Progress of Alex Poythress is Key to Kentucky’s Success

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 23rd, 2013

Kentucky’s freshmen receive all the accolades. Kentucky was declared the number one team in the land by the coaches. NBA scouts may think James Young is the best player on Kentucky’s roster. Julius Randle may be the only bona fide NBA prospect and the best player in the SEC. The other freshmen, including the Harrison twins (Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison) and Dakari Johnson, may snatch up the other college basketball headlines. Yep, John Calipari’s latest freshman class is talented and deserves the publicity, but Kentucky needs to look to its not-so-distant past in order to mimic the program’s success with one-and-dones. When Kentucky achieved tremendous results (think Kansas, not Robert Morris), it wasn’t relying solely on first-year players.

For the Cats to return to glory, they will need contributions from more than just their freshmen. (AP Photo)

For the Cats to return to glory, they will need contributions from more than just their freshmen. (AP)

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a 6’9″ 18-year old freshman stepped into Rupp Arena and poured in 25 points in his first game in a Kentucky jersey. While Lexington certainly seems like a distant supernova in the basketball world, this moment in time wasn’t really all that long ago. It just seems like it was after a dismal 2012-13 season that resulted in a trip to the NIT. The freshman was Terrence Jones and the season was 2010-11. Jones went on to have a stellar first year in blue, dropping 29 points just two games later against Oklahoma, scoring 27 on Notre Dame, and in his second SEC game he put in 35, the most points ever scored by a freshman in Kentucky’s storied history. Jones was somewhat inconsistent that season, because after all he was a freshman; but the very next season, he was a key leader and “veteran” sophomore on a national championship team starting three freshmen. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 4th, 2013

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  1. Freshman forward Alex Poythress announced his decision to return for his sophomore year at Kentucky on Tuesday. Poythress’ decision comes on the heels of freshman Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer announcing their decisions to return to Lexington as well. Poythress isn’t returning just to improve his NBA Draft stock, but says that the team has unfinished business. ”This year didn’t end like we wanted it to,” Poythress said. ”I want to come back and do what we said we wanted to do and that’s win a national title. I want to develop more as a player and the competition coming in next year should help me do that.” Poythress, Cauley-Stein, and Wiltjer add a “veteran” presence for a UK team loaded in talent, similar to the dynamic created by Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb in the national championship year of 2011-12.
  2. Poythress admits he wasn’t prepared for the grind in college basketball, and says he is ready to put the work in to becoming a better player. “It starts in the weight room. We are going to be in there every day in the offseason,” he said. “We have to work on getting stronger and getting our bodies better. We did a great job last summer, but we have to pick it up and go harder. We can’t let this happen again. We have to focus on having a great season next year and if we feel like giving up (in the weight room) we just have to think about what happened this season and push through.” Wildcats coach John Calipari needed a leader in the locker room this season, and perhaps with another year of growth and maturity, Poythress can be that leader with a young team in 2013-14.
  3. Kentucky freshman guard Archie Goodwin has ended his college eligibility with the Wildcats by signing autographs for pay with a local sports company, Lexington Sports Cards. The company is pre-selling $15 tickets to receive an autograph from Goodwin, meaning he is no longer an amateur athlete. Goodwin lashed out at some of his fans on Twitter by saying, “If you can’t respect my decision then that’s your own problem. I’m still living life and blessed.” The backlash from UK fans is odd considering most in Lexington couldn’t wait to see Goodwin go. With as deep as Kentucky is next year, it’s possible Goodwin would not have gotten as much playing time or as many shots as he saw this season, making his decision a no-brainer so long as he remains a first rounder.
  4. Missouri freshman guards Negus Webster-Chan and Dominique Bull have announced they are transferring according to a team spokesman on Tuesday afternoon. Wesbter-Chan averaged 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game including two double digit point performances. However, the 6’7″ guard could have difficulty finding additional playing time next season with the returns of guards Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross and the addition of eligible Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson. Bull saw very little action last season, playing in just eight games and only 1.8 minutes per game.
  5. We’re a little late on this, but The Tennessean spent time with Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings and asked the head coach 20 questions following the end of the Commodores season. Stallings was excited about what the future, particularly the progress of one of his freshman. “I would say Sheldon Jeter was the guy that improved the most, because he was a guy that when we were in our early practice sessions that really did not… his performance in practice did not warrant being in the rotation. But he improved so much that he became a real factor on our team. I think he’s got a great future here.” Jeter started seven games for the Commodores, a team that should have a lot more experience next season. Vandy, void of any seniors on this year’s roster, won’t lose a single player to graduation.
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SEC M5: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2013

