SEC Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite is wrapping up previews on each team this week, and with the start of the season approaching we begin wrapping up with the league favorite, Kentucky.

Kentucky Wildcats

Strengths. Kentucky has size, depth, athleticism, and nine McDonalds All-Americans at its disposal. The Wildcats welcome back a number of veterans, with 59 percent of last season’s scoring returning to Lexington. They welcome in another highly-ranked recruiting class, of which we have become accustomed to see at least one or two destined to succeed and proceed to the NBA. John Calipari roams the sidelines with a 2012 National Championship and five Final Four appearances under his belt. Someone might bring up vacated appearances, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Calipari was there, and the point here is that he has the necessary experience to guide Kentucky to the promised land once again. Another Final Four run, an SEC championship, and title number nine all seem well within the grasps of the eager paws of a more than capable platoon.

John Calipari's team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

John Calipari’s team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

Weaknesses. Kentucky’s laundry list of strengths does not imply that this team is without a weakness. One of the areas of most concern is at the three position. Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles will both play out of position at the three, causing match-up nightmares for the opposition but also presenting a challenge in a couple of ways. First, both are still developing the ball-handling skills that Calipari is accustomed to having on the wing. Second, a potentially more difficult challenge to address will be defense. Poythress and Lyles will be forced to guard smaller, quicker wing players. Poythress is fairly quick and a good shot-blocker — and there are always several good defenders waiting underneath on Kentucky’s front line — but a true small forward with excellent quickness could give these bigger defenders some trouble. We’d also be remiss for failing to mention the possibility that someone becomes unhappy with his playing time this season. Dissatisfaction can occur on any team within any program, so we have to acknowledge the possibility of unmet expectations here. However, it seems that Kentucky is very well-situated with its depth to deal with a disgruntled player. If someone lets up in practice or games, he knows that somebody else is more than ready to fill his spot. In such a case, Calipari has the luxury of looking down a long bench to find a replacement.

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SEC M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2014

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  1. The preview train rolls on at CBSSports.com, and this time Matt Norlander gives his list of the top 20 transfers for the upcoming season, with Auburn’s Antoine Mason, Florida’s Jon Horford and Tennessee’s Dominic Woodson all making the cut. This is an interesting group because each player finds himself in a different position on his team. Mason will be heavily-relied on to score and help Bruce Pearl set a competitive tone for the Tigers in year one. Conversely, Billy Donovan isn’t looking for superstar numbers from Horford, but he’ll need him to be a complementary piece up front. Woodson, as Norlander points out, is a wildcard for Donnie Tyndall because it’s not hard to envision him either as a load on the block or a player glued to the bench for large chunks of time (more on him below). No matter the situation, each of these transfers should have an impact in the SEC this season.
  2. College Basketball Talk released its preseason All-America teams and only two SEC players popped up among the three teams and group of honorable mentions: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns (third team) and Aaron Harrison (honorable mention). I don’t think this particular lack of an SEC presence deserves an outcry, though. The article points out that Towns is extremely talented but may not get the minutes to rack up All-American numbers. That numbers crunch may also hurt the individual statistics of someone like Dakari Johnson, who at most any other school would probably be getting more preseason hype. The closest non-Wildcats to this list are probably Arkansas’ Bobby Portis and LSU’ Jordan Mickey, but even with my SEC bent I can’t make an argument for their inclusion.
  3. The first Bob Cousy Award watch list, on the other hand, had plenty of SEC flavor. The annual award given to the best point guard in the country included Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, Florida’s Kasey Hill and Ole MissJarvis Summers on its initial list. Duke also had two entrants on the 50-man list, and I’d be interested to know if two teams have ever had multiple lead guards on the list before. All the choices make sense, though, and I can’t come up with any omissions. Caruso is a deserving selection since he led the SEC in assist rate last season (36.7 percent), even if he should get more time off-the-ball now with the addition of freshman Alex Robinson. Billy Kennedy needs to put a better offense on the floor and that means having his best players out there regardless of position.
  4. If SEC commissioner Mike Slive has a doghouse for basketball coaches compiling soft non-conference schedules, there is no way Anthony Grant is in it. For the second year in a row, Alabama has one of the more challenging pre-SEC slates. Last season the Tide’s games against Oklahoma, Wichita State, Duke and UCLA fueled the 11th best strength of schedule nationally, according to KenPom. This season the Tide gets return games against Wichita State and UCLA, as well as Xavier, Iowa State and either Maryland or Arizona State. The challenge of course will be winning one of those marquee games, which would be a big stepping stone in what needs to be a bounce-back year for Grant.
  5. You always have to pump the brakes before delving too far into exhibition games, but as Will Shelton at Rocky Top Talk writes, it’s hard to not pay attention at Tennessee given all the new faces vying for playing time. The Vols beat NAIA opponent Pikeville, 80-62, in their exhibition opener, and there were stats galore. One interesting tidbit is that Tyndall started the immediately-eligible Woodson (mentioned above) at center, suggesting his level of conditioning may not be as big an impediment as some thought. Another notable statistic is that Armani Moore, who is coming into his junior year with a 3.1 PPG career scoring average, led the Vols in scoring with 17 points.
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SEC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 3rd, 2014

