SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly look at which SEC teams, players, and coaches are trending up, down, or somewhere in the middle. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that the future has looked any brighter at this school since the glory days of Billy Gillispie. The Aggies lost their first two SEC games — played without second-leading scorer Jalen Jones — but have since reeled off five in a row in league play. They already have three conference road wins and a favorable schedule going forward. With an RPI that sits at #34, this team is a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament bid, something that certainly didn’t seem very likely a few short weeks ago.
Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

  • Dorian Finney-Smith Dunks. In what was likely the most emphatic game-winning basket we’ve seen this year, Finney-Smith put away Alabama and got his Gators a key road win last week. Florida is still sitting squarely atop the bubble and has a lot of work to do to overcome it, but this was the type of win that will serve handy on Selection Sunday.
  • Mark Fox’s Job Security. It’s looking more and more like Georgia has a legitimate chance to emerge as the SEC’s second-best team, as the Bulldogs have bounced back nicely from two losses to open conference play. Georgia has moved into the RPI’s top 25 and appears very well-positioned to secure its first NCAA bid since 2011.
  • Jordan Mickey’s Draft Stock. If there is a more consistent player in the SEC this season, we haven’t seen him. Mickey is averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per contest and has propelled LSU to a nice 5-2 league record. The only bad news associated with Mickey’s play is that he likely won’t be around to play with Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney next season, as the NBA Draft’s first round is well within his sights.
  • Kentucky’s Chances of an Undefeated Season. This stock trends up with every passing week that the Wildcats don’t lose a game. According to KenPom, the best chance Kentucky has of losing in the regular season is when it travels to Georgia on March 3. There, the Wildcats have an 84 percent chance of winning, according to the advanced stats guru’s latest projections.

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SEC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 26th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky got some good recruiting news when it picked up its first commitment of the class of 2016, and it didn’t come from one of the typical locales. Ty Wynyard, a 6’9″ power forward from New Zealand, gave his pledge to John Calipari over the weekend. The Kiwi will be the first from his country to suit up for the Wildcats, and more interesting than the fact that he’s considered to be a good rebounder with a strong inside game, is that he is the son of world champion woodchoppers. As ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello points out, although Wynyard is currently a member of next year’s class, there is a good chance he could reclassify to the class of 2015 and end up in Lexington as soon as next fall.
  2. When Auburn made the quick move to dismiss Tony Barbee and hire Bruce Pearl last March, many in the state and around the SEC wondered if Alabama, historically a better basketball job, could have instead landed the former Tennessee coach if it had jettisoned Anthony Grant following his very disappointing fifth season. Athletic director Bill Battle instead chose to give Grant a sixth season, and we will never know if the Crimson Tide could have outbid its archrival for Pearl’s services. On Saturday, Grant’s team edged Pearl’s Tigers in a thrilling two-point game that Auburn appeared in prime position to win when it led by eight points with just over seven minutes remaining. As al.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, the hoops version of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry will certainly heat up now that Pearl is on the Plains and Grant is not quite ready to let Pearl have control of the state without a fight.
  3. The road was the place to be in the SEC over the weekend, as five of the seven games played on Saturday were won by the visitor. Only Ole Miss and Alabama won at home, and both did so on the game’s final possession. Oddities such as this happen from time to time, and considering Kentucky and Arkansas were heavy favorites at South Carolina and Missouri, respectively, the results shouldn’t be too surprising. Still, it may also reflect that some of the teams from which good things were expected this year — notably, LSU, Georgia, and Texas A&M — are getting better and starting to reach their potential. That trio each finished the week at 2-0, and all three of them rank in the five-way second place logjam.
  4. Georgia head coach Mark Fox earned a few chuckles on Twitter over the weekend when he said after the Bulldogs won a close game at Mississippi State that SEC basketball is “like SEC football.” Few things will ruffle feathers in the South more than comparing something, anything, to SEC football, and when that comparison is made between a basketball league that is widely considered to be mediocre and the highest form of sport in existence, well, you can imagine the backlash. In reality, while Fox was likely only making the point that winning games in league play is tough, there is simply no comparison between the league’s football and basketball products. SEC basketball is clearly getting better, but it has a long way to go before it can be mentioned in the same breath as its gridiron counterpart.
  5. Texas A&M won its fourth consecutive SEC game over the weekend when it took out a hot Tennessee team by six points in Knoxville. The Aggies are now 4-2 in league play and making a push to be considered the second-best team in the league. It is no coincidence that the team is undefeated in the conference when junior forward Jalen Jones is in the lineup. Jones missed the team’s first two SEC games – losses to Alabama and Kentucky – but has averaged 17 points per contest in the four he has played since. Jones is a transfer from SMU who has clearly been a key find for Billy Kennedy this year. If Jones decides to return next season along with a top 10 recruiting class headed to College Station, the future appears to be very bright at Texas A&M.
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Alabama Seeks Season-Defining Win Against Kentucky

