A Forgotten Senior the Key to Kentucky’s Resurgence

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 26th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

When Kentucky lost its best player in a February 12 loss to Florida, the following contest at Tennessee on Saturday wasn’t pretty. The young Wildcats reached a fork in the road after that 30-point embarrassment — give up or keep fighting. But to keep fighting UK needed veteran leadership, a factor it had desperately and unsuccessfully sought throughout the entire season.  In freshman center Nerlens Noel’s absence, a new leader has emerged. Senior Julius Mays stepped up and provided that leadership at just the right time, the point at which the Wildcats needed it most.

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step in, and he has over Kentucky's last seven games. (Getty)

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step up, and he has over Kentucky’s last seven games. (Getty)

The Wildcats faced a must-win situation on Saturday, and coach John Calipari turned to a player he could rely on. Mays played 44 of an available 45 minutes in an overtime win against Missouri Saturday night, and Calipari and Big Blue Nation were not disappointed. Thirteen of his season high 24 points came in the final 3:37 of regulation and the extra period. “Julius was terrific, the shots he made and the leadership,” Calipari said. The transfer student has quietly developed consistency as the season progressed — in UK’s last seven games, he hasn’t had an offensive rating below 100.0 and he’s scored in double figures in six of those games. He is without question hitting his stride at just the right time.

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SEC M5: 02.25.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 25th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky rose to the occasion for ESPN’s GameDay, knocking off Missouri Saturday night in overtime. The Wildcats have taken a ton of heat over the past week following assertions from John Calipari that some his players were “uncoachable” following a blowout loss to Tennessee. Two of the assumed targets of the comments came up big against the Tigers. Point guard Ryan Harrow scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, while Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his after the break. “Oh man, I mean we fought hard,” said Goodwin. “That is ultimately what it came down to. We made a lot of mistakes, but in the end we just wanted it more than they did.” Saturday’s performance served as a huge statement from a few players who have had their effort widely questioned throughout the year.
  2. The elder statesman of this Kentucky squad had himself quite a game as well. Wright State transfer Julius Mays led the Wildcats in scoring with 24, including six game-icing free throws in overtime. Mays has done his best to seize a leadership role for Kentucky, and his efforts looked to pay dividends against Mizzou. “He’s a great leader and he’s a great big brother for me,” Goodwin said. “He’s like my best friend. He’s just always there for encouragement. Sometimes when things are not going our way, he’s always the person that pulls me aside and just tries to get my head back right.” With his more talented teammates singing his praises, “Uncle Julius” hopes his teammates will get on board for an NCAA Tournament push.
  3. Florida got the revenge it craved in Saturday’s easy win over Arkansas, but it came at a high price. The Gators lost reserve forward Michael Frazier II to a concussion after the freshman guard collided with Scottie Wilbekin chasing a loose ball. “I don’t know when he’ll be back. He was knocked out on the floor,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “It could be a week, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks – I don’t know.” With Will Yeguete already sidelined, Donovan is down to only six regular rotation players and says he will turn to Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham or DeVon Walker to pick up the spare minutes.
  4. Even a good night on offense rarely leads to victory for the road team at the O’Connell Center, but Arkansas’ two big shots didn’t give the Razorbacks much of a chance. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, who led a balanced Arkansas attack in scoring in their upset of Florida in the first meeting, were held to only 10 points, with Young in particular being shut out from the field. A big night from Coty Clarke (8-of-8 from the field) kept Arkansas in the game in the first half before the Gators pulled away after the break. “It was a tale of two halves,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We scratched and clawed and gave ourselves a chance, even with some adversity with the early fouls. In the second half, Florida really attacked the glass and we didn’t make shots.
  5. They’ve been so hot over the past few weeks, 40 minutes wasn’t enough basketball for Tennessee on Saturday. Tied at 62 after regulation in College Station, Texas A&M and the Volunteers decided to play another two halves of hoops, resulting in a fifth straight victory for the visitors. Trae Golden led the way with 32 points, with both Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae eclipsing the 20-point mark in the longest game in Tennessee history. Cuonzo Martin’s team is getting hot at exactly the right time, and an upset victory over a depleted Florida team on Tuesday would really make the “at-large” whispers that much louder in Knoxville.
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SEC M5: 02.18.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 18th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky coach John Calipari simply wants his players to play hard, and that certainly didn’t happen for the majority of Wildcats in their 30-point loss to Tennessee on Saturday. When asked about junior guard Jarrod Polson, “He fought,” Calipari said. “He and Julius (Mays) fought. Two guys. Battled. Two guys.” Calipari pointed to experience as being a factor in his team’s response to the pleas for effort. “Julius is a veteran. (He and Polson) understand you can’t put your head down. You have to compete.” The Cats will have enough trouble winning games without superstar freshman Nerlens Noel in the lineup without having to battle a lack of effort too.
  2. Unfortunately for Kentucky, that was the nicest thing its coach had to say on Saturday. Calipari had more critical comments after his team effectively quit in Thompson-Boling Arena in its first game since Noel’s injury. “We’ve got a couple of guys that are basically not real coachable,” said Calipari. “You tell them over and over what we want to do, what we have to do, and they do their own thing. That’s where we are.” Frustration may have boiled over after the Wildcats’ worst loss in the Calipari era, but if the showing on Saturday was any indication, life after Noel will not be easy. And Calipari will probably have a lot to say about it.
  3. The St. Louis Post Dispatch officially put the SEC on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. With the exception of Florida, no SEC team has done what it takes to feel safe on Selection Sunday. As the author hypothesizes, “Will the SEC get just three NCAA bids? Will it get four? Could disaster strike and limit the league to just two berths? The SEC is a bubble conference. It lacks the depth and non-conference victory list of the other major conferences.” Two bids? At this point the SEC would be lucky to find itself with anything more than one. Kentucky is on a downward spiral, Ole Miss doesn’t have a single quality win, and Missouri can’t win a road game, of which it has three remaining. And beating up on each other doesn’t mean much for the league’s overall resume at this point.
  4. Disappointing loss after disappointing loss, the SEC could become the first power conference to send just one team to the Big Dance since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Though SEC teams like Kentucky and Missouri don’t currently pass the eye test, other teams don’t either. “The issue is not so much ‘Is Missouri great?’ because they are flawed with their résumé,” said the Tournament bracketologist for USA Today Sports. “But who else are you going to put in ahead of them? Can you find me 37 (at-large) teams you can put in ahead of them?” Teams like the Wildcats and Tigers simply can’t afford a bad loss, and there are lots of ill-timed traps lurking in late February. However, Saturday’s showdown in Lexington between the two bubble teams could end up as something of a play-in game for the SEC’s second bid.
  5. The legend of Marshall Henderson never ceases to amaze. Though Henderson has captivated the nation with his last second shots and difficult three-pointers, it’s been his gestures, antics, off-the-wall comments, and obscenities that have made him an Internet sensation. And his latest headline-grabbing quote just adds to his repertoire. After putting in 25 points in an overtime win against Georgia, Henderson brought the postgame press conference to a halt with this gem. “If it’s all the same, it’s Saturday night. I’m out,” Henderson said. The man. The myth. The legend.
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Kentucky Can Replace 10 Points Per Game, But Cats Can’t Replace Noel

