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Kentucky Wildcats: Aftermath of a Big Blue Weekend

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Benny Snell and Kentucky football dominate, closer than you’d like basketball victories, and recruiting news galore rounded out a Big Blue Weekend.

NCAA Basketball: Vermont at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It was a busy weekend for those of us that cover the Kentucky Wildcats football and basketball teams. It started Friday evening with RJ Barret’s commitment and ended Sunday night with a basketball victory over the Vermont Catamounts.

In between, the football team dominated Vanderbilt and lost a recruit, while the basketball team picked up a win over Utah Valley and gained a recruit.

Here’s a recap.

Benny and the Cats

The 44-21 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Kentucky football team. The main criticism of the 7-3 team was that they had yet to blow out a team that was inferior to them: check that off the list.

A large part of that victory was thanks to Benny Snell once again eclipsing 100 yards on the ground for the third game in a row and scoring two or more touchdowns for the third game in a row. With 28 touchdowns in his short career, he holds the record for rushing touchdowns as a Wildcat. He’s only a sophomore and he didn’t even play in the first two games of the season last year.

Benny now has 1,013 yards and 15 touchdowns with two games left on the schedule. After a bit of a slow start to the season, Snell has hit his stride at the perfect time. To what can we attribute this production? The major contributor is the solidification of the interior line with Drake Jackson at center, Bunchy Stallings and Logan Stenberg at the guards. No longer are they playing musical chairs at center and guard.

Secondly, I’m not sure how healthy Benny was after the Southern Miss game. He fell awkwardly on his ribs and was in serious pain. Rib injuries linger and it seemed that he started rounding into form after the bye week.

Whatever the case, Snell certainly has become the focal point of the offense once again as has the entire rushing attack. The combo of Snell and Sihiem King may not be as potent as Snell and Boom Williams, but it’s getting the job done. Add Lynn Bowden in the Wildcat to the mix and once again Eddie Gran has an offense that he can finally be comfortable with.

Losing Jarren Williams

This was not an unexpected blow. Saturday night, twitter was abuzz with the fact that the four star QB commit was at the Miami/Notre Dame game in South Beach. He removed the “Kentucky Commit” phrase from his twitter bio. At that point the writing was on the wall.

Even though he committed a second time, Big Blue Nation started feeling uneasy when Williams scheduled official visits. If he was so committed, then why even look at other schools? To add insult to injury, Williams’ dad went on KSR and publicly stated that his son was 100% committed to Kentucky and would be signing in January.

I’ll never begrudge a kid for going where he wants but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about the process. Jarren Williams was 100% wrong. With his re-commitment, he strung the coaches along and now it’s late in the process. He left the coaching staff without a QB. If he would have stayed uncommitted back when he first backed off UK, I wouldn’t have a problem because the staff would have had time to work on getting another guy.

That being said: Never Tweet Recruits.

Calipari goes 2-1 in Recruiting

RJ Barrett, the number one player in 2018, committed to Duke on Friday. No shock there. Coach K and Jeff Capel had all of the momentum with Barrett and they landed their third straight number one player.

Make no mistake, that one hurt. Barrett is a special talent and Calipari really honed in on him after losing to Team Canada in Egypt. It’s rare that Calipari loses someone he puts the bulk of his energy into recruiting.

That being said, it’s not like Cal has lost it. He locked up Keldon Johnson on Saturday. Johnson, like Barrett, is an uber talented wing that will end up in the top 10 of every major recruiting service at the end of the recruiting season. Gaining Johnson softened the blow of losing Barrett.

While it’s not official until Tuesday, Tyler Herro looks to be Calipari’s second commitment in four days. The four star 6-5 shooting decommitted from Wisconsin and practically begged for a Kentucky offer. Once he visited with Calipari and received that coveted offer, it was pretty much over at that point.

Herro made his official visit this weekend and announced on Sunday night that he was signing his letter of intent on Tuesday. If it’s not Kentucky I will be as shocked as I have ever been in recruiting.

By the end of the day on Tuesday, Calipari could have the number one point guard, the number two shooting guard, and the number five shooting guard all locked up for 2018.

Lost it? I think not.

Basketball Ups and Downs

The basketball team went 2-0 over the weekend. In both games they scored in the seventies and in both games they were unable to really pull away from their opponents even though they were clearly the better team.

Much of that has to do with the youth of the team and their defensive growing pains. While there were some things that made me feel really good going forward, there were some things that gave me pause.

The three point defense needs to get better and fast. The Kansas Jayhawks have a great backcourt that will be able to abuse the lack of defense beyond the arch.

There were some bad habits being exhibited like grabbing rebounds with one hand and bad shot selection down the stretch (I’m looking at you Hamidou Diallo).

Other than those two issues, I’m actually optimistic. This team has a high basketball IQ and they are more potent on offense than I thought. Kevin Knox and Diallo are the guys that are going to lead this team on offense: but don’t count out Quade Green in that regard. Green has a scorer's mentality but he defers to the past first.

Calipari also has guys that he can trust in the clutch because they can hit their free throws. At the end of games, Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, and Sacha Killeya-Jones were on the floor because they can hit their free throws.

Tuesday night is going to be one helluva challenge for this young team. If they win, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But I’m expecting them to lose. If they can keep the margin lower than nine points, I can live with that.