Michigan State vs. Kansas: Four Things to Know

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 17th, 2015

Tonight the fifth annual Champions Classic will tip off at the United Center in Chicago where Michigan State will face Kansas in the late game. The Spartans and Jayhawks — both ranked in the top 15 — bring the usual lofty season expectations each program is accustomed to. Bill Self and Tom Izzo have built the type of rosters that seem to be the recipe for success in today’s college game: a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen along with some talented freshmen. In order to prepare you for tonight’s game and get you familiar with some of the new faces, here are four things you need to know before you tune in to watch.

Deyonta Davis will need to keep dominating inside against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

Deyonta Davis faces his first major challenge in the paint against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

  1. Deyonta Down Low. Michigan State lost a lot of its muscle in the post when Branden Dawson graduated but Izzo seems to have found a more-than-suitable replacement in four-star freshman Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon, Michigan, native didn’t let his youth and inexperience make him reticent in his inaugural outing on Friday, as evidenced by his stat line of 13 points on 14 shots (team-high), 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Florida Atlantic. But his head coach might have to calm his budding star down a bit tonight because Davis won’t be able to physically bully the Jayhawks in the paint like he did against the Owls. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor Demands Your Attention Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

It’s a near-consensus this season that the Big 12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. As we approach the halfway point of league play, drawing a line between NCAA Tournament contenders and the rest has become an easier task. We all expected Kansas and Iowa State to reign at the top and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the standings (sorry, guys). But the middle five conference teams have been the tough to forecast all season long. West Virginia is 6-2 in league play but still somewhat unproven, with four of those six wins coming against the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State have all left something to be desired. The only middle five team to exceed expectations so far has been none other than Baylor.

It's possible: You can respect Scott Drew's grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s possible: You can respect Scott Drew’s grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After finishing sixth last year, Big 12 coaches picked Baylor sixth again before the season began. At the moment, the Bears are in, you guessed it, sixth place. So how are they exceeding expectations? Because they lost Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — three of their top four scorers from a year ago — and a slew of role players has been charged with taking on greater responsibility. Rico Gathers has been an anchor inside, grabbing more rebounds in a starter’s role (12.0 RPG) while sharing the wealth among veterans Royce O’Neale (6.3 RPG), Taurean Prince (5.7 RPG) and freshman Johnathan Motley (4.6 RPG). The graduation of sharpshooter Heslip left a gaping hole in the team’s outside shooting but that role has been supplanted by another trio of Bears. O’Neale has been a consistent outside shooting option since arriving from Denver (42.4%) and Prince is also capable from distance (40.5%), but the most improvement has come from point guard Kenny Chery (32.5% last season to 40.5%).

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Big 12 M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 21st, 2015


