Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Gonzaga and Cal!

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on November 21st, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

The #1 Wildcats put in as dominant a performance against a top-five team as I can remember, eviscerating Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday. As many blocks as field goals surrendered? Holding an elite opponent under 20 percent field goal shooting on a neutral court? Sign me up. If this team plays defense together half this good on a nightly basis, it won’t be on the bottom end of a box score very often this season. The beatdown Kentucky put on Kansas completely justifies overlooking the halftime deficit to Buffalo on Sunday, which became a 71-52 win.  This is as no-doubt a winner as I’ve ever had in this column. (Welcome to year three, kids.)

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All-Americans on his roster. (AP)

(Related winners: The nine high-school All-Americans who get to play 20 minutes each a game while playing against the best opposing players in the country in practice every day, getting to boost their abilities and NBA draft stock simultaneously. Related losers: Kansas, because yeesh. Buffalo, because blowing a halftime lead wasn’t nearly as bad as the six-plus feet of blowing snow dropped on their city later in the week – after a win at Texas-Arlington, at least.) Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Win For Cal, But More Significant Test Pending

Posted by AMurawa on November 21st, 2014

Midway through the second half of California’s 14–point win over Syracuse (#25 in the RTC preseason poll) at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, both Dick Vitale and John Saunders expressed surprise that the Golden Bears were picked seventh in the Pac-12 — astonished that there could be six teams in the conference better than them. And if you watched the game, you probably understood that surprise, because Cal looked great. They shot a 54.5 percent eFG against the vaunted Syracuse zone, kept the Orange’s athletes out of transition (for the most part), and really had a handle on the game from the closing moments of the first half (a late 12-0 run in that half featured four Cal threes in five possessions). Sophomore Jabari Bird had his national coming-out party with 16 points on four threes, and his more under-the-radar classmate Jordan Mathews wound up with 22 relatively quiet points. Up and down the rest of the roster, Cuonzo Martin’s players made the type of plays that they’ll be expected to make all season long. So, all that optimism that Golden Bears fans had to be feeling throughout that not-all-that-stressful second half is completely warranted and Cal should start looking into a nice brand of scissors for all that net-cutting they’re going to be doing at the end of the year, right? Well, slow your roll for just one minute.

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

First, note that we’re not about to discount what the Golden Bears did last night at all. They beat Syracuse on a floor that was anything but neutral, and they did it in convincing fashion. They’ve got a star or two on the wing in Bird and Mathews. Tyrone Wallace is settling in at the point and has looked good enough there. And if he needs a hand, Martin’s best bench player at this junction is sophomore point Sam Singer who, by the way, handed out eight assists in a solid night of action. There’s senior center David Kravish, who contributed 12 points, 10 boards, three blocks, five assists and even a three against that Syracuse front line which, even if you don’t recognize any of the names off the top of your head, is an intimidating opponent. They looked really good, validating the initial opinion that most people who watched any of the Golden Bears’ first couple games of the season came away with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Keydet Fast: VMI Still Trying to Find Its Footing

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on November 21st, 2014

Virginia Military Institute coach Duggar Baucom was all apologies after his team’s opener last week against The Citadel. “They just made us guard,” Baucom said. “We call it a ‘red call’ when the shot clock goes under 10. It seemed like we were yelling that all night. You just have to deal with it. We were late on some deflections that probably should have been steals and that would have allowed us to run a little more. But we’ll have games like that every once in a while.” The Keydets may have pulled out a 66-65 victory on a clutch Trey Chapman three-pointer with 15 seconds left, but — while wins are important — the fact that VMI was held to 60 possessions in the game, the lowest number in Baucom’s 10-year career in Lexington, made Baucom swear to go back to the drawing board.