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  1. SI.com released its SEC preview last week, and it’s worth a read to get ready for the upcoming season (in addition, of course, to all the content on this microsite). The only thing that’s ripe to nitpick is the prediction that Georgia will finish seventh in the conference with an 8-10 league record. It could be that I’m too high on the Bulldogs, but Mark Fox returns the core of a team that went 12-6 and finished tied for third in the SEC last season. Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines are two guards with upside who should be one of the more difficult-to-stop scoring duos in the conference. The Dawgs’ frontcourt may be thin, but Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic are still quality players, so seeing Georgia fall that far back just doesn’t seem likely.
  2. Scrimmage highlights should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s hard not to like what Karl-Anthony Towns showed at Big Blue Madness and during a recent scrimmage. His footwork and mobility for a guy that size are impressive, and his versatility could be a great asset for John Calipari and his cramped roster. Towns looks like he’ll be a threat away from the basket in addition to on the low blocks, whether facing up and driving to the rim or knocking down the occasional long jumper. That should allow him to play well with Kentucky‘s rim-centric players like Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein without stifling the offense.
  3. Marshall Henderson is gone from Oxford and no longer available for our college basketball viewing pleasure, but shocking as it may be, there will be basketball at Ole Miss this season, and as the Associated Press’ David Brandt points out, this may be Andy Kennedy’s deepest team yet. The Rebels return five of their top six players in minutes per game, and they could have the deepest SEC frontcourt in the league outside of Kentucky and LSU. Aaron Jones is a solid senior big man who can clean up the defensive glass, and sophomore Sebastian Saiz (20 points against LSU on January 15) and junior Anthony Perez (21 points against Kentucky on February 22) showed flashes with big offensive nights against strong frontcourts in 2013-14. This is a far cry from the beginning of last season, when Kennedy was trying to replace his two primary big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway.
  4. Florida freshman guard Chris Chiozza is learning that playing for Billy Donovan is no walk in the park. “Got to run, every play, sprint,” Chiozza told GatorCountry.com. “If you stop sprinting, he’s going to make you run on the side, probably.” Donovan will need his freshmen ready to go this season because he no longer has the luxury of a senior-laden lineup. Junior Devin Walker (knee injury) and freshman Brandone Francis (academically ineligible) are out for the year, leaving Chiozza as the Gators fourth option at guard behind Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and Eli Carter. It’s likely Chiozza and freshman forward Devin Robinson will be called upon to contribute right away, making every sprint worth it.
  5. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander has Kentucky’s backcourt ranked as the fourth-best in the country, and it’s hard to find a beef with putting Duke, Arizona and North Carolina above the Wildcats. The development of Andrew and Aaron Harrison will be one of the more compelling SEC storylines this season, after their up-and-down freshmen years were capped off with solid performances (and big shots from Aaron) leading up to appearance in the national championship game. What makes the backcourt even more interesting, as Norlander points out, is the presence of 5’9’’ “passing wizard” Tyler Ulis. He’ll be an absolute change of the pace from the big-bodied Harrisons, and it’ll be fun to see him create looks for the all Kentucky big men.
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Kentucky Dominates All-SEC Picks, Tops Preseason Poll