  1. By now you’ve heard plenty about Jameel McKay, the forward at Iowa State. His fame grew a little more in last night’s win against Kansas State, tying career highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven) while blocking three shots in just 26 minutes of action. McKay brings what no big has brought to the Cyclones since Fred Hoiberg arrived back on campus five years ago. He’s a match-up nightmare. McKay is the guy who out-hustles opponents to make them look bad but has the physical gifts to make them look much worse. You’ll hear more and more about McKay as the season goes along. And you’ll love it.
  2. Aided by his 10-for-10 shooting game against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma‘s Buddy Hield was awarded Big 12 Player of the Week for the second time this season after getting the honor on November 17. Speaking of repeat winners, Kelly Oubre, Jr. of Kansas won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after taking home the award on December 22. Oubre averaged 12 points and seven rebounds in a week where the Jayhawks split two games against two nationally-ranked teams in Oklahoma State and Iowa State. This season, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia have all combined to represent 20 of the 22 total Player or Newcomer of the Week awards in the Big 12. Amongst Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, those teams have combined to produce two players who won Player or Newcomer of the Week and that occurred in the same week: November 24. Methinks the league office will get on that.
  3. Kansas is eagerly awaiting for President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Lawrence tomorrow and that includes head coach Bill Self. ““We’re trying to get that worked out,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World. “I’ve been in contact with somebody out of his staff or office. It would mean a lot to everybody in our program, certainly our players. We understand his schedule is tight.” We all know the President is a little bit of a basketball fan and it would make sense to swing by one of the cathedrals of the game. If he can pull one of these out of his hat while he’s there, we’re talkin’ about upgrading him to legendary presidential status here!
  4. It seems like Texas has hopped back on the right track with two convincing wins against West Virginia Saturday in Austin and at TCU on Monday night. While it wasn’t far-fetched to say the Longhorns would win those games, it might be in order to win the next two. For the second week in a row, UT was dealt with the Saturday game-followed-by-a-Monday-game schedule. These two games, home against Kansas and at Iowa State on Big Monday, are only against the teams who are currently tied for first place in the conference. These tests will hopefully paint a clearer picture on where Texas stands in the hierarchy of this year’s Big 12. Until, of course, something totally unexpected happens and sends us back to the drawing board once again.
  5. If you are someone, performing as a college mascot, it is difficult to draw the line between zany and disrespectful behavior. Oklahoma deemed the behavior of one of their mascots as disrespectful. During #Bedlam on Saturday afternoon, one of OU’s mascots was harassing Oklahoma State fans at the Lloyd Noble Center by blocking their view of the game, taunting them and spilling popcorn on them according to sources who told NewsOK.com. One of those OSU fans taunted happened to be Heather Ford, the wife of Cowboys coach Travis Ford. I guess we all know now that mascots aren’t as untouchable as we thought they were.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas State’s in First Place??? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 19th, 2015

The Big 12 is weird. It doesn’t even have twelve teams in it. This brown-suited man is their commissioner. Kansas State‘s best player was benched in its conference opener, a loss; and now, the same team that was 7-7 two weeks ago occupies first place in the whole dang league. Aside from weird, the Big 12 is still a very deep basketball league. Kansas State’s place atop the standings is evidence of this fact. But where did the Wildcats’ 4-1 start originate? Better end-game execution? A little bit, yes. Better effort on both ends of the floor? That’s part of it. But the transformation of K-State began with a change in mindset from their benched star, Marcus Foster. Foster came into his sophomore season with lofty expectations after bursting onto the scene last year. Some of those expectations were self-imposed and his focus was to meet them instead helping toward the greater good of the team. “Sometimes you do think to the future,” Foster told The Wichita Eagle last week. “You think about, maybe I can play in the NBA and maybe I need to start doing this. But I think my mindset is back to worrying about today and getting better at what you need to get better at every day. That is all it took for me to get in a few good games.” Following that January 3 loss to Oklahoma State, Foster scored 23 off the bench to help defeat TCU, hit the game-winning three at Oklahoma, led his team in scoring (14) and assists (four) to get by Texas Tech, and grabbed three steals in the weekend’s upset over Baylor. There is still a lot that this team’s resume needs between now and Selection Sunday, but as long as Foster continues to focus on the greater good over self, his team will have a chance. And that’s all it needs, really.

It's not hard to look for the key to K-State's 4-1 start: Marcus Foster. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

It’s not hard to look for the key to K-State’s 4-1 start: Marcus Foster. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

Power Rankings

  1. Iowa State — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Cyclones finally delivered the first punch in their attempt to end The Streak (TM). Three of their next four games come at home with the only road trip in that stretch set to take place at Texas Tech. This means that there’s a decent chance Fred Hoiberg’s team comes to Lawrence for the return game with a stellar 7-1 league record. However, if the first two weeks of Big 12 play have taught us anything, it’s that holding the fort in this conference is anything but a given.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Kansas — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “The Jayhawks have the top-ranked offense and defense during conference play and only lost by five on the road at Iowa State. They could get back to the top spot with wins over Oklahoma at home and Texas on the road this week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 19th, 2015


