More Than Just a Loss: Kansas Needs Elijah Johnson to Bounce Back, and Soon

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 6th, 2013

It certainly isn’t the worst sports cliche, bur the phrase “I could see them losing in the second round or making the Final Four” we hear this time of year is cringe-worthy. In the age of parity, of Butlers and George Masons, VCUs and Norfolk States, a lot of teams can lose in the second round or make the Final Four.

With that in mind, I’ve been trying to stay away from that cliche regarding these Kansas Jayhawks. They are 19-2 and have won 18 of their last 19 games. They’re first in the Big 12 and, with wins this weekend at Oklahoma and at home against Kansas State (assuming TCU isn’t a roadblock tonight), they should cruise to their ninth straight Big 12 championship. Travis Releford and Jeff Withey are two of the best defenders in the country, and Ben McLemore will be a top five NBA draft pick in June. Bill Self is one of the best coaches in the country. So why is everyone asking what’s the matter with Kansas? Well, for teams like Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina, wins are nitpicked, losses are sensationalized, and seasons are judged by Final Fours and National Championships. A loss isn’t just a loss, it’s a reason to be concerned about possible NCAA Tournament struggles. Most of the time, those concerns are overblown. Over a five-month season, players are bound to lose focus or catch a hot team or suffer a cold shooting night at least a few times. It happens.

A Productive Elijah Johnson May Be The Biggest Key To Another Kansas Final Four. (Getty Images)

A Productive Elijah Johnson May Be The Biggest Key To Another Kansas Final Four. (Getty Images)

Kansas’ 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday wasn’t one of those games, but more of a justification of the concerns people have had for most of January. In December, Kansas won all five games by an average of 27.4 PPG, and that included a 12-point road win at then-#7 Ohio State on December 22. But Ohio State wasn’t the only solid team they faced in that stretch. They also beat up on Colorado and Belmont by 36 and 29 points, respectively, two projected NCAA Tournament teams. But then came January and five close wins in spite of sloppy play. They were doing enough to win and keep most of the chatter in the background, but the loss to Oklahoma State was enough to bring the talk to the light. “What’s The Matter With Kansas?”

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Big 12 M5: 02.05.13 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 5th, 2013


  1. The weekly polls were updated on Monday and Indiana climbed to #1 in both the USA Today/Coaches and AP polls after its big win over Michigan on Saturday. Kansas dropped to #5 in both polls after losing to Oklahoma State over the weekend. Kansas State has been climbing up the rankings in recent weeks, and the Wildcats jumped five spots this week to #13 in the AP poll after wins over Texas and Oklahoma last week. Oklahoma State vaulted back into the polls with its win in Lawrence, landing at #22 this week in the AP poll and #24 in the USAT/Coaches.
  2. Did anyone guess Kansas State would be sitting at 17-4 and #13 in the country this late in the season? Relative to the talent at each school, Bruce Weber is having a similar season to his first year at Illinois when he took Bill Self’s players to the Sweet Sixteen. Weber has kept Frank Martin’s defense-first mentality on the forefront and the Wildcats have a chance to claim a tie for first place in the Big 12 next week at Kansas. They completed a season sweep of Oklahoma over the weekend after forcing 14 Sooner turnovers and holding them to 38.8% shooting from the field. A similar performance in Allen Fieldhouse next Monday against the offensively-challenged Jayhawks could spur the upset.
  3. Speaking of those offensive-challenged Jayhawks, Bill Self publicly defended senior point guard Elijah Johnson on Monday, 48 hours after telling Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, “We don’t have a point guard.” Johnson was 3-of-14 from the floor with four turnovers in the 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday. On Monday, Self said he’s sticking with Johnson in the lineup even though he thinks his senior is thinking too much while adjusting to a new position. “But that is the horse that we are gonna ride,” Self added. “And I believe that will be the best for our team.” The vote of confidence is nice, but does Self have much of a choice? If there was a Plan B at point guard, we would have seen it by now. Self’s best bet is to pump up Johnson and hope the additional confidence improves his performance by March.
  4. It’s not like Kansas lost to TCU, though. Oklahoma State had previously beaten North Carolina State this season, so there’s definitely talent on the Cowboys’ roster. It will be interesting to see if the big win in Lawrence propels Oklahoma State to reach its potential, as John Klein of the Tulsa World suggests. Freshman point guard Marcus Smart (25 points, nine rebounds, five steals) is one of the best point guards in the country, averaging 14.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 5.8 RPG this season. Sophomore guard Le’Bryan Nash is talented and capable of huge offensive nights but inconsistent, and we saw what junior guard Markel Brown can do, scoring 28 points in Saturday’s win.
  5. Oklahoma is vastly improved from last season thanks to head coach Lon Kruger and a solid season so far from Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye (10.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG). But the Sooners’ guard play has been inconsistent at times this season, which led to a 52-50 home loss to Kansas State on Saturday. Senior guard Steven Pledger had 20 points in a win against Baylor but sat out the final eight minutes against Kansas State. Sam Grooms almost singlehandedly gave the Sooners the comeback win over the Wildcats, but he couldn’t find the floor for most of the first half because of defensive struggles. Oklahoma has the coaching and talent to make the NCAA Tournament, but more inconsistency on the perimeter and tough losses like Saturday’s could have them on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 13