Posted by David Changas on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC held its annual media day on Wednesday, going to the home of the SEC Network in Charlotte for the first time. Along with the usual glass-half-full comments from each team’s coach, the media selected its all-conference teams and predicted the order of finish in the league. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Kentucky was not only picked to win the league, but it also dominated the 10-player preseason all-SEC team. While shooting guard Aaron Harrison was the only Wildcat selected on the first team, the second team included four more Wildcats: Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison, and Alex Poythress. Aaron Harrison, whose late-game heroics sent the Wildcats past Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four, was chosen as the Player of the Year. Towns, the only freshman to make the first or second team, is a 6’11” center who most expect to be the best of Kentucky’s latest All-America-filled recruiting class. He was ranked fifth in that class by Rivals.com. Florida, which lost a lot of talent from last season’s Final Four squad, put guard Michael Frazier II on the team, and he was joined by Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. The only non-Wildcat on the second team was Georgia guard Charles Mann
Preseason SEC Rankings (first-place votes in parentheses)

  1. Kentucky (20) 280
  2. Florida 258
  3. Arkansas 226
  4. LSU 223
  5. Georgia 204
  6. Mississippi 168
  7. Missouri 123
  8. Auburn 113
  9. Texas A&M 111
  10. Alabama 109
  11. Vanderbilt 89
  12. South Carolina 86
  13. Tennessee 75
  14. Mississippi State 35

It goes without saying that preseason all-conference picks mean next to nothing, but, as always, there were a few surprises. Tennessee’s Josh Richardson, who came on strong during the NCAA Tournament, could have been selected, as he will clearly be the Vols’ best player. Likewise, enigmatic Florida forward Chris Walker, who has already been suspended for the first two regular season games, is primed for a breakout season now that he will be a bigger focus of the Gators’ offense. LSU’s Jarell Martin, who received at least one vote for SEC Player of the Year, was a surprising omission. Certainly coaches are glad to have high-quality players left off of the team, as their perceived snubs will serve to motivate them to prove the media wrong.

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SEC M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 17th, 2014