  1. If you check to see who sits atop the Big 12 standings today, you’ll probably think there must be some mistake. But no, that is indeed Kansas State, winners of their last four after hanging on against Baylor, leading the league with a 4-1 record. While this start to their conference schedule is welcomed, we can’t ignore the fact that the Wildcats are returning seven of their top nine rotation players from last season. The problem is it’s January 18 and they have no margin of error. Their next four games to end January are as follows: at Iowa State, vs Oklahoma State, vs West Virginia and at Kansas. If they finish the month undefeated, their at-large status will improve. Personally, I’d like to see it all in the name of chaos.
  2. Saturday was a monumental day in the history of TCU basketball. Not only did they end a 23-game Big 12 losing streak which dated back to March 2013 but it was also their first ever road win in Big 12 play. As our Brian Goodman pointed out, winning a road conference game can do wonders for your KenPom profile. It’s little milestones like these that can change an entire culture around a program in so many ways. Eventually we’ll reach a point in the future when TCU puts together a winning streak in the Big 12 or contend for the NCAA Tournament without any of us batting an eye at the accomplishment. Someday soon.
  3. The most entertaining game of the weekend was undoubtedly Kansas-Iowa State on Saturday night. The Jayhawks were always a few possessions away from taking the lead away from the Cyclones but anytime KU strung baskets together, ISU was able to come back on the next possession and beat defenders down the floor for transition buckets. After being called out during the week by Bill Self, Perry Ellis answered the bell early but was unable to take the game over due to foul trouble and Frank Mason was perhaps even better than Ellis all game long. But Monte Morris did a little bit of everything (11 points, seven rebounds, three steals) while he continued his ungodly assist-to-turnover pace by piling on 10 dimes with just two turnovers. Can the Big 12 Tournament final get here already?
  4. Musiq Soulchild released the single “B.U.D.D.Y.” from his album Luvanmusiq eight years ago this month. Were you aware that the song was dedicated to Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield? Well, it wasn’t but it would’ve made for a fascinating story! Had this had been true and he did learn the song was dedicated to him before tipoff of #Bedlam, it would have been clear what inspired Hield to go 10-for-10 from the floor including 6-for-6 from three in the Sooners’ drubbing of Oklahoma State. In any case, Hield was stellar once again and OU gets revenge for their football team’s loss to the Cowboys last month.
  5. Jonathan Holmes summed up best Texasmindset going into Saturday’s game vs the Mountaineers, I think: “West Virginia wanted to come out and punk us, and we couldn’t let that happen.” And so, the Horns, who would have been the original punkees, instead became the punkers and made West Virginia the punkees following an 18-2 Texas run in the first half. Halfway through the second half, the Mountaineers were all punked out and the Horns ran away with the game. Holmes struggled shooting but was able to put his head down, drive to the basket, draw fouls and make 11-for-12 from the free throw line while also grabbing 11 rebounds. What lies ahead for UT is a game against TCU tonight in Fort Worth. Someone’s one-game winning streak will sadly come to an end.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: TCU, We Hardly Knew Ye Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2015

TCU basketball is back! Or, at least, not where they used to be! The Horned Frogs went a perfect 13-0 in non-league play by beating up on bad opponents through the first two months of the season. Still, it was a welcome change for a team that typically struggles against anyone above, on or below their level of play. As a result, Associated Press voters rewarded TCU with a Top 25 ranking in December, a cool but misguided notion. Trent Johnson’s club won’t be a contender for Big 12 titles just yet, but it is taking the necessary steps into becoming a competitive program. They’ll likely win a handful of games in Big 12 play, and they’re making inroads in recruiting the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. For those reasons alone, the perception of the program will change and, who knows, perhaps in a few years we’ll be talking about TCU as a perennial NCAA Tournament team.

Guard Kyan Anderson has been a big part of TCU basketball's transition from doormat to competitive. (Steve Nurenburg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Guard Kyan Anderson has been a big part of TCU basketball’s transition from doormat to competitive. (Steve Nurenburg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks opened their Big 12 slate with a close road win at Baylor and followed that up with a 32-point thrashing of Texas Tech at home. Kansas leads the league in offensive efficiency and defensive field goal percentage through two games. Plus, Bill Self’s squad is the 10-time defending champion.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “In a game where they committed 27 fouls and 18 turnovers, the Cyclones found a way to win at a West Virginia team with similar aspirations. If Kansas and Iowa State can remain undefeated until Saturday night, the winner of that game will have our top spot in next week’s rankings.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  3. Oklahoma — 9 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “The Sooners have issues of their own, as they need to get Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard back on track. Still, they’re just two big Marcus Foster plays away from being undefeated, so it’s hardly time to sound any alarms.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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Oklahoma’s Blowout of Texas Might Disrupt Big 12 Hierarchy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2015

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court. He covered Oklahoma-Texas in Austin last night. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.