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 15th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Kentucky lost its leader in minutes, rebounds, steals, and blocks per game on Tuesday night to a tragic torn ACL. Nerlens Noel started every game this season for the Wildcats. He averaged double figures in points while shooting almost 60 percent from the field, and that from a player largely considered to be a project offensively. But UK lost so much more on Tuesday night than simply its best all-around player. John Calipari and his team lost the very intangible product on the court and in the locker room it searched for all season. Kentucky lost a big piece of its roster on Tuesday night, but statistics are replaceable. Kentucky lost its heart and soul. And the Wildcats aren’t likely to find that again this season.

Nerlens Noel's impact on Kentucky reaches far beyond the stat line.

Nerlens Noel’s impact on Kentucky reaches far beyond the stat line.

The real tragedy here is not in the hit on Kentucky’s NCAA chances, but for the student-athlete who must endure surgery and this unfortunate threat to his career. Kentucky’s ability to win basketball games is important to all of us who live and breathe college basketball every day, but we must remind ourselves that the players on that court are real people. They have real futures. And this particular person has a future that involves playing professional basketball. That point is not lost here, but was covered so well by ESPN.com writer Dana O’Neil’s coverage that doing lip service here just doesn’t do Noel justice. Read O’Neil’s piece as that echoes our sentiments of Noel the person, not just Noel the basketball player. The focus of this piece is on Noel the basketball player and his impact on Kentucky, and that impact reaches far beyond what you read in the box score.

