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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SEC M5: 10.15.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 15th, 2012

  1. Midnight Madness is a fun and exciting way to kick off the college basketball season, but the madness is over. It’s time to begin focusing on some real basketball. Following the ceremonial bash, the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats jumped right in with two-a-day practices. And so far, coach John Calipari likes what he sees from his young team. He especially liked the effort of one of his new guys because he was willing to offer up a prediction on the season — freshman forward Alex Poythress will be a major benefactor from any missed shots. “Alex is going to be the best offensive rebounder in the country,” Calipari said. “They’re going to end up having to put two guys on him.” That’s a scary thought considering how effective the Wildcats were cleaning up the offensive glass last season.
  2. It is not unreasonable to think Calipari could go with a twin towers approach to find additional playing time for his two freshmen centers, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, but would he really consider adding a third big man such as Kyle Wiltjer or Poythress in that same lineup? If it means additional wins, of course he would. In his first three seasons at the helm in Lexington, Calipari hasn’t been afraid to alter his team’s play based on strength. “Literally, we don’t know how we’re going to play yet,” Calipari said. “And that’s the disadvantage. You have all these teams that know how they’re going to play. They have the same team back. They’re just going to touch up. They added a couple of guys to see if they can get better, and then they build that base. Well, we have no base.” We suppose that is a disadvantage, but so is not playing with a team full of NBA players like most of Kentucky’s opponents.
  3. Missouri coach Frank Haith opens up the new season with several questions about whether or not his Tigers can repeat the success they have found in the Big 12. One advantage Haith will miss is the outside shooting of departed long distance threats Marcus Denmon and Kim English. Having a consistent three-point shooter like Denmon and English helps point guard Phil Pressey attack and find the open man. “I don’t know that we have great shooters,” Haith said. “But we have guys that are really good shooters, and I think we’ll be a team that can really attack and get to the free-throw line.” However, it remains to be seen as to what degree and how often opposing defenses will sag off their man on the perimeter to clog up the middle making driving to the lane that much more difficult for Pressey and company.
  4. Florida coach Billy Donovan is pleased with his team’s effort, and he has named a starting point guard for the Gators. For now. Junior Scottie Wilbekin has Donovan’s full confidence for the starting nod. “I feel good about him,” Donovan said. “He’s a junior in college now. Even though a lot was made when he first came coming out of high school and bypassing his senior year of high school, certainly that was a huge jump for him, but I think he proved he could really handle that as a freshman. He got a chance to back up Erving Walker. So I think Scottie has shown a lot of improvement, he’s gotten better. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him because of the things that he can do.” Donovan also pointed out that Wilbekin is the Gators’ second most effective three-point shooter behind forward Erik Murphy. For all this praise, Wilbekin averaged just 2.6 points and 1.6 assists per game last season.
  5. Despite a surprising run in conference play to finish at 10-6, Tennessee point guard Trae Golden is not satisfied with what his team has accomplished. The Vols are ready to move past a second round NIT defeat to Middle Tennessee State, and Golden will be a big reason for their success. “I see a lot of confidence in him now,” said Tennessee assistant coach Tracy Webster. “He understands what he needs to do and what we’re looking for him to do. He knows that he can play, but now he understands that it’s his job to make everyone else around him better.” A telling stat was recounted in the story — in Tennessee’s 18 victories, Golden accounted for 99 assists with just 52 turnovers. However, in the 14 losses, Golden distributed just 55 assists to 46 turnovers. Golden, along with Mizzou’s Pressey, lead a pack of talented point guards in the conference. It is sure to be a big season for both the 6’1″ guard and his team of Volunteers.