This might be the toughest season yet for Duggar Baucom at VMI. (Big South Athletics)

This might be the toughest season yet for Duggar Baucom at VMI. (Big South Athletics)

Baucom has made up-tempo basketball his identity throughout his coaching career, coming to VMI from Division II Tusculum a decade ago. He was under no illusions at how tough a job he would have to build a competitive program at the military school. He couldn’t offer many of the bells and whistles other Division I schools can, but he could show them how to play high-octane basketball. Baucom’s teams have finished in the top 10 nationally in adjusted tempo in the last eight years, and in the top two in six of those seasons, including last year when VMI won 20 games and advanced to the semifinals of the CIT. “Every day is a grind at a military school like VMI for the kids, and you have to do things a little differently as a coach,” Baucom said. “Recruiting is tough. We have great kids, though, and I wouldn’t swap them for anything. VMI has been very good to me.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Harvard’s Wake-Up Call Might Not Be So Bad

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 20th, 2014

Let’s make a few things clear about Harvard and its probably-gone at-large hopes. For one, if the team is worrying about an at-large selection come March, it probably means it lost two or three games in Ivy League play – which would be problematic on its own. For another, Tommy Amaker’s group is no stranger to faltering unexpectedly in the non-conference: in 2012, the Crimson lost to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Fordham; in 2013, it fell at home to Vermont; and last season, it suffered a 15-point defeat to sub-.500 Florida Atlantic. Each year, Harvard’s at-large aspirations took a severe hit before conference games even began, and each year the team responded by winning the outright Ivy League title. Sunday’s turnover-filled loss to Holy Cross is only different in that it happened just three days into the season, before anyone could even blink. With everything still left to play for – a league title, a Tourney birth, seeding implications – the much-hyped Crimson may have received the wake-up call it needed and was eventually going to get anyway. Now it must figure things out on the court before the schedule ramps up in coming weeks.

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Siyani Chambers is probably the best point guard in the Ivy League yet the Crusaders’ pressure defense completely got the best of him on Sunday, turning him over a career-high nine times and holding the junior to just one point. As poorly as Chambers played, though, his track record suggests that he’ll be just fine going forward; the bigger problem might be his backcourt running mates, or lack thereof. Both he and Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders (24 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday) are going to play a lot and produce a lot, but nearly every other guard is an unproven commodity. Program mainstays Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry graduated in the offseason, stripping the team of its best perimeter shooter (Rivard shot 43% 3FG as a senior and holds the school’s all-time three-point record) and a solid all-around guard who could spell Chambers at the point (Curry was the team’s floor general before Chambers arrived in 2012). Corbin Miller (45% 3FG in 2011-12) – who missed the past two years due to an LDS mission – should fill some of the void left by Rivard, but true freshman Andre Chatfield looks like the only other guard receiving rotational minutes early on. As a result, not only is Harvard very thin in the backcourt from an injury-risk standpoint – losing Chambers, Saunders or Miller would be devastating – it also seems less-equipped to handle opponents that necessitate a guard-heavy lineup like Holy Cross. Too much pressure was placed on the pair in that game. Amaker has a ton of options when it comes to mixing and matching frontcourt guys, but far fewer when it comes to the backcourt, so the continued development and emergence of players like Miller and Chatfield will be crucial as the season progresses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: The Ceiling for Kentucky’s Elite Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 19th, 2014

The Big Blue Nation doesn’t forget. None of the players on the court during last night’s Kentucky-Kansas game were alive way back in 1989 — with the possible exception of Perry Ellis, who looks like he ran out of college eligibility during the Clinton administration — but the fans remember their school’s basketball history like it was yesterday. And they hold a grudge. Two decades on, Kentucky fans have been known to purchase “I still hate [Christian] Laettner” t-shirts and have never forgiven the Duke star for his infamous foot stomp and turnaround jumper back in 1992. They can’t help but wonder “what if Nazr Mohammed had made just a couple free throws” in the 1997 title game against Arizona. They remember exactly where they were when Dwyane Wade exploded on the scene for Marquette in 2003. The 2011 Cats could have — scratch that, should have — won a backdoor national title if they hadn’t gone completely blank against UConn. All of that and more. But there is another loss — a regular season one, no less — that ranks near the top of a long list of defeats that Kentucky fans haven’t let go.

Rick Pitino during Kentucky's 150-95 loss to Kansas in 1989 (photo courtesy of KUsports.com).

Rick Pitino during Kentucky’s 150-95 loss to Kansas in 1989 (photo courtesy of KUsports.com).

