At first glance, Kentucky’s 84-68 loss to Gardner-Webb looks to be one of the most embarrassing in the proud program’s history.
But was it really that unexpected.
When the Wildcats were ranked 20th in the preseason AP poll, I immediately declared to my colleagues that it was a name-brand ranking. As a poll voter, I didn’t pick Kentucky as a preseason top 25 team.
I felt Kentucky had many of the same issues as Florida (FYI, I also left Florida out of the top 25). Kentucky had a little more experience in the backcourt, but no frontcourt presence other than Patrick Patterson, who, mind you, is still just a freshman.
On Wednesday night, Kentucky started sophomore walk-on Mark Coury at power forward. That tells you a lot about new coach Billy Gillispie’s confidence in sophomore 6-9 forward Perry Stevenson, who had as many points (four) as fouls.
Former UK center Randolph Morris once compared Stevenson to Tyrus Thomas. Forget about scoring. Stevenson hasn’t even developed into the rebounder or impact shot-blocker UK expected.
Gardner-Webb out-rebounded Kentucky 37-29 and shot 53.1 percent from the floor against a porous interior defense.
Worse, it appears that senior guard Joe Crawford is already in Gillispie’s doghouse for some conditioning issues. Crawford, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery, didn’t start for the second straight game. Without Crawford on the floor early, Kentucky fell into a 14-0 hole it couldn’t get out of.
If anything, the crazy ring of early basketball upsets (Ohio State losing to Division II Findlay, Michigan State losing to Division II Grand Valley State) should give Florida coach Billy Donovan plenty of ammunition heading into Friday’s opener against North Dakota State. Like in college football, it appears parity reigns.