Will the Cats get off to a running start?

Tubby Smith's squad may be running more this season. The exhibition opponents the Cats have on their schedule are more than willing to get out and run with Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford and company. First up is Northern State, who have a coach noted for having teams put up big numbers.

Tubby Smith surprised a few in attendance this year at Media Day, when he announced that a few of his players had come to him and requested to run more this season, and he relented. The real difference will be visible to you when you see this team run after made baskets by the opposition, something you haven't seen from them in a few years. This writer is wondering what will happen the first time Kentucky has around twenty-five to thirty turnovers in a game from all that fast, up-tempo play. Will Tubby Smith's patience hold out then? I think not. It'll be back to the half-court, deliberate offense to which we've become accustomed.

Exhibition games are supposed to be laughers, a chance for you to show off in front of the home crowd, a chance to let the end of the bench get in some PT. But the two opponents that Kentucky has scheduled this year for their exhibitions, will be great early tests of this new "running" offense that the Cats plan to entertain us with this season. The rule change last year by the NCAA says that Division One schools cannot play the foreign teams, the shoe teams, the religious teams, that were made up of already graduated players, that would actually give your team a scare or two. Instead, the NCAA, in all their infinite wisdom and self-realized glory, said if you are going to play exhibitions, you have to play the lower divisions. So, enter this season, Northern State, a Division Two school from Aberdeen, South Dakota, and Georgetown College, from about fifteen minutes up I-75.

Everybody knows what Georgetown is about in this area. The national championships. The ability to pull in the Division One transfer player. The now-legendary coach who followed a legendary coach. Coach Happy Osborne has wanted this shot at Kentucky for a long time, and now the he has it, he will make the best of it. Expect the Tigers to have the time of their life, and try to run with the Cats every step of the way. I won't be surprised if the final score tallies up to about 240 points. And don't forget how close Georgetown has been to pulling the upset of a Division One school over the past couple of seasons. A close loss to Pittsburgh and a great, albeit short, comeback against Florida State dotted the schedule last year.

So that leaves Northern State. What do we know about them? Their head coach is Don Meyer, who may be scarier than Osborne when it comes to high-octane offenses. When I caught up with Coach Meyer, he was leading his team into Rupp Arena for a practice. "I got to make sure our guys don't get so nervous they start throwing up, you know what I mean?" asked Meyer.

Meyer is being a bit bashful. His teams at Northern State have won their regular season conference crown the past two seasons, as well as the conference tournament the past two seasons. They have appeared in two NCAA regionals at the Division Two level. They also run at a phenomenal pace.

Meyer was the head coach at David Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tennessee, for twenty-four seasons. "When we were at Lipscomb," said Meyer, "we had years where we averaged 111 and 110 points a game, playing over 40 games in an NAIA season. You can't play that fast now. But we have a little more depth, this year, for the first time. We will probably try to run a little more. Our strengths in any area won't be as strong as Kentucky; we'll have to play a little differently. Our major thing is just to play hard enough we can be of some service to Tubby and his team, to make them a little better. Obviously, it will help us, because it will stretch our guys out fundamentally, where they will have to really execute well to keep possession of the ball and get good shots."

The best service Meyer and his team will perform is to give Tubby an early indication of whether or not this "running" thing will work…

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