The date was December 9, 1989, and the score was 150-95. For Kentucky, that season signified just how far the mighty had fallen. Not a lot was expected from the decimated Wildcats in Rick Pitino’s first year on probation, but that didn’t mean fans took it lightly when the tables were turned. Coming into last night’s game in Indianapolis, Kentucky was 5-3 against Kansas since that demoralizing night, but the margin of victory never approached the beatdown that Roy Williams put on the Wildcats even if the scale of importance was elevated. Tubby Smith’s group knocked the Jayhawks out of the NCAA Tournament in 1999; and there was a certain National Championship game in 2012 that went the Wildcats’ way too. But Kentucky hadn’t gotten revenge for the embarrassing 55-point drubbing it endured in Allen Fieldhouse. Until last night.

Kentucky’s defense was outstanding, and it stood out in three distinct ways: effort; rim protection; and defensive rotations. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we look at Kentucky’s dominating defensive performance against Kansas, and the potential for this year’s team to be among the best interior defensive teams of all-time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Poor Recruiting Hurts AAC More Than Losing Louisville Ever Will

Posted by mlemaire on November 19th, 2014

Last week, RTC national columnist Bennet Hayes asked if Louisville’s departure from the AAC would “cripple” the conference and rightly pointed out that the Cardinals’ consistent excellence and national pedigree would be sorely missed by a new conference still looking to find its way. But with all due respect to my colleague, he isn’t asking the right question. The AAC will absolutely miss Louisville, and the prolonged irrelevance of the teams replacing the Cardinals’ program should be a major concern. But the conference still has enough competitive programs to stay relevant in March. The real question is whether the top five or six teams can ever be consistently nationally relevant. The reason the answer to that question isn’t obvious is because the league can’t seem to attract much NBA-level talent and that all starts with recruiting.

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC's Only Five-Star Recruit And Best NBA Prospect

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC’s Only Five-Star Recruit And Is Maybe Its Best NBA Prospect

The early signing period for the recruiting class of 2015 officially came to close today, and after landing just one five-star prospect (UConn’s Daniel Hamilton) in the Class of 2014, things again look bleak for the conference. Only two five-star prospects (UConn commitment Jalen Adams and Memphis commitment Dedric Lawson) signed their letter of intent with an AAC school last week, and not coincidentally, UConn and Memphis are the conference’s only programs that can currently boast top 30 recruiting classes. Let’s break down just how unfavorably the AAC recruiting classes stack up to those from the rest of the major basketball conferences.

  • The AAC, the Big 12, and the Big Ten are the only three conferences without a commitment from one of the country’s top 20 players, but it’s almost a certainty that Kansas will land one if not two or three of the uncommitted five-star prospects.
  • The AAC has only six of the top 100 prospects in the country currently committed, far less than the Pac-12 (15), Big Ten (13), SEC (14), and the ACC (17). The Big East currently has seven top 100 prospects committed and the Big 12 has just five (again… Kansas).
  • Only the Big 12 has fewer schools among the top 30 recruiting classes in the country after the early signing period, and it seems highly unlikely that any other school from the conference will break into that group, although SMU is probably close.
  • Of the top remaining uncommitted prospects, only five-star center Diamond Stone is seriously considering an AAC school (UConn) while the rest of the uncommitted prospects seem to be considering SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12 schools.
  • UConn and Memphis are responsible for four of the six top-100 prospects committed to play in the AAC, and Memphis’ highly ranked class has as much to do with their coaching hires and Dedric Lawson’s decision to reclassify as it does with Josh Pastner’s recruiting prowess.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Champions Classic Report Card: Grading Hoops’ Biggest Early-Season Event

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

College basketball reentered the national consciousness on Tuesday night as familiar blue-bloods Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State squared off in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Let’s examine, assess and grade a few of the event’s most interesting themes and outcomes.

Kentucky’s platoon system: B+

Kentucky vs. Kansas lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

Kentucky vs. Kansas may have lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

With the glut of talent on this year’s Kentucky roster (as if Kentucky ever doesn’t possess a glut of talent), John Calipari has taken to a ‘platoon’ system wherein he substitutes five guys at a time – two entirely different lineups – throughout each game. That approach, seldom seen at college hoops’ highest level, went swimmingly on Tuesday night as the ‘Blue Platoon’ (38 points, seven blocks) and ‘White Platoon’ (28 points, four blocks) each had an important hand in dominating Kansas from start to finish. Works like a charm, right? Well, maybe. While Calipari denies that his scheme amounts to ‘communism,’ one does have to wonder if the more inefficient or ineffectual players will end up receiving too much playing time as a result of this strategy in the future. Let’s say, for example, that Marcus Lee is consistently less effective than his Blue Platoon counterpart for a prolonged stretch – it wouldn’t make much sense to continue giving him equal or similar minutes each night. That said, the Wildcats drubbed the Jayhawks by 32 points, and – as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Early-season drama: D-

