Neither Cards Nor Cats Contenders?

Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer

TONY VANETTI: The Harrison twins, Matt, came into the season with some huge NBA hype – and now are not projected to be drafted in the first round. What happened to the “Kentucky effect”?

MATT JONES: Well, it’s an odd time for you to bring that up because the Harrisons are probably playing their best basketball of the year right now. If they continue on the pace they’re on right now, they will get drafted and they’ll be in the first round. Now, we’ll see if they continue to do that. Andrew Harrison in particular started a lot slower than I think people would have thought. I thought he would come in and immediately sort of be like John Wall: from day one, be ready to go. He hasn’t been, but he’s starting to get it. And 6’5” point guards don’t grow on trees, so I think his future is still really bright.

VANETTI: But the run of “Number One,” I mean you had the number one overall pick, the number two overall pick, and those guys came in with such huge, high expecations. I know Randall’s still up there highly ranked, but is this the start of maybe the “Kentucky effect” not being as effective or true?

JONES: Well I don’t think anybody saw Andrew Harrison as a top five pick. This year, here’s what’s been interesting to watch with Kentucky. So starting in 2010, they got the best player in 2010 – arguably the two best players – and the two best players in 2012 with Davis and Gilchrist. But that’s really not what Cal’s doing now. If you look at the recruits coming in next year, they only have one guy ranked in the top 10. They’re getting a lot of guys 10 through 20. Cal has almost made it. Now other teams are trying to do this crazy “star” thing. Kansas is trying it this year, Duke’s kind of trying it next year, and we’ll see how it goes for them. At the end of the day, Cal’s going to see a lot of guys get drafted still, be it this year or next year. Cal’s still the place to go if you want a guarantee to be in the NBA.

VANETTI: On behalf of the Louisville fanhood around here, I would love for them to go ahead and go to the NBA this year, whether it’s first or second round.

JONES: That’s something you guys don’t ever have to worry about: losing players to the NBA. You might have to lose your players to Europe or transferring to different states, but I don’t think you ever have to worry about losing them to the NBA.

VANETTI: Oh, please. Rick Pitino has put plenty of people in the NBA.

JONES: Yeah, all of them in Kentucky. It was a great time.

VANETTI: Chane Behanan is headed to Colorado State. Your thoughts on Mr. Chane Behanan?

JONES: Well I’ve made a lot of jokes about Behanan over the past six months, and I’ll probably make more in the years to come. But I do hope the kid does well. He’s super talented. People who know him suggest he’s not a bad guy once you get past all of his mistakes. Whatever’s been wrong with him, I hope he’s able to straighten up, because he’s got too much talent to blow it. And I hate to see people sort of be on the precipice of success and do stupid things and blow it. So I hope he takes his – not even his second chance, it’s about his 50th chance – but I hope he makes this one last because this will be his last chance. If it doesn’t work here, it’s not going to work.

VANETTI: Alright, do you want to move onto the basketball teams?

JONES: Louisville are about to sort of turn it up with Cinncinati and then they’ll see Memphis soon. Do you think Louisville is a team that’s rounding into form, or do you think they’re a team that just hasn’t played anybody?

VANETTI: I think a little of both. I think they’re trying to figure out their starting lineup. I think the shorter lineup for Rick is working out for more minutes for Montrezl Harrel. To tell you the truth, with Chane Behanan gone, Montrezl has played much better. More rebounds, more points and he’s averaging 35 minutes. I think with the mindset that Chane’s not coming in to help him out, Montrezl has turned into the player that we thought he could be. I think Terry Rozier is adding to the lineup. He’s certainly no Chris Jones when it comes to scoring, but a lot of the Louisville faithful think that the lineup is better with Jones not in the lineup. We’ll see with Jones back how the team chemistry turns out, good or bad.

JONES: Well, that’s all well and good when they’re not playing anybody. But it’s easy to play lineups when your opponent stinks. It’s easy to go small, which is what they’ve done, when you play teams with no big men. But SMU played you at home without their best player and played you close in large part because they have big men. I expect Louisville to probably lose that game when they go to SMU unless they find more inside presence. Louisville’s fine. They’re probably not as bad as people who wrote them off after the Memphis game. But you would agree, they’re not a National Title contender. Is that fair?

VANETTI: I think that’s fair. I don’t think either one of these teams are a National Title contender.

JONES: I do think Kentucky is. If I were to say to you, “Pick six teams to win the title,” and you’re life depends on picking one of the six teams to win, you tell me you wouldn’t put Kentucky in that group?

VANETTI: Aw, man. If my life depended on it? I just don’t think they’re a National Title contender.

JONES: I’m not saying they are either, but if I were to say to you, “What are six teams that have a chance to win six games,” who are you putting in besides Kentucky? I would put Michigan State, Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas, Florida, Kentucky. But who do you put in and take Kentucky out? I think they’re still one of the six with the best shot.

VANETTI: Well, just because of the lack of top teams. I would because of the talent level and owning the glass, when you can rebound like that in a half-court setting like the tournament. You are correct in that manner, but I just don’t think they have the experience of the tournament. Nobody on this team has played the tournament. They went to the NIT last year.

JONES: Jarrod Polson has.

VANETTI: And you know what? I think he is your Cameron Mills or whoever.

JONES: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Kentucky to win it all by any means. But this week tells the tale for Kentucky, with LSU and Missouri. If they win these games, then I’m starting to say, “Alright they have a real shot at being there at the end.” They’re not one of the five best teams today, but I would not put it past them to be one of the five best teams in March. I’ll tell you who I think the two best teams are: Arizona and Florida. Watch out for Florida, I really like how well they’re playing. They may be playing better than anyone in the country.

VANETTI: Syracuse and Florida are my two top teams.

JONES: We talk about Syracuse every year. Syracuse stinks. They stink.

VANETTI: No they don’t. No they don’t. They have everything this year. They were in the Final Four last year.

JONES:

And they still haven’t played anybody. They still have not played one game against a team that’s good. Their best win is against Pitt at home.

VANETTI: Again, you keep talking about how Kentucky is improving. Okay, but they’re playing who?

JONES: They played Louisville. They played Michigan State. They played Baylor. Syracuse hasn’t played anybody.

VANETTI: Yes, and you (UK) lost to those teams.

JONES: I understand. But they played them close. Syracuse hasn’t even played anybody yet.

VANETTI: You are screaming at the top of your lungs about how bad the competition is in the ACC and what Louisville is playing in the AAC, but the SEC is awful.

JONES: I agree, and that’s why the non-conference is so important. And here’s the reason Kentucky and Kansas are contenders. Kansas plays an even better schedule than Kentucky. They both play really good teams from the non-conference. You know how good they are. Syracuse? We don’t know how good they are. They haven’t played anybody. So now they play Duke this week. Talk to me after that game.

VANETTI: Okay, I will. When they go 20-0 to start the season and beat Duke…

JONES: Duke is going to pound Syracuse.

VANETTI: No they will not! (laughing) By the way: you’re talking tough. Why does Dan Dakich want to beat you up on the Rupp Arena floor?

JONES: Let me tell you something about Dan Dakich. If you were to look the word “troll” up in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Dan Dakich living under a bridge. I have no problems with the fact that we had a great radio interview of two college basketball heavyweights going at it, but he’s a Kentucky hater and they put him on the UK game, Tony. Do you think I should be able to call a UofL game?

VANETTI: No. Look, I think the interview you did with him went well until you called him short, fat and bald and he called you scared.

JONES: I did not call him short. He is tall. But he is tall, fat and bald!