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 4th, 2013

It was another wild week in the Big 12, starting last Monday with West Virginia’s near-upset of Kansas in Morgantown and ending with the ever-inconsistent Oklahoma State Cowboys dropping 85 points in a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse. It helped push the Cowboys back up the standings while Baylor, who dropped both of its games last week, fell three spots to #5. We still have six projected teams in the NCAA Tournament as of now — Kansas, Kansas State,  Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, and Iowa State — and the big wins by OSU and ISU look to have pushed them off the bubble for now. Here’s where we stand this week:

Markel Brown led the Cowboys in a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse (AP)

Markel Brown led the Cowboys to a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse (AP)

1) Kansas (19-2, 7-1 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 1
Projected NCAA Seed: #1

Last Week: W 61-56 at West Virginia, L 85-80 vs Oklahoma State

This Week: Wednesday at TCU, 8:00 PM, Saturday at Oklahoma, 3:00 PM

  • Rundown: The Jayhawks were due for a loss after winning 18 straight games and walking a tightrope most of January. It finally came on Saturday against Oklahoma State. It also ended the Jayhawks’ 33-game home winning streak and 16-game home winning streak against Oklahoma State, dating back to 1989. Turnovers — especially at the point guard position — have been a problem for KU of late, and Saturday was no different. Elijah Johnson committed four turnovers, including a last-second mishap that prevented Ben McLemore from doing his best Mario Chalmers impersonation.
  • Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Ben McLemore: He has scored in double figures every game in 2013 and had 23 in Saturday’s loss. He is shooting an impressive 50% from the field and 45.5% from three-point range.

2)Kansas State (17-4, 6-2)
Previous Ranking: 2
Projected NCAA Seed: #6

Last Week: W 83-57 vs Texas, W 52-50 at Oklahoma

This Week: Tuesday at Texas Tech, 7:00 PM, Saturday vs Iowa State, 5:00 PM

  • Rundown: It hasn’t always been the case, but Saturday’s win over Oklahoma in Norman was big for the Wildcats. They have won 10 out of 12 and sit just one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings, thanks to Angel Rodriguez’s two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to give them the 52-50 win. It was a rare win in a game where leading scorer Rodney McGruder, who finished with seven points, was quiet offensively.
  • Player Stepping Up: Junior G Will Spradling: Spradling averages 8.5 PPG, but has scored in double figures in three of his last five games. He had 15 in the first meeting with Oklahoma and had 12 points in Saturday’s win while shooting 62.5%.

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Saturday Look Ahead: Big 12 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 2nd, 2013

We will be halfway home in the conference season later tonight, but we’ve had more questions than answers through seven Big 12 games this season. Kansas is still on top, like most years. But we still don’t know how things will play out in terms of the order behind the Jayhawks, who hold at least a two-game lead over everyone else. Here’s what to watch for around the league:

1) Game Of The Day#18 Kansas State at Oklahoma, 6:00 PM ESPN2: The Sooners are the favorite tonight against the Wildcats in Norman. Oklahoma is 7-1 in its last eight home games, but Kansas State has won three of its last four road games as well. Kansas State won the first meeting in Manhattan a few weeks ago, 69-60, thanks to Rodney McGruder’s 20 points. Head coach Lon Kruger has made the Sooners relevant for the first time since Blake Griffin was on campus four years ago, and while they’re a good bet to make the NCAA Tournament as of right now, a solid win over a ranked Kansas State team would make them near-locks. McGruder had a big game in the first meeting between these teams, but he has been quiet lately, averaging 11 points his last three games. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats are 1-2 in that stretch.