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SEC M5: 02.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 4th, 2013

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  1. Scottie Wilbekin received a generous amount of recognition for his defense recently, but his offense is making strides as well. He scored 13 points and dished out seven assists in a much anticipated clash with Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson. “Since the year has gone on I have gotten more comfortable out there,” Wilbekin said. “It has been slowing down. The reads become easier as I’ve grown up. When I just slow down it seems something always opens up.” However, Wilbekin’s defense earned universal acknowledgment for a reason. His defense on Henderson played a large part in forcing Ole Miss’ enigmatic guard into four turnovers. 
  2. Henderson was extremely complimentary of Florida after the Gators’ 78-64 win, despite his 25 points on 7-11 shooting from beyond the arc. “I think (Florida) will contend for the national championship,” Henderson said. “We have seen how they have been blowing people out. They execute perfectly.” He didn’t exactly speak as favorably of UF’s student section, the Rowdy Reptiles. “I had to give it to them — I thought they’d be a little bit more mean than they were. There were some funny signs.” The O’Connell Center might be the most volatile environment Henderson and the Rebels have remaining on the schedule, with just a trip to Missouri that could even come close.
  3. Kentucky’s freshman laden team has been in desperate need of leadership. Saturday in College Station, senior Julius Mays stepped up as the veteran the Wildcats have been missing. Cat killer Elston Turner would most likely attest to Mays’ excellent defense. “Julius did a great job on Turner,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Because Archie (Goodwin), if Archie ever sees Turner again, leave. If it’s a pickup game, go home. Don’t go near the guy. Julius played him pretty good, and made it hard. He scored some baskets, but (Julius) made it hard.” Turner ended the game with 21 points, including the game tying three pointer in regulation, but Mays impact on the road was invaluable. “Julius, without him, we don’t win today,” Calipari said.
  4. It takes a certain level of confidence and toughness to go on the road and win in the SEC. Vols center Kenny Hall says Tennessee just doesn’t have what it takes. “I feel like we still lack mental toughness,” Hall said. “I don’t even feel like we’ve got it down all the way. As a team, it’s about being consistent, staying focused, not turning the ball over, making plays, getting stops without the defensive breakdowns. At home we do a great job of it, but on the road, that’s when we when we really have to step it up, really tighten up our screws.” The Vols are 0-6 away from home this season, and they have five more road games left in SEC play. That is quite a few more defeats if Tennessee can’t put together the mental fortitude to steal one away from the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena.
  5. Alabama coach Anthony Grant is confident going to the bench when his team needs composure and leadership. That’s because that’s where fifth year senior Andrew Steele resides. Steele came off the bench with 13 points to steady the Tide in a 58-54 win over Vanderbilt. “The numbers speak for themselves … but the other stuff, just his leadership, his communication, just the respect that he get, I can’t tell you how valuable it is,” Grant said. “For our young guys, they’re learning the lessons of what leadership is all about in terms of what he provides for them. Tonight, he got shots to fall. He had a season-high 13 points. He’s always going to give you the effort and the intangibles. … It’s great to see the ball go in, as hard as he works at it. The other things to me supersede the points, the rebounds and anything else. The intangibles, the leadership, the passion that he has for his team, for this university shows, and it’s contagious.” The numbers Grant refers to is Alabama’s winning percentage with Steele, which is 12-2, as opposed to its 2-5 record without him.
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SEC M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 29th, 2013

