Rushed Reactions: #5 Indiana 73, #4 Kentucky 67

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. Thomas Bryant’s second half play was instrumental to the Indiana victory. Throughout the first half, it appeared the moment might have been too large for the Indiana freshman forward. Bryant picked up two early fouls that limited him to a minor role in the opening stanza. Bryant was a completely different player after halftime, however. The first-year workhorse finished the afternoon with 19 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and grabbed five rebounds. He also displayed his affinity for the big moment by knocking down two clutch free throws with 10.4 seconds to play that gave the Hoosiers a four-point lead. When the final buzzer sounded, Bryant paraded off the floor, exclaiming, “This is why I’m here! This is why I’m here!”. You better believe the Indiana faithful are quite thrilled Bryant has been on their side all season long.
  2. Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer really hurt the Wildcats. Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray have been the guys for Kentucky all season. Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year, and Murray, a dynamic freshman with a penchant for knocking down big shots, are on the short list of players that can take over a game at any time. Perhaps as a result of the praise and accolades heaped on Ulis and Murray, Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer has largely been ignored. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that absence took center stage this afternoon, as Ulis and Murray scored 43 of Kentucky’s 67 points. The next highest point man was freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe, who had just seven points. Time after time, it appeared the Kentucky offense was resigned to standing around and waiting on either Ulis or Murray to make a play. It is hard to know whether the result would have been different if Kentucky’s supporting cast had played a bigger role, but it seemed like a tall order to ask Ulis and Murray to shoulder such a large percentage of the offensive load.
  3. Yogi Ferrell deserves this in his senior season. There are not many seniors (if any) who have meant more to their teams than Yogi Ferrell has meant to Indiana. It is only fitting that his final hurrah in the NCAA Tournament is marked by a run deep into the bracket. Ferrell was, per usual, masterful in leading the Hoosiers past Kentucky, finishing with 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. The Indiana floor general also took excellent care of the ball all afternoon, turning it over just once in 37 minutes. The Hoosiers will face a large test in their Sweet 16 team match-up in Philadelphia, but with Ferrell at the controls, the team will have great guidance and on-the-court leadership.

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Kentucky Needs More Post Production For Deep March Run

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2016

Given the way Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray have played over the last couple of months, there really can’t be much debate about whether Kentucky has the best backcourt in the country. In Saturday’s thrilling 93-80 SEC Tournament semifinal win over Georgia, Ulis and Murray combined for 51 points — the 11th consecutive game in which Murray had scored 20 points or more. The Wildcats also got a strong second half performance from Isaiah Briscoe, something upon which they haven’t been able to regularly rely. Everyone knows that good guard play is an important key to a deep NCAA Tournament run, and Kentucky’s recent performance bodes well for John Calipari‘s surging team.

Kentucky could use more consistency from Alex Poythress. (kentuckysportsradio.com)

Kentucky could use more consistency from Alex Poythress. (kentuckysportsradio.com)

If Kentucky is going to be a legitimate Final Four contender, the Wildcats are going to need more production from their big men. Things have definitely improved in that regard, as Skal Labissiere put together a couple of solid performances to end the regular season, Alex Poythress has shown signs of returning to his old form after fighting nagging injuries, and Derek Willis has also shown flashes of excellent play (even if much of his offensive damage he does comes from the perimeter). Kentucky beat Georgia on the strength of its backcourt — the three starting guards combined for 63 points — while Poythress (10 points, all in the second half) and Willis (14 points) had solid offensive performances of their own. Talented NCAA Tournament opponents that are more capable of neutralizing the Wildcats’ prolific backcourt are going to have a chance to beat them. Each of the team’s eight losses have come in games in which the front line was not very productive.

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Freeze Frame: Tracking Jamal Murray

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 3rd, 2016

Jamal Murray had quite the month of February. The Kentucky freshman scored at least 20 points in eight consecutive outings and averaged an insane 26.4 points per game over that stretch, giving him the highest scoring average by a Wildcat for a month since Jodie Meeks torched opponents in January 2009 for 28.0 PPG. Murray’s tear through conference play included a 35-point performance against Florida on February 6, and a 33-point effort at Vanderbilt on February 27.

Murray hits bullseye more often than not (247 sports).

Murray hits his target more often than not (247 sports).

While Murray has been especially hot over the past month, he has been impressive all season. His scoring average of 19.9 PPG ranks third in the SEC and second in the country among freshman. If it holds, he would set a new school freshman record and would represent the highest for any player under head coach John Calipari at Kentucky. And it seems that he is picking up where he left off in March, notching 21 more points against Florida on Tuesday night. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we analyze how Murray freed himself up for open shots against the Gators earlier this week.