Lon Kruger Is Proving To Be One Of The Better Coaches In The Country

Lon Kruger Is Proving To Be One Of The Better Coaches In The Country.

2) Something to Watch… Kansas has won 18 straight games, but they haven’t been pretty the last month. As Austin Meek of the Topeka Capital-Journal points out here, the Jayhawks have a -8 turnover margin (95-87) in conference play. Bill Self told Meek that the team has been “careless and lazy.” For a team that has had guards like Keith Langford, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor in the lineup over the years, it’s strange watching the Jayhawks struggle at the point. Sophomore Naadir Tharpe has been good at times and awful at others, while senior Elijah Johnson has struggled to take over for Taylor. With lockdown defenders like Travis Releford and Jeff Withey and one of the most talented players in the country in Ben McLemore, strong point guard play could lead Kansas to a national title. Poor point guard play, on the other hand, could have the Jayhawks bounced in the second round.

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What We Learned: Kansas Beats Kansas State in Manhattan

Posted by KoryCarpenter on January 22nd, 2013

It was close, as Vegas suggested it would be (Kansas closed as a three-point favorite). But the Jayhawks survived another tough game in the type of battle Kansas State wanted to play — slow and muddy. Kansas now takes sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and improves to 17-1 on the season. Here is what we learned tonight:

1. Kansas is learning how to win close games. Or shall I say, Kansas has learned how to win close games. Coming into tonight’s game, here is how the Jayhawks have played down the stretch in close games since losing a three-point game to Michigan State on November 13.

Picture 1

KU is Getting It Done in Crunch Time

After Bill Self called a full timeout with 4:55 left in the game and a 54-49 lead, Kansas State finished the game 2-of-6 from the field including 0-of-3 from three-point range with a pair of turnovers. It’s fair to criticize close games against Iowa State or Temple at home, but Kansas State is a tough squad this year and Bramlage Coliseum is always rowdy when the Jayhawks are in town. Coming away with a close win is another positive learning experience this Kansas team will need in March.

2. Kansas State’s win over Florida wasn’t a fluke. The Wildcats shot 35.1% from the field and were still within three points of the Jayhawks with 40 seconds left. They held Kansas under its season shooting averages, both from two and three-point range (From two: 48.4% on the year, 45.7% tonight; from three: 36.2% on the year, 30.8% tonight). They have solid wins over Oklahoma State and #8 Florida, and their only losses are to #2 Michigan, #10 Gonzaga, and now #11 Kansas.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.21.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 21st, 2013


Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

We just had one of the most memorable weekends in recent memory in college hoops. Every game seems to be up for grabs and it’s making for an exciting season. This week should be no different as each conference has its share of important match-ups. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

Cincinnati at #3 Syracuse – 3:30 PM PM EST, Monday on ESPN (***)


Jim Boeheim’s Team Looks Great After This Weekend

  • Cincinnati barely snapped a three-game home losing streak on Saturday with an overtime win against Marquette. The Bearcats were without star guard Cashmere Wright as he continues to heal up from a knee injury. Wright is day-to-day so we don’t know quite yet if he will be available against Syracuse, though. If he is unable to play, his three-point shooting will be missed greatly against the Orange’s match-up zone defense. Although, even if he plays, the size of the Orange backcourt will surely create issues for the 6’0″ guard. In its huge win at Louisville over the weekend, Syracuse proved its size and length on defense makes Jim Boeheim’s team a clear title contender. Both of these teams excel on the offensive glass, so keep a close eye on which team is getting more second-chance opportunities and making the most of them — this could be another place where the Syracuse size makes a difference. More than likely this game will be won on the defensive end.  However, if the Bearcats don’t find a better shooting stroke quickly, this game will not be close regardless of their defensive effort. They shot 41.4% eFG against Marquette, so a shooting number like that won’t cut it against Syracuse.

