It’s a Make or Break Week for the Pac-12

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 30th, 2016

After a sizzling opening weekend followed by some Feast Week struggles, the Pac-12 finds itself facing a potential do or die week in terms of its national perception. Three teams will be front and center this week under the bright lights of ESPN and CBS, and after 71 games and even with all of December left, chances are it will be this week’s main events that set the tone for the Pac-12 come March. Part of the concentration on these games stems from factors out of the league’s control. Oregon’s injury issues have left it a shell of the team most expected it to be come March — the Ducks have already dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown without the services of Dillon Brooks (and have looked shaky even with him back). While the committee will factor Oregon’s injuries into its analysis, that doesn’t help the Pac-12’s overall profile. And that brings us to this week, starting this evening on the Peninsula.

St. Mary’s at Stanford: Wednesday 11/30 8:00 PM PT (Pac-12 Bay Area)

So far, so good for Jerod Haase and Stanford. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Jerod Haase and Stanford have a monster week ahead of them, including a trip to Haase’s alma mater where dreams tend to fade. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Not only is the Pac-12 counting on Stanford — the team picked to finish 10th in the league standings this season — but the Cardinal actually have two games with national ramifications this week. First, Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s bunch (11th nationally, per KenPom) comes to Maples Pavilion tonight. The Gaels may not yet be a nationally-renowned name, but they drilled Stanford last season and will be a contender in a league (WCC) that has been quite the thorn in the side of the Pac-12 in recent years. This is one of two big Pac-12/WCC showdowns this week, and while it’s definitely the undercard, it’s still a big game for both teams and conferences.

UCLA at Kentucky: Saturday 12/3 9:30 AM PT (CBS)

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kentucky 69, #13 Michigan State 48

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 15th, 2016

RTC’s Brian Otskey (@botskey) and Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) are providing on-site coverage of the Champions Classic this evening.

Three Key Takeaways.

Malik Monk (USA Today Images)

Malik Monk (USA Today Images)

  1. Kentucky’s defensive ceiling is very high this season. John Calipari has had plenty of elite teams over the years but it was typically the offensive prowess of his players that grabbed the headlines. This group of Wildcats is long and athletic across the board, and Calipari seems truly energized about coaching this team and watching it grow. After the game he complimented his players for all their hard work and unselfishness, saying how excited he is to come to the gym every day and work with them.
  2. Michigan State needs to find its offense. Sparty’s 0-2 start to the season is not cause for concern for Tom Izzo, who noted after the game that he has lost a bunch of games in the non-conference and still made seven Final Fours over the years. Still, an average of 55.5 points per game against top competition in Arizona and Kentucky is not going to get the job done. Izzo is happy with his defense, which held both sets of Wildcats to only 38 percent shooting, but he added that the Spartans need to find an offensive spark somewhere. Miles Bridges can’t do it all by himself, so he needs to look to Matt McQuaid and Eron Harris for complementary scoring. Michigan State’s November schedule will provide ample opportunities for growth, as trips to the Battle 4 Atlantis and Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke still loom before the calendar flips to December.
  3. This game was a snoozer. Let’s be honest here. Given the fair amount of hype that this annual event generates, everyone in the building expected better. One could argue that the travel hangover for Michigan State — after playing a hard-fought game against Arizona in Honolulu on Friday night — played a major role, but the Spartans just had nothing in the tank offensively. Kentucky’s defense certainly played a part in that, but it was also clear that the Wildcats were a step quicker than the Spartans all night.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Kyle Tucker

Posted by Chris Stone on November 9th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

The college basketball season is now less than a week away and one of the sports premier programs resides in Lexington, Kentucky. We reached out to SECCountry.com‘s Kentucky basketball beat writer Kyle Tucker to discuss his time covering the Wildcats and what to expect in the upcoming season. The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Rush the Court: You’re currently the Kentucky beat writer for SECCountry.com. Can you talk a little bit about how you ended up there?

Kyle Tucker: I was covering Virginia Tech for eight years and then wanted to get a little closer to home. I’m from near Nashville, Tennessee, and knew that the Kentucky beat was coming open at the Courier-Journal in Louisville. I got that job and covered Kentucky football and basketball for five years at the Courier-Journal and then got a call that the Atlanta Journal Constitution was starting a new website to cover the league, SECCountry.com, and talked with them for a while. I’m their football columnist in the fall and cover Kentucky basketball, same as I did before, during basketball season. That’s how we got here.

John Calipari is ready for another year at the helm. (USA Today Images)

John Calipari is ready for another year at the helm. (USA TODAY Sports)

RTC: You’ve been on the Kentucky beat for a while. What’s the most memorable Kentucky game you’ve covered?

