Wildcats Not Up To Scratch

TONY VANETTI: Matthew, I think it’s ridiculous to think that your coach and your fan base are backing off those high expectations you had in preseason. But you knew all this was going to happen with your team.

MATT JONES: Well, I certainly didn’t know all of it was going to happen. I wasn’t surprised they lost to Michigan State. The Baylor loss surprised me especially because they had just started to hit their stride, they were starting to play well and I thought they played their best game of the year against Providence. So I thought they had really turned a corner. And then they regressed. You know we will find out a lot more over the next couple weeks, but their performance so far has been kind of disappointing.

VANETTI: It’s way too early, but that’s what we do in sports talk and print. So, have your expectations changed from “Final Four” or “Championship or Bust”?

JONES: Those were never my expectations because I understand the tournament is random. What has changed is that I thought this regular season, they would roll. I thought they might lose a couple of games and would beat teams badly, so I’ve probably changed a little bit on that. I think now that I would say that I think they are going to lose probably five games, whereas before I probably thought they would only lose two or three.

VANETTI: You seem very calm announcing those five losses. Will your fan base be as calm?

JONES: You know how I am. I’m always calm about this stuff. It’s basketball. It’s not the craziest thing in the world. It’s sports.

VANETTI: Ok, that’s you. That’s not your fan base.

JONES: I think the fan base are more disgruntled than anything else. You know last year Kentucky was bad, and I think people thought this was the year we reclaim what we lost last year when we weren’t very good. So a lot of the frustration is that people were ready for another celebration and fun year where we just beat the tar out of people, and it hasn’t happened. And that’s disappointing to people. But long-term, I think Kentucky is fine. I still think they have a chance to win the championship. The problems they have though, Tony, have nothing to do with the loss to Baylor. The problems they have are things that you just have to wonder: can they fix them at all? For instance, is Andrew Harrison quick enough? That’s what they really have to worry about.

VANETTI: And at this point – just a question for you – who is the most important person on this team? Is it Randle, or really Willie Cauley-Stein?

JONES: Well, I would say neither. I think the most important player is Andrew Harrison. I don’t think Kentucky can win a championship unless he plays well. That’s really the bottom line. If he plays well, Kentucky can beat anybody, and if he plays really well, then I think they’re better than anybody. But if he is just so-so then I think Kentucky can struggle, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen. So I think it’s Andrew Harrison.

Now on the other side, for Louisville, it’s hard to tell because the last couple teams they’ve played haven’t been very good. But it’s interesting to look at Louisville’s schedule, Tony. If they could beat Kentucky – which I think that game is now a toss-up – if they can beat Kentucky, it’s hard to see many games they can lose on the schedule. If you look at their road games at Connecticut, at Memphis, they kind of can be tough. Maybe at Temple. But how many games do you see on there that they legitimately can lose?

VANETTI: In the old Big East, you could drop a couple games and lose to Kentucky and get it back because you knew you were going to play some good teams, some highly ranked teams in the Big East. Now, you’ve got to win at Kentucky, you’ve got to win at Connecticut and Memphis, or the committee is going to look at this and your seed will drop. I don’t like the pressure being sandwiched into a 40-minute game at Rupp where you have to win.

JONES: I don’t think they have to win that game. It would be nice for them to win, but I will say if they don’t win, it gives them less margin for error in the rest of their games. If they beat Kentucky, for instance, they can lose to Connecticut and Memphis and potentially still be fine. But what it does mean is that they could have two or three losses and get a one seed and really not have a whole lot of challenges. If I’m Louisville, it’s going to be a boring schedule to watch. But it’s actually not bad for their tournament chances because all the other teams are going to drop a lot of games. One of the things we’ve seen early on is everyone has the potential to be really good, but nobody’s hit their stride yet.

VANETTI: I thought at this point in the season we would have a really good idea of what would happen on December 28th. At this point, though, everyone’s been so inconsistent that I have no idea what we’re in store for at Rupp Arena. I really don’t. You do have some consistent players, but other than that, the water is a lot more muddy than I thought it would be.

JONES: I agree with that, I was pretty confident that Kentucky was going to win because we were playing at home and my thought was, “Well they’re at home and they’re going to be fine no matter what.” I don’t think that anymore because I don’t know if this team has that killer mentality that you need to make sure you win every game at home.

In some ways it’s kind of like Louisville football this year. You know Louisville football really didn’t look that much different at home or away. Their home crowd didn’t really help them all that much. They lost to UCF, they almost lost to Memphis at home and sometimes they go on the road like Cincinnati and play in a hostile environment and played well. So it almost seemed like home didn’t help them or hurt them, and I wonder if Kentucky is like that this year in basketball.

VANETTI: Well, the football schedule: I have to tell you, it’s a watershed moment. It’s like that horrible job you have and then you get the dream job you want, but you have to finish up, like, two or three weeks at the old job. And then the last day of the old job you’re like, “It’s over. I now get to go do my dream job.” That’s what the AAC and Big East and Conference USA, that period of our life has been. So it’s now moving on and that’s over. We start with Miami at the bowl game and it’s a perfect start for the new ACC schedule.

JONES: That’s a good analogy. I actually like you all playing in those other conferences. I feel like they are more Louisville-esque. I worry that when you get to the real conference, it’s not going to be nearly as much fun to watch you guys come in fourth every year in the ACC. I preferred watching you all play bad teams all the time, but nothing like a good Louisville–SMU game to get you ready on a Saturday.

VANETTI: On the other side of that, it never gets old watching you guys come in 14th in the SEC.

JONES: Hey, we’re glad. And by the way, I loved Mark Stoops basically telling Clint Hurtt to put down his Big Mac and shut his mouth about his Facebook comment. He said on my radio show that Clint Hurtt was too easy of a target to respond to. Did he mean that literally or metaphorically?

VANETTI: I am staying out of that fight. I’m letting Stoops and Hurtt get in the middle of that one because those are two big boys and I’m sitting out.

JONES: You never want to mess with a feisty redhead. As I’ve learned from ex-girlfriends.