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

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SEC M5: 10.10.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 10th, 2012

  1. CBS Sports named Missouri point guard Phil Pressey to its preseason All-America first team. “It’s so rare in college basketball today to have a guy like Phil who just makes everyone better,” said college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. “That’s the No. 1 quality of a point guard, someone that heightens the level of play of everyone around him. Phil is a good leader and can be a great defender, but ultimately what sets him apart is his ability to put opposing defenses on their heels and get his teammates open looks.” Pressey averaged an impressive 6.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game last season. The star point guard would also make a good candidate for the All-Blogger team as he wrote for Goodman this summer in an entertaining blog about the Tigers’ trip to Europe. I still vote @rushthecourt for All-Blogger team Player of the Year and first team honors.
  2. Florida and Kentucky are arguably the two best teams in the SEC (with Missouri, of course, in the mix), but ESPN thinks the two juggernauts also have the toughest non-conference schedules in the league. The Gators face a daunting schedule of Wisconsin, at Arizona, Georgetown, Kansas State and at Florida State. Meanwhile, the Wildcats pair up with foes Duke, Baylor, at Notre Dame, and Maryland. It’s no coincidence that the most consistent teams and dominant coaches in the SEC continue to schedule in a way that challenges their young teams to grow and prepare prior to hitting conference play. Both schools continue to reap the benefits of a strong non-conference schedule when UK and Florida are among the nation’s most prepared teams come tournament time.
  3. Kentucky coach John Calipari is calling on a familiar name to assess this year’s team. Number one draft pick Anthony Davis played with the current Cats this summer and offered up an observation. “Kyle is way better, way stronger, can do more things. I really like where Kyle is right now,” Davis said. “Kyle” is of course Kentucky sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer averaged just 4.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game on last season’s national championship squad, but he was also relegated to the bench behind several future NBA players — Davis, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. While Wiltjer played only 11.3 minutes per game, surely being the elder statesmen on a young squad this season will have its advantages, or at least some additional time on the court. Wiltjer’s progress will go a long way in determining Kentucky’s success this season.
  4. It can be difficult to keep up with Kentucky’s revolving door of freshmen talent, so a comparison can help give Wildcat fans an idea of what to expect. Though Calipari cautioned Big Blue Nation to avoid comparing Nerlens Noel to last year’s NPOY Davis, he was less hesitant to compare freshman forward Alex Poythress to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. “Lets not say Michael Gilchrist but somewhere in that category of a Michael Gilchrist,” Calipari said. “That every minute you’re on the floor you’re either diving, you’re going after a ball, you’re attacking the ball, you’re in a defensive stance. You’re bouncing, you’re sprinting, you’re doing something, you’re motor’s moving. You’re never jogging, there is no such thing as a jog. When he gets to that point it becomes a little scary.” In tomorrow’s SEC Morning Five, look for a blurb regarding Calipari’s comparisons of shooting guards Archie Goodwin and Doron Lamb.
  5. Everybody is chiming in with opinions in anticipation of viewing Kentucky’s fab freshmen next week. Analyst Jimmy Dykes is curious, however, to see one of the less heralded freshmen — Willie Cauley-Stein. “I know about Goodwin, Poythress, Nerlens, Wiltjer, [Jon] Hood,” Dykes said. “Willie is a guy I have not seen and continue to hear high praise about. He probably was not rated as high as he should have been. I am anxious to see how good he looks and how he can potentially be.” If Cauley-Stein’s basketball skills are half as good as his freestyle rap skills in a McDonald’s parking lot, then look out world. You’ve been warned.

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

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SEC Transition Basketball: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Brian Joyce on August 2nd, 2012

It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Kentucky.

State of the Program

The Kentucky Wildcats’ 2011-12 season was nearly perfect. Kentucky finished at 38-2, with an unblemished 16-0 conference record on its way to the SEC regular season championship. Anthony Davis was awarded the 2012 Naismith Player of the Year award as the nation’s best player. He won quite a few other awards including National Freshman of the Year, National Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 NCAA First Team All-American, SEC Player of the Year, SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-SEC. John Calipari hasn’t exactly won over critics (he probably never truly will), but impressively snagged his first national championship in just his third year with UK. The Wildcats’ offense was a thing of beauty. At times, their defense was even better.  Fans couldn’t have asked for more than that.