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  1. Florida has had a rough week thus far, as the Gators were forced to suspend sophomore forward Chris Walker on Wednesday for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The three-game suspension will force Walker to miss the Gators’ exhibition game against Barry University as well as the regular season’s first two games against William & Mary and cross-state rival Miami. It has been speculated that Walker, who missed a good portion of last season with academic issues, may have violated the school’s drug policy. The Gators also found out they will be without four-star freshman guard Brandone Francis because of his academic shortcomings. Francis is ineligible to practice with the team this fall, but could return to the court in the spring if his performance in school improves.
  2. Despite having two teams in the top 10, it’s no surprise that the SEC is not particularly well-represented in the first preseason USA Today coaches poll. Kentucky tops the list, receiving 24 of the available 32 first-place votes.  Florida checks in at No. 7, and the only other SEC team to even receive votes was Arkansas. Given the league’s lack of national success over the past several years – Kentucky and Florida aside – and so many questions that must be answered by so many teams in the league, the Wildcats and Gators might be the only two schools from the conference who consistently spend time in the poll throughout this season.
  3. It is no secret that Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison often didn’t see eye to eye with coach John Calipari last year, and that his freshman campaign was mostly disappointing. While he redeemed himself in helping the Wildcats make their surprising run to the national championship game, his success there did not erase the shortcomings of the rest of the season. By contrast, CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish thinks Harrison can be a great redemption story this season. While he did not live up to the hype that came with being one of the nation’s most heralded freshman, he has put that disappointment behind him. His first season in Lexington failed to match those of other great point guards who have played under Calipari — players like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, and Brandon Knight — but that doesn’t mean he can’t turn things around this year. By all accounts, Harrison is in better shape than when he arrived in Lexington last August, and has worked hard during the offseason to be ready to raise the overall level of his game. If Kentucky is going to live up to those lofty preseason expectations, he will need to do just that.
  4. The announcement earlier this week that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive will retire in July 2015 received a lot of attention nationally, mostly because of the remarkable job Slive has done in bringing the conference to a level of college football dominance not seen in some time. He is also credited with putting together the fledgling SEC Network, which virtually every cable and satellite provider in the country offers as part of its basic packages. And while there is no questioning the financial success that the league has enjoyed under Slive’s leadership, his relative inability to lead the conference to commensurate success in basketball is certainly worth discussing. Kentucky has been again dominant since Calipari’s arrival in 2009, and Florida has been a perennial top-10 power for over a decade under Billy Donovan’s leadership, but the overall profile of the league has not improved since Slive took the job in 2002. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that it has diminished, and that the league is perceived, now more than ever, of being concerned only with football success. While it obviously would be overly simplistic to put all of that at Slive’s feet, it is fair to direct some criticism his way, especially in light of the great accolades he receives for the conference’s success on the gridiron.
  5. There were plenty of surprises that came with Tennessee‘s unexpected run to the Sweet Sixteen last year, but none was bigger than the emergence of forward Josh Richardson. The defensive stalwart averaged just under 10.0 PPG during the regular season, but his average soared to 19.3 PPG in the team’s four NCAA Tournament games. Now, with most of his running mates from last year’s team as well as his coach having moved on, new coach Donnie Tyndall is leaning heavily on Richardson to lead his young group of Volunteers. It appears the senior forward has taken Tyndall’s admonitions to heart, and while it is unrealistic to expect Tennessee to duplicate its March success this season, if the Volunteers are going to have any real success, they will need Richardson to lead the way on both ends of the floor.
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SEC M5: Microsite Relaunch Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 15th, 2014