Posted by David Changas on January 17th, 2015

They almost got Iowa State in a hostile environment. They should have gotten Wichita State on the road. Alabama has shown significant improvement after last season’s disappointment, but the Crimson Tide have yet to secure a marquee win that will enhance their NCAA Tournament resume. Later today Alabama will have the opportunity to make those near-misses away from Tuscaloosa become a distant memory as it welcomes the country’s best to Coleman Coliseum. Kentucky righted its ship on Tuesday with a 49-point home victory over Missouri, while Alabama fell two points short at South Carolina. Still, after thumping Texas A&M at home to start conference play and throttling Tennessee in one of the season’s most impressive defensive performances, the Crimson Tide have to be a bit optimistic as the Wildcats come to town. It’s the first of two games the teams will play in a 15-day period.

Anthony Grant is working to get back to the Big Dance (nbcsports.com)

Anthony Grant is working to get back to the Big Dance (nbcsports.com)

Alabama came into the season with a number of unknowns – not the least of which was whether head coach Anthony Grant’s job could be saved – but so far it has performed beyond expectations and wiped away what was nothing less than an awful 2013-14 season. It currently sits 44th in the RPI and 37th in KenPom, thanks mostly to its improvement on the defensive end as well as better leadership. Whether the Crimson Tide can put it all together against the Wildcats remains to be seen, but there is reason for the hope that they can pull off the upset. While Kentucky has an even-bigger-than-normal size advantage against them, Alabama is very athletic and has done an excellent job with its three-point defense. The Wildcats’ biggest weakness has been their ineffectiveness from the perimeter, so it is incumbent upon the Crimson Tide to force Kentucky to score from beyond the arc.

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 16th, 2015

We are now nearly two weeks into conference play, so let’s take a hard look at which teams, players and other things are heading in the right direction, stuck in neutral or on the decline. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Florida. Perhaps all it took was conference play for the Gators to right the ship. After opening SEC play with a solid win at upstart South Carolina, the Gators easily dispatched conference lightweights Mississippi State and Auburn in Gainesville. Things get tougher on Saturday when they travel to Georgia, but Billy Donovan’s team is doing what it takes to tidy up its shaky resume for March.
  • Dominique Hawkins. The Kentucky guard went from not being part of either five-man platoon to starting against Missouri, and in his 20 minutes of action he gave John Calipari the perimeter defense the Wildcats needed. His entry into the starting lineup in place of Tyler Ulis was a bit of a surprise, but it obviously got the team’s attention as the Wildcats cruised to an 86-47 win over the Tigers, eradicating some of the bad vibe left over from last week’s overtime wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Dominique Hawkins took advantage of his surprise start against Missouri (Bleacher Report).

Dominique Hawkins took advantage of his surprise start against Missouri (Bleacher Report).

  • Robert Hubbs. Anyone who saw Hubbs play earlier this year wouldn’t believe that the freshman would ever make a Stock Watch list, although there was clearly nowhere for him to go than up. The former five-star recruit was way overrated coming out of high school, but Hubbs needed to find a way to contribute for Tennessee to have any success this season. He has done just that, and his career-high 16 points against Arkansas was a huge reason the Vols were able to upset the Hogs earlier this week.
  • Alabama. Sure, the Crimson Tide lost at South Carolina on Tuesday night, but there is no shame in dropping a two-point contest to one of the league’s most improved teams on the road. Alabama clearly has moved on from last year’s disaster, and with two of its next five games against Kentucky, Anthony Grant’s team has a chance to really get things moving (finally) in the right direction.