We are four days into the start of Big 12 play, so naturally, now is the time to make quick declarations on how the conference will ultimately shake out. Until we make new ones on Saturday, that is. The box score will tell you that the Sooners played their most complete game of the season against one of their toughest opponents on Monday night. While it was an impressive victory, the reality is Oklahoma dominated Texas defensively in the first half and coasted in the second. The Sooners forced nine of Texas’ 12 turnovers, scored 11 points off those turnovers, outscored the Horns in the paint by 10, and held the Longhorns to 14 points total — all in the first 20 minutes. At the break, Texas was left with six players each making one field goal to account for their 6-of-30 shooting, while the Sooners’ Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield equaled that number with three makes apiece. Their size advantage on Texas’ guards with Hield and Isaiah Cousins allowed the duo to shoot over them to the tune of 4-of-10 from the perimeter.

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT's reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT’s reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Another important piece to this game for Oklahoma was the emergence of TaShawn Thomas. It’s common knowledge that the addition of Thomas has strengthened the team’s defense to a level that hasn’t been seen during head coach Lon Kruger‘s tenure in Norman. Competing against the athletic size of Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, Thomas posted 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, four of them offensive. While not nearly as efficient on the offensive end, Thomas contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and led all players in offensive rebounds (four), two blocked shots and one nasty dunk that thwarted any chance of a Longhorns’ comeback early in the second half. The Sooners seem to have Texas’ number of late, winning four of the last five games in the series. Oklahoma has also recorded wins in Austin in consecutive seasons for the first time since the program last did so during the 2000-02 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.23.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 23rd, 2014


  1. In a game that was decided during the first few minutes of action, Kansas fell to Temple by an astonishing score of 77-52 on Monday night. Leading scorer Perry Ellis struggled, going 1-of-1o from the field, but he didn’t get much support from his teammates either (10-of-28 from two-point range). To further illustrate how anticlimactic the outcome of this game was, Temple scored the first seven points of the game before the Jayhawks scored their first two — that five-point deficit would be the Owls’ smallest lead of the entire game, while their largest lead at one time topped out at 30 points. It was a poor performance, for sure, but there’s no reason to start flipping out yet over Kansas’ long-term outlook. Bill Self’s team has some problems, but it is still very much a threat to win another Big 12 regular season title.
  2. Late last night, the Associated Press reported that Oklahoma had fired an unnamed men’s basketball support staffer for committing an NCAA violation related to an “extra benefit violation.” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione says that the school has notified the NCAA of the violation and it has already taken “corrective action we believe to be appropriate.” The Sooners were also in action Monday night, easily running past Weber State by a score of 85-51.
  3. In recent games, Kansas head coach Bill Self has rewarded Kelly Oubre‘s hard work with more playing time. The Big 12 announced on Monday that it too was rewarding Oubre’s stellar recent play with his first Newcomer of the Week award after he posted career highs in points (23) and rebounds (10) versus Lafayette last week. The conference also awarded West Virginia‘s Juwan Staten his first Player of the Week award of the season after his 24-point, six-assist performance in the Mountaineers’ victory over NC State.
  4. Last week, ESPN reported that Texas guard Damarcus Croaker would transfer at the end of the fall semester, and on Monday, he announced via Twitter that he will transfer to Murray State. Croaker averaged around 9.5 minutes per game in his first year-plus for the Longhorns but had only played in five of the team’s nine games this season. Joining the Racers allows for Croaker to not only be a little closer to his son, who lives in Orlando, Florida, but also attend a familiar school, one that had recruited him out of high school.
  5. The field for the 2015 Diamond Head Classic was announced on Sunday and Oklahoma was selected as one of the eight participating schools. The Sooners will be a part of a competitive field with BYU, Harvard, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, Auburn and Washington State along with the host school Hawaii. It’s a solid group of teams that are typically in contention for NCAA Tournament bids if not elite programs. Other than Hawaii, Washington State and Auburn are probably the weakest links, but under the new leaderships of Ernie Kent and Bruce Pearl, respectively, both teams should be considerably better in their second seasons.
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Big 12 M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 21st, 2014


