Rushed Reactions: Kentucky 70, Georgia 58

Posted by CD Bradley on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

C.D. Bradley will be reporting from the SEC Tournament semifinals and finals.

The Wildcats Were All Smiles Heading to Sunday's Showdown (Vicky Graff)

The Wildcats Were All Smiles Heading to Sunday’s Showdown (Vicky Graff)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Kentucky’s spurtability key to their success. Georgia hung around and hung around, cutting the UK lead to three at 46-43 with 13 minutes to go in the game. The Wildcats, whose offense had sputtered for much of the game, then showed a bit of that talent we’ve heard so much about all season. First Dakari Johnson hit a shot and drew a foul after getting an offensive rebound. He missed the free throw, but Willie Cauley-Stein corraled the rebound and found Aaron Harrison for a three. UK then got a stop, and Harrison launched another three. He missed it, and Georgia looked to have the rebound, but James Young swooped in for the tip-in. Seven points in 51 seconds, all off of offensive rebounds, pushed the lead to 10, and the Wildcats never looked back.
  2. Georgia was crushed on the boards. The Bulldogs reached 12 SEC wins mostly with smoke and mirrors, but the one thing they did decently was grab offensive rebounds. And while Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in America, they rank a middling #119 in defensive rebounding percentage. None of that mattered Saturday, when the Wildcats dominated the defensive glass, outrebounding Georgia at that end 25-3, with two of those Georgia offensive rebounds coming too late to matter much.
  3. The Twins might finally have arrived. Aaron and Andrew Harrison came to UK with enormous expectations, but both have struggled this year along with their team. So Wildcat fans have to be thrilled with the duo’s play in Atlanta, particularly Saturday when Aaron led all scorers with 22 and Andrew had 12 points, nine assists and five rebounds. If Kentucky is to challenge Florida on Sunday and advance very far in the NCAA Tournament, they will need more of such play from their backcourt.

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SEC Tournament Preview: Who Will Be the Surprise Player in Atlanta?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 12th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question goes in depth on the individual performances we could see this weekend. After being snubbed for an All SEC first team selection in 2013, Marshall Henderson went on a tear through last year’s SEC tournament guiding Ole Miss to a surprise championship and claiming MVP. Who will be the surprise breakout player of this year’s tournament?

Last year it was Marshall Henderson. Who will be the breakout player this season?  (US Presswire)

Last year it was Marshall Henderson. Who will be the breakout player this season? (US Presswire)

Christian D’Andrea (@trainisland): Georgia sophomore Kenny Gaines was the second-leading scorer for the third-best team in the SEC, but was completely snubbed by the media in this week’s All-SEC honors. In fact, Gaines may be the conference’s most overlooked guard. He’s hitting the SEC Tournament after averaging 18.6 points per game over his last seven and shooting a blistering 56.8 percent from long range over that span.  He could outshine players like Marshall Henderson, Jordan McRae, and Trevor Releford if he can carry his recent hot streak with him to Atlanta.

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SEC M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 5th, 2014