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  1. The big news over the weekend from the SEC was the departure of the last remaining conference team from the NCAA Tournament, the Florida Gators. One of the notable struggles for the Gators in its 79-59 loss to Michigan was the interior play of Patric Young, who was outplayed and outmuscled by Michigan freshman Mitch McGary. Young has a decision to make this summer as he has long been considered a potential second round NBA Draft pick. However, many are disappointed with his lack of progress this season. Young, a junior, averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game which are almost identical to his output from his sophomore year (10.2 PPG; 6.4 RPG). In addition, his free throw shooting declined from 59.5 percent last season to 48.9 percent this year. It seems more and more likely that Young could end up back in Gainesville again next season to work on his game with a flux of incoming talent on its way.
  2. Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow won’t be in Lexington next season as he has made a decision to transfer to Georgia State. Harrow was the starting point guard for the Wildcats, but after a s0-so year in 2012-13, he would have sat on the bench behind talented incoming guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Kentucky coach John Calipari says that Harrow is transferring to move closer to his ill father. “Given the health of his dad, we fully support Ryan’s decision to transfer to Georgia State to be closer to his family in Atlanta,” Calipari said. “Ryan was a vital part of this year’s team and an important player in practice during our 2011-12 national championship run.” One has to wonder if he stayed at UK how much playing time would be available for the junior-to-be. Probably not much.
  3. Two other Kentucky players have announced they will return, while one freshman is heading pro. Willie Cauley-Stein, who played additional minutes in Nerlens Noel’s absence after injury, and Kyle Wiltjer will return to play with a loaded recruiting class in 2013-14. “I’m excited that Willie and Kyle have decided to return for next season,” Calipari said. “When we talk about a players-first program, our goal is for each player to reach his dreams. Willie and Kyle believe it is in their best interest to return to Kentucky next season to achieve those dreams, and I fully support their decisions.” However, freshman guard Archie Goodwin is putting his name into the NBA Draft. “Although I really wanted Archie to return for his sophomore season, I fully support him choosing to pursue his dreams. He has the drive and desire to be great and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure he succeeds in life both on and off the court.” Kentucky now awaits decisions from Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel, but they have until April 16 to make a final choice.
  4. You probably don’t need anybody to tell you this, but the 2012-13 version of the Kentucky Wildcats were, statistically speaking, John Calipari’s worst team since arriving at UK. Both the offensive and defensive units were the worst of Cal’s four UK teams in offensive and defensive efficiency. They were also the lowest ranked of Calipari’s four teams in scoring, three point field goals made, three point percentage defense, free throw percentage, steals per game, turnover margin, and assist to turnover margin. These end of year statistics only justify what Kentucky fans witnessed on the court all season. One has to assume that with the incoming class of freshman on next year’s roster, Calipari’s program won’t be missing another NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.
  5. Tennessee appears to be over the limit on scholarships next season after a commitment from Murfreesboro High School senior Darius Thompson. With the addition of Thompson it appears that the Vols and coach Cuonzo Martin now have 14 players for next season, but that likely means that one of its potential early draft entrants will go pro. Both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes are exploring their options'; if both return, Martin will have a decision to make to determine how to get back down to the 13 allowed scholarships for next year.
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An Outsider’s Trip to the Heart of Big Blue Nation

Posted by dnspewak on February 28th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He covered College Gameday and Missouri/Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Kentucky’s intro video is long. It’s not even the only intro video — there’s a hipper version that plays right before the public address announcer introduces the Wildcats’ starters. The first one isn’t as hip, though. It’s nostalgic. It’s a full two minutes (possibly an NCAA record for intro videos) of grainy, black-and-white video from the Dark Ages set to the tune of Bittersweet Symphony.

