reason, Kevin Ding at Bleacher Report posits, is -- wait for it -- a lack of leadership from Anthony Davis.  Consider this:

...the current Cleveland Cavalier who is the most apt comparison to Davis is not James . . . [i]t's Kevin Love.

Love produced some eye-popping statistics but failed to inspire his teammates through all of those early years of team failures in Minnesota. Davis is better than Love, ridiculously so to those of us who put a premium on defensive excellence. Yet because of those Minnesota stats, Love garnered misguided talk as one of the very best in the game.

The Pelicans' roster is not mind-blowing, but it's far from the bottom of the league when it comes to talent.  I am an A.D. defender to the very end, but while Davis is certainly one of the most talented players in the NBA, he cannot be considered one of its best until he can lead his team to success, fair or not.

The Cavaliers were awful when LeBron James arrived.  Same with the SuperSonics (now Thunder) when Durant arrived and the Warriors with Curry.  Those teams became contenders with those players.  Conversely, in Davis' fourth season, the Pels are regressing from a fringe playoff team to a league cellar dweller.

*Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov thinks that his team will be a contender next season.  Pffft, rich people!  There are some bad teams in the NBA, but no franchise is more hamstrung looking to the future than Brooklyn.  They do not outright own a first round pick until 2019 (!).


*NFL Draft season is nearly upon us.  Here is an early look at each NFL team's most glaring draft needs from ESPN's NFL Nation.  Some of these teams' needs will be addressed pre-Draft, as free agency begins on March 15, but it's fun to start thinking about the Draft.

*ESPN's Mina Kimes digs into a recent study which concludes that:

[W]hite position coaches and assistants in the NFL are more than twice as likely to be promoted to coordinator than their black counterparts, regardless of their performance, experience or coaching background.

Go into reading this one without any preconceptions.  Here is the study itself.

*Deadspin's most recent lambasting of SI "legendary" NFL writer Peter King.  I'm a huge Deadspin guy, though I sometimes find their critical pieces too heavy-handed.  Not here.  King deserves everything that is hurled at him here though, as usual.


*Jon Hale reports that new QBs Coach and Co-Offensive Coordinator Darin Hinshaw is eager to get to work.

*Here is the latest edition of Ben Roberts' UK Football Recruiting Notebook, which covers more than just the four early enrollees and the phenom Landon Young.

*Edward Aschoff at ESPN takes an early look at the skill positions for SEC teams in 2016.  As you were probably already aware, UK is in good shape at this trio of positions.  Read about the other teams and you realize that USC, Auburn and UF have some serious vacancies to fill, Mizzou is very young, and Alabama, UGA and LSU are stacked.

*Ivan Maisel explores the hard truth that, with the CFP, the rest of the bowls just don't seem to matter that much.

*Though it's not as big of a deal now as it was at the end of last season, since a Big XII team (Oklahoma) did make the CFP this year, a new rule change will now allow the BXII to hold a title game if it chooses to.


*An accessible chronicle of Amphicoelias fragillimus, a dinosaur and the purported largest animal that ever lived, and whether it really ever existed, from David Goldenberg at FiveThirtyEight.  What did Goldenberg uncover in investigating for the piece?

"...a quest that has driven some people toward maniacal competition, some to conspiracy theories and others to disregard scientific consensus."

Science can be so juicy.

*If you're Making a Murderer'd out but require a new "the justice system is frighteningly flawed" fix, set aside some time for this piece from Paul Kix at The New Yorker.  It examines a variety of germane topics, specifically the flaws and suggestibility of the human memory when it comes to picking individuals out of criminal photo arrays, lineups, and providing eyewitness testimony.

Spoiler: someone who clearly didn't commit a crime was imprisoned for it.  At least something positive came out of it, as you'll read.

*Equal parts triumphant and tragic, the story of former Arkansas walk-on and All-American OL Brandon Burlsworth is unique.  Here is the trailer for "Greater," a movie releasing today about Burlsworth's ascension to NFL draft pick.

*I was unaware that there was a 227 minute Director's Cut of Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America." I enjoyed the much shorter American theatrical release (~140 minutes), but I'm wary of any film approaching four hours.  Has anyone seen it?  If so, is it worth the time?