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  1. For the second straight year, Andrew Harrison might be Kentucky’s most important player. And for the second straight year, there are many questions surrounding him. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish writes about the opportunity Harrison has to bounce back from a largely disappointing freshman season. Granted, Harrison was the point guard for the national runner-up. He did have his moments in the NCAA Tournament (20 points against Wichita State; 14 points and seven assists against Louisville), but was still plagued with inconsistency throughout the event (24 turnovers in the six games). It’s been awhile since Calipari has had two seasons to work with a point guard, but developing Harrison may be the Wildcats’ surest ticket to another Final Four.
  2. Not much has gone right for Mississippi State‘s Rick Ray during his two-plus years in Starkville, as a seemingly constant stream of injuries and suspensions has been the theme. The latest injury might be the biggest blow of all, however, as news was released this week that junior guard Craig Sword will miss four to six weeks after back surgery to relieve a bulging disc. Backs are tricky injuries and who knows the effect it’ll have going forward, but as of now it is expected that Sword should be ready for conference play. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer became more efficient in his sophomore season, increasing his field goal percentage by eight points to 48 percent and cutting down on his turnovers from over 25 percent to 19 percent. Clearly there is still improvement to be had, so any missed time is crucial for a player that could develop into an excellent SEC scorer.
  3. Another coach who has dealt with personnel issues is Missouri‘s Kim Anderson. The first-year coach has already dismissed Torren Jones and watched Cameron Biedscheid leave the program before ever playing a minute in Columbia. On Tuesday it got worse, as freshmen Jakeenan Gant and D’Angelo Allen were charged with “peace disturbance” relating to a mid-September campus altercation. Theirs are misdemeanor charges, and it’s a relief for all involved that whatever was alleged to have happened didn’t amount to a felony charge. But eventually enough has to be enough for Missouri. This is the third legal incident for the basketball Tigers since last March (albeit two being under Frank Haith), and it has been a dark undertone to the good will Anderson has generated with the fan base and recruits.
  4. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner have a fascinating piece up at SI.com that predicts who the scoring, rebounding and assist leaders will be in 2014-15. What’s different about this piece is that the predictions are based on raw numbers generated by a system developed by Hanner that incorporates advanced statistics, a decade of player data, recruiting rankings and specific coach attributes (like playing distribution tendencies and quality), among other things. Their meticulous formula pegs Ole Miss senior guard Jarvis Summers as the nation’s sixth leading scorer, predicting that he’ll score 18.8 points per game. Summers has been overshadowed by Marshall Henderson over the last two years but should emerge as one of the better guards in the SEC this season.
  5. We’ve all seen high school kids put on hats, but Alabama signee Dazon Ingram brought a fresh take to his recent school announcement. “I told [Tide assistant Antoine Pettway] I wasn’t going to commit to Alabama and he got all sad,” Ingram told AL.com’s John Talty. “Then I told him I was just kidding. He started screaming and said ‘Oh my gosh. Can I call Coach Grant?’” No matter how it happened, the 6’5’’ point guard – the third ranked 2015 recruit in Alabama according to 247Sports – is a nice get for Anthony Grant as he had to fend off Gregg Marshall and Kelvin Sampson to sign him.
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Morning Five: 04.28.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 28th, 2014

morning5

  1. Mitch McGary‘s early-entry departure from Michigan might be the most controversial ones that we can remember. McGary’s decision to leave after his sophomore season was not particularly shocking from a basketball perspective as he would have been a first-round pick had he not been injured this season and even now he is a borderline first-round pick. The reason that McGary’s decision is so controversial (and will be for quite some time) is that he was essentially forced out when he tested positive for marijuana on a random test. If McGary had stayed he would have had to sit out the upcoming season. As a result, McGary will be waiting anxiously on Draft night and John Beilein will have a much tougher task keeping Michigan competitive in the Big Ten next season.
  2. The good next keeps on coming in for John Calipari. After learning that most of his frontcourt was returning, Calipari also found out that Aaron and Andrew Harrison would be returning for their sophomore seasons. This does not necessarily make Kentucky the national title favorites, but certainly puts them on the short list of contenders. The one issue for Kentucky is that for all of their depth on the inside they will have surprisingly lack of backcourt depth. The one interesting aspect of this is that Kentucky might end up being more experienced than their opponents for the first time in several years.
  3. The news at Connecticut was more mixed. The Huskies already knew that they were going to take a hit with Kemba Walker leaving Storrs, but they had hoped that both DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright would return for the senior seasons. Boatright decided to come back to Storrs for one more year while Daniels decided to cash in on a big NCAA Tournament run to enter the NBA Draft. While Boatright will help stabilize the Huskies next year the loss of an athletic presence like Daniels is a big blow. At this point, Daniels is projected as a borderline first-round pick although with his athleticism and skill set he is the type of player who could move up or down a Draft board fairly quickly.
  4. One of the problems with many of the earliest versions of the way-too-early top 25s is that they are based on conjecture and occasionally statements about who is and is not leaving. On April 17, Jordan Adams announced that he was staying at UCLA saying that he was “really excited about the team we’re going to have next year”. On Saturday night, Adams changed his mind and announced that he would be entering the NBA Draft. His reasons for leaving are unclear as he is probably an early second round pick although maybe he assumes that he can work his way into the first round and get guaranteed money or that some team or agent told him that he had that first round guarantee. Or perhaps he figured that going pro was better than spending another year in Westwood. In any event, it puts Steve Alford and the Bruins in a hole as they attempt to replicate the success that they had in Alford’s first season.
  5. We are not used to seeing Wisconsin at the top of preseason rankings as they tend to be underrated, but next year we do not think that should be an issue. The Badgers already have a loaded team and the one piece that we felt might declare for the NBA Draft–Frank Kaminsky–announced that he would be returning for his senior season in Madison. Kaminsky showed tremendous growth this season, but he was still projected to only be a borderline first round pick. His size and skill set would have made him an interesting late first-round pick. Instead he will return to Madison and should make Wisconsin one of the title favorite next season.
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Looking Back at Kentucky’s Remarkable Run