It is awesome. As the shots move at lightning speed from frame to frame to frame to frame, you see Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Pat Riley, Jamal Mashburn, Patrick Sparks, Tayshaun Prince, Frank Ramsey, Tony Delk, Sean Woods, Kenny Walker, Dan Issel and all the other Kentucky legends this state has embraced for almost a century. Tubby Smith makes a few appearances. Rick Pitino does not. For 120 seconds, Big Blue Nation stands and claps in unison to the beat of Bittersweet Symphony, and you realize whatever’s about to start in a few minutes isn’t just a basketball game. It’s some sort of religious experience, something that’s bonded the 24,000 people in the building together for decades.

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

I met a man on Saturday morning who told me he’d been driving 75 miles from Northern Kentucky to watch games at Rupp Arena since 1980. I met another woman from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who said she’d had season tickets since her teenage children were toddlers. These people exist at every level of college basketball and in every single arena across the country, but here, there are thousands of them. It’s just a little different in Kentucky, and you can feel that the second you walk into Rupp and see the eight hundred million banners in the rafters. There are so many retired jerseys, it’s a wonder they haven’t run out yet.

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A Forgotten Senior the Key to Kentucky’s Resurgence

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 26th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

When Kentucky lost its best player in a February 12 loss to Florida, the following contest at Tennessee on Saturday wasn’t pretty. The young Wildcats reached a fork in the road after that 30-point embarrassment — give up or keep fighting. But to keep fighting UK needed veteran leadership, a factor it had desperately and unsuccessfully sought throughout the entire season.  In freshman center Nerlens Noel’s absence, a new leader has emerged. Senior Julius Mays stepped up and provided that leadership at just the right time, the point at which the Wildcats needed it most.

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step in, and he has over Kentucky's last seven games. (Getty)

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step up, and he has over Kentucky’s last seven games. (Getty)

The Wildcats faced a must-win situation on Saturday, and coach John Calipari turned to a player he could rely on. Mays played 44 of an available 45 minutes in an overtime win against Missouri Saturday night, and Calipari and Big Blue Nation were not disappointed. Thirteen of his season high 24 points came in the final 3:37 of regulation and the extra period. “Julius was terrific, the shots he made and the leadership,” Calipari said. The transfer student has quietly developed consistency as the season progressed — in UK’s last seven games, he hasn’t had an offensive rating below 100.0 and he’s scored in double figures in six of those games. He is without question hitting his stride at just the right time.

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Can Nerlens Noel Still Win SEC FrOY? A Look at the League’s Race

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 21st, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

Handicapping the SEC’s Freshman of the Year race didn’t take much effort back on February 10. Nerlens Noel was fresh off of his third straight double-double and was the anchor behind Kentucky’s rise from the NCAA Tournament bubble to the Top 25. In 10 SEC games, he had averaged 10.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 5.7 blocks per game to lead the Wildcats to an 8-2 conference record. More than halfway through the season, the award was his to lose. Through no fault of his own, he may have.

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Noel tore the ACL of his left knee in the middle of a loss to Florida last week, ending his season and possibly his SEC career. His absence has left a big hole around the rim for Kentucky and created a void at the top of the league’s freshman pecking order. With Noel out for the final four weeks of conference play, the Freshman of the Year (FrOY) award is seemingly up for grabs. However, a lackluster crop of first-year players means that UK’s injured center might still be the league’s best bet to win the honors.

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SEC Freshman Watch: Breaking Down the “East’s” Most Effective Newcomers

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 12th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite Contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

The SEC conference slate is more than halfway complete, and the league’s freshmen have begun to stabilize in their fourth month of NCAA competition. As expected, some first-year players are starting to wilt under the grind of the college schedule, while some surprising players are getting stronger as the year goes on. Kentucky has rebounded from early adversity to rejoin the Top 25 rankings, while Georgia, who once sat in the SEC basement with a 1-4 record, has ridden a five-game winning streak to stake its claim as a mid-tier team.

Noel's D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

Noel’s D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

These teams are getting big contributions from freshman play-makers to reboot their seasons. The Wildcats are playing well through Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin’s growing pains thanks in part to the burgeoning defense of Nerlens Noel in the middle. Georgia is riding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to key wins, but Charles Mann has turned into the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and Brandon Morris is becoming a pesky defender on the wing. Even South Carolina, mired in a 2-8 SEC season so far, can take solace in Michael Carrera’s scrappy production in the Gamecock frontcourt. Let’s take a closer look at how these first-year players have performed since SEC play got underway. This week, we’ll go back and examine how the freshmen of the former SEC East are doing.