#12 Michigan State at Wisconsin – 7:00 PM PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN (****)

  • It felt like Iowa was due for a big win at home and it happened to come against Wisconsin on Saturday. After the Badgers’ huge win against Indiana last week, the weekend loss to Iowa brought the team back to reality, but they don’t get much rest with the Spartans coming to town. In order for the Badgers to beat the Spartans, they must play their typically great defense. Bo Ryan‘s squad is 1-4 against teams that shoot over 50% eFG against them so it’s clear that they do not have the offense to go back and forth with teams. Luckily, the Spartans are not a great shooting team with nine games under 50% eFG themselves on the season. This should make for a very close defensive-oriented contest in Madison. Keep an eye on free throws, as they will be a major factor in determining the outcome. Wisconsin must play good defense without fouling; if they are sending Michigan State to the line early in each half, they could very easily drop two games in a row. Look for Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix to be all over Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren, forcing someone else on the Badgers to beat them. This should be another slugfest in the Big Ten.

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Seth Davis Plays “Stock Report”: Big 12 Reaction

Posted by dnspewak on January 3rd, 2013

Seth Davis is at it again. In the 2013 edition of his “Hoop Thoughts Stock Report” — which seems eerily similar to how Pardon the Interruption plays Buy or Sell — Davis included six teams from the Big 12 among his long list of schools across the country. There’s a reason Davis writes for Sports Illustrated and we, well, don’t write for SI, but regardless, no writer is off limits in the world of college basketball. Here’s are some excerpts of what Davis said about those Big 12 teams, and more importantly, here’s what we think about what Davis said about the Big 12 teams.

Pierre Jackson (#55) and Isaiah Austin (#21) Will Make or Break the Bears' Season. (Associated Press/Rod Aydelotte)

Pierre Jackson (#55) and Isaiah Austin (#21) Will Make or Break the Bears’ Season. (Associated Press/Rod Aydelotte)

BAYLOR (8-4): HOLD: This team is too soft defensively to buy, but it has too many good pieces to sell.

Hold? Agreed, to an extent. Baylor has looked marvelous at times and horrendous at others, so simply in terms of stock, let’s go ahead and even things out and call it a hold. You don’t want to buy a team that has already lost four games and was out-rebounded by College of Charleston and Northwestern, but you also don’t want to sell a team that made BYU look silly and won at Kentucky. There’s a chance this team could still wind up as good if not better than last year’s team, simply because Isaiah Austin is an animal, Pierre Jackson looks like the Big 12 Player of the Year contender we all thought he’d be and, as Davis mentions, there’s no chance Brady Heslip keeps misfiring from beyond the arc at this rate. Here’s where Davis is wrong, though: Baylor is not “too soft defensively.” The word “soft” is much too harsh. The Bears’ zone embarrassed and confused Kentucky at Rupp Arena, and they held BYU in check with a sub-40 percent percentage from the floor. Gonzaga lit them up, sure, but the word is “inconsistent.” Not necessarily “soft.”

KANSAS (11-1, No. 6): BUY It is rare to see a team have so many talented pieces that fit together so well. […] We know the Jayhawks are going to win the Big 12 yet again, so they’re almost certain to go into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. I’d be surprised if their season does not end in the 404.

Easy pick here. Seth Davis, you’ve got no argument from us. In fact, you’ve likely got no argument from anybody on earth, save a few delusional Missouri fans. Bill Self has proven once again that he has no problem recovering after defections to the NBA and graduation. That’s because his bench can usually outplay the rest of the Big 12 in any given year. So now that it’s Jeff Withey‘s turn to be the star, he’s doing it. Now that it’s Ben McLemore‘s time to shine, he’s doing it, too. The question is not whether Kansas will win the Big 12. The question is whether the Jayhawks are good enough to win it all. Davis hits the nail on the head here, but you knew that already.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 21st, 2012


Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

A top ten battle with a bit of recent history leads a solid slate of games this weekend. We are down to the last few non-conference games before we go full tilt into the conference season starting in the new year. It is going to be interesting to see who starts to separate from the pack as we head towards March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#8 Kansas at #7 Ohio State 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)

Kansas' Jeff Withey Builds A Case For Most Improved Player. (AP)

How will Ohio State deal with Jeff Withey? (AP)

