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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Kentucky Needs Kyle Wiltjer to Become More Than a Catch And Shoot Player

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 17th, 2012

Kyle Wiltjer indicated he would be more aggressive after a 6-of-30 cold streak from beyond the arc, but he didn’t need to against Lipscomb on Saturday because the Bison left him wide open. He was 7-of-9 from behind the three-point line, scoring 23 points to lead the Cats to a demonstrative victory. Following UK’s victory previous over Portland, Wiltjer said he needed to do more to get open. “Trying to be more aggressive,” he said. “Trying to get easier baskets. Mix it up a little bit.” But the overarching question for Kentucky becomes: When Wiljter is closely guarded, can he adapt to become the offensive threat the Wildcats need in the half court set? We analyzed his game on Saturday for clues to whether Wiltjer can become more than simply a catch and shoot player.

Wiltjer Had a Bunch of These on Saturday

Wiltjer Had a Bunch of These on Saturday

We tracked each of Wiltjer’s 12 shot attempts on Saturday with the result, whether the shot was open or contested, and how many dribbles Wiltjer used:

Each of Kentucky's Kyle Wiltjer's shot attempts on Saturday against Lipscomb.

Each of Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer’s shot attempts on Saturday against Lipscomb.

Wiltjer is the definition of a “catch and shoot” player. So far this year, 64% of Wiltjer’s shot attempts have been three-point field goals. And at least on Saturday, who can fault him? Ten of his shot attempts were wide open. On the two contested attempts, Wiltjer adjusted with at least one dribble. With under 14 minutes remaining in the second half, a Lipscomb defender flew out to disrupt one of Wiltjer’s wide open three-point attempts. Wiltjer pumped fake before taking one dribble to avoid the defender. Several minutes later, Wiltjer put the ball on the floor again, this time dribbling twice for a crafty up-and-under move. He missed that attempt but displayed an ability to shake a defender by using the bounce in the process. Though this is an extremely small sample size, the information is important to serve as a baseline for what Wiltjer can do in a game against weaker competition when he is left wide open at the three-point line.

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SEC M5: 12.17.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 17th, 2012

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida did a lot of things right in its match-up with Arizona over the weekend. Mike Rosario had his best game as a Gator, Erik Murphy found his scoring touch again, and the team defense looked ferocious at times. However, 38 minutes of a performance wasn’t good enough as the last two minutes saw the Gators give away the game through a comedy of errors, with Kenny Boynton serving as the primary culprit. In addition to two Rosario turnovers, Boynton missed two three-pointers, committed a turnover, and missed the front end of a crucial 1-and-1. Florida appeared to have the game comfortably in hand, but only managed four shots in the final five minutes, allowing the host Wildcats back in the game. “I told our guys at halftime, if we’re going to lose, let’s at least make them beat us,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We beat ourselves tonight.”
  2. Missouri will gain a welcome addition to its backcourt rotation tonight when the Tigers take on South Carolina State. Jabari Brown, a highly touted recruit from the class of 2012, initially attended Oregon, but after only two appearances for the Ducks, announced his intention to transfer. The circumstances around the decision remain a mystery, but Missouri fans will quickly forget that if he can help solidify the two-guard slot for Frank Haith’s team in the wake of Michael Dixon’s departure. “I feel I’m ready to jump in, but that’s not my call,” Brown said. “Whatever coach Haith says, I’m going to roll with it. I might have to take on a little larger role. I’m not saying I have to score ‘x’ amount of points. I just know Mike was a great player, so everyone has to step up collectively.” Earnest Ross, Keion Bell, and Negus Webster-Chan have struggled on the offensive end of the court so far, so Tiger fans will be hoping that Brown’s offensive pedigree isn’t just hype.
  3. When Kentucky fans see a player make an obvious mistake on the court, they next thing they often see is a replacement Wildcat jogging from the bench to the scorer’s table. John Calipari doesn’t have a very deep stable of reserve options, but that certainly doesn’t stop him from substituting liberally when he sees something he doesn’t like. “If we don’t start changing, we’re going to struggle,” Calipari said. “You either want to change or you have your excuses of why it’s happening. Let’s just change. That’s my thing.” There were some positive signs for Calipari’s squad against Lipscomb over the weekend. Ryan Harrow, starting his first game since the season opener, looked more aggressive and Kyle Wiltjer finally busted out of a shooting slump and even added an unexpected presence on the glass.
  4. A road loss to VCU in Anthony Grant’s return to Richmond isn’t too shocking as the Rams are a quality team, but the 19-point margin of defeat is a bit of a surprise. Personally, I give up trying to analyze this team. The lack of frontcourt options has been Alabama’s weakness so far, but when freshman forward Devonta Pollard finally had a game that displayed his considerable ability, the usually strong backcourt couldn’t hold up its end. Pollard came off the bench to contribute 13 points and eight rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. “This is a tough loss,” said Grant after the game. “We’ve lost three in a row here. When you win your first six, you always say it’s never as good as it seems. When you lose three in a row, maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. I’ve got to go back and look at the film.”
  5. The SEC lost another undefeated team over the weekend, though LSU’s loss to Boise State was met with a lot less fanfare. Freshman guard Corban Collins was a bright spot for the Tigers, scoring a career-high 19 points. But the LSU defense wasn’t up to the task, allowing 89 points to the Broncos, including eight three-pointers and 23 free throws. The trip to Boise was the first of three straight road games for Johnny Jones’ team, who will travel to UC Irvine and Marquette before they see their home court again.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota, Canadian Imports, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.

    Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet

  2. With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
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Kentucky’s Success Rides on Defensive Rebounding

Posted by DPerry on November 24th, 2012

Doug Perry is an RTC correspondent and SEC microsite writer. He filed this report from Friday night’s Kentucky-LIU-Brooklyn game in Lexington. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball @DougFPerry.

Kentucky went in to Friday night’s game against LIU-Brooklyn hoping to quickly erase its poor Morehead State showing from the memory of the Rupp Arena faithful. The opening minutes didn’t go as planned for the Wildcats, though, as they faced a 43-40 deficit heading in to the first half’s final media timeout. The Blackbirds consistently beat the Wildcats down the floor after giving up buckets, resulting in countless open looks. In fact, Kentucky could have easily been in even worse shape if not for their superb shooting performance (23-33 for the half). Their weren’t any boos from the fans, but the crowd of over 22,000 was noticeably restless. Fortunately, for the collective sanity of the Big Blue Nation, the Wildcats were a different team after the timeout, ending the half on a 15-0 run before pulling away further in the second half for a 104-75 victory. Archie Goodwin was the star, filling up the box score to the tune of 22 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Fellow freshmen Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel added 22 and 18 points, respectively.

Kentucky’s frontcourt was superb against LIU-Brooklyn, but questions about their rebounding linger. (Centre Daily Times)

Kentucky’s impressive final 24 minutes is a welcome sign for a team facing two tough opponents in Notre Dame and Baylor over the next week. However, there is one especially pressing concern that a resounding win over an overmatched opponent from the NEC can’t suppress: defensive rebounding. The Wildcats rank 226th in the nation with a defensive rebounding rate of 66.5%, a shocking figure for a team that boasts three rotation players standing 6’10” or taller. John Calipari’s teams in Lexington haven’t been reliant on rebounding for their success, but each of his three previous squads posted respectable rates of over 70%.

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SEC M5: 11.19.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 19th, 2012