Kentucky: Nerlens Noel has stepped his game up defensively for the Wildcats, and that’s been a big piece of Kentucky’s charge back into the Top 25. UK has won five straight heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with Florida, and Noel has averaged 5.2 blocks and 10.2 rebounds in that span. His offense is still a work in progress, but his impact has been undeniable.

Kentucky Freshmen 2/12

Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have been trending in the opposite direction, as they’ve taken a back seat to Noel as the season has worn on. Poythress’s minutes and scoring have dropped as the athletic freshman has struggled with fouls (four per game in his last six contests). Goodwin has struggled as a shooter and a ball-handler recently. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in his last eight games (0-of-10) and his assists have dropped (while his turnovers have increased) as the Wildcats have faced tougher opponents.

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Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into February

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.

The Frontrunners

As If Enough Hadn't Been Written About Him Already This Week... (AP)

As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)

  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY)  – Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.

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Uncertainties About Guard Play Remain After Kentucky Escapes LSU

Posted by Will Tucker on January 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Kentucky-LSU game in Lexington.

The name on the lips of everyone in Rupp Arena on Saturday was that of Alex Poythress, after his Wildcats dispatched a slumping LSU team, 75-70. The mercurial forward, whose production and motor had yet to match the expectations set by his high draft stock, notched his first college double-double with 20 point and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. The performance absolved him of the forgettable 15 minutes he logged before fouling out in last week’s loss to Alabama. It also discouraged much discussion of the somewhat perplexing showing from Kentucky’s backcourt trio of Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays, and Archie Goodwin. While John Calipari’s guards each put together efficient stat lines and rebounded from a (generally) dismal game in Tuscaloosa, their disjointed half court execution left several lingering questions about Kentucky’s guard play.

(Credit Clay Jackson)

The backcourt is still a source of headaches for Calipari (Credit Clay Jackson)

While there was plenty of blame to go around after Kentucky’s ugly 59-55 loss to Alabama, much of it laid with Harrow and Goodwin for shooting their team out of the game. The two combined to score 13 points on 5-24 shooting (20.8%), and dished out as many turnovers as assists (4). For his part, Mays hit four of his five three-point attempts and was the only Wildcat with a positive +/- rating in what was only the second time he had scored in double digits since mid-December. John Calipari’s backcourt triumvirate was as much of a wildcard heading into yesterday’s game as Poythress. That former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey would be looking to exact revenge on his home turf for two losses against Kentucky last year placed even more pressure on his would-be defenders.

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SEC M5: 01.22.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2013