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Three Thoughts on Last Night’s Near-Shocker in Rupp Arena

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 7th, 2015

All that undefeated talk surrounding Kentucky was so 2014, right? Or maybe not. The Wildcats stole the college basketball spotlight last night by needing an overtime to defeat pesky Ole Miss, but if Jarvis Summers hadn’t settled for a deep and contested three as time expired, or if Snoop White had been a half-inch behind the three-point line on a second half jumper, Kentucky might well have opened 2015 with a home loss that nobody saw coming. For now, the Wildcats’ survival cools the notion that the team needs only roll out the ball in league play to reach the NCAA Tournament unscathed, but some warning signs became apparent. Here are several thoughts from last night’s wild game in Rupp Arena.

Andrew Harrison came up big for Kentucky, which included a key assist to his brother Aaron. (USA TODAY Sports)

Andrew Harrison came up big for Kentucky, which included a key assist to his brother Aaron. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The Wildcats are the team we thought they were. Nothing that happened last night should change that. Sure, a team well-removed from the national consciousness had the Wildcats on the ropes on their home floor, but John Calipari’s team is still a defensive juggernaut with ultra-talented depth. Kentucky was never immune to slow starts or lazy play, and there were a number of factors at play in that regard — the Wildcats hadn’t played at home since December 13; they hadn’t played at all since the big December 27 win over Louisville; and their 12-0 spurt at the start seemed to take all of the air out of their defensive intensity. This sort of thing happens, and when an opponent has enough size to be a factor on the glass as well as a player like Stefan Moody making shots, Kentucky is going to find itself in a ballgame. Add the fact that Ole Miss went 9-of-17 from three — including three huge ones from Snoop White — and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an upset. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: Thanksgiving Eve Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 26th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. It is safe to say the SEC has not had the strongest of starts to this Feast Week, Arkansas’ impressive win at SMU Tuesday night notwithstanding. The league has taken a beating on the first two days of the Thanksgiving week tournaments, and it is safe to say that the SEC, as a whole, somehow is performing below its not-so-lofty preseason expectations. On Monday, LSU lost in the Paradise Jam to a Clemson team that had home losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb earlier this month; Missouri got trounced by Arizona in Maui; Auburn put up a whopping 35 points in an 18-point loss to Tulsa in Las Vegas; and Alabama fell to Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, though the Crimson Tide at least showed some life, and bounced back with a 76-71 win over Arizona State in the consolation game. Also on Tuesday, Missouri was trounced by Purdue, 82-61.  There is plenty of basketball left this week, so the league has a chance to redeem itself, but based on the early returns, that does not appear likely to happen.
  2. The drama continues to unfold in the Donnie Tyndall saga, as his long-time assistant and apparent right-hand man, Adam Howard, resigned for “personal reasons.” Gary Parrish reported that, not surprisingly, the resignation of the coach who drove Tyndall to his first interview with Tennessee brass in the spring, was related to the NCAA’s investigation of improprieties that occurred at Southern Miss while Tyndall coached there. It was also learned Monday that special assistant R.J. Rush resigned before the season opener against VCU for personal reasons. This situation is far from over, but one must wonder whether, at the end of the day, Tyndall will survive in Knoxville. Long-time Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist Mike Strange, who has seen plenty of ups and downs with this program, knows that, whichever way this ultimately goes for Tyndall, the UT administration is in a very tough spot.
  3. Alabama senior guard Levi Randolph was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 21 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Tide’s wins over Western Carolina and Southern Miss. Randolph was obviously motivated after winning the award, as he went out and scored 18 points in Alabama’s 84-74 loss to the Cyclones on Monday. He followed that effort with an even better one in Tuesday’s win, as he went for a game-high 28. Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin won Freshman of the Week honors, as the guard from Belle Mead, New Jersey averaged 9.5 points and a robust 7.5 assists in the Commodores’ wins over Lipscomb and Tennessee State. Baldwin, who led the team with 13 points in Tuesday’s 63-53 win over Norfolk State, is part of a talented freshman class that is giving Vanderbilt fans reasons to be optimistic about the future.