Kyle Wiltjer hopes to make this pose a lot this season. (Photo from kysportsbuzz)

Unfortunately for Wildcats fans, this season could be John Calipari’s biggest rebuilding project yet. In 2009-10, he had junior Patrick Patterson to steady a young group of Wildcat studs. In 2010-11, senior Josh Harrelson came out of nowhere to lead UK’s improbable run to the Final Four. In 2011-12, unsung hero Darius Miller had been through it all, surviving the roller coaster years before Calipari’s arrival to return for his senior year ready to lead his team on a championship run. But in 2012-13, Calipari doesn’t have a single player who has started for his program in the past. He is lacking someone who has made meaningful contributions or played significant minutes in his system, a junior or senior leader who can show the younger players what to expect. This season, Calipari is starting over. He always does to a certain extent, but in years past, he had at least one or two veteran players to bridge the gap. Next season, he needs sophomores Kyle Wiltjer and Ryan Harrow to step into that role.

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SEC Weekly Five: 07.20.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on July 20th, 2012

  1. While many athletic programs avoid so much as acknowledging their players are utilizing social media outlets, Tennessee is embracing it. The Volunteers have added players’ Twitter account information on their online player profiles. And associate media relations director Tom Satkowiak hasn’t turned his players loose in the social media world, but rather is educating them on its proper use by conducting seminars and workshops. “I cringe every time I see a coach or program ban the use of social media,” Satkowiak said. “I think we should be educating guys on how to use it because it’s not going to go away. It’s a part of life now. We just need to educate them on how to use it right.” And there are plenty of opportunities to showcase improper use as well, as Satkowiak has done by showing pictures and tweets that have landed other players in big trouble. A coach cannot control every action of his players, so it’s refreshing to see a university turn to education first as opposed to automatically resorting to punishment.
  2. Fifth year Kentucky senior Julius Mays doesn’t have long to adjust to his new coach John Calipari, but the guard is coming along quickly in a new system. Mays transferred to the Wildcats with one season of eligibility remaining after playing for NC State and Wright State. And even though he is a veteran player, he is learning new things already. “Coming here it’s just completely different, even the way (Calipari) wants you to come off the ball screens,” Mays said in an interview with CoachCal.com. “It’s completely different than the ways I’ve done in the past, and I’ve played ball screen offense for the four years I’ve been in college.” It is clear that Mays can score, so Calipari will figure out how to find minutes for a player who can provide three-point shooting accuracy and scoring even if he isn’t in the starting lineup.
  3. Players can’t be expected to practice and work out every second of the day. It’s the summer, after all, and that means a lot more free time. Kentucky sophomore Kyle Wiltjer and freshman Willie Cauley-Stein recently found the time to take a break from basketball to make an entertaining video complete with break-dancing in the parking lot, freestyle raps, and a special guest appearance from “random dude’ complete with swag. And this isn’t Wiltjer’s first taste of YouTube success. Wiltjer and his crew, affectionately known as the “White Boy Academy”, have made other videos including this dunk fest, this instructional video, and this celebratory rap video. It may be a slow news week for SEC basketball, but we can always count on the WBA and the addition of Cauley-Stein to entertain us. Well done, fellas. Well done.
  4. Look out, ESPN College Gameday is coming back to Rupp Arena. Kentucky has been a participant in College Gameday every year since its inception in 2005 (, excluding a Billy Gillispie season in 2009). Rupp Arena has hosted the show three times (2005 against Mississippi State, 2007 against #1 ranked Florida, and 2010 against Tennessee) and holds the record for the largest attendance at the Gameday morning show. But this time, Kentucky fans are really looking forward to the arrival of Digger Phelps after his dig at Big Blue Nation in Nashville last year. Just imagine if Bobby Knight shows up in Lexington too, after his comments or lack thereof about Kentucky and coach John Calipari over the years. The drama of the personalities involved might be the biggest draw for this event, and not the actual game itself, which has the Cats facing off with the Florida Gators.
  5. Ole Miss sent out this release , already mentioned in the RTC Morning Five on July 18, stating that the rivalry between Memphis and the Rebels would be renewed on the hardwood. While Tigers coach Josh Pastner said “not so fast my friends,” his beef isn’t just with Ole Miss. He has expressed his lack of interest in playing any regional SEC team. Regarding in-state rival Tennessee, Pastner told a Knoxville radio station, “I have no desire to play Tennessee,” and told CBS Sports his team would not play the Volunteers “unless the Governor makes me.” It sounds like Pastner isn’t making friends anywhere he turns in the Southeastern Conference.
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SEC Weekly Five: 06.22.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on June 22nd, 2012