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  1. SEC basketball hasn’t won a lot of weekends so far this season, but in the college basketball animated GIF game, Marshall Henderson provided a dominant performance over the weekend. Ole Miss went to Auburn expecting an easy victory, but thanks to a 4-of-17 showing at the free throw line, the Rebels barely escaped with the W. Let’s be honest, though: If you clicked on the link, you’ll realize that the game is secondary to what happened in the immediate aftermath. I’m having a tough time choosing which part of this five-second clip involving Henderson is my favorite. Is it the striped sweater guy who knows only one insult? Or is it the 70-something in the front row playing the role of disappointed grandfather? No, for my money, it’s the cheesing security guard in the white collared shirt. It’s like he knew he was about be thrust into temporary Internet stardom, and didn’t want his mom to see him dropping an F-bomb or flipping the bird. This Marshall Henderson microsite writer salutes you, Auburn security guard.
  2. Dealing with Henderson’s attempts to incite and annoy has to be a concern for many SEC coaches. However, don’t count John Calipari among them. When asked about how he wants his young Kentucky team to respond when they travel to Oxford tonight, he took an unorthodox approach. “Oh, I’d like us to lose our composure,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “That’s what I’m looking for. Like, lose your composure. Get mad. Get angry. Be mad to be great.” Henderson’s three-point percentage (35.7%) isn’t terrifying at face value, but checking a player who is willing to shoot from almost anywhere over the half-court line is bound to throw your team defense for a loop. Look for Archie Goodwin to get the first opportunity to defend the unabashed gunner, but if he doesn’t show the willingness to chase him for the entire shot clock, Julius Mays should get the call.
  3. Scottie Wilbekin, after averaging 15 points, six assists, and two rebounds per game, was named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday. The junior point guard took a while to round in to shape this year thanks to an early-season suspension, but he keyed two Florida road blowouts in the past week at Georgia and Mississippi State. The most surprising aspect of his game is his vastly improved shooting stroke. In limited minutes, Wilbekin had shot only 35% and 43% from the floor in his first two Gator campaigns, but with the benefit of increased court time (not to mention several teammates who can score), he’s sitting at an impressive 48% this season. He’s been on fire recently, shooting 18-of-28 in his last three outings. The Gators host Mississippi on Saturday, and being able to count on scoring from the one-spot makes the Rebels’ task even more daunting.
  4. Nerlens Noel took home his second straight SEC Freshman of the Week honor after another couple of dominant defensive performances last week. In a loss to Alabama and a victory over LSU, the post presence racked up 18 points, 21 rebounds, and 13 blocks. He’s currently riding a streak of five games with six or more blocks. Making his defensive supremacy even more impressive is his ability to challenge shots without fouling, only picking up one in each game. Kentucky’s struggles have made it tough for Noel to receive the credit he deserves (and during the Auburn-Kentucky broadcast, Charles Barkley made it clear that no UK freshman had yet impressed him), but his irresistible recent form has forced the rest of the country to take notice.
  5. I hope you’ve had your fill of the SEC/Big East Challenge, because the event won’t continue past this season. “This was the final year of our contract for a basketball invent involving the Big East Conference,” SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton said via e-mail. “Playing an event such as the SEC/Big East Challenge has provided a great opportunity to highlight our teams as well as the sport early in the season. We are continuing to explore our options for continuing an event like this.” The concept of an organized series of match-ups between the conferences was enticing, but it never truly delivered. The SEC hasn’t had the depth in quality that their Big East counterparts enjoyed over the past few years, resulting in only seven of the 40 games featuring two ranked teams. Of course, these details probably aren’t important. Any event that had to claim responsibility for the Tennessee-Georgetown disaster doesn’t deserve to be saved.
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Uncertainties About Guard Play Remain After Kentucky Escapes LSU

Posted by Will Tucker on January 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Kentucky-LSU game in Lexington.

The name on the lips of everyone in Rupp Arena on Saturday was that of Alex Poythress, after his Wildcats dispatched a slumping LSU team, 75-70. The mercurial forward, whose production and motor had yet to match the expectations set by his high draft stock, notched his first college double-double with 20 point and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. The performance absolved him of the forgettable 15 minutes he logged before fouling out in last week’s loss to Alabama. It also discouraged much discussion of the somewhat perplexing showing from Kentucky’s backcourt trio of Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays, and Archie Goodwin. While John Calipari’s guards each put together efficient stat lines and rebounded from a (generally) dismal game in Tuscaloosa, their disjointed half court execution left several lingering questions about Kentucky’s guard play.

(Credit Clay Jackson)

The backcourt is still a source of headaches for Calipari (Credit Clay Jackson)

While there was plenty of blame to go around after Kentucky’s ugly 59-55 loss to Alabama, much of it laid with Harrow and Goodwin for shooting their team out of the game. The two combined to score 13 points on 5-24 shooting (20.8%), and dished out as many turnovers as assists (4). For his part, Mays hit four of his five three-point attempts and was the only Wildcat with a positive +/- rating in what was only the second time he had scored in double digits since mid-December. John Calipari’s backcourt triumvirate was as much of a wildcard heading into yesterday’s game as Poythress. That former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey would be looking to exact revenge on his home turf for two losses against Kentucky last year placed even more pressure on his would-be defenders.