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  1. The NCAA’s investigation of the University of Miami program is expected to be released as early as this week, and it doesn’t sound like good news for one of the SEC’s newest coaches. Missouri coach Frank Haith is expected to be charged with “unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance,” according to a report by Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports. Haith has been linked to well-known Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who sold out the program while currently serving out a prison term for a $930 million Ponzi scheme. According to Goodman, “Haith will be charged with unethical conduct because the NCAA did not believe his story that payments to his assistants intended for camp money did not wind up going to repay Shapiro.” Haith is also linked to impermissible benefits because of airline tickets given to family members of players. He could potentially receive a show-cause penalty similar to the three-year ban former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl received in 2011, but will have 90 days to respond to the allegations once they are released by the NCAA.
  2. The fellas over at A Sea of Blue have the good, the bad, and the ugly for their beloved Wildcats in UK’s four SEC games thus far. ASoB mentions Ryan Harrow’s excellent assist-to-turnover ratio (also Julius Mays with just two turnovers in the previous four games), as he has just five turnovers over the last two games compared to 13 assists, but the Cats have struggled overall with a 20.7 percent turnover ratio in conference play. If not the point guard Harrow, who is coughing up the ball? That honor would go to, well, everybody else. Archie Goodwin leads the way with 13 turnovers over the last four games, for an average of 3.3 turnovers per game. Alex Poythress is averaging 2.3, Kyle Wiltjer with 2.0, and Nerlens Noel also with 2.0 turnovers per game. Kentucky’s primary ball-handler is taking care of the rock, but everybody else needs to follow suit for the Cats to be successful. The Wildcats’ next three opponents rank no lower than 63rd in defensive turnover percentage.
  3. We all knew Nerlens Noel had big shoes to fill when he replaced the number one pick in the NBA Draft in Kentucky’s starting lineup, but he’s only worried about his own development. “I’m not trying to live up to him,” Noel said, referring to former Wildcat center Anthony Davis. “I’m trying to be my own player and set my own mark and play for my team.” And his development is going better than expected, even with incredibly high expectations in the offseason. “Defensively, I think I’ve got a lot better,” Noel said. “Coach Cal has made sure I’ve stayed disciplined defensively, staying on my feet. It’s helped me. I’m not going after every ball like I was earlier in the season. I’m blocking a higher (percentage) of shots. Offensively, just Coach Payne, just everything on the block, just working on my touches and things like that.”  Noel’s work is paying off, as he was named SEC freshman of the week on Monday and is among the nation’s leaders in blocks, rebounds, and steals.
  4. Mississippi State‘s lack of depth is continuing to prove difficult in practice situations, as the Bulldogs are attempting to simulate Arkansas’ famous full-court pressure. “It’s going to be difficult for us to simulate what Arkansas is going to bring with their pressure defense with all their different presses,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “We’re trying to find a way with managers, athletic trainers, coaches and things like that just to get bodies out on the court to try to simulate that. Even with those guys being out there, the problem is still simulating what Arkansas does with their length and athleticism with those pressures.” Mississippi State is one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover percentage at 25.2 percent (339th in the country). On the flip side, the Razorbacks force turnovers on just over 24 percent of opponents’ possessions. If you thought Kentucky’s freshmen turnover averages were bad, Mississippi State guard Craig Sword is averaging four turnovers a game in conference play, including seven miscues against South Carolina. So with all these factors in play, it could be a long night on Wednesday for the Bulldogs.
  5. The Rowdy Reptiles got their groove on during a timeout of the Missouri-Florida game on Saturday. Though I’m not a fan of the flash mob or synchronized dance movement, there wasn’t much else for the student section to do in the wake of an almost 30-point blowout. But seriously, can we move on from this horrendous point in American history when we feel like we have to do jazz fingers in perfect harmony with hundreds or thousands of our closest friends for an event to be meaningful? Enough already. Turn down your blasted pop music. And get off my damn lawn while you’re at it, you good-for-nothing kids. If you’re still reading at this point, here’s a video of the flash mob routine in the O’Connell Center from Saturday:

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SEC M5: 01.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2013