Tucker: It’s a tough call between all of the Aaron Harrison late three-pointers in the Sweet Sixteen against Louisville, Elite Eight against Michigan, and Final Four against Wisconsin and then the 2011-12 Indiana regular season game that they lost on the [Christian] Watford buzzer beater and they rushed the court. It was the craziest court-storming I’d ever seen. Even though those NCAA Tournament games were really jaw-dropping, I think probably [Indiana] was the craziest, most fun game I’ve ever covered, period, because the crowd was electric and against Kentucky the whole day. It was one of the best home court advantages I’ve ever seen and it was just bonkers in there after Watford hit that shot. Also because I think that moment and the sting of that really did propel that 2012 National Championship team at Kentucky to play better and really lock in. They were definitely the most talented team in the country and that was their one wake-up call and the rest of the way they pretty much mowed everybody down. They wanted to get back and face Indiana again in the Tournament and they did and played another classic game in the Sweet Sixteen of that NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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64 Thoughts on the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part I

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 26th, 2016

The beginning of another college basketball season is already in progress, and with it an opportunity to start talking about SEC hoops again. The SEC last season managed just three bids to the NCAA Tournament, but with a new year brings optimism that more teams can break into the First Round field of 64. To tip off the SEC microsite, here are 64 musings, opinions, thoughts, predictions, questions, and observations about the 2016-17 season [Ed. Note: Technically, 32 since this is part one of two with the second part coming tomorrow]:

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17 (AP).

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17. (AP)

  1. Kentucky is the clear favorite to win the SEC this year, but the big question mark about the Wildcats in the preseason revolves around their three-point accuracy. It says here that this will be the best perimeter shooting squad John Calipari has put on the court in Lexington since his 2011 Final Four team.
  2. Wildcat sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe shot just 13.5 percent from beyond the arc last year, allowing opposing defenses to sag to the middle on him. But the limited sample of shooting we have seen so far suggests that he will no longer be an offensive liability shooting the ball this season.
  3. Briscoe was also 9-of-12 from the free throw line in Friday night’s Blue-White game, indicating that his 46 percent accuracy from the stripe last season could also be a thing of the past. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 12th, 2016

The SEC will be a very different league next season, in no small part as a result of losing its two most influential players to the NBA — Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and LSU’s Ben Simmons. Here are five burning questions looking ahead to next season, as the league will once again try to put #SECBasketballFever to bed.

Can Mike Anderson Survive Another Year?

Can Mike Anderson Survive Another Year?

  1. Can Kentucky start completely from scratch? It’s become played-out sarcasm: the Wildcats lose a lot of talent; how ever will they recover? We should assume that Coach Cal will seamlessly mold a group of elite freshmen into a team deserving national consideration, and next year will be no different. Top-10 recruits Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo lead another stacked class headed to Lexington, but consider this: The Wildcats have not truly had to start from square one in three years. The 2014-15 (Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress) and 2015-16 (Ulis, Poythress) teams each  returned major contributors from Final Four runs. The Isaiah Briscoe/Marcus Lee/Derek Willis trio figures to be a solid core but lacks the star power of the previous groups. We know Calipari is up for the challenge, but it has been a few years since he’s had this much inexperience in key roles.
  2. Is Mike Anderson under pressure? The prodigal son has gotten Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament only once since returning to Fayetteville five years ago. Given that Stan Heath earned twice as many bids in his five years before being shown the door, Anderson’s performance thus far has come in well under expectations. This year could be considered a write-off after Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls left school early, but patience is clearly wearing thin in Fayetteville. Anderson without question feels the pressure, as he signed four JuCo players in this year’s class, including well-regarded guards Jaylen Bradford and Daryl Macon. They’ll pair with returnees Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley, both of whom should be in the running for preseason all-SEC honors. Losing Monk to the Calipari Machine was a huge blow no matter the circumstances, but it’s even more damaging for a coach that might be advocating for his job next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Rushed Reactions: #4 Kentucky 85, #13 Stony Brook 57

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 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.