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  1. You can put that checkbook away, South Carolina. The Gamecocks couldn’t follow up their improbable win (and $5,000 “competition access area” violation) against Kentucky with an infinitely more improbable win over Florida, losing to the Gators by 26 points. The Florida defense frustrated South Carolina’s young guards on the perimeter all night, giving up few easy looks. But forcing 19 turnovers and holding South Carolina to 32 percent shooting wasn’t the story of this game. Michael Frazier, however, was, in a big way. Last week we wrote about Frazier bursting out of a mini-slump, and after last night’s career-high 37-point performance (11-of-18 from three), the sophomore’s narrative is much different. According to the Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, that’s the most points for a Gator since Joakim Noah scored the same number in 2006, and it was also a school record for three-pointers made in one game. Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather have had nights that they’ve carried the Gators offensively this year, but against South Carolina they combined for only nine points. Being an effective three-point specialist is one thing, but making 11 treys in one game is quite another. That’s the kind of elite consistency that can carry a team. If his shooting stroke is on like that at the end of this month, it should be smooth sailing for the Gators.
  2. It isn’t all bad news for South Carolina. Despite a non-conference season which featured home losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate and a 1-9 start to SEC play, attendance is up this year at Colonial Life Arena. Average attendance is near 10,000 people, the highest it has been in three seasons. This is interesting since “down attendance” has been a theme this season for the SEC (and college basketball in general), as the conference has asked ESPN for more convenient start times and even Kentucky (gasp) has seen fewer people in Rupp Arena’s stands. The progress at South Carolina might not be much, but it must be encouraging to the administration that the team still has a moderate pull on fans despite being near the bottom of the conference standings. If Frank Martin is eventually able to point the program in the right direction, the venue could become a major asset. With an 18,000-seat capacity, it’s one of the bigger arenas in any conference. If Gamecock fans have more to watch than just Sindarius Thornwell’s development, that could make for some serious noise.
  3. Blowing out Alabama by 20 points probably wouldn’t have eased the drama swirling around Kentucky since last Saturday’s loss in Columbia. Beating the Tide by seven in a sloppy game won’t either, but it was a bounceback victory that the Wildcats desperately needed. Their shooting is what it is at this point (they rank in the 200s in both free throw and three-point percentage), and designated three-point problem-solver James Young didn’t allay any concerns by going 1-of-10 from distance against Alabama. Still, his lone three created separation towards the end of a close game, and he has flashed a more diversified offensive game recently. Young has gotten to the line seven or more times in three of the past four games, including seven times last evening which allowed him to score nine points despite a horrid shooting performance. Kentucky has a unique opportunity in front of it right now. As long as the Wildcats don’t get embarrassingly blown out Saturday in Gainesville, it’s a no-lose situation. The “40-0 t-shirt” joke is long out of the bag, and losing a game on the road to the #1 team in the country isn’t earth-shaking. But if somehow Kentucky keeps it close or improbably wins the game, that’s one whale of a confidence-builder as the elimination games begin.
  4. Eamonn Brennan is not as impressed with Arkansas’ recent surge as some are. In his recent Bubble Watch piece, he warns against “reductive bubble-watching” and writes that a team’s entire resume shouldn’t be ignored. In the end, he has the Razorbacks still lounging on the bubble along with Missouri and Tennessee. I too have been puzzled by the notion that Arkansas is suddenly on the comfortable side of the aisle. Should Tennessee and Arkansas both win out this week, I’d like the Vols’ chances quite a bit better. Their computer numbers, especially in strength of schedule, are better than that of their competitors, and that win over Virginia is the gift that keeps on giving. The Razorbacks also have a sneakily tricky week ahead of them. First they get an Ole Miss team that they haven’t beaten in six tries, and then hit the road for an Alabama team that has more talent than its profile suggests. That game will also be Trevor Releford’s last hurrah in Tuscaloosa and seems ripe for some senior magic. Still, Arkansas is firmly on the bubble after disappearing for a few weeks.
  5. A big reason Arkansas is back in the Tournament picture is Coty Clarke, who has emerged as one of the most versatile players in the SEC. “I think guys are following his beat,” Mike Anderson said. “And if he can continue to play at the high level he is playing at right now, a lot of good things will continue to happen for this basketball team. … To me, the unselfishness that he brings to the table has kind of tripled throughout our basketball team.” Unselfish is a great way to put it, since Clarke is second on the team in assists per game (2.4) and first in assist percentage (20.3%). You don’t see that every day from a forward, and especially not from one who rebounds as well as Clarke (20.3% defensive rebounding rate). Anderson’s first NCAA Tournament team at Missouri (in his third year) was propelled by two versatile, top flight big men in DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. If his third year at Arkansas similarly produces a Tournament team, it too will be propelled by two high quality forwards in Clarke and Bobby Portis.
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Kentucky Shows Growth in Win at Missouri

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2014

It has been a tale of two Tigers recently for Kentucky. The young Wildcats were outworked and outplayed Tuesday night versus LSU in Baton Rouge, taking it on the chin from a hungrier team. “They beat the crap out of us. They outcoached us,” John Calipari said. Four days later Kentucky found itself with another bunch of Tigers searching for a statement win, but the story this time was much different. There was growth in the Wildcats’ game as they raced out to a big lead against Missouri, and then preserved it with smart and tough play down the stretch. Based on what happened Saturday in Mizzou Arena, here are several questions that opposing SEC coaches will need to answer when playing these Wildcats.

Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats grew up in their win against Missouri (kentucky.com).

Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats grew up in their win against Missouri (kentucky.com).

  • How do you contend with a bunch of future pros playing hard and together? Maybe it was the coaching, or maybe it was the much-ballyhooed players’-only team meeting last week in Louisiana. Whatever it was, the Wildcats came out with great effort and aggressiveness against Missouri. They got into their sets quickly and attacked the basket early in the game, as Andrew and Aaron Harrison combined for eight free throw attempts in the first half. Kentucky also didn’t give up a single offensive rebound in the opening half. It’s not a good sign for future opponents that the Wildcats went into a hostile arena and responded with great energy coming off of a lackluster performance. That shows maturity and growth that should scare the rest of the league. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Experienced guards with a killer instinct can be extremely valuable in March, and Billy Donovan has one in Scottie Wilbekin. The senior’s fallaway jumper with under two minutes to go against Auburn kept the Tigers at bay, and came a week after his buzzer-beater to force overtime at Arkansas. “I have confidence I can make plays,” Wilbekin said. “Luckily, they’ve been going down for me. I just want to keep trying to play the right way, regardless of how much time is left in the game.” Between Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young, there may not be a team in the nation with more talented impact seniors, and these are players who have been to three straight Elite Eights. Prather’s solid return (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, six rebounds) was the most important storyline to come from the closer-than-expected win over the Tigers. But Wilbekin’s continued ability to hit the big shot bodes well for the Gators’ future as well.
  2. Maybe some good came out of Kentucky’s loss at Bud Walton Arena after all. Kentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that a spark may have been lit under Andrew Harrison. “Instead, it’s been some up, some down, inconsistency all around. Rhetoric without results. There have been body language issues, quickness issues, shooting issues. It looked more and more as though the Harrisons would have their Bluegrass stay extended, and not for the right reasons.But then the forgotten thing from Tuesday’s dramatic 87-85 loss at Arkansas was Andrew Harrison rising up from the right corner and nailing a three-pointer to send the late show into overtime.” Harrison was the star for the Wildcats against Tennessee (26 points, three assists, zero turnovers), one of the few times all year that statement can be definitively made and not involve Julius Randle. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Kentucky was demolished on the glass, and couldn’t overwhelm the Vols with its frontcourt strength and depth. Development is the story to watch for the Wildcats as the season winds towards March, and on Saturday Andrew Harrison took a big step forward.
  3. NBCSports.com‘s Scott Phillips doesn’t have as rosy a take on the Wildcats after the Tennessee win. He writes that the pieces aren’t quite fitting together yet. “James Young is a great complementary kickout on offense and Cauley-Stein can play to his strengths of catching lobs and hunting offensive rebounds, but the Wildcats will not beat the best teams in the country until their three isolation-based main offensive players — the Harrisons and Julius Randle — figure out how to move the ball well and shift the defense around from side-to-side to make things easier on themselves.” Getting this team to reach its potential will certainly be one of the toughest challenges John Calipari has ever faced, mainly because of the preseason expectations and early “struggles.” Phillips’ point about a consistent lack of cohesion is a valid one. But I’m still drinking the Kentucky Kool-Aid because their pieces should be able to eventually fit together. Cauley-Stein needs to add more on offense, but he doesn’t need the ball to be successful and that’s perfect alongside Randle. In the back court, is indeed the perfect floor spacer for the more drive-oriented games of the Harrison twins. It all should work, and until they’ve been eliminated I’ll give Calipari the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Michael Qualls’ dunk put a cap on the Mike Anderson road hex, right? All the momentum and good vibes created by that putback slam had to carry Arkansas through their game at Georgia, right? Nope, it was business as usual for the Razorbacks in Athens, as they failed to pick up a necessary road win. Graham Reaves at Arkansas Fight writes, “What made this game that much more frustrating is that for much of the game it appeared the Hogs would win, knock the monkey off their back on their way towards an NCAA berth. Coming off a win at home over No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night, this Razorbacks squad had made believers of those who had doubted for so long. As good for the fanbase Kentucky game was, this one was bad.” And that’s the rub: This was at its core a deflating loss for Arkansas fans. The loss, however, didn’t shoot their NCAA Tournament chances to pieces. The Kentucky win was a good one, and should continue to resonate given it happened in dramatic fashion on national TV. But their next two road games are in Knoxville and Baton Rouge, so that monkey might continue to hang on Arkansas’ back, and the longer it does, the more pronounced the storyline will get.
  5. Missouri stopped the bleeding, at least for the time being, on its disappointing SEC start with a dominant second half against Alabama. Jabari Brown was super efficient (24 points, 7-of-9 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line) in pulling the Tigers ahead. Jordan Clarkson also played a big role offensively, but his overall play has dipped since SEC games began. Rock M Nation‘s Bill Connelly, in his always interesting “Study Hall” piece, writes, “Jordan Clarkson has five assists in four SEC games, and his %Pass was lower than Jabari’s on Saturday. He is no longer Missouri’s point guard.” Clarkson is not a pure point guard, so it was always unreasonable to expect him to keep up the assist numbers he posted in non-conference play. But Wes Clark has also struggled recently, leaving Frank Haith with a problem to solve at the position. He doesn’t seem to trust Shane Rector yet, so the only option seems to be riding out the growing pains of Clarkson and Clark.
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Calipari Knows Kentucky is Making Progress

