Things aren't right at Rupp Arena. After Gardner-Webb and San Diego walked out with wins over Kentucky this season, nobody would argue that point.
But things aren't as wrong as they were a few weeks ago.
"They're a good team and getting better,'' is how Florida coach Billy Donovan described the Wildcats on Monday.
Tennessee will find out tonight to what degree Kentucky has started to gain its bearings under first-year coach Billy Gillispie.
Despite its earlier calamities, Kentucky has shown signs of life since beginning SEC play by upsetting unbeaten Vanderbilt in Rupp.
Since then, the Cats have lost at SEC West leader Mississippi State, 69-64, and at Florida, 81-70.
In each case, Kentucky fought back from 12-point deficits in the final minutes. The Wildcats got as close as two points at Starkville. They forced overtime in Gainesville.
"I think we've definitely made some drastic improvement,'' Gillispie said Monday. "We just need to get to the point to go ahead and make the play to win the game.''
Indications are veterans like Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford are getting on the same page with their demanding new coach, who replaced their demanding former coach, Tubby Smith.
"We've kind of taken on his identity a lot more now,'' Bradley told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Injuries hampered the process of developing new chemistry in the transition from Smith to Gillispie. Guards Derrick Jasper (knee) and Jodie Meeks (pelvis) missed a combined 20 games.
While both are playing now, neither practices with regularity. Gillispie, like most coaches, believes teams are forged in practice.
"It's better to have them in games than not at all,'' he said.
Odom Ends Limbo: Dave Odom said the main reason for announcing his retirement on Friday was to encourage South Carolina fans to get behind this team.
"I wanted the fans to be focused on supporting our team and I didn't think that was happening,'' Odom said. "The best way was to take myself out of the equation.
"Obviously, there's going to be a good coach here next year. (Athletic director) Eric Hyman will take care of that.''
Folks in Wichita are wondering if Gregg Marshall will be that coach. Marshall built little Winthrop University (in Rock Hill, S.C.) into a giant-killer before leaving for Wichita State this season.
Marshall, who is reportedly in the first year of a seven-year contract, issued a statement Monday that he won't comment on any jobs. That didn't exactly calm anyone's nerves.
Coach Cal's Take: John Calipari, coach of the nation's new No. 1 team, the Memphis Tigers, shared some interesting thoughts about UT and the SEC last week.
Calipari told Seattle Times columnist Bud Withers that the Vols can't win a head-to-head recruiting battle with the Tigers in Memphis:
"Tennessee will try to come here and recruit some, but the kids we want here, we're going to get.''
This year, the top player in Memphis, Elliot Williams, chose Duke over either school. Leslie McDonald, the 2009 top target, has Memphis and UT on his short list, along with several other high-profile programs.
Calipari also said the Vols, "foul, like on every possession.''
Underscoring his lack of enthusiasm for UT's Feb. 23 visit to the FedEx Forum, Calipari had this to say about SEC teams:
"If they want to play us, they should put us in the league. ... But they don't want you in the league. They just want to use you.''
He allowed that UT this year is "the most talented team to come into our building" in his eight years at Memphis.
MLK Day: A former basketball coach, George Raveling, is a historical footnote to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Raveling, the former head coach at Iowa, Washington State and Southern Cal, possesses the original typed copy of Dr. King's so-called "I Have A Dream" speech delivered in August, 1963, from steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Raveling recounted Monday on ESPN radio how he was a volunteer security helper who was positioned on the podium near King. Immediately after the speech, Raveling asked King for the printed speech and the civil-rights leader handed it to him.
Raveling said the memorable "I have a dream" portion of the speech was an ad lib that is not in the typed text.
Numbers: Kentucky's Bradley is on a streak of six consecutive games scoring 20 or more points. He's the first Wildcat to do so since Jamal Mashburn in 1992-93. The most recent Vol to do it was Chris Lofton, last season against ULL (31 points), Murray State (20), Memphis (34), Western Kentucky (32), Oklahoma State (20) and Texas (35).
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or email@example.com.