Tubby throws out the playbook on Saturday

In my hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky, the above quote is notorious as it was once echoed by a politician expounding on an odd decision by one of her rivals. However anyone who watched Kentucky's 80-78 nailbiting victory in Rupp Arena on Saturday will surely know that it is equally as applicable to the world of Kentucky basketball in 2006.

In my hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky, the above quote is notorious as it was once echoed by a politician expounding on an odd decision by one of her rivals. However anyone who watched Kentucky's 80-78 nailbiting victory in Rupp Arena on Saturday will surely know that it is equally as applicable to the world of Kentucky basketball in 2006. Faced with a team unable to guard the three pointer or do what is required in the Kentucky defensive system, check your man, Tubby threw out the playbook Saturday and made a desperate decision.

It had become common place in recent weeks to suggest that Tubby Smith should go "Villanova" and put out four guards along with center Randolph Morris, thus utilizing the team's strengths (its guards) and ignoring its weakness (everything else). Shades of this lineup were seen in the Alabama and Georgia game and it became clear that Tubby was willing to utilize this method, but only for short offensive bursts. After these digressions, the Cats would retreat to a more conventional style, thus treating Kentucky fans to the site of Sheray Thomas' 16-foot jumpers that must help the nation's brick-building economy, Thus while some of the self-appointed assistant coaches were seeing some of their ideas utilized occasionally, even the most radical of thinkers would have ever suggested what was shown on Saturday. Rather than simply stopping with four guards and big man Randolph Morris, Tubby decided to go all the way and play four guards along with alleged "power" forward Bobby Perry. Rather than the "Villanova" strategy, this was the "who needs to rebound" strategy, sacrificing any shot at offensive (or for that matter defensive) rebounds, for quickness and outside shooting. The result: a team that was down 12 with ten minutes to go, found itself up 2 when Randolph Morris returned to the game.

How radical was this idea? Well according to Bobby Perry, such a lineup is never utilized, even in practice. "I have almost never played the five in practice and I was a bit shocked when I noticed that I was the new center. However, because of our quickness, they had to go small and adjust, thus playing into our hands." And that was the key….the decision to go radical made South Carolina do something that very few teams have had to do all year…..adjust to Kentucky. South Carolina coach Dave Odom said, "it was a brilliant move by Tubby. We were not able to match their quickness on the defensive end and because our big guys could not capitalize on offense, we had to adjust….and that was a difference in the game."

Thus Tubby Smith, a coach who has found himself susceptible to charges of blind adherence to his system even in the face of evidence to the contrary, found himself in a new position…the Ralph Nader of coaching. For only a true radical would look at a team with four players approaching seven feet, two power forwards over 6'7" and tell them all to sit on the bench while four guards…..some of them slow and many of them lacking in confidence….join a player who is 6'6" only in his momma's eyes and lead a team to a comeback victory. Such a decision truly was desperate and such desperation led to an impressive show of courage. However even more impressive was that the decision, like so many in the Tubby Smith era, was not only radical….but it was correct.


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