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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SEC M5: 04.04.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 4th, 2014

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  1. Arizona had no answer for Frank Kaminsky despite an athletic frontcourt and defensive wunderkind Aaron Gordon. Kentucky must now deal with the Badgers’ seven-footer without Willie Cauley-Stein in the lineup. Not only is Cauley-Stein the Wildcats’ best interior defender, his feet are quick enough to stay with Kaminsky when he fades out to the perimeter. “Oooh. … tough match-up for us,” John Calipari said on Thursday. “Really skilled. … He’s going to be a handful. Wish we had Willie.” Of all the great individual match-ups this weekend, how Kentucky handles the versatile Wisconsin center without Cauley-Stein available might be the most intriguing.
  2. Some of that responsibility with fall on Marcus Lee, Kentucky’s “forgotten All-American” who came out of nowhere to contribute in a big way against Michigan. As skilled and as big as Dakari Johnson is, it is Lee who has the quickness to better deal with Kaminsky. One scout told SI.com that he is the “X-factor” in Saturday night’s game against Wisconsin. Lee has a decent block rate (5.2%) in very limited time this year, and given his athletic reputation, it’s not likely that the 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks he posted against the Wolverines were a fluke. If Lee ends up playing a big role in one or more Kentucky wins this weekend it’ll be an incredible story for a guy who logged all of 39 minutes in SEC play. It would also be a great launching pad to a starting spot on next season’s team.
  3. If Kaminsky vs. the Kentucky frontcourt isn’t this weekend’s top match-up, then Scottie Wilbekin vs. Shabazz Napier must be. Napier dