Less than 45 Days Until Midnight Madness
For 2006-07 Season

For many wildcat fans, the 2005-06 season was a total dissappointment, ending with a total of 13 losses and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament in the round of 32 with a loss to Connecticutt.  Our Wildcats struggled the entire season with an embarrassing home court to North Carolina and blow out losses to rivals Indiana and Kansas. 

Add to these non-conference failures the close calls against the likes of Central Florida, Ohio University, and Iona, the Big Blue Nation was restless due to the manner in which UK posted its 10-4 non-conference record as the SEC season opened with renewed hope that Randolph Morris' return to the lineup would be the elixer that the team would need to step up its play and regain national prominence by March.

However, Morris was not the medicine many had expected, and UK struggled throughout the SEC season while posting a 9-7 record and finishing 3rd in the SEC East.  For the first time, UK lost its first two home SEC conference games to open the SEC season, lost to Vanderbilt at Rupp, and failed to earn those precious first round SEC Tournament bye.  UK also lost to Vanderbilt twice in the same season for the first time in 32 years, and lost to dreaded Tennessee at Rupp.

This season of turmoil had been preceded by a troubling summer.  However, the tumultuous season of 06 was just a pre-cursor for another summer, ever more disturbing that the summer of 05, if that is possible.  Rumors swirled around the program for months that Tubby Smith would not return to coach another game at UK, either he would leave on his own on the strength of a huge buyout package assembled by concerned boosters, or he would be released under the terms of his contract. 

As the curtain closed on the 06 season ending loss to UConn, Tubby Smith defiantly professed that he would be making "changes" because "we" will never go through another year like 06 again.  However, the only changes that have occurred since those public statements have been the loss of 4 players who would have returned, Allyene, Williams, Sims, and Rondo.  Add these losses to prior early departures during the Tubby Smith era, and we see that 17 of the 37 players that Tubby has recruited and signed to play basketball for UK in 9 years have left early, and only Rondo succeeded in a jump directly to the NBA.

Tubby has not recruited any additional players to replace these "unexpected" losses.  However, the failure to sign additional players has not been for a lack of effort.  Those close to the program have reported that Tubby has assumed charge of the recruiting process, and was personally courting this available players.  Despite the lure of promised help, none of these recruits chose UK for their basketball playing and one recruit, Nash, elected to attend prep school this season rather than come and play at UK for Tubby Smith.

Preview of Upcoming Season:

In contrast to the optimistic outlook that prevailed prior to the 06 season, the outlook for 07 is dismal.  UK enters the season with two scholarships unclaimed, and no proven players for at least one forward position, and no depth at forward or center.  The backcourt appears well stocked with Bradley at the point and Crawford finally at his natural positon of the 2 gaurd.  There are 4 incoming freshmen that should receive considerable playing opportunities, but until they compete in real D1 games, their ability to contribute quickly remains unknown, though there appears to be some gaurded optimism about this freshman group.

The non-conference schedule includes a trip to Maui in November where UK will meet its first legitimate tests of this season, opening with DePaul.  However, with Memphis, Georgia Tech, and UCLA in this field and in UK's path toward success, UK must play very well to leave Maui with 3 wins, and will probably lose once or twice before returning to the main land.  In December, UK will play their traditional games against North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Louisville at Louisville,  and Indiana at Rupp.  UK has replaced Kansas with Massachusetts and Houston, both at Rupp. 

With this early season non-conference schedule, UK fans will know early how this team will stack up in March.  Two or fewer losses by Christmas, and the future will look bright, but 5 or more losses by Christmas will signal yet another double digit loss season for UK, for the 5th time in Tubby Smith's last 8 years.

Entering the season, at least four other SEC teams are getting the attention and the ink:  Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and LSU.  Add to that mix the fact that UK must travel to Arkansas, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, and it is not difficult to anticipate another 3rd place finish in the SEC east, or worse.  While forecasts at this early date are meaningless, here it goes.   Under the most favorable scenario, I foresee an SEC record of 12-4, and a worst case of 6-10.  However, I anticipate another 9-7 finish is more likely.

I believe that this team will perform better overall than last year's team, primarily because that has been the Tubby Smith record, of up and down season performances during his entire UK tenure and because I believe there will be less turmoil swirling through the squad this season.  Players and coaches alike seem to understand that the 07 season is critical for UK basketball, and for Tubby Smith.  Some have observed that this team could be much better than last year, or much worse, and until play begins, we can only speculate, as I have attempted above.

As the season begins to unfold with exhibition games against Lindsey Wilson and South Carolina Upstate, and the first 5 games in November, the numbers that the team is able to establish early will provide a much more reliable forecast for the season.  Until then we are left to the type of speculation provided above.  Watch this page for updates before and sometimes after each basketball game.

Final prediction: 

Overall Regular Season 19-11;
SEC 9-7;
SEC Tournament 1-1;
NCAA Tournament 1-1

Final Record:  21-13


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Copyright 2005 Richard Cheeks
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