  4. Now that the season is in full swing, various power rankings are out, and to the surprise of no one, Kentucky occupies the top spot in all of them. ESPN.com‘s power rankings have the Wildcats as a unanimous selection at number one, and SI.com‘s Luke Winn has them at the top of his as well. Winn points out that Kentucky is pressing on 20.4% of its defensive possessions, which is a number nearly five times higher than average in coach John Calipari‘s previous five seasons at the school. Of course, with the amount of athleticism and depth he has, as well as the size on the back end of the press to erase mistakes, this should not be surprising. Given the way the Wildcats are demolishing everyone in their path thus far – they trounced Texas-Arlington on Tuesday 93-44 – it is unlikely Calipari will change much of what he is doing moving forward.
  5. Georgia blew a chance at a quality pre-conference win when the Bulldogs dropped their season opener to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. This week, coach Mark Fox‘s team gets a shot a redemption, and a huge resume builder, when it takes on Gonzaga in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip Off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. It will face either Minnesota or St. John’s on Friday. This appears to be Mark Few’s best team in a number of years, and it has demolished all four of its early-season opponents, including SMU. Georgia knows this is a crucial test, and a win could go a long way toward erasing the Georgia Tech loss and building the Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament resume.
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SEC M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 21st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The Puerto Rico Tip-off got underway on Thursday, and another opportunity for the SEC to pick up a quality non-conference win went by the wayside as Texas A&M fell to Dayton in the tournament’s opening game. The contest was a back-and-forth affair that the Flyers won on a Devon Scott tip-in with two seconds left. The ugly 55-53 game, in which the Aggies shot 34.6 percent from the field, saw no team take a lead larger than six points. Despite the loss, coach Billy Kennedy got strong performances from his best two returning players, Kourtney Roberson and Alex Caruso. Roberson grabbed 13 first half rebounds on his way to a game-high 15, and scored 12 points to boot. Caruso, a Cousy Award semi-finalist, poured in 17 points to go with five assists. Kennedy, though, had to be disappointed in the lack of production from three newcomers he will need a lot from: Alex Robinson, Jalen Jones, and Peyton Allen. The trio combined for 13 points in 66 minutes of action. If Texas A&M is going to surprise anyone in the SEC, it will need more from that threesome going forward.
  2. After dropping a close game to Miami earlier this week, Florida gets forward Chris Walker back from a three-game suspension for its upcoming game against Louisiana-Monroe. For the Gators to reach their goals this season, Walker will have to be an important piece of the Gators’ roster. He missed the first semester of last season due to academics, and he was only a minor contributor on the team’s run to the Final Four after that. This year, however, much more is expected of him, and coach Billy Donovan is pleased with what he has seen from the sophomore and thinks he is getting more comfortable with the idea of doing the dirty work inside for the Gators.
  3. The college basketball world is still abuzz after Kentucky’s 72-40 dismantling of Kansas on Tuesday night, and the Wildcats return to the court tonight for a home game against Boston University. Much has been made of coach John Calipari‘s platoon system, and it appears to be having a significant effect in the second halves of the Wildcats’ games, as they are simply throttling opponents after the break. Overall, Kentucky currently ranks second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and first in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Wildcats also lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing over half of their misses. The game against the Terriers is the first of four home games that they should win handily before December brings tougher contests against Texas, North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville.
  4. With the pall of the NCAA mess hanging over him, Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall got his first win as the Volunteers’ head coach Thursday. The 70-58 win over Texas Southern did not come easily, as the game was tied at the half. Josh Richardson, who is being forced to handle the point guard duties because Tyndall has no one else to turn to, led the team in both scoring and rebounding, as the senior netted 19 points and grabbed eight boards. It is impossible to say what will come of the NCAA mess and whether Tyndall’s job truly is in jeopardy or whether this team is being impacted by the situation, but it is hard to imagine there isn’t some effect. Regardless, this is a team that was picked to finish 13th in the SEC even before it was known that Tyndall could be in hot water, and the early returns have shown why.
  5. Bruce Pearl‘s team may have taken one on the chin at Colorado Monday night during the Tip-Off Marathon, but once again, the Auburn coach was able to steer the conversation away from the Tigers’ poor performance. On Wednesday, video of Pearl nailing a trick shot from the upper deck of Auburn Arena emerged, and, as with most of his promotional gimmicks, Pearl entertains. Based on the early play of his team, Pearl has a long year ahead of him on the Plains, but the coach clearly is happy to be back in the game after serving his three-year show cause penalty, and with reinforcements on the way, it is unlikely anything can deter him from having fun.