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SEC M5: 01.22.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2013

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  1. The NCAA’s investigation of the University of Miami program is expected to be released as early as this week, and it doesn’t sound like good news for one of the SEC’s newest coaches. Missouri coach Frank Haith is expected to be charged with “unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance,” according to a report by Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports. Haith has been linked to well-known Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who sold out the program while currently serving out a prison term for a $930 million Ponzi scheme. According to Goodman, “Haith will be charged with unethical conduct because the NCAA did not believe his story that payments to his assistants intended for camp money did not wind up going to repay Shapiro.” Haith is also linked to impermissible benefits because of airline tickets given to family members of players. He could potentially receive a show-cause penalty similar to the three-year ban former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl received in 2011, but will have 90 days to respond to the allegations once they are released by the NCAA.
  2. The fellas over at A Sea of Blue have the good, the bad, and the ugly for their beloved Wildcats in UK’s four SEC games thus far. ASoB mentions Ryan Harrow’s excellent assist-to-turnover ratio (also Julius Mays with just two turnovers in the previous four games), as he has just five turnovers over the last two games compared to 13 assists, but the Cats have struggled overall with a 20.7 percent turnover ratio in conference play. If not the point guard Harrow, who is coughing up the ball? That honor would go to, well, everybody else. Archie Goodwin leads the way with 13 turnovers over the last four games, for an average of 3.3 turnovers per game. Alex Poythress is averaging 2.3, Kyle Wiltjer with 2.0, and Nerlens Noel also with 2.0 turnovers per game. Kentucky’s primary ball-handler is taking care of the rock, but everybody else needs to follow suit for the Cats to be successful. The Wildcats’ next three opponents rank no lower than 63rd in defensive turnover percentage.
  3. We all knew Nerlens Noel had big shoes to fill when he replaced the number one pick in the NBA Draft in Kentucky’s starting lineup, but he’s only worried about his own development. “I’m not trying to live up to him,” Noel said, referring to former Wildcat center Anthony Davis. “I’m trying to be my own player and set my own mark and play for my team.” And his development is going better than expected, even with incredibly high expectations in the offseason. “Defensively, I think I’ve got a lot better,” Noel said. “Coach Cal has made sure I’ve stayed disciplined defensively, staying on my feet. It’s helped me. I’m not going after every ball like I was earlier in the season. I’m blocking a higher (percentage) of shots. Offensively, just Coach Payne, just everything on the block, just working on my touches and things like that.”  Noel’s work is paying off, as he was named SEC freshman of the week on Monday and is among the nation’s leaders in blocks, rebounds, and steals.
  4. Mississippi State‘s lack of depth is continuing to prove difficult in practice situations, as the Bulldogs are attempting to simulate Arkansas’ famous full-court pressure. “It’s going to be difficult for us to simulate what Arkansas is going to bring with their pressure defense with all their different presses,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “We’re trying to find a way with managers, athletic trainers, coaches and things like that just to get bodies out on the court to try to simulate that. Even with those guys being out there, the problem is still simulating what Arkansas does with their length and athleticism with those pressures.” Mississippi State is one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover percentage at 25.2 percent (339th in the country). On the flip side, the Razorbacks force turnovers on just over 24 percent of opponents’ possessions. If you thought Kentucky’s freshmen turnover averages were bad, Mississippi State guard Craig Sword is averaging four turnovers a game in conference play, including seven miscues against South Carolina. So with all these factors in play, it could be a long night on Wednesday for the Bulldogs.
  5. The Rowdy Reptiles got their groove on during a timeout of the Missouri-Florida game on Saturday. Though I’m not a fan of the flash mob or synchronized dance movement, there wasn’t much else for the student section to do in the wake of an almost 30-point blowout. But seriously, can we move on from this horrendous point in American history when we feel like we have to do jazz fingers in perfect harmony with hundreds or thousands of our closest friends for an event to be meaningful? Enough already. Turn down your blasted pop music. And get off my damn lawn while you’re at it, you good-for-nothing kids. If you’re still reading at this point, here’s a video of the flash mob routine in the O’Connell Center from Saturday:

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Whats Wrong With Kentucky? An Expert Weighs In…

Posted by CNguon on December 18th, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached @anchorofgold on Twitter.