  1. Florida’s Scotty Wilbekin was reinstated for Sunday’s game against Middle Tennessee State after missing the first three games of the season because of a suspension. Billy Donovan felt that Wilbekin had suffered enough, though both still refuse to cite the reason the point guard was suspended. “I think he certainly paid the price of missing three games, three pretty big games to start his junior season,” Donovan said. “I think he missed out on the opportunity to play on the ship (versus Georgetown), and then the home opener against Alabama State and then playing the other night against Wisconsin. I think he has definitely paid the price.” In Wilbekin’s return, he came off the bench to add eight points, three rebounds, and three assists in the Gators’ 66-45 victory.
  2. Prior to playing the Blue Raiders on Sunday, The Gators were impressive in a 74-56 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday. Winning by 18 over a Top 25 team shouldn’t draw many complaints, but Donovan had one area of concern. After a full season of struggling to get the ball to center Patric Young in 2011-12, Florida is still struggling to feed the post again this year. Donovan said many of Florida’s 12 first half turnovers were because of poor passes down low. “We’ve got to do a better job in practice,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to work on that because there are times Patric has got great post position and we are not getting him the ball and then we did throw it, we turn the ball over.” In looking at this situation another way, Young also contributed five of the Gators’ 20 turnovers in the contest. If Florida’s guards get the big man the ball, he needs to take better care of it.
  3. In an impressive 77-55 win over Villanova over the weekend, Alabama again showed that its three-point struggles from a season ago may be a thing of the past. In 2011-12, the Crimson Tide shot just 28 percent from beyond the arc, but are knocking them down at above a 40 percent rate in four games this year. In fact, against Villanova the Tide shot better from behind the three point line (9-15 for 60%) than they did at the charity stripe (18-31 for 58.1%). Sophomore Trevor Lacey, who already has a game-winning three-pointer on his resume this season, has been the most consistent shooter connecting on 11-of-18 (61%) from downtown. If the Tide can continue to shoot their way through the schedule, Anthony Grant’s 2-3 zone can keep Alabama in almost any game.
  4. Speaking of lights-out three-point shooting, Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer has been on fire behind the arc. Wiltjer knocked down a career-high seven three pointers on Friday night against Lafayette, after struggling to score just five points against Duke in the previous game. After watching his forward’s shots taken away by the Blue Devils, head coach John Calipari issued him a challenge. “He has to work hard to create the shot before he catches,” Calipari said. “If he doesn’t, I’m going to play Willie (Cauley-Stein). That’s just how it is. I’m telling you what I told him. If you don’t work hard to create space and a shot for yourself — before you catch the ball, and I’m watching, you’re out. So (Friday) what he did, he is personally in the second half, he saw gaps, erased to those gaps and guys found him also, and he made shots.” Obviously, Wiltjer could be a huge difference maker in Kentucky’s offensive game plan if he does the work to become a major part of it.
  5. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin didn’t panic after Tennessee made a startlingly low 13 field goals in a loss to Oklahoma State on Friday. It is November, after all. “It’s early and that was just one of those days,” Martin said. And one of Martin’s starting forwards, Jeronne Maymon, is sidelined with a knee injury meaning the coach is looking for answers. “We make subtle adjustments as a staff to better suit our personnel and help those guys grow and get better in those roles. Now, all the sudden those guys are playing more minutes. You’ve got to identify your bench and rotations and the guys have to make basketball plays.” Of course, Martin’s relaxed nature paid off as the Volunteers rebounded to beat Massachusetts 83-69 on Sunday behind a career-high 24 points from Jarnell Stokes.
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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: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 13th, 2012

  1. In recognition of their stellar opening performances, the SEC named Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer as the conference’s Player of the Week, while South Carolina forward Michael Carrera earned Freshman of the Week honors. As his team’s only returning contributor, Wiltjer’s 19 points, six boards and three blocks were invaluable in Kentucky’s nail-biter win over Maryland. The Oregon native has a reputation as a soft big man, but he showed signs that he may have made considerable strides in his defense and rebounding. Carrera’s stat line in his debut performance was shocking. The undersized forward displayed a nonstop motor in contributing 17 points and 15 rebounds in the Gamecocks’ overtime victory against Milwaukee-Wisconsin. He’ll need to maintain that aggression for South Carolina to compete on the glass in SEC play.
  2. The Johnny Jones era at LSU began with a win, but with forward Johnny O’Bryant III going down with an injury, we doubt the new coach could fully celebrate. O’Bryant headed to the locker room only 11 minutes into the Tigers’ opener against UCSB, and his status remains in doubt moving forward. The Tigers are another SEC team that lacks much inside punch, and O’Bryant was expected to handle the bulk of the frontcourt’s production. Fortunately, Anthony Hickey realizes that adjustments are necessary. “All five of us have to rebound,” the sophomore point guard told reporters, “We’re all crashing the boards hard.”
  3. The history of the Duke-Kentucky rivalry isn’t a long one, but it certainly doesn’t lack for highlights. The 1992 East Regional Final is the most notable, as any NCAA Tournament pre-game highlight montage would have you know. However, Kentucky fans are quick to point to the 17-point second half comeback from Tubby Smith’s 1998 national champions against Duke in the Elite Eight as another highlight. In the last match-up between the two bluebloods in 2001, the defending national champion Blue Devils were taken to overtime by a Rashaad Carruth-led Kentucky squad. Tonight’s match-up in Atlanta features two top teams who employ very different styles, and should provide some very compelling basketball. One bold prediction: The announcers will inform the audience, without noting which team is responsible for two-thirds of them, that Duke and Kentucky have combined for 12 national titles.
  4. Tennessee fans received bad news on Monday, with the school revealing that forward Jeronne Maymon will likely remain sidelined through the end of November as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. The senior forward had a breakout junior season and is projected to form one of the conference’s most potent frontcourts with Jarnell Stokes inside. The Volunteers barely missed a beat without him in their opening win against Kennesaw State, but with possible games against NC State, Oklahoma State, and a match-up at Georgetown before the end of the month, the competition will get tougher. Kenny Hall is a quality deputy for Maymon, while Yemi Makanjuola could provide a rebounding boost against bigger lineups.
  5. If a mediocre Horizon League foe blows out an SEC team on its home floor, and no one was there to see it, did it really happen? Well, yes. as Georgia fell to 1-1 with a 68-56 loss to Youngstown State on Monday. The Bulldogs were outrebounded 42-31, and shot a dreadful 3-24 from the field in the first half. Coach Mark Fox didn’t mince words in the post-game press conference, admitting that his team “set the game back 10 years” with its putrid offensive performance. An embarrassingly small and lifeless crowd only contributed to an evening that the Bulldogs hope will be the low point of their season. As a meeting with top-ranked Indiana looms just a week away, Georgia will need to make drastic improvements to keep that game respectable.
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Set Your DVR: Week of 11.12.12

