Saturday Night

This is how sports writing goes.

I went to Freedom Hall armed and ready to write a column on Rick Pitino’s 500th win, arguing that he certainly by this point has amassed enough credentials to ensure his spot in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Then the Cardinals lose, and I wind up writing about how they seem to be allergic to throwing the ball down to the post.

This is a strange U of L team. Pitino seemed to have every hope that it would get out of the gate quick. I thought you could excuse the BYU loss because of the loss of David Padgett, and because BYU is a tough team.

And certainly, Dayton is no slouch. But Pitino acknowledged that U of L’s 70-65 loss to the Flyers today was a bad one, coming at home.

This team has regressed a bit, fallen back into some old habits, getting beat off the dribble, not passing the ball on offense, not getting into the lane, abandoning the inside-out game. And this might well be a team that needs to get thumped a time or two to remember those things — because it certainly isn’t the kind of team that has heeded the warnings all week, or all season, in practice.

Two good things for U of L: 1). Earl Clark is coming along. Yes, he makes a lot of mistakes. He also makes a lot of plays. 2). These struggles are coming against pretty good teams. And Purdue will be another good one. These games are far more useful than the big wins the team will probably roll up at the end of the month.

Anyway, my original premise will have to wait for another day. With 500 wins, a national title, and Final Fours with three different teams, to go along with his resurrecting the Kentucky program and his influence on the style of play in college basketball in the late 80s and early 1990s, Pitino is a Hall of Famer.

It’s all over but the voting.

And speaking of resurrecting Kentucky. I didn’t get to watch the tape of the IU-UK game. (I set the DVR, then my kids decided to record “Polar Express” for the third time, and canceled my recording. Sound familiar to anybody?) I did see much of the second half.

UK fans seem to be of three camps on this: 1). Our talent is so depleted that it’s going to be a long year. 2). Yes, our talent is depleted, but we still should be better than this. 3). No, our talent isn’t all that depleted.

I agree with the first group. I’m open to the second group. I wonder what the third group is smoking.

I’d only say this — there’s a big difference between being competitive and being elite. UK has had the talent to be competitive for a few years. It hasn’t had elite talent for a while (single biggest loss to the UK program — Azibuike deciding to leave early. Bad call all around.)

I had an emailer after last week’s game say that I was wrong about it being a long climb. That UK would be competitive with North Carolina by next year. It’s one thing to compete. It’s another to have the level and depth of talent that they have.

Oh, and while on the subject of depth and talent, how about the Hoosiers? How many teams could lose their entire starting backcourt and put on the display that IU did today? They looked better than they have, in fact, in recent games with Gordon, and maybe it was good for him to sit and watch the team operate without him, if only to get a better feel for where the ball should be at certain times.

Finally, a word about this blog. I’ve taken a break recently, because I’ve been trying to give some thought to the nature of this little online publication. A blog, in its truest sense, is a list of links to the news of the day, maybe with some short commentary. That’s not what this thing is.

Other columnists are doing some creative things with blogs. A couple of my favorites belong to Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski, and to my predecessor here, Jerry Brewer, out at the Seattle Times.

I think what has gotten the most response from my blog has been the longer discussions of issues I’ve tackled in columns. The column is a pretty compact thing, usually 650 words, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to nuance or explorations of many details.

When I wrote at length about the U of L offense and running game a month or so ago, a lot of people said they’d like to see more of that kind of thing. And inspired by Posnanski’s willingness to let it all hang out — word count be damned — I’ll try to do a little more of that in this space.

Brewer, meanwhile, does a great job at discussing the thinking behind the column, the process of writing, and while I don’t know how much that interests people, I think it can help them understand where I’m coming from on different issues.

Today, for instance, I thought it was too soon to draw a conclusion from this loss to Dayton. Yes, Dayton has beaten U of L three straight overall and two years in a row. But what does that really tell you? U of L lost to Houston in a Final Four year. Unlike in football, you can’t read too much into a single loss.

So I decided to pull out the microscope and do something I don’t know if I’ve ever done. I went back through the game tape twice before writing. The first time, I charted how many passes U of L made on each half-court possession. The second, I went through and listed whether or not the ball made it into the post. The results were enlightening, and that’s what you’ll read about in the column.

That’s it for tonight. Time to start working on tomorrow’s column for Monday.

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11 thoughts on “Saturday Night

  1. Fans love the behind-the-scenes stuff, Eric. Good to know you’d actually take the time to review past games, instead of just relying on memory.You’re a very interesting fellow. We’ll have to find you a radio show, too.

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