Kentucky ran through a storybook season in 2011-12, mashing together the country’s most talented freshman class and riding their skills to a NCAA title. John Calipari’s follow-up hasn’t been as successful. After losing all five starters from last year’s national championship team, the Wildcats are banking on players like Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress to carry them back to great heights. So far, that’s resulted in a 7-3 record and a tumultuous plunge out of the national rankings. The ‘Cats have righted the ship with three straight wins, but a big showdown with #6 Louisville looms later this month before SEC play starts. So what are the expectations in Lexington for the rest of this year? To learn more about Coach Cal’s latest freshman project, we went straight to the expert.

Glenn Logan is the Managing Editor of A Sea of Blue, one of the most comprehensive and well-written Kentucky Wildcat blogs out there. He was gracious enough to sit down and exchange some emails with me to discuss this team’s prospects for 2013 and beyond.

Rush the Court: First things first – Kentucky hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, losing games to Notre Dame and Baylor in November and December. What has been the biggest factor behind the slow start? Is it a lack of cohesion, the adjustment to an entirely new starting five, a lack of talent, or something else?

Glenn Logan, A Sea of Blue: Mainly, Kentucky has suffered from defensive lapses against better teams. In their three losses, they have allowed both Duke and Notre Dame to be offensively efficient and shoot a high effective FG%. Against Baylor, they simply could not score, because they did not communicate and play solid basketball. Kentucky at the moment is a team that is still figuring out how to play the college game. Each team is different, and learns how to play at a different pace, and we’ve seen this at Kentucky for three years. Back in 2009-10, the Wildcats should have been 10-4 going into conference play instead of 14-0, and that team was pretty bad until midway through the conference season. But they won the SEC anyway, and by that time, they were very good. This team is a lot like that one, or like 2011, where Kentucky was 4-4 at one time in the SEC. Both 2010 and 2011’s teams made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament despite their early struggles.

Things are still a work in progress so far for John Calipari and company (AP)

Things are still a work in progress so far for John Calipari and company (AP)

RTC: Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Poythress have all gotten off to great starts in their college careers. Of these three, which freshman do you see having the greatest impact for the ‘Cats in 2012-13?

GL: I think overall, Nerlens Noel will have the most overall impact. That’s because he really brings it on the defensive end and is a very good passer out of the post. Goodwin and Poythress will be the primary scorers, but I think Noel will have the most overall impact on the Wildcats’ success.

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SEC Power Rankings: Week One

Posted by DPerry on November 19th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. We’ve been able to see each team in action, but with vastly different degrees of difficulty as far as scheduling, we’ll need to see more before the rankings truly take form.

A perfect night for Erik Murphy propels the Gators to the top spot.

  1. Florida- The Gators’ offense has shown the potential to be dominant. The lineup is bursting at the seams with skilled scorers, both in the frontcourt and backcourt. In going 10-10 from the field, we’ve probably seen senior Erik Murphy‘s best performance of the season, but he should have no problem improving on last year’s breakout campaign. Turnovers have been a concern, but with the reinstatement of point guard Scottie Wilbekin allowing Kenny Boynton to move to the two, Florida should be able to take better care of the ball.
  2. Kentucky- The loss to Duke isn’t a huge concern. The Blue Devils are a quality, veteran team. No, the real problem with the Wildcats so far is the lack of depth. Jarrod Polson, a star against Maryland, was completely ineffective against a more disciplined defense, and John Calipari only trusted Willie Cauley-Stein enough to give him six minutes. The continued absence of Ryan Harrow leaves Kentucky without a true point guard, a role not suited for Archie Goodwin or Julius Mays. Still, in watching the young Wildcats play, it’s tough to argue that they have the highest ceiling of any SEC team.
  3. Missouri- Frank Haith has used his first few games to assess all the new talent that arrived in Columbia this offseason. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and freshman Negus Webster-Chan have been particularly impressive. We’ll know a lot more about the Tigers after the face three quality opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week. Read the rest of this entry »
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Freeze Frame: Evaluating Kentucky’s Pick and Roll Offense Against Duke

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2012

Duke led the Kentucky Wildcats by as many as 14 points on Tuesday night before the Cats chipped away within striking distance with under three minutes to go. With the lead cut to just three points, Kentucky went to its staple offensive set — a high on-ball screen from center Nerlens Noel for point guard Archie Goodwin. However, with the Wildcats mounting a comeback and precious minutes ticking off the clock, Duke defended the play well and shut down Goodwin’s options. For this play to be successful, two things need to happen: 1) Noel needs to set a solid screen on the on-ball defender and roll quickly to the basket, and 2) Goodwin needs good penetration into the lane. Neither of these happened, leaving Kentucky to take contested shots and leave the Georgia Dome with a loss.

