Sunday is a big day for John Calipari and Mark Stoops.
It’s a big day for UK sports.
Not to ignore the Olympic sports. UK men’s soccer just completed the best season in its history. The No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Cats were upset in the second round. Still, we repeat, UK was the No. 1 seed. And Kentucky volleyball has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. Craig Skinner’s Cats play No. 2 seed San Diego on Thursday.
Meanwhile, in a hotter spotlight, Kentucky men’s basketball is across the pond. The Cats are in Jolly Ol’ England to play Michigan at the O2 Arena in London. While British sporting interest is sure to be locked in on the home country’s conflicting World Cup match Sunday, we back here in a certain state will be paying rapt attention come the 1 p.m. tip-off on ABC.
After that, mid-afternoon, the Kentucky football team will find out where it is headed for its seventh consecutive bowl game. The Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17 is a possibility. The Liberty Bowl on Dec. 28 could be in play. But another trip to the Music City Bowl on New Year’s Eve appears a safer bet, even though the Nashville game is in direct conflict with the Kentucky-Louisville basketball game to be played that day.
For chronology sake, let’s start with hoops. Calipari’s team needs a “W” over a name team. It lost to Michigan State in the Champions Classic and Gonzaga in Spokane. Plenty of highly regarded teams have already taken multiple November L’s, but many of those teams have a win or two to boast about. Not so for the Cats. Not yet anyway.
It says here Calipari’s club earns one Sunday. The Cats are due. And Michigan is off to a rocky start, as well. Juwan Howard’s team was picked apart and thrown away by Arizona State. It led No. 3-ranked Virginia by 11 on Tuesday only to lose 70-68. Ranked No. 22 in the preseason, it has dropped from the rankings.
Michigan does have Hunter Dickinson, however. He’s 7-foot-1 and averaging 19.9 points per game. He’s a lefty with a feathery shooting touch and a knack for finding teammates. Dickinson’s matchup with UK’s Oscar Tshiebwe is the battle to watch.
To win, however, the Cats need to make shots. Perimeter shots. For the most part, they’ve shot well at home. Their two games away from the Rupp rims, however, have been a far different story. UK was 7-of-25 on three-point attempts against Michigan State; 6-of-25 against Gonzaga. That won’t do Sunday.
As for UK football, there’s a lot more going on than the bowl game site. I feel bad for Rich Scangarello. His firing earlier in the week marks the second time in four years he has been let go after one year as an offensive coordinator. First by the Denver Broncos in 2019. Now by Kentucky. I believed he could make the necessary adjustment in year two. Given the offense’s lack of production, however, it’s hard to argue with Stoops’ decision.
There’s buzz about a possible return of Liam Coen, UK’s 2021 coordinator who boomeranged back to the Los Angeles Rams this season. Whether it is Coen or another play-caller, the hope here is that the offensive scheme remains the same. Among the reasons for UK’s disappointing 2022 production, the scheme was not one of them.
Stoops has enviable young offensive talent for next season, especially at receiver with Dane Key, Barion Brown and Jordan Dingle. Now he must find a quarterback to deliver the ball to those receivers and a coordinator to make it work. Of the two, the quarterback may be more important. Still, Scangarello joins Shannon Dawson as a second OC hired by Stoops who didn’t work out. The head coach needs to get this hire right.
Remember, this sports season started with the Basketball School/Football School flap between Calipari and Stoops, a behind-the-scenes spat played out in public.
Sunday is a chance for them to share the spotlight in a positive way.