This event has generally produced very good, very tight contests,in the previous three iterations, with only a few points separating each team. Even last year’s 11-point Kansas win over Duke – the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins game – was tied with under five minutes to play. That level of drama was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night, however, as Duke largely controlled things for the full 40 minutes against Michigan State, and Kentucky absolutely manhandled Kansas. We’ve been spoiled up to this point and were probably due for a couple blowouts (it’s a testament to the consistent excellence of each program that the first three years were so good), but it’s still a bummer. Hopefully the drama returns in 2015.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Is Kentucky’s Platoon System Built to Last?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 19th, 2014

John Calipari has been known to indulge in a bit of hyperbole from time to time, which forced most of us to take the preseason news of his installment of a hockey-style, 5-for-5 substitution system at Kentucky with a grain of salt. Super cool that you have a roster deep enough to float an idea like this, Coach Cal, but lets talk when actual games begin, okay? Impediments to wholesale substitution patterns go well beyond having a short roster. Foul trouble, injuries and varying match-ups are all reasons to maintain the classic flexibility of free substitutions. Even with a Kentucky roster overflowing with ability, this mindless platoon system Calipari was espousing seemed suboptimal at best and viciously exploitable at worst.

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night (USA Today)

Or so the thinking went. After Kentucky walloped Kansas by 32 points in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, it is suddenly evident that Calipari’s decision to eschew convention has the potential to pay massive dividends. At least for a night, there were no complaints about playing time. Rhythm remained steady as the units exchanged places, and both blue and white platoons played with the sort of boundless energy that Calipari dreamed this arrangement could foster. You could pull any five guys out of the Kentucky 10-deep and field a sufficiently scary basketball team, but the relentlessness of a long, athletic Wildcats front line was significantly magnified by the five-in, five-out waves that Kansas had to fight through all night. The Wildcats not only looked like the best team in the country on Tuesday night, but also a potentially unbeatable best team in the country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

What’s Trending: #TipOffMarathon Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on November 19th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Kevin Pangos is Still in College

Believe me, when I turned on the Gonzaga vs. SMU game late Monday night, I was just as surprised as you were.

But I digress. Pangos was awesome, posting a cool 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Gonzaga’s 72-56 victory.

Bruce Pearl is Back…

And he’s sweatier than ever!

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 72, #5 Kansas 40

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic games tonight.

Three Key Takeaways:

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

  1. Kentucky’s size is peerless. Kentucky ranks first in the nation in effective height, but it doesn’t take an advanced statistician to know that the Wildcats are really, really big. That size and length proved the difference against Kansas tonight, as Bill Self’s club was unable to find consistent looks near the basket and shot poorly from the outside – an obviously lethal combination. Altogether, Kentucky blocked 11 shots and held the Jayhawks to eight – yes, eight – two-point baskets on the night (19.5% 2FG). With five contributors standing 6’9’’ or taller, including two seven-footers, the Wildcats’ interior defense is seemingly impregnable. The only way to beat Calipari’s group may be from the outside, and even that remains to be seen.
  2. The platoon remains for now. After the game, Calipari noted, “we’ll figure it out as we go, as far as ‘are we going to be able to play this way?’” and suggested that a more conventional lineup – one based on performance – could develop over time. But after a 32-point thrashing, on a night filled with so much national attention and fanfare, the fact that postgame conversations seemed less about ‘egos’ and ‘one-and-dones’ and more about “just how good can this team be?” suggests that the platoon system will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Five guys in, five guys out.
  3. This is more about Kentucky and less about Kansas. Sure, the Jayhawks were dominated, but Bill Self’s club is and should remain a top-10 team and perceived Big 12 favorites. Fact is, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Cliff Alexander will be far more productive against normal-sized front lines; the team won’t shoot 20 percent from behind the arc each night; and Frank Mason will develop into a more consistent point guard. Considering Kansas’ talent and Bill Self’s track record, there are numerous aspects about tonight’s game that his staff might be better off just ignoring, moving on from, and chalking up to the fact that Kentucky is just ridiculously talented. There are better days ahead in Lawrence.