 

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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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SEC Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite is wrapping up previews on each team this week, and with the start of the season approaching we begin wrapping up with the league favorite, Kentucky.

Kentucky Wildcats

Strengths. Kentucky has size, depth, athleticism, and nine McDonalds All-Americans at its disposal. The Wildcats welcome back a number of veterans, with 59 percent of last season’s scoring returning to Lexington. They welcome in another highly-ranked recruiting class, of which we have become accustomed to see at least one or two destined to succeed and proceed to the NBA. John Calipari roams the sidelines with a 2012 National Championship and five Final Four appearances under his belt. Someone might bring up vacated appearances, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Calipari was there, and the point here is that he has the necessary experience to guide Kentucky to the promised land once again. Another Final Four run, an SEC championship, and title number nine all seem well within the grasps of the eager paws of a more than capable platoon.

John Calipari's team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

John Calipari’s team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

Weaknesses. Kentucky’s laundry list of strengths does not imply that this team is without a weakness. One of the areas of most concern is at the three position. Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles will both play out of position at the three, causing match-up nightmares for the opposition but also presenting a challenge in a couple of ways. First, both are still developing the ball-handling skills that Calipari is accustomed to having on the wing. Second, a potentially more difficult challenge to address will be defense. Poythress and Lyles will be forced to guard smaller, quicker wing players. Poythress is fairly quick and a good shot-blocker — and there are always several good defenders waiting underneath on Kentucky’s front line — but a true small forward with excellent quickness could give these bigger defenders some trouble. We’d also be remiss for failing to mention the possibility that someone becomes unhappy with his playing time this season. Dissatisfaction can occur on any team within any program, so we have to acknowledge the possibility of unmet expectations here. However, it seems that Kentucky is very well-situated with its depth to deal with a disgruntled player. If someone lets up in practice or games, he knows that somebody else is more than ready to fill his spot. In such a case, Calipari has the luxury of looking down a long bench to find a replacement.

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Looking Back at Kentucky’s Remarkable Run

Posted by David Changas on April 11th, 2014

On March 1, Kentucky‘s season hit its lowest point when the Wildcats lost to SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina, 72-67. Talk of a 40-0 season was a distant memory, and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed likely. After that loss, Kentucky went on to lose twice to SEC champion Florida, but it was during the second of those losses – a one-point SEC Tournament Championship Game thriller that the Wildcats had a chance to win – that gave coach John Calipari’s team confidence that all was not lost. Kentucky received a #8 seed from the selection committee, and the path ahead of it would consist of games with the region’s top seed and the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in 23 years, Wichita State, as well as a possible rematch with arch-nemesis Louisville. The regional final projected as a game against the team that lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game, Michigan, or SEC rival Tennessee. The Wildcats were able to beat Kansas State with relative ease in the opening round, and then proceed to win thrillers against the Shockers, Cardinals, and Wolverines to advance to their third Final Four in Calipari’s five years at the helm of the program.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Celebrated Its Way to the National Title Game

At the outset of the season, Kentucky was the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, and there was some serious talk in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats could reach 40-0. That dream was dashed with an early-season loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, and then Kentucky followed that with pre-conference defeats to Baylor and North Carolina. If those losses didn’t cause significant concern, the Wildcats’ play in the lowly SEC did. They were swept by the Gators and by Arkansas, and narrowly avoided a sweep by LSU. By the time the SEC Tournament arrived, many wondered whether it was too late for the club to figure things out and salvage their season. After dominant wins over LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats appeared headed for another blowout loss in the title game to Florida. They trailed the Gators by 16 early in the second half, but eventually cut the lead to one point with the ball before James Young slipped and lost control, costing the Wildcats a chance to win. While Kentucky wasn’t able to complete the comeback, that game was the impetus for the turnaround. Willie Cauley-Stein called the performance “a big confidence-booster” afterward, and said that the Wildcats were a “new team” coming out of Atlanta. While winning the daunting Midwest region appeared to be a near-impossible task for a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses, the 78-76 second-round win over Wichita State in what many considered the best game of the Big Dance served notice that the Kentucky team many had expected had finally arrived.