Posted by David Changas on January 12th, 2014

All college basketball teams change from year to year. Players graduate, leave early, transfer, and new recruits fill their spots. But as everyone knows, no team changes year over year like John Calipari’s crew. And regardless of the fact that he brought in what many considered the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history this year, he knew that it would take time for his team to come together. After a Christmas week win against archrival Louisville and opening SEC wins over undermanned Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, he is finally confident that things are in fact starting to coalesce. “We’re still not there. But I’m looking around the country, I don’t see anybody there. I like my team. I like our progress. We have the biggest upside of any team in the country. We’re  the youngest team in the country; that’s where we are. I just have to try to [have] patience when I have none,” Calipari said after Saturday’s 71-62 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Calipari is All Smiles About This Year's Group. What About Next Year? (AP)

Don’t look now, Coach Cal’s crew is slowly coming together. (AP)

Calipari knows that bringing in such a haul of talent and that playing almost an entirely new set of players (only Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Jarrod Polson are significant contributors from last year’s squad) will require him to exhibit that patience. “I got a brand new team, and every year it’s something different, and as we go, you start figuring out how we have to play,” he said. Calipari was particularly pleased by the performance of the sophomore Poythress, who has not lived up to the lofty expectations set for him coming into college, and someone whom Calipari thinks has been limited by his lack of self-confidence. “Like I say to him, ‘You’re as good as anybody in the gym. Why won’t you play that way?’ And I asked the team, ‘What’s holding him back?’ [They said], ‘He is,’” Calipari said. The talented veteran forward will be a key for the Wildcats as they try to develop into a team that can win Calipari’s second national championship.

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Freeze Frame: Re-evaluating Kentucky’s Pick and Roll Defense After Beating Louisville

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 2nd, 2014

Kentucky’s porous defense was a hot topic last week as fans and analysts attempted to make sense of a preseason No. 1 team that has failed to meet historic (read: unrealistic) expectations. There was certainly reason for concern. Coming into Saturday’s Battle of the Bluegrass with Louisville, John Calipari’s squad had played exactly three top 50 teams, (according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings) and had come out of those three games winless. It wasn’t time to hit the panic button just yet, as the Wildcats had lost to three quality teams on the road or on neutral courts, but then again the Wildcats were running out of opportunities for quality wins to bolster its inadequate resume. They do play basketball in the SEC, after all. Saturday’s 73-66 win over Rick Pitino’s Cardinals was about as close to a must-win situation in December as Calipari’s young Wildcats will experience.