Duke 64 – Kentucky 61, 2:47 remaining in the game: 

High on ball screen to set up the pick and roll.

Goodwin begins the offense at the top of the key, and Noel sets the screen. Because of Noel’s athleticism, he rolls straight to the basket looking for a lob. Notice Kentucky’s spacing in this set as the Cats’ two best shooters — Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays — set up on the wing. If their man leaves to play help defense on Goodwin they are lined up for an open shot to tie up this game. Poythress lines up in the corner, looking to make a cut straight towards the basket for an offensive rebound or if his man leaves to help. But make no mistake, this play is designed for Goodwin to penetrate as scoring option number one and Noel to look for the lob as scoring option number two.

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SEC M5: 10.25.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on October 25th, 2012

  1. Kentucky took to the Rupp Arena floor Wednesday night for its annual Blue-White scrimmage. Over 12,000 fans were in attendance, with many more catching the action on Fox Sports Net. The new-look Wildcats put on a high-flying, high-scoring show, but coach John Calipari downplayed the performance. “Folks, let me just say this,” he told fans after the final buzzer, “thanks for being here tonight. Can you see how far we have to go?” This isn’t surprising of course, as Calipari downplaying his team’s level of quality before the season seems to be his modus operandi. Big performances from freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, and Nerlens Noel will dominate headlines, but the upperclassmen showed promise as well. Kyle Wiltjer displayed improved strength and dropped a pretty baby hook over Noel, while transfer Julius Mays showed a quick and accurate trigger from long range. Even Jon Hood, coming off a knee injury, looked energetic and shot the ball efficiently. If one of these older players can step into the leadership role vacated by Darius Miller, Kentucky may not be as far away as their coach believes.
  2. Attendence figures have been woeful for South Carolina over the past few seasons, but Frank Martin has designs on quickly changing that. In a meeting with members of the student body on Monday, the new Gamecock coach discussed ideas to increase fan interest. “I’ll make myself available for anything the students want,” he said. “I need you guys in that building.” Martin isn’t the type to shy away from a challenge. In 2007, he took over a Kansas State program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in over a decade and promptly led the Wildcats to four bids in six seasons. Turning around a moribund South Carolina program might be even tougher. The overall lack of talent on the roster makes an immediate reversal of fortunes unlikely, but Martin’s willingness to reach out to a jaded fanbase is a step in the right direction.
  3. Want to hear what your coach thinks about your team’s chances this season? Your questions will be answered today, as the league’s coaches gather in Hoover, Alabama, for SEC Media Day. The story from last year’s event was the unwavering confidence of Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who seemed to take issue with the fact that his team wasn’t being ranked ahead of the inexperienced Kentucky Wildcats. After losing every key contributor from a 25-win team, how will the Commodores’ coach react to this year’s 10th place prediction for his squad?
  4. New LSU coach Johnny Jones got a jump on the Media Day festivities when he addressed local media in Baton Rouge yesterday. “We have really been pleased with the last few days of practice,” said Jones. “Unfortunately, we have had a few players go down with injuries which are somewhat of a little setback. Hopefully, we will get them back on the floor in the near future within the next few days. That would be beneficial for us because of our lack of numbers.” Any hint of injury on an already thin squad is troubling news for LSU fans, since even a full-strength Tiger team won’t win many conference games this season. Jones will be counting on good fortune on the injury front to stay away from the bottom of the standings. If he runs into some bad luck, however, he can ask Andrew Del Piero for help finding practice bodies. A couple of those trombone players looked like they had some size.
  5. Details surrounding Billy Gillispie’s dismissal from Texas Tech continue to emerge, and they aren’t pretty. E-mails obtained by USA Today indicate that the former Kentucky coach regularly ignored practice time restrictions, most notably on one October weekend in 2011 when the team “practiced for 7 hours, 15 minutes on Saturday, and 6 hours, 30 minutes on Sunday”. His tenure in the SEC was an unmitigated disaster, and his failed campaign at Texas Tech only highlights how unfit Gillispie was to lead the league’s most prestigious program. It seems unlikely that another school will take a chance on him in the near future (if at all), so when the controversy over his improprieties in Lubbock fades away, we hope that you won’t have to read Gillispie’s name on this site for long, long time.
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