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Conducting a Reset on Kentucky’s National Championship Aspirations

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 4th, 2014

I have been wrong before. Many times actually, but the most recent time was a real doozy. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was playing basketball in the gym after work. I was doing my best Willie Cauley-Stein impression when I landed on one of my teammate’s foot and my ankle rolled onto its side. I knew instantly this was a reasonably bad injury. My best guess, based on my experience and susceptibility to reading Web MD, was to diagnose myself with a high ankle sprain.  I went about my entire weekend, standing on my feet to do some yard work, went grocery shopping, and walked 12,000 steps each day based on the Fitbit around my wrist. I did what I normally do on any given weekend because I am stubborn and had already determined that I had a high ankle sprain, and nothing more.

Was I also wrong about John Calipari's Wildcats?

Was I also wrong about John Calipari’s Wildcats?

Of course, the bruising and swelling in my right foot worsened from the activity, and the pain became excruciating. My ankle and toes had almost turned completely purple (I will spare you the pictures I was tempted to include). Based on the appearance and the pain, I finally succumbed to my wife’s pressure to go to the doctor about 72 hours after the injury occurred. To make a long story short, after a couple of x-rays and a CT scan, I found out I fractured my distal fibula and cracked my tibia. My certainty of a high ankle sprain could not be more untrue.

The self-diagnosis of my ankle is vaguely familiar to my erroneous analysis of Kentucky.  I did not anticipate the tweak working. I did not envision Aaron Harrison learning to shoot in the season’s last six games. I never imagined Andrew Harrison would become a pass-first point guard with vision and leadership. I did not foresee Julius Randle getting away from back to the basket post moves where he has not been as effective this season, and instead focus on putting himself in positions where he is efficient. In short, I did not predict Kentucky making a huge splash in the NCAA Tournament.  I certainly knew the Wildcats had the talent and interior presence to compete with Wichita State. I realized they had beaten Louisville before and could certainly do it again. I recognized Kentucky could dismantle Michigan’s porous defense if it played to its potential. But who knew it would all come together for four straight games in the manner it did? It was just too late for all of these elements to come together, I told myself, but you know I have been wrong before. Now that I have admitted the error of my ways, it is time to do a reset on Kentucky’s prospects of a national championship.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 78, #1 Wichita State 76

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 23rd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points in a losing effort. (AP)

  1. It was the best game of the year. Kentucky and Wichita State played an absolute classic. Not only was it the best NCAA Tournament game this season, it will likely stay that way. And it easily topped any regular season game simply because all that was on the line. The Wildcats and Shockers threw punch after punch, made run and after run, until Fred Van Vleet’s three clanked off the rim at the buzzer. It’s unfortunate that one of these teams had to lose. This game was fitting of a national championship game rather than a round of 32 game, and it may have been the best round of 32 game in the history of the Big Dance.
  2. Wichita State belongs among the nation’s elite. The Shockers were counted out all year long. It seemed like half the nation thought they weren’t good enough. Well, the detractors need to close their mouths. I don’t care that they were the first #1 seed to lose. They played a magnificent basketball game they certainly could have won, and it’s a real shame the Shockers will be going home early. A brilliant season that started with 35 straight wins ended in disappointment. But that shouldn’t take anything away from what the Shockers accomplished this year. Wichita State can play with anybody.
  3. Kentucky played like 40-0 Kentucky. Remember before the season began when there was all that conversation about preseason #1 Kentucky going 40-0? Well, the Wildcats finally played like the team they were expected to be on Sunday afternoon. They were focused, they competed unbelievably hard for 40 minutes, they defended, and they hit shots. The heralded freshman class lived up to its preseason billing. They were absolutely terrific in scoring 68 of Kentucky’s points. From Julius Randle to the Harrison twins to James Young, they were magnificent — if, and it’s big if, but if Kentucky can continue to play at this level, there’s no reason the Wildcats can’t cut down the nets in Arlington, Texas, as national champions two weeks from now.

Star of the Game: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State. Yes, even in a losing effort. The senior forward poured in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Early pulled down seven rebounds, didn’t commit a turnover, and recorded a steal and a block. Early hit big shot after big shot in the second half, and threw down a monster posterizing dunk in the opening half. The only thing he did wrong was a missed layup with three minutes remaining in the tight contest that would have given Wichita State a three-point lead.

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