Posted by David Changas on April 11th, 2014

On March 1, Kentucky‘s season hit its lowest point when the Wildcats lost to SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina, 72-67. Talk of a 40-0 season was a distant memory, and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed likely. After that loss, Kentucky went on to lose twice to SEC champion Florida, but it was during the second of those losses – a one-point SEC Tournament Championship Game thriller that the Wildcats had a chance to win – that gave coach John Calipari’s team confidence that all was not lost. Kentucky received a #8 seed from the selection committee, and the path ahead of it would consist of games with the region’s top seed and the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in 23 years, Wichita State, as well as a possible rematch with arch-nemesis Louisville. The regional final projected as a game against the team that lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game, Michigan, or SEC rival Tennessee. The Wildcats were able to beat Kansas State with relative ease in the opening round, and then proceed to win thrillers against the Shockers, Cardinals, and Wolverines to advance to their third Final Four in Calipari’s five years at the helm of the program.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Celebrated Its Way to the National Title Game

At the outset of the season, Kentucky was the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, and there was some serious talk in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats could reach 40-0. That dream was dashed with an early-season loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, and then Kentucky followed that with pre-conference defeats to Baylor and North Carolina. If those losses didn’t cause significant concern, the Wildcats’ play in the lowly SEC did. They were swept by the Gators and by Arkansas, and narrowly avoided a sweep by LSU. By the time the SEC Tournament arrived, many wondered whether it was too late for the club to figure things out and salvage their season. After dominant wins over LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats appeared headed for another blowout loss in the title game to Florida. They trailed the Gators by 16 early in the second half, but eventually cut the lead to one point with the ball before James Young slipped and lost control, costing the Wildcats a chance to win. While Kentucky wasn’t able to complete the comeback, that game was the impetus for the turnaround. Willie Cauley-Stein called the performance “a big confidence-booster” afterward, and said that the Wildcats were a “new team” coming out of Atlanta. While winning the daunting Midwest region appeared to be a near-impossible task for a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses, the 78-76 second-round win over Wichita State in what many considered the best game of the Big Dance served notice that the Kentucky team many had expected had finally arrived.

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Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 8th, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Connecticut