Star of the Game: Karl-Anthony Towns. There are no stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Or, there are many stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Either way, freshman center Towns was excellent tonight, logging nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in just 17 minutes and 34 seconds on the court. It’s all about efficiency for Kentucky this year, and efficient he was.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #4 Duke 81, #19 Michigan State 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 18th, 2014

Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic games tonight.

Three Key Takeaways:

Duke big man Jahlil Okafor played big on Tuesday night. (247sports.com)

Duke big man Jahlil Okafor played big on Tuesday night. (247sports.com)

  1. Duke freshmen are as good as advertised. As good as the Blue Devil freshmen were against Presbyterian and Fairfield, they were even better against Michigan State – which says a lot, considering the obvious step up in competition. Jahlil Okafor was dominant early on and nearly unstoppable when he caught the ball within a few feet of the basket. Justise Winslow’s ability to get to the rim and create his own shot proved critical in squashing several would-be Spartan runs. And Tyus Jones – held scoreless in the first half – almost single-handedly put the game on ice, scoring six of his 17 points within two possessions of Jahlil Okafor leaving the floor with four fouls. All told, the highly-touted newcomers combined for 49 of Duke’s 81 points and more than lived up to their preseason billing.
  2. Sparty will be just fine with Travis Trice at the helm. There was a quiet sense of panic among Spartans fans following the team’s narrow victory over Navy on Friday night, especially with Duke right around the corner. And while Michigan State lost tonight’s game – outplayed, to be sure – it looked more like the top 20 Big Ten contender many people pegged it as in the preseason. Travis Trice, who carried the load against the Midshipman over the weekend, was again the lifeblood for the Spartans’ offense (despite shooting 1-of-5 from deep), creating baskets with his penetration and directing traffic each time down the floor. His final stat line – 15 points, six rebounds and eight assists – demonstrates his all-around importance to the team’s performance. He, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson should keep the Spartans competitive in the Big Ten race, especially when the team returns to full health.
  3. Quinn Cook is more than capable playing off the ball. With Tyus Jones joining the fold, guard Quinn Cook has played off the ball much more frequently this season – a role he relished on this night. The senior shot 7-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-4 from deep, and tallied 17 points to go along with four assists and zero turnovers. If Cook continues producing at that level alongside Jones, the Blue Devils will be even more offensively dynamic this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Players in the Wooden Watch: Who Belongs?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 18th, 2014

The annual Wooden Award Watch list became public on Monday and eight ACC players could be found on it: In alphabetical order: Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Tyus Jones (Duke), Jahlil Okafor (Duke), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), and Terry Rozier (Louisville). This is on par with last year’s performance by the ACC, which also included eight players on the preseason list, including names such as Jabari Parker (Duke), Rodney Hood (Duke), Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Joe Harris (Virginia), and James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina).  One of last year’s selections from the ACC, Dez Wells (Maryland), remains on the list this time around, but he represents the Big Ten now, following Maryland’s official departure from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell leads Louisville into its new League. (Getty Images)

All-America candidate Montrezl Harrell leads Louisville into its new League. (Getty Images)

Doing the math, this is presumably a list of 50 of the best players in the country, and it’s slightly troubling that the ACC doesn’t account for at least a fifth of this list, especially given its oversized presence in the preseason Top 10. This is especially concerning given the fact that Kansas and Kentucky together account for eight players on the list, the same number as the entire conference. Still, given who is on the list, can we be assured that these eight players represent the conference well? ACC fans will at the very least be pleased with the quality of this group, which could arguably match up with and beat any other conference group assembled.

  • Malcolm Brogdon (2013-14: 12.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 APG): Brogdon became a key piece of Virginia’s ACC championship team, providing a solid stroke from the three-point line and taking some pressure off of star Joe Harris on the perimeter. This year, Brogdon will be looked upon to continue that kind of offensive play with Harris gone, and possibly even step it up a notch. He’s not the most athletically gifted player, but his natural offensive game will grab the attention of anyone watching Virginia play.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story