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  1. Ole Miss‘ win over Arkansas gives the Rebels a 4-0 beginning to SEC play marking its best conference start since the 1936-37 season. That’s 76 years since the Rebels have began this well in league games. It may feel like it’s been about the same length of time since Andy Kennedy’s club has been to an NCAA Tournament (never under Kennedy; the last time was 2002), and the Rebels are hoping to break that streak too. And while they’re at it, they may even try to break into the Top 25 rankings, a faraway land that Ole Miss hasn’t seen since 2001. The players sense that something special is brewing in Oxford as well. “Anybody can see it,” said senior Nick Williams. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do something great here, and we understand what we need to do because me, Murphy (Holloway) and Reg (Buckner) — we have been here for a while and we’ve been so close for so long.” Could this finally be the year that Ole Miss breaks through?
  2. Florida’s 83-52 thrashing of Missouri on Saturday led to a number of questions. Is Florida that good? Yes, especially at home. Is Missouri that bad? I really hope not. Does Laurence Bowers really make that much of a difference? No. But it’s undeniable that the Tigers are on a downward spiral. They’ve lost two of their last three games, and dropped three of their last six. To make matters worse, guard Keion Bell adds that Missouri simply wasn’t prepared. “I just think that we, as a team, we underestimated the amount of pressure that their full-court press would put on us,” Bell said. “Although the coaching staff has embedded it in our brains throughout the whole week, we just didn’t take heed to the things that they were saying about Florida’s pressure, and we weren’t ready at the beginning of the game.” Missouri needs to regroup before things get worse, and perhaps listen to the coaching staff during its preparation. A softer upcoming schedule of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, at LSU, and Auburn should help.
  3. It was a homecoming of sorts for Mississippi State Bulldog Jalen Steele, who always dreamed of playing in Thompson-Boling Arena. Steele grew up in Knoxville as a Tennessee Mr. Basketball, but then-Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl went for two recruits you may have heard of instead — Aaron Craft and Josh Selby. Even though his basketball career didn’t work out exactly as planned, Steele finally heard his name called in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. “To hear my name called and it said ‘Knoxville,’ that felt good,” Steele said. Steele showed he was good enough to play with the Vols too, as he added 15 points in a losing effort for the Bulldogs. I imagine it was a surreal moment, even in defeat, for a player who has been through a lot in Starkville.
  4. When you’re playing as well as Florida is right now, four points probably won’t matter, but it might one day. Gators center Patric Young isn’t satisfied with his free throw shooting after a 4-of-8 performance against LSU. “It’s huge because I’m leaving points on the board whenever you miss free throws,” Young said. “You go 4 for 8, that’s four points that help you with your draft stock or your average on the year. I mean, it doesn’t really matter but when it comes down to the line in a game-winning situation, you need to be able to step up with confidence.” For the sake of his draft stock, Young hit the practice courts to shoot 500 free throws a day, and the hard work is paying off. He entered the Texas A&M game shooting 50 percent from the line, but went 4-of-5 against the Aggies and 1-of-1 against Missouri.
  5. Kentucky has struggled against quality teams this season, but John Calipari’s Wildcats have a surplus of NBA talent on the roster. However, during an ESPNU telecast of the Kentucky vs. Auburn game on Saturday night, Charles Barkley said none of the current Wildcats were ready for the NBA. “John Calipari’s a friend of mine. I love him as a friend. There ain’t one player on this Kentucky team who should go pro early. I hate the one-and-done rule in college basketball. Just ’cause there’s a rule does not mean you have to do it. Listen, Anthony Davis played well enough for him to go pro. … I wish some of these parents would talk to their kids.” Though Cal’s younger Cats will excel in the pro game one day, Chuck has a point for the here and now. Archie Goodwin is probably the most pro-ready of the three freshman Wildcats most likely to be selected in the first round. Nerlens Noel is ready defensively, but his offensive game has a ways to go. But Alex Poythress is the biggest question mark in terms of making the jump. He has tendencies to disappear for long stretches offensively, and did you see his defense on Elston Turner?  The issue is not just directed towards Kentucky’s freshmen but the entire college game. The one-and-done mentality has watered down the talent level, enabling and pushing players like Noel and Poythress who could both benefit from an extra year of development to make the jump after just one year.
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Night Line: A Productive Kyle Wiltjer is Necessary For Kentucky to Succeed

Posted by BHayes on January 16th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Youth and inexperience weren’t supposed to matter to John Calipari, to Kentucky. After all, there was still a lot of talent in Lexington, and it felt quite natural when nobody doubted the defending national champions in the preseason. But the two and a half months since have created a college basketball specimen that has been as rare in recent years as a senior superstar – the Kentucky skeptic. Their arrival is understandable, as Kentucky has already dropped five games here in 2012-13, the talented youngsters having yet to find the cohesiveness of UK’s past Calipari teams. There’s still plenty of time to get there, and all four of the key freshmen (Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein) will surely need to display growth for the wins to roll in, but the player who serves as the finest barometer for UK success is not a newcomer. Kyle Wiltjer has been about as consistent as his team this season (i.e., not very), and his off nights have frequently coincided with Kentucky failures. But when Wiltjer has it going like he did Tuesday night against Tennessee, the Cats looked a lot closer to being a complete team.

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Kentucky Fans Agree That The “Three Goggles” Are A Good Look For Kyle Wiltjer

Wiltjer finished with a team-high 17 points in the 85-75 victory over the Vols, also chipping in with five rebounds and a pair of blocks. Quite a dramatic shift for both sophomore and team from a game ago, when Texas A&M walked into Rupp Arena and knocked off the Cats, holding Wiltjer scoreless in the process. Wiltjer struggling in a UK loss is not a new storyline this year; he is averaging just 5.6 PPG in losses, about half of his season average. He has also only scored seven or fewer points in six of the Cats’ 16 games this season, but four of the five UK losses have also happened to occur on those nights. One final measure of the value of Wiltjer’s involvement: He has gone for 19 and 17 points, respectively, in Kentucky’s sole two victories over top-100 teams (two top-100 wins, yikes!).

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