  • Senior leader Shabazz Napier called his UConn squad the “Hungry Huskies.” The Huskies showed the drive to thwart any Kentucky comeback attempts, as UConn led the entire game and won its fourth National Championship in program history. Napier said about his team: “We worked so hard for it.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie entered a tough situation in Storrs, as the Huskies faced a postseason ban for lackluster graduation rates. Few expected him to succeed, but Ollie proved his doubters wrong as he led his team to the Promised Land in his first-ever NCAA Tournament as a head coach. “I’m just trying to keep proving everyone wrong,” Ollie said amid the postgame celebration Monday night. “Everyone said our program was going to go down after the sanctions and people left, but we’re still here. Somebody the other day called us a “Cinderella.” We’re UConn. UConn is always going to stay here.”
  • Shabazz Napier will surely go down as one of the greatest to ever put on a UConn jersey after last night, but what will the Huskies do without him next year? It will be tough to replace an All-American, but the Huskies aren’t worried about that right now. “I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can,” [junior Ryan] Boatright said after the game. “I’m not thinking about my future right now. I’m enjoying the present. And we’re going to celebrate with my team and my family. And I’m just blessed to be here in this situation. It’s an honor to be a national champion and to play for this university.”
  • Shabazz Napier had some interesting comments directed at the NCAA on the podium after UConn won it all last night. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the hungry Huskies,” the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player said. “This is what happens when you ban us.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie isn’t seeking to replace both his predecessor and mentor, Jim Calhoun, but is rather seeking to build on what Calhoun built at UConn. After winning UConn’s fourth title in just his second year as the head coach, Ollie is doing what he set out to do. “I don’t look at it like a lot of people look at it, that I’m replacing Jim Calhoun,” Ollie said the other day. “Coach Calhoun is still beside me. He’s in front of me. He’s behind me. I’ve locked arms with coach because of what he’s put inside of me and his belief system. I think that’s what gets us through.”
  • After his second National Championship, Shabazz Napier has surely reached “Legendary Status” at UConn. In particular, the way in which he carried UConn to this year’s title is what cemented his legacy. “He’s going to go down in history as one of the best players to ever play at UConn,” [sophomore] Omar Calhoun said. “Not a lot of people have gone to a national championship and won it, so I feel like he just led the way.”

Kentucky

  • With the season now behind them, Kentucky’s freshmen have some decisions to make about their futures. Though he doesn’t like to discuss the NBA during the season, coach John Calipari is now ready to help out his players. “Now that the season is over, it’s about the players. It’s no longer about the program,” he noted.
  • With rumors circulating that John Calipari could be the next coach of the Lakers, he was sure to quickly dismiss those rumors. When asked, Calipari refused to “dignify” the that discussion.
  • Kentucky had a tough loss, but the Wildcats had nothing but good things to say about UConn’s guards. “They were the best guards, definitely, that we played against,” [freshman James] Young said. “Shabazz and Boatright did a good job of just running their team and getting big shots for them.”
  • Kentucky was able to get to the free throw line, but what did it in was its inability to convert when there. The Wildcats made just 13 of 24 free throws. “We had our chance but missed the free throws and shots,” [coach John] Calipari said.
  • With five freshmen in the starting lineup, Kentucky reminded many of Michigan’s Fab Five. Ironically, Kentucky’s group of freshmen met the same fate that the Fab Five did, losing in the National Championship Game (although Michigan’s group lost there twice). Though his team fell, Calipari was still proud of his young guns. “Even in that loss, I can’t believe what these guys got done together,” Calipari said. “Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting.”
  • The Harrison Twins, particularly Aaron, carried the Wildcats to the National Championship Game, but unfortunately, they were not able to take them all the way. The twins began the season by failing to live up to expectations, but by the Tournament’s end, they proved that they were as good as advertised.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 7th, 2014

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#7 Connecticut vs. #8 Kentucky – National Championship Game (at Arlington, Texas) – 9:10 PM ET on CBS

History will be made in some form tonight at AT&T Stadium no matter which team wins this game. Connecticut is bidding to become the first #7 seed to ever win the national championship while Kentucky is looking to become the first #8 seed since Cinderella team Villanova toppled top-seeded Georgetown in 1985, the first year of the 64/68-team era. Kevin Ollie could become the first coach to win a championship in his first tournament appearance since Michigan’s Steve Fisher accomplished that feat a quarter-century ago in 1989 at Seattle’s Kingdome. John Calipari could win his second title in three seasons, this time with the nation’s most inexperienced team (according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics). Something has to give in this game between what some observers have said are teams of destiny. Connecticut is going for the Texas triple play, so to speak, having closed out two previous Final Fours in the Lone Star State (2004 in San Antonio and 2011 in Houston) with championships while Kentucky has three players from the state on its roster, including hometown favorite Julius Randle. Connecticut is seeking its fourth national championship while Kentucky would earn its ninth with a win.

