Or could they?
For embedded in this lineup was the keystone of the Tubby Smith coaching philosophy. If you hustle, give it your all on defense and expend energy for forty minutes, success will come. There is no doubt that these five players have games that can leave a lot to be desired. Whether it is the difficult sight of a Brandon Stockton spinning entry pass, a Bobby Perry unfathomable missed layup or a Lukask Obrzut clumsily dropped pass, all of these players' games show limitations that can make viewers cringe.
However all five also give maximum effort. Stand next to Ravi Moss as he walks off of the floor after an SEC game and notice how his uniform is soaked with sweat an he has a look of total exhaustion on his face. View Patrick Sparks' face when yet another defensive miscue occurs and see how an easy basket that should have been contained gives him a look of pain. Or watch Lukask Obrzut run from spot to spot on the floor with unmatched intensity and view an individual who is giving every ounce of his energy and hoping against hope that no mistake will occur. This is the team Tubby Smith wants to coach.
Mind you, he wishes this group of guys would have more natural talent and would not make some offensive possessions feel as painful as a John Ashcroft choral concert combined with a Barbara Streisand political rally. But this is what he looks for in players. This group is a less talented version of what he had with Gerald Fitch, Eric Daniels, Chuck Hayes, Cliff Hawkins, etc. Guys who may not win the All-Star dunk contest, may not shatter NBA Draft camp physical records or may not make you call up your friends and ask them if you saw that amazing play, but guys who will give you their complete attention and game.
Its not that the rest of the team is incapable. Sheray Thomas and Rekalin Sims have strong quantities of these attributes as well. Injuries however have taken their toll on them over the years and limited their effectiveness. Ramel Bradley and Randolph Morris have a desire to win that is unmatched and Joe Crawford will rarely take a play off. But the five that started against Georgia embody all of the qualities important to Tubby, and in hindsight their insertion in the lineup could have been predicted.
After the game, Randolph Morris said, "you know with Coach that if things aren't done correctly, he will make a change." In the past that had seemed to be the case, but this season, effort issues continued to arise and no change was made. It was easy to wonder if, in hopes of favoring the talent that so many say he needs to make another Final Four, Tubby was sacrificing the trademarks of his system. But if that was a worry, Tubby Smith squashed it on Wednesday Night. He sent out a message loud and clear, that like Frank Sinatra, things were going to be done his way, and if that meant a loss to a lower-tier SEC school at home, well then so be it. Everyone knew this was a must-win game but Tubby Smith obviously decided that even in games of such magnitude, his principles will control the game.
It was easy to assume that such conviction (or stubbornness depending on your viewpoint) could be the final nail in this team's coffin. For Georgia, even with their troubles, is a talented team. However rather that embody the predicted doom, the team instead put up its best defensive performance of the year and handled the Georgia Bulldogs with relative ease. But most importantly, in the process Coach Smith got back to his roots and made sure that the players who will start and play basketball for Kentucky will do so the way he expects, no matter the consequences. For Tubby, there is no other way.