Posted by bmulvihill on November 12th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The first full week of the college hoops season provides us several excellent non-conference match-ups between the true blue bloods of the sport, as well as a first glimpse at some of the mid-majors we may be hearing from in March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Week

#2 Kentucky vs. #9 Duke – 9:00 PM EST, 11/13/12 on ESPN HD (*****)

Nerlens Noel needs to step-up his offensive game against the Duke Blue Devils

  • Duke took care of business in last Friday’s opening game against Georgia State. Because of the the level of competition, the first game does not give us too much insight into the 2012-13 version of the Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad shot and rebounded well, but they were expected to against the Panthers. Mason Plumlee leads the way for Duke and his match-up against the Kentucky front line should be a key factor on Tuesday. The Wildcats can throw Kyle Wiltjer, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and Nerlens Noel at the Duke big man. While Maryland forward Alex Len was able to have a big game against these four, look for Kentucky coach John Calipari to make major adjustments to stop Plumlee. Duke senior Ryan Kelly needs to step-up to help Plumlee, particularly on the offensive glass where Duke struggled a bit in their first game. Also, keep an eye on Duke’s turnover numbers. They turned the ball over on 22% of their possessions against Georgia State. Neither Seth Curry, Tyler Thornton, or Quinn Cook had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in the first game. Continued turnovers will come back to bite the Blue Devils against better competition.
  • Kentucky gets its second ACC team of the season, but now it’s the cream of the crop in the Blue Devils. UK’s freshmen performed reasonably well in their first game but need to put together a full 40 minutes of effective basketball. Maryland was down by double figures in the first half of their first game last week but was able to make the game very tight by the end. Freshman guard Archie Goodwin put together a solid game against the Terps with 16 points, but highly touted freshman center Noel looked lost on offense. Pay close attention to how the freshmen play in the second half in this one. Interestingly enough, Kentucky played very good team defense even with so many freshmen. Typically, defensive skills take longer to develop but the Wildcats held Maryland to a 35% eFG, including 3-19 from three-point land. Duke is a three-heavy team, so watch to see how the Blue Devils fare against a tough perimeter defense.
  • Kentucky is going to need more of their freshmen to step up on offense, if they want to beat the Blue Devils. Wiltjer carried them in the first game and is as smooth as they come on the offensive end, but they need additional offensive support. Watch to see who among all the rookies is able to provide more offense. If Goodwin can continue to provide punch and they can get double figure points from one other freshman, Kentucky can win this game. Duke needs to limit turnovers and get scoring and rebounding from Ryan Kelly. He is very capable on the offensive end but needs to be more aggressive.

More Great Hoops

#8 Michigan St. vs. #4 Kansas – 7:00 PM EST, 11/13/12 on ESPN HD (*****)

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Alex Len’s Coming Out Party Nearly Spoils Kentucky’s Title Defense Debut

Posted by EJacoby on November 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. He filed this report from the Kentucky-Maryland game tonight in Brooklyn. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. 