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Kentucky has had some of its best offensive games of the season in this tournament. The Wildcats have not been defensive juggernauts, but timely stops and consistent offensive output have been the keys to their success over the last couple of weeks (along with clutch Aaron Harrison shots, of course). Going up against yet another strong defensive team in Connecticut (UK has already faced Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville, all terrific on the defensive end) will be a test for the “Cardiac Cats.” At the point guard position, Andrew Harrison has to do a better job taking care of the basketball against the undersized, but quicker and pesky Huskies guards. He is averaging four turnovers per game in the tournament and making him uncomfortable needs to be part of the game plan for Ollie’s team. Daring Andrew Harrison shoot has been fairly successful for Kentucky’s opponents as he is just 18-for-52 (35 percent) from the floor in five tournament games, which even includes a solid 6-for-9 performance against Wichita State in the round of 32. By contrast, making his brother Aaron put the ball on the floor and drive is the best strategy for Connecticut. Aaron Harrison has made 14-of-25 threes (56 percent) in the tournament but he is just 8-for-27 (30 percent) when it comes to two point shots. Chasing him off the three point line and making him put it on the deck has to be a point of emphasis for Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright defensively. Kentucky is at its best when Andrew Harrison is moving the ball well, Aaron Harrison is open on the wing and James Young is either knocking down triples or slashing through the defense, opening up the lane for Randle in the post. Of course, Randle is so good and so strong that he can do a number of things on the low block. The freshman has 50+ pounds on Connecticut’s four man DeAndre Daniels and nearly 40 pounds on Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah, both of whom are good defensively but also quite raw by the same token. Ollie may very well wrinkle in some zone to keep Kentucky out of the lane and dare it to make shots. However, that is still risky because of the ability of Aaron Harrison and Young to connect from the three point line. The Huskies are sneaky good when it comes to interior defense, allowing just 42.2 percent field goal shooting inside the three point arc. That will be tested against the stronger Randle and Dakari Johnson, who is very difficult to guard when he catches the ball deep in the post. Great interior defense is a staple of the Jim Calhoun era and a part of the Connecticut culture that Ollie has carried over while building the program his way.

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Kentucky’s Improbable Journey Rolls On: Three Takeaways

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 6th, 2014

The cardiac ‘Cats did it again. Aaron Harrison continued to make the late-game extraordinary look routine and Kentucky’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run lived to see yet another day. The only thing now standing between the Wildcats and the program’s ninth National Championship is UConn on Monday night, but the #8 seeded Wildcats will be a favorite to knock off the Huskies and complete the six-game sweep. With an eye towards Monday night, here are three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Will Play For The Program’s Ninth National Title On Monday Night

  1. James Young was aggressive and effective attacking the basket. Young is far from a one-dimensional player, but with more three-point attempts than two-point attempts to his name this season, there have been times when the freshman’s role has been reduced to that of a jump shooter, almost exclusively. This was not the case against the Badgers. Young scored a game-high 17 points, and only three were earned from behind the arc. Nine of his 11 field goal attempts came from two-point range, and Young showed off a more varied offensive game in getting into the lane often and to the free throw stripe almost as frequently (he went 6-of-7 on free throws). His floor-stretching ability will again be crucial on Monday night, but a Young capable of manufacturing points in different ways is a scary proposition moving forward.
  2. Alex Poythress may never be the player everyone hoped he would be when he arrived in Lexington, but he has become a key role player on this team. Poythress played 29 minutes last night, had eight points (4-of-4 FG) and seven rebounds, and even did a nice job defending Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky when called upon. His offensive game is still unrefined, but as an athletic energy guy off the bench who can guard almost every position, Poythress has real value for the Willie Cauley-Stein-less ‘Cats. Expect another heavy dose of the sophomore on Monday night, as he would appear to be a perfect defensive match-up for UConn’s DeAndre Daniels. Read the rest of this entry »
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