Kentucky's defensive score sheet vs. Louisville including Alex Poythress' monster defensive performance.

Kentucky’s defensive score sheet vs. Louisville including Alex Poythress’ monster defensive performance.

A lot of positives emerged for Kentucky on Saturday. The offense finally clicked, putting together 1.04 points per possession against a stingy defense. Andrew Harrison grew up before our very eyes, leading the offense down the stretch like a veteran point guard. And this was all with the Wildcats’ best offensive player, Julius Randle, on the bench after a 17-point first half performance. Perhaps nothing was more impressive, however, than Kentucky limiting KenPom’s most efficient offense (at the time!) to just 0.94 points per possession for the game. So how did a team that has had trouble guarding manage to stifle one of college basketball’s best teams at putting the ball in the basket?

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Morning Five: New Year’s Day 2014 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 1st, 2014

morning5

  1. We will start off by wishing all of you a Happy New Year. We hope all of you had a great 2013 and that 2014 is even better. Today is a pretty light day in terms of college basketball action as the schools seem to be letting college football have its day in the spotlight. Still there are several interesting games with San Diego State at Colorado State, Boston College at Harvard, and Southern Methodist at Cincinnati being the most intriguing. If you are just killing some time before the games tonight, you should check out our “Best of 2013″ column that takes a look back at some of the best games, moments, and performances of last year.
  2. One team that is not having such a great start to the year is Oklahoma State as they lost Michael Cobbins for the season after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the team’s win on Monday. Collins, a junior who was averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season, was also the team’s top post defender. Although Cobbins might not seem like a big piece to the Cowboys title aspirations based on his numbers, he plays at a position where the Cowboys lack depth. The job of replacing Cobbins will fall to sophomore Kamari Murphy, who has some experience in the role as he filled in last year when Cobbins injured his toe in the preseason.
  3. The college basketball world lost one of its coaching giants yesterday as former Iowa State and Michigan coach Johnny Orr passed away at the age of 86. It seems ridiculous that we could say that Orr, a coach who made it to a national championship game and two more Elite Eights at Michigan, would be more strongly associated with Iowa State than Michigan, but it is true. Orr, who is the all-time wins leader at both schools, shocked many observers by leaving Michigan to take over at Iowa State, but he is credited with building “Hilton Magic” into what it is today.
  4. We are not sure why there are not more quality college basketball “mailbag” columns. Perhaps it is because everybody is using Twitter as their “mailbag” forum to answer questions. In any event, Mark Titus has an amusing and surprising well-thought-out  mailbag from yesterday (part 1 and part 2). Most of the content is similar to the typical discussion, but it is somewhat interesting to see hear the responses from the perspective of a former college player (ok, who sat on the bench… a lot).
  5. One of the interesting things with the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week selections so far this year is that we don’t think any of them are legitimate threats to win the Player of the Year award. Obviously all of them, like DeAndre Kane this week, are excellent players, but we have not heard of any of the four that have received the honor this year being serious contenders for the end of the year award. Similarly, the Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Week honor has been gone to one player (Jabari Parker) who will probably win the honor at the end of the year, but the other three winners including James Young this week do not figure to be in contention for the honor at the of the year. We guess it goes to show you the power of consistency.
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Rushed Reactions: Kentucky vs. North Carolina