  • Kansas beat Ohio State twice last season.  Once in the regular season in Lawrence and once in the Final Four. Both teams are without their main contributors from last season in Jared Sullinger for OSU and Thomas Robinson for KU. The key for Kansas in both wins was field goal defense. They held OSU to under 40% shooting in both outings. The Jayhawks come into this game with another solid defense led by center Jeff Withey. Withey provides an inside presence that the Buckeyes will need to game plan around. They had trouble with Duke\’s Mason Plumlee in last month\’s loss to the Blue Devils. Plumlee put up 21 points and 17 rebounds against a Buckeye team that is a bit thin on the inside. While Withey\’s offensive skills may not be as refined as Plumlee\’s, he is capable of putting up 20+ points and will certainly be a major factor on defense. Additionally, pay close attention to the KU guards. Travis Releford, Ben McClemore, and Elijah Johnson are big guards. Look to see if they can take advantage of their size.
  • Ohio State has only lost two non-conference home games since Thad Matta got to Columbus in 2005. They lost in 2008 to North Carolina and in 2009 to West Virginia. While OSU is struggling a bit to find a legit second and third scoring threat, it’s hard to argue against a record like that at home. I learned that when Notre Dame beat Kentucky earlier this season. Still though, DeShaun Thomas is going to need help on the offensive end if Thad Matta and company are to keep that home record intact. Watch Aaron Craft, as he will be the X factor for the Buckeyes. He is averaging just under 10 points a game thus far but is capable of more. Watch the match-up between Craft and Johnson for Kansas. Johnson is turning the ball over frequently (25%) and Craft is one of the best ball thieves in the business. If he can create turnover and get the Buckeyes out on the run, OSU will be in good shape.
  • It’s tough to argue against Ohio State’s home record and they are still a very talented team, but I think Withey and the big guards make the difference in this contest. Look for Withey to shut down any second chance opportunities and defend the hoop against a slashing Thomas. Plus Kansas has this to inspire them.

More Great Action

#14 Missouri vs. #10 Illinois  6:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Illinois’ win at Gonzaga may be the best win of the year thus far, along side Butler’s OT victory against Indiana. As it turns out, Illinois beat Butler as well, so it’s time to take John Groce’s team seriously. The guard match-ups should be excellent in this game. The keys for Missouri will be creating turnovers and getting offensive rebounds. The Tigers aren’t turning teams over like they have in the past but the addition of Alex Oriakhi has helped the rebounding situation tremendously. Mizzou ranks 7th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The Tigers will still have to contain Illinois’ Brandon Paul, however. If he gets loose like he did against Gonzaga, it will be another nice win for the Illini.

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Dissecting Bill Self’s Point Guard Problems at Kansas

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 7th, 2012

It isn’t natural watching a Bill Self team struggle at the point guard position, but that’s exactly what’s happening this season. It doesn’t help that Kansas has had great point guard play for most of Self’s nine seasons at the helm, raising expectations and magnifying mistakes for whomever is running the Kansas offense. Sophomore point guard Naadir Tharpe looked to be the replacement this year for four-year starter Tyshawn Taylor, but  that hasn’t been the case. Tharpe, who watched most of last season from the bench, is averaging 4.0 PPG and 2.1 APG in 16 MPG, pushing the responsibility of running the team to senior guard Elijah Johnson. The problem is, though, that Johnson has played off the ball during his three years at Kansas. He hasn’t adapted to the position change yet, and it has hurt the Jayhawks offense. “It’s not Elijah,” Self said on Thursday. “as much as it is the pieces around Elijah.”

Bill Self is Looking for a Point Guard, Whether On His Bench or in His Next Recruiting Class.

With Tharpe not taking the step up that people may have expected and freshman guard Rio Adams still adjusting to the college game, the Jayhawks are in unfamiliar territory. Self even practiced with senior forward Kevin Young at the point earlier this week, although he said it only lasted about 10 minutes. The problems this season can be traced all the way back to the 2011 recruiting class. Self landed five-star point guard Josh Selby, a huge get at the time. But Selby barely had time to unpack his bags before he declared for the NBA Draft. Self’s other commitment that year was Royce Woolridge, a three-star guard who later transferred to Washington State. A year later, Self offered scholarships to a number of guards, eventually landing Ben McLemore  — a prototypical two or three guard — and Tharpe. In last year’s class, Self went after several potential point guards, from Marcus Smart and Marcus Paige to Archie Goodwin and Gabe York, eventually receiving a commitment from Rio Adams.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota, Canadian Imports, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.

    Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet

  2. With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
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