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Freeze Frame: Kentucky’s Dynamic Guard Play

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 18th, 2015

Prior to the Champions Classic game between Duke and Kentucky on Tuesday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he needed to learn more about his team. Knowing how critical Calipari can be about his team’s performances, he probably nitpicked a few of those less positive moments. He saw that his team could get outmuscled at times in the post, and he certainly wasn’t pleased with a lack of physical play near the basket during a long stretch of the first half. He watched as Marcus Lee (even though he otherwise had a standout performance) and Skal Labissiere, two of his starting big men, committed needless fouls on their way to fouling out with over five minutes remaining. But where his big men came up lacking, we also learned that Calipari’s backcourt is already one of the best in the nation, and it stepped up big time to solidify a 74-63 statement win over defending national champion Duke.

Tyler Ulis may well be the most important point guard in the nation this season (AP Photo).

Tyler Ulis may well be the most important point guard in the nation this season. (AP Photo)

Tyler Ulis is only a sophomore, but the 5’9” point guard played like a seasoned veteran and proved he is the undisputed leader for this year’s young and talented Kentucky squad. The energetic floor general provided a spark on both ends of the floor on his way to 18 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals, and most importantly, zero turnovers in 40 minutes. Freshman Jamal Murray dazzled on his way to 16 points, five assists, five rebounds, and four steals, while Isaiah Briscoe added 12 points, three boards, and two steals. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we review the impact of Kentucky’s backcourt when Calipari needed them most.

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Morning Five: Opening Night Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 14th, 2014

morning5

  1. It’s finally here. After having to write about academic scandals and other peripheral stories as we  tried to fill up this space with whatever news we could find for the past 7+ months we finally have real college basketball games to talk about again. While today’s slate may lack the blockbusters we will have in Indianapolis we have next Tuesday, but we might enjoy today even more. If that isn’t the case, you should find more than enough to keep you entertained until we get into the big-time match-ups.
  2. You won’t be seeing two of the bigger names in college basketball due to recently announced suspensions. Southern Methodist senior forward Markus Kennedy, 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, has been ruled academically ineligible and will have to sit out the first semester meaning that he will not be available until after classes finish on December 17. While the school could try to work around the decision and play him that night against Illinois-Chicago we suspect that he would be out until December 20 when they play Michigan. Connecticut will have to wait one more game before transfer guard Rodney Purvis will be able to play for them as the NCAA ruled that he will have to miss one game because he participated in more than one summer league game. Purvis is the third significant player who will have to miss at least one regular season game to start the season because of this rule (Duje Dukan and Michael Cobbins being the others).
  3. You can file this under “New season, same story.” As we mentioned earlier this week we have just entered the early signing period. Most of the major prospects haven’t committed yet, but two of the bigger ones did yesterday and much like in previous years the hot names–Isaiah Briscoe and Skal Labisseriecommitted to Kentucky. The two five-star prospects are both borderline top 10 recruits overall in their class and give the Wildcats stars at two of the hardest positions to fill in any recruiting class (Briscoe at point guard and Labisserie at center). This doesn’t necessarily mean that John Calipari is going to clean up on the recruiting trail again, but it looks like things are going to stay the same.
  4. Speaking of Labisserie, on Wednesday his AAU coach told CBS Sports that Labisserie’s handler guardian had approached him looking for ways to profit off of Labisserie. Now we take anything an AAU coach says with a grain of salt because as a group they don’t have the most sterling reputations. This isn’t to say that he is lying and even if he isn’t lying simply asking about how to profit (from an intellectual perspective) wouldn’t break any rules that we are aware of. Still you can be sure that the Kentucky haters will be latching onto this storyline (and Labisserie’s interesting senior year situation) up until the day that the NCAA makes a decision about his eligibility.
  5. Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is expected to meet with the NCAA on Tuesday to discuss its investigation into his time at Southern Mississippi. As we have previously mentioned in this space the NCAA is looking into possible financial aid packages that were offered to players before they actually were allowed to receive scholarships. According to Jeff Goodman, the players in question are Matt Bingaya and Shadell Millinghaus. For its part, Tennessee claims that it very thoroughly vetted Tyndall before hiring him and for their sake we can only hope it was thorough enough. Its unclear what kind of timeline the NCAA is planning on working with, but we imagine that all parties involved would want a resolution as soon as possible.
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Morning Five: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 12th, 2014