Calipari's Cats Move On (USA Today Images)

Calipari’s Cats Move On (USA Today Images)

  1. Stony Brook’s ghastly first half offense really set the tone. There are always going to be some games when a team does not the shoot ball particularly well. However, there aren’t many instances where a team shoots the ball as poorly as Stony Brook did in the first half tonight. The Seawolves shot just 18.9 percent (7-37) during the opening 20 minutes. To make matters even worse, they missed all five of their three-point attempts. Stony Brook did grab 12 rebounds during the opening stanza, but that only led to more missed shots. It was an ugly, ugly half of basketball, and the fact that the Seawolves were only down 14 at the half was a minor miracle.
  2. Kentucky’s defense came to play. The Wildcats have received quite a bit of deserved criticism for their inconsistent defense this season. There were no issues on that end tonight against Stony Brook, as the Wildcats applied a great deal of defensive pressure all evening. While Stony Brook does deserve some of the blame for its putrid shooting performance, it’s not like Kentucky made it easy. The Seawolves struggled mightily to find any clean looks; nearly every shot that went up was under some duress. The Wildcats were also quite active in the turnover department, forcing the Seawolves to give it away 14 times. John Calipari’s group is going to need to crank things up against Indiana’s hyper-efficient offense on Saturday, but its sometimes circumspect defense certainly passed its first test tonight.
  3. Skal Labissiere was excellent tonight. The Kentucky freshman big man has had some substantial ups-and-downs this season, but you would not know that if you look at how he played in tonight’s first round victory. Labissiere scored 12 points (6-10 shooting), blocked six shots, and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. The big man’s length frustrated Stony Brook all night and his defensive presence was extremely important to the Kentucky winning effort. Labissiere is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses.

Player of the Game. Jamal Murray, Kentucky. When the Wildcats were looking for an offensive spark in the second half to widen its lead, it was Murray that came through with the winning efforts. The freshman guard finished the night with a team-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds. His two second half three-pointers were instrumental in taking the air completely out of Stony Brook’s sails.

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Why Each SEC team Will Advance to the Second Weekend… and Why They Won’t

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 15th, 2016

After watching five teams head to the Big Dance a year ago (including one eventual Final Four participant), the SEC managed just three bids in a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Honestly, the league was lucky to get to three. While some teams have to feel pretty good about where they landed (Texas A&M is a #3 seed?!), others should feel happy to be invited (welcome Vanderbilt!), and still others can rest comfortably knowing that the committee didn’t have the option to send them to Alaska to face the Golden State Warriors (Hey Kentucky, Des Moines, Iowa, is supposed to be nice this time of year). Now that the brackets are set, will the SEC continue to disappoint, or might we see one of these three teams still standing in the Sweet Sixteen? Here are some quick reasons why each team will advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and some equally compelling reasons why they won’t:

Kentucky's offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari

Kentucky’s offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari.

Kentucky

Why the Wildcats will advance to the second weekend: Kentucky’s backcourt is playing very well on offense right now, moving the Wildcats into the top spot for offensive efficiency nationally over the weekend. Tyler Ulis has the ability to carry the team for stretches on his 5’9” frame, but with the added marksmanship of shooting guard Jamal Murray and a front line that provide spot duty, the Wildcats are scoring better than any other team in the John Calipari era. In the first two games of the SEC Tournament, Kentucky scored at the second and third most efficient clips per 100 possessions of his tenure. The last time the Cats met up with possible Second Round opponent Indiana in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, it was a high scoring affair — Kentucky should feel comfortable in entering into a shootout with any team in the nation.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Tyler Ulis Defies Expectations, Sets Sights on NBA

Posted by David Changas on March 12th, 2016

When Tyler Ulis signed with Kentucky two years ago, many believed that, for the first time in a long time, John Calipari had a four-year player at the point. Going back to his days at Memphis, Calipari had coached a string of one-and-done phenoms at the position like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquise Teague. Ulis was different. At 5’9″, he certainly didn’t project very well to the next level, and the idea was that he would stick around Lexington as a solid floor general until graduation day. The only problem is that someone forgot to tell Ulis. Last night, before Kentucky’s 85-59 dismantling of Alabama in its first SEC Tournament game, Calipari announced that Ulis has already made the decision to leave school early for the NBA after this season concludes.

Tyler Ulis Willl Ride an All-American Season into the NBA (USA Today Images)

Tyler Ulis Willl Ride an All-American Season into the NBA (USA Today Images)

As a freshman on last season’s uber-talented roster, Ulis was more of a contributor than anyone expected, playing as many minutes as anyone on the team by the end of the season. His numbers (5.6 PPG; 3.6 APG) weren’t anything special, but nobody’s on the 38-1 “platoon” squad were either. Ulis came into his sophomore year with much higher expectations, but no one foresaw just how good he turned out to be. In a league that boasts the likely top pick in the NBA Draft (Ben Simmons) and another top-three pick in a teammate (Jamal Murray), Ulis was the consensus SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. It wasn’t just his 16.6 PPG or league-leading 7.3 assists per contest. It was the way he proved capable of taking over a game like few diminutive players can. He always seems to hit the big shot, make the big steal, or dish out the big assist. Along with Murray, he has carried a Kentucky team that has, extensively at times, shown significant deficiencies in the post.

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