  1. Texas sputtered to start the 2K Sports Classic and found themselves down six at the break. They went into locker room and proceeded to dominate the Hawkeyes in the second half 47-27 and won the game by 14. Perhaps the biggest headline to emerge from this is the status of sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor who injured his left wrist late in the game. UT should take this injury seriously even if it is a minor one. Any time Taylor misses would be harmful to a team that has had its offensive woes. Rick Barnes told ESPN after the game that he asked Taylor “if I would kiss it to make it feel better, and he said it would. And I kissed it but I don’t guess it worked.” This brings up another important point: Kissing boo-boo’s heal when a mother is doing the kissing. Boo-boo kissing is a fruitless endeavor for fathers and/or Division I coaches. (Division II coaches? Maybe.) I don’t have much data supporting this hypothesis but I’m pretty sure it’s foolproof.
  2. West Virginia-George Mason was one of those games Thursday where I had to do a double take on its final score because the deficit was large. Yes, the Mountaineers beat the Patriots by 26 points. You could have missed the game, looked at the final stats and concluded that the Patriots made this loss greater than it should have been. The Patriots turned the ball over 24 times compared to WVU’s 12 and missed 16 of their 32 free throws. This isn’t to say that George Mason would have won the game (they wouldn’t have) but I am saying they did more things to hurt themselves than to help. Kudos to the ‘Eers for capitalizing on their mistakes and for also getting back to winning games Huggy’s way (11 more offensive rebounds than GMU). A great thing about these tournaments is that we’ll get a better frame of reference of teams’ long-term success afterwards. The deeper WVU advances, the more serious I’ll take them as an at-large bid.
  3. So…are we gonna talk about Oklahoma’s massive collapse at Creighton on Wednesday night? When Ryan Spangler hit a three to bump the Sooner lead to 18 early in the second half, Creighton called timeout and I turned the game off. It was remarkable to see the Sooners start the way they did in a notoriously loud building like the Qwest Center is. But Creighton came out of the timeout and upped their defensive pressure on the Sooners. Soon, the game began to swing in the Bluejays’ favor. Oklahoma won’t see a crowd like this one until it plays Kansas and Iowa State in conference action. At least there’s time enough time between now and then to fix those problems.
  4. The Lawrence Journal-World’s post-mortem of Tuesday’s Kentucky-Kansas points out one very big advantage for the Wildcats: Kentucky was bigger. It’s an obvious point Tom Keegan makes but the Wildcats are going to have the best frontcourt in the game every time it steps on a basketball floor. The closest resemblance to a Kentucky team in the Big 12 is Texas but I don’t think size poses much of a problem across the league. Most teams aren’t Texas and don’t have the size that the Longhorns possess. I wouldn’t freak out too much, Kansas fans.
  5. Two future neutral-court fields were announced on Thursday. The 2015 edition of the Charleston Classic’s headliner will be the reigning ACC champion Virginia but otherwise doesn’t generate much interest. The rest of the field is made up of Oklahoma State from the Big 12, Ole Miss, Bradley, George Mason, Towson, Long Beach State and Seton Hall. Meanwhile, the 2015 Puerto Rico Tip-Off will bring in Texas Tech, Miami, Mississippi State, Butler, Missouri State, Utah, Minnesota and Temple. The possibilities for games here are more intriguing than Charleston. Utah and Miami appear to be likely NCAA Tournament teams this season, Fran Dunphy and Temple usually put good teams together and the potential for a Tubby Smith vs his old school match-up will turn a few heads. This will be a good field.
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Freeze Frame: The Ceiling for Kentucky’s Elite Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 19th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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