Posted by Brad Jenkins on December 14th, 2013

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

UNC's Big Men Were Able to Outduel Kentucky's Tonight

UNC’s Big Men Were Able to Outduel Kentucky’s Tonight

  1. The Kentucky talented freshmen played like freshmen. This should not be a surprise since it was the first true road game in their Kentucky freshmen’s college careers, and it was against a quality opponent with an energized crowd behind it. It showed up mostly in how they reacted to the strong North Carolina defensive effort. Kentucky turned the ball over 17 times compared to North Carolina’s nine, while Julius Randle had the toughest performance of his young career, struggling with foul trouble and finding openings in the half-court, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting. The Harrison twins — Andrew and Aaron — have a reputation for sometimes displaying bad body language when things don’t go their way, and despite keeping their team in the game for much of the evening, that was true down the stretch of this game.
  2. North Carolina held its own in the paint. Before the game, this was an area where Kentucky looked to have the advantage. Kentucky led the nation in offensive rebounding, pulling down an impressive 46 percent of its misses. For the game the Wildcats pulled down 17 offensive rebounds and were right on their average, but the problem was that they turned those boards into only 19 points. On the other end of the floor the Wildcats came in as the second best team in the country in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage at 38 percent. North Carolina was able to smash through that number with 51 percent shooting on their two-point attempts and actually finished with a four-point edge in points in the paint.
  3. Both teams need to work on free throw shooting. Even though we knew this was the case beforehand, it was certainly on display in Chapel Hill tonight. Kentucky did better in the second half (77 percent compared to 53 percent in the first half) so perhaps they have hope in this area. But other than Marcus Paige, who made all 10 of his free throw attempts, the Tar Heels continue to be horrible from the charity stripe. If you take away Paige’s effort, the rest of the team made 16 out of 35 trips to the line. With the attacking inside styles of both Kentucky and North Carolina on full display in this game, this deficiency could be a nagging problem all year for both.

Star of the Game. Marcus Paige, North Carolina. After a quiet two-point effort in the first half, the sophomore guard responded with 21 second half points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with his perfect performance from the foul line. He made several big shots down the stretch — none bigger than a baseline floater that gave UNC a much more comfortable five-point lead — and ended as the game’s leading scorer. Paige also chipped in on the defensive end with three steals. 

Quotable.

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Previewing Kentucky’s Visit to Chapel Hill

Posted by Lathan Wells & Matt Patton on December 14th, 2013

Today’s match-up between North Carolina and Kentucky in Chapel Hill looks a bit different than it did on paper at the start of the season. Some Kentucky fans talked up a perfect 40-0 record before reality set in with losses to a veteran, talent-laden Michigan State team and a more physical, driven Baylor squad. Neither loss is a bad one, of course, but both brought the Wildcats back to the realization that this year would not be a simple strut to the national championship game. North Carolina, meanwhile, has suffered puzzling losses to Belmont at home and UAB in a winnable game on the road, but also stunned then-#1 Michigan State in East Lansing and defending national champion Louisville on a neutral floor. No one seems to know what to make of this Tar Heels squad, especially with PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald still swimming in NCAA limbo. Today marks the renewal of the rivalry after a one-year hiatus between these goliath programs, each with plenty of question marks at this early stage of the season. RTC ACC microsite columnists Lathan Wells and Matt Patton break down the game in point/counterpoint style below.

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

Lathan: Kentucky’s strength obviously lies in its overall athleticism, but it seems that its dominance in the paint early has been the key to their victories. Do you see them overwhelming North Carolina there, or do the guards have to be the difference?

Matt: Kentucky has to get something from its guards, as North Carolina is one of the few teams in the country with the size to match up against the Wildcats in the frontcourt. That said, Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle are tough for anyone to stop. Randle’s strength and athleticism makes him an impossible match-up, but the real key is that Kentucky has to play good defense. It’s no coincidence that Kentucky’s two losses have come during the only two times opponents have topped 1.1 points per possession against them. But I’ll ask a similar question. No one on North Carolina, apart from Marcus Paige, has shown the ability to make a three, and Kentucky has the second best two-point field goal defense in the country. Which will give first: Kentucky’s defense or North Carolina’s offense?

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College Basketball by the Tweets: Some Good Tuesday Night Games

Posted by David Harten on December 11th, 2013

bythetweets

“Quality over quantity” might be the best way to describe Tuesday night in college basketball. A majority of schools are in finals week, and as a result, players need their study time. So that means rest. Or easy opponents. Or both. But that wasn’t the case with No. 13 Kansas and No. 19 Florida yesterday. It’s safe to assume that these two schools aren’t in finals prep this week, so they took the opportunity to play each other in Gainesville. Jayhawks coach Bill Self went with four freshmen in the starting lineup. It perhaps wasn’t the greatest of ideas against the Gators’ dual point guard system, but it was the Gators’ zone that stifled Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis and most of the rest of the Jayhawks, leading to a 67-61 win. This prompted a short debate about KU’s offense versus the zone.

