2007 Kentucky Wildcats
Team Personality: Resiliency. Tubby Smith, Kentucky’s coach, has been receiving calls for his removal for years now. The Big Blue faithful lose faith after every loss. Tubby manages to fight his way through the jungle of negativity with machete-like perseverance.
His team follows his lead on the court. Even when shots are not falling and Randolph Morris is benched for foul troubles, the team fights on. Negative situations are combated by unwavering grit and active defense.
Has to be on the floor: Randolph Morris. Morris’ resurgence has been well-documented. His college career was all but over, unceremoniously concluded with a hasty declaration. After serving a 14-game suspension last year, the sophomore started to improve and approach his potential.
This season the discrepancy has completely vanished. Nine games have seen Morris put up a double-double. The Wildcats are 8-1 in those contests, largely because of Randolph’s contributions. He is as good now as he thought he was then.
Crunch time Crutch: Let the big dog eat. Randolph Morris becomes the epicenter of the entire offense down the stretch. Epitomizing their well-schooled nature, UK finds the number one option on almost every possession. Watch his ability to pass out of the double-team for a predictor of the team’s success.
Last Shot: Junior grew up. For all the criticisms of the UK junior class, when the game is on the line, the offense runs through their hands.
Whether it is Morris battering home a layup with a minute left to hold off Mississippi State or the back-to-back 3-pointers by Ramel Bradley in the frenetic comeback effort against Florida, the juniors carry the torch.
Straw that stirs the drink: Bobby Perry. On an already-active team, Perry makes his teammates look stagnant. He motors around the floor and in the process earns extra possessions for the Cats.
Perry plays with that sense of urgency that only a senior can have. There is no tomorrow for him, and he plays as if his legacy depends on it…. It does.
Impact newcomer: Derrick Jasper. Jasper came to Kentucky as a point guard but he may leave a swingman. Much like Sammy Mejia of DePaul, he seems to transcend positions.
With his size (6’6″ 215), Jasper offers versatility. Despite his freshman status, he is third on the team in rebounding, second in assists, and number one in steals.
Potential Pitfall: Tough road. The Wildcats, as usual, play amazing at home. You would too with the pandemonium of Rupp Arena lifting you off the court.
Obviously there are no home games in the NCAA Tournament, though the ferociously transportable fanbase surely disagrees. Even so, Tubby’s troops are an unspectacular 6-7 away from home.
Kentucky beat Louisville at Freedom Hall, but really owns no other strong road wins.
How to reach the Sweet 16: Toughness amplified. The talent in Lexington has taken a dip in recent years. There is no avoiding it. Kentucky does not have Jamal Mashburns or Antoine Walkers anymore.
Randolph Morris is the one player that can dominate a 1st or 2nd round contest. To win two games in the NCAA tournament, UK has to play with the proverbial chip on the shoulder.
No BCS-conference team plays with more team toughness than Kentucky. Fans criticize the fact that the Wildcats play too many close games, but that is almost by design.
Tubby Smith has been a coach that emphasizes hard-nosed defense his whole career. The other side of the coin is that his teams look muddy, even occasionally ugly, on offense.
Even if UK is a consistent beauty contest also-ran, the veritable Miss Congeniality Kentucky will be a frustrating opponent for whomever they draw in the Big Dance.