morning5

  1. Too often we lead off this space with bad news so it is a pleasure to write about Austin Hatch again and this time for a positive story. You may remember Hatch, a talented high school player who was involved in two plane crashes separated by eight years that took the lives of his entire immediate family. Hatch, who had been a Michigan commit before the incident, ended up staying on his Michigan commitment and after extensive rehab made it onto the court for an exhibition game for the Wolverines hitting a free throw for the first point of his college career. We are not sure how much Hatch will play for the Wolverines during his time in Ann Arbor, but just the fact that he was able to make it back to the court is inspiring in itself.
  2. Nebraska got some good news recently as senior forward Leslee Smith is ahead of schedule in his recovery from tearing his left ACL and is expected to be ready to return by mid-January. Smith averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds last season and his return would add a lot to a Cornhusker team that could be competitive at the top of what should be a very good Big 12 Conference this season. The news for New Mexico was not as promising as junior college transfer Jordan Goodman is now expected to be out longer than originally anticipated as he recovers from several nagging injuries and is not expected to be back until December. Although the Lobos have plenty of quality in the backcourt, Goodman could be essential in the frontcourt in what should be a transition season for the Lobos.
  3. Today is the first day of the early signing period for high school basketball recruits. While it doesn’t generate the hoopla of the regular period–particularly for football–it is still fairly significant as many top prospects sign binding letters of commitments to institutions. The two biggest names who are expected to commit later this week are Skal Labissiere (#4 overall–looking at Baylor, Georgetown, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina, and Tennessee) and Isaiah Briscoe (#9 overall–looking at Connecticut, Kentucky and St. John’s). You may remember Labissiere as the heavily touted recruit who recently announced that he was going to “attend” a prep school that did not exist yet for his senior year. It is unclear if either will sign, for their sakes, we hope they don’t since it binds the recruit to the school, which means that the recruit cannot back out even if everything about the school changes.Personally, we would like to see these letters of intent disappear and simply allow a player to verbally commit, which would allow that player more flexibility if (and when) a coach moves.
  4. Last week, we linked an article from Ken Pomeroy that showed that the AP Preseason Poll did have some predictive value. This week, he has a slightly more broad-based analysis of various predictive models. While the overall analysis is not that complete it does show that the four prediction models that are most often referenced are fairly accurate. In terms of determining which is the most accurate that will be difficult as it will probably require several years of data and we would assume that most of these systems update their algorithms every year so a long-term analysis might not be as useful.
  5. By now, you have probably read a column or seen a Twitter debate about whether this Kentucky team could beat a NBA team. This year the annual ridiculous debate was started by Chris Briggs, the coach of Georgetown College (that’s College not University and not the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown University), after Kentucky beat his NAIA team 121-52. After the game, Briggs said Kentucky “could have beaten some NBA teams tonight” and later added that “if they play like they did tonight, they’re an NBA playoff team.” Every year we hear this debate and we reflexively dismiss it as ridiculous although we could envision a scenario where the Philadelphia 76ers could be trying to score on their own basket. However, now that we have a NAIA coach talking after a game where his good, but not great NAIA team got blown out we might have to reassess things.
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Seven Sweet Scoops: Okafor and Jones Visit Duke, Cliff Alexander Off to Illinois, and More…

Posted by Sean Moran on October 25th, 2013

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. The Package Deal: Okafor and Jones Visit Duke

Where will Okafor and Jones be playing together next year?

The much anticipated weekend has arrived for Coach K and Duke. The top-ranked center and point guard in the class of 2014 are taking their official visits to Durham, North Carolina, today. Package deals in college basketball are often talked about but rarely come to fruition, especially one involving such star power. Jahlil Okafor, a 6’11” center out of Chicago, is the top ranked player in the country, and his buddy Tyus Jones, a 6’1” point guard out of Apple Valley, Minnesota, is the fourth-ranked player in the country. Both seniors have indicated that they will attend college together and have whittled their list of potential suitors down to three. Last week Kansas played host to the duo, but this week Duke gets to take its crack at selling the duo on moving east. With Okafor’s size and strength he is almost unguardable in the low post and would provide Duke with its best low post presence since the Carlos Boozer days. Jones would provide Duke with its best point guard since Jason Williams and he has long been discussed as the overall best point guard in high school basketball dating back to his sophomore year. Along with these two players, five-star small forward Justise Winslow (#9 overall, #3 SF) from the class of 2014 will also make the trip. His recruitment was discussed last week. All in all, it’s a huge weekend in Durham.

2. Cliff Alexander Makes His Last Official Visit

Cliff Alexander, a five-star power forward from Chicago, is staying in-state this weekend and making the two-hour drive south down to Champaign for his last official visit to Illinois. Alexander is a 6’8” manchild who is currently the No. 5 prospect in the class of 2014 and eerily reminiscent of L.A. Clipper DeAndre Jordan. Over the past few weeks Alexander and his family have taken in the sights and sounds of Midnight Madness at Memphis and Kansas. A decision is expected in November with Illinois, DePaul, Arizona, Kansas, Memphis, and Michigan State all receiving interest. Expect John Groce and the Illinois coaching staff to pull out all the stops this weekend for Alexander. While the Illini already have a strong recruiting class in 2014 with four-star power forward LeRon Black (#46 overall, #9 PF) and four-star point guard Quentin Snider (#31 overall, #7 PG) committed, Alexander would be the crown jewel. He can run the floor, block shots and dunks everything around the basket. His offensive skills outside the paint are rapidly improving and he put himself in the conversation for the number one player in the country. Not only would Groce get a player with future NBA talent, he would also lay claim to Illinois becoming a major player for all that Chicago talent.

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