  1. The University of Kentucky athletic department announced its decision to increase ticket prices by as much as $10 for a single game ticket next season. In addition, the K Fund donation required to buy season tickets has increased by as much as $1500. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said the jump in prices were due to several factors including: the increasing cost of tuition, additional travel costs due to SEC conference realignment, and the rising costs of paying upper echelon coaching salaries like John Calipari’s $5.2 million dollar annual salary (it is worth mentioning at least some of which is paid through annual endorsements). However, when you are coming off a 2012 National Championship and have the most passionate fan base in all of college basketball, fans in the Bluegrass State will pay whatever the asking price to watch their Cats in Rupp Arena.
  2. Talent wins championships, and while the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats have plenty of talent, there is something missing from next year’s roster — experience, particularly in Calipari’s system. Basketball pundits clamored over UK’s one-and-done stars from last season, but it was senior Darius Miller who stepped out of the spotlight to quietly lead his team.  “He does everything the team needs him to do. He completes everybody. He’s not competing, he’s completing,” Calipari said of Miller towards the end of the 2012 season. “If he needs to rebound, defend (he will). He plays some guard, he plays some four (power forward). Whatever position we ask him, he just completes.” It is clear that Calipari’s Cats have the talent to compete for a repeat performance next year, but the question (asked by Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue) becomes, who replaces Darius Miller? And at this point, the answer is, it’s too early to tell.
  3. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones has added David Patrick to his staff to serve in the role of assistant basketball coach. Patrick has served as an assistant with Saint Mary’s and Nicholls State before his most recent stint as player personnel scout for the Houston Rockets. “We are definitely excited about the addition of David Patrick to our staff,” said Jones. “He will not only be able to help us with game planning and practice preparation, but we look forward to him helping to raise our level of recruiting at LSU, both regionally as well as nationally. With his background in both Division I and professional basketball, he brings a level of experience to our program that will help us to move forward.” Jones has built a lot of momentum since being announced as the head man for the Tigers in April. In addition to luring Patrick to Baton Rouge, he initially recruited former UNT assistants Shawn Forrest and Charlie Leonard and added former Georgetown assistant Robert Kirby over a month ago.
  4. A couple of SEC players made Eamonn Brennan’s list of 10 potential breakout players for 2012-13. Okay, so these lists aren’t exactly news, but it’s at least a conversation starter. Brennan puts Arkansas guard BJ Young, who briefly considered a jump to the NBA after his freshman year, on the list. Can a guy who averaged over 15 points per game really be a breakout player? Regardless, Young and his young teammates (see what we did there) could elevate Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks back into the Top 25 this year after a long hiatus from the national college basketball landscape.The other SEC player on Brennan’s list is Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer saw just over 11 minutes per game last year, but when he was on the floor he took the highest percentage of shots on the team. Wiltjer isn’t afraid to hoist the ball up there, and we are likely to see even more shots from him this season.
  5. Incoming Florida transfer Dorian Finney-Smith has ties to the Florida program and he wasn’t going to choose against the Gators again. Finney-Smith is close friends with former Gator center Vernon Macklin. “Vernon is like a brother to me,” Finney-Smith said. “I saw how successful he was at Florida and that played a role in my decision.” It’s a decision that Finney-Smith seems happy with. “Coach Donovan said we’re going to be going up-and-down the floor, every day,” he said. “I like that. It will be fun.” It isn’t sounding like much fun for the rest of the SEC though. Florida’s 2013-14 front line is coming together with the addition of several quality transfers. In addition to the 6’8″ Finney Smith, Billy Donovan added 6’9″ Damontre Harris earlier this summer, a transfer from South Carolina. Both big men will sit out this season, but will be able to practice with the team.
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Morning Five: 05.30.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 30th, 2012