Part of the situation with Self seemed weird. Why start four freshmen? It almost seemed like a move that Chuck Daly would make, a la the 1992 Dream Team’s scrimmage against that college all-star team (although I’d be willing to bet Self wouldn’t throw the game.) Maybe it was a move to prepare the Jayhawks’ youth for the conference season, when trips to Manhattan, Stillwater, Ames and Norman await.

That youth showed early for Kansas, who allowed the Gators to go on an blistering 21-0 run. Andrew Wiggins keyed a near comeback, bringing his team back to within range before Florida held them off. For the most part, Kansas was sloppy with the ball, couldn’t shoot and was horrible defensively.

It all added up to a 67-61 loss. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 26th, 2013

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  1. Jordan McRae was named SEC Player of the Week after scoring a combined 45 points against the Citadel and Tennessee State. He has tightened up his efficiency on offense since the beginning of the year, missing only nine shots in those two games after missing ten in the opener against Xavier alone. His hot offensive week has helped make up for sluggish starts from two players expected to carry part of the scoring load for the Volunteers, Jarnell Stokes (40% FG%) and Robert Hubbs (35% FG%). James Young was named the Freshman of the Week, continuing the stranglehold the Wildcats will likely hold on the award all year long.
  2. Kentucky had its first non-Michigan State scare of the season last night as Cleveland State held a ten-point lead with ten minutes left. The Harrison twins were mainly responsible for the rally that helped Kentucky avoid the upset. This is encouraging for Wildcat fans because Aaron (who has struggled from three) hit a big corner three, and Andrew (who is shooting 37 percent overall) had an important old-fashioned three point play. Consistent perimeter offense from the Harrisons would elevate Kentucky to a truly complete team, and perhaps they can use their big plays last night as a confidence building block.
  3. Scottie Wilbekin made his season debut last night against Jacksonville, and it was immediately apparent how badly Billy Donovan needs his senior point guard. With Kasey Hill injured, Wilbekin had to play 34 minutes in a 26 point win. He had a good start to the season with seven assists against two turnovers. As Donovan gets one important player back, it appears another, Damontre Harriswon’t suit up for Florida this season. “Right now, he’s been gone for 25 days,” Donovan told The Sun. “I don’t have any hope he’s going to come back. We’re still going to try to help him and work with him and try to get him to do the things he needs to do, but there’s no level of accountability on the things that he needs to do on a regular basis.” It’s not often you see a coach be this honest, especially in a negative context. The Gators still have three good forwards in Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith.
  4. Interim Missouri coach Tim Fuller ended his stint at the helm with a 5-0 record after a win against IUPUI. Frank Haith returns when the Tigers play Northwestern on Thanksgiving. The record looks impressive, but Fuller did it against a weak slate of teams. Still, he had to show composure as the Tigers were tested against Hawaii (one-point halftime deficit), Gardner-Webb (two-point halftime lead), and IUPUI (nine-point lead with under eight minutes to play). This doesn’t say much for Missouri, but it was a good learning experience for a guy with a sterling recruiting reputation that will likely get head coaching looks down the line.
  5. Arkansas dropped its first real test of the year, losing to California 85-77 in the opening game of the Maui Invitational. The Razorbacks were bullied on the glass as the Golden Bears grabbed 18 more rebounds. Mike Anderson got good scoring efforts out of Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell, but his front court combined to make only seven baskets. Luckily for Arkansas, the deep Maui field means they still have a shot at a resume-boosting win against Minnesota, which lost to Syracuse. The Golden Gophers present a challenge to Arkansas because they haven’t turned the ball over much this year, and have a dynamite rebounder in Eliot Eliason (11.2 rebounds per game).
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