We assumed it was nearly impossible for Kentucky to repeat the kind of immediate, dominant success it had last season with a brand new crop of young players this year. For the first half of their season-opening game against Maryland on Friday night, though, the Wildcats came out on fire and efficient on both ends en route to opening a 15-point lead just minutes into the second half in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But it didn’t take long for the inconsistency, poor decision-making, and defensive mistakes that are typical of freshmen players to crop up for John Calipari’s team, which opened the door for Maryland to make a run in front of a very pro-Terrapin crowd. Led by emerging sophomore center Alex Len, the Terps went on a 15-0 second half run and eventually took the lead before seesawing to a tough, 72-69 loss. Len was the catalyst on both ends for Maryland’s near-upset, as the sophomore seven-footer finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks — all game-highs. He shot 10-18 from the field and committed zero turnovers. Despite failing to capitalize with a monster non-conference victory, Maryland and its fans must feel confident about this season’s outlook on the heels of Len’s dominant opening performance.

Alex Len nearly led his Maryland team to a big-time upset win over Kentucky on Friday night (Maryland 247 Sports photo)

The big sophomore showed flashes of greatness last season for Maryland, but he did not put together any dominant performances that could propel Mark Turgeon’s team to big wins. The center from the Ukraine recorded six total games in double-figure scoring last year, and none after February 4. He averaged 4.1 points per game in his final 10 games and amassed just one double-double all season. Tonight was a completely different story, as Len looked much more polished in the paint with offensive moves, finishes at the rim, rebounding prowess, and strong defensive positioning. Len turned national consensus #1 recruit Nerlens Noel of Kentucky into an afterthought, dominating the freshman in the paint as well as beating him down the floor in transition on multiple occasions. Noel had just four points on 2-6 shooting to match his nine rebounds and three blocks. If not for the unlikely late-game heroics of former Kentucky walk-on Jarrod Polson, who scored 10 points tonight after recording a total of seven previous points in his career, the Terps could have left Barclays Center with a defining victory.

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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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SEC M5: 10.24.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on October 24th, 2012

  1. CBSSports.com released their Top 50 Big Men rankings on Tuesday, and the SEC is well-represented. Starting with Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel at #3 and ending with a guy who will spot for him in the post (Kyle Wiltjer at #44), the conference boasts 10 of the 50 honorees. There are a lot of question marks around the league’s representatives (youth, health), but with quality frontcourt competition representing on a game-by-game basis, the SEC should be well prepared for physical postseason basketball next March.
  2. One of those quality frontcourts resides in Knoxville, where Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are the stars at Tennessee. However, the options coming off Cuonzo Martin’s bench are impressive as well. One player primed for a breakout, according to Blue Ribbon editor and Nooga.com’s Chris Dortch, is Yemi Makanjuola. “My goal is to take charges, rebound, block shots, and the team wins, I will do that every day,” says the Lagos, Nigeria native. “Until I can’t walk anymore.” He isn’t the most important Volunteer this season, but that type of attitude is exactly what any team wants to see in a role player.
  3. How does Mark Emmert feel about the one-and-done culture of college basketball? On Monday, the NCAA president wasn’t in the mood to mince words. “I dislike it enormously,” Emmert told an audience at Wright State’s basketball tip-off luncheon. The statement wasn’t specifically about Kentucky, but it’s not a stretch to think that coach John Calipari’s program is what Emmert had in mind. With fallout from the Penn State football sanctions and the New Jersey sports gambling lawsuit going strong, the NCAA has a full plate at the moment. Will more programs commit fully to the one-and-done model before the NCAA has a chance to initiate some reform?
  4. Mississippi State takes on #1 Alabama in a match-up of unbeaten teams this Saturday night, but the gridiron contest isn’t the only show in town. Crimson Tide basketball is hoping to take advantage of the raucous football crowd by hosting an open scrimmage at Coleman Coliseum at 3 PM that afternoon. Will many Alabama fans be willing to skip out on their prime tailgating hours for a peek at star freshman Devonta Pollard? Even with the prospect of unlimited player autographs, we can’t see it happening.
  5. What do Roy Hibbert, My Little Pony, and Georgia basketball all have in common? They’ve all hopped on the “Gangnam Style” parody bandwagon. The Bulldogs and Lady Dawgs joined the school mascots (one of which looks like he belongs here) to try their hand at re-creating the Korean viral sensation. Judging by his energetic performance, we think it’s safe to assume that freshman guard Kenny Gaines is in for a big year.
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