  1. After Butler announced that it would be heading to the Atlantic 10 for the 2013-14 season one month ago most observers put the Bulldogs in the back of their mind when it came to conference realignment. That decision appears to have been premature as Butler announced yesterday that it was heading to the Atlantic 10 immediately. The move, which is widely believed to have been made in reaction to the likely decision by the Horizon League to ban the school from its postseason tournament as a response to the school’s prior announcement that it was leaving the conference, makes what is already one of the premier conferences in the country even better. For years, fans of Atlantic 10 basketball have scoffed at some writers referring to the conference as a mid-major. After this move, we should probably start rating them along with the BCS conferences as they would probably rate fairly highly on that scale even if they probably lack the premier team that their counterparts will have next season.
  2. Florida may have found an eventual replacement for Patric Young in the form of South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris. Ok, so that may be an exaggeration based on the 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game Harris put up as a sophomore, but Harris could help the Gators out on the inside when Young and Erik Murphy leave Gainesville. Harris, who should be eligible for the 2013-14 season and would have two more years of eligibility left, could be part of a plan for rebuilding the interior for the Gators that is focused on adding Chris Walker, a top-10 recruit in the class of 2013 who hails from Florida.
  3. College basketball players can find a lot of strange ways to injure themselves whether it is working out, playing another sport, or being involved in a car accident. Rarely are they involved in an event like what Chad Renfro experienced while visiting his parents. The junior from Barry University was surfing near Jacksonville, Florida last week when he noticed a sharp pain in his leg and quickly realized that he had been bitten by shark. Renfro was able to make it back to shore and was sent to a local hospital where he received treatment including 85 stitches. Renfro appears to be in good spirits though and should not miss any time during the upcoming season.
  4. Say what you want about John Calipari, but he knows how to get his point across. Yesterday, we included a link to a piece by Mike DeCourcy offering advice for five players on how to improve their games this summer. In a post on his personal site, Calipari offers advice to Kyle Wiltjer and in doing so also finds a way to turn the advice for his rising sophomore into a propaganda piece. According to the site, the letter is the same for every returning player on the team although we doubt he thinks of Sam Malone as a potential sixth man unless he is talking about the sixth man figuratively. For us the key point is Calipari using his website to give us all a peak inside his program while casually mentioning the program’s accomplishments in case any of us were unaware of those accomplishments.
  5. The Mayor just got a pay raise in Iowa as Iowa State announced that it had signed Fred Hoiberg to an eight-year extension that increases his annual salary from $800,000 per year to $1.5 million per year. That might seem like a pretty hefty pay raise and it is, but Hoiberg has had a pretty impressive run recently including being the reigning Big 12 co-Coach of the Year. In just two years, Hoiberg took a team that had posted a sub-.500 record three straight years and led them to a 23-11 record and a NCAA Tournament victory before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky. Some of that performance can be attributed to serendipity in the form of Royce White, who was able to overcome his personal demons to terrorize Big 12 defenses. Hoiberg will have his work cut out trying to find another player of White’s caliber willing to come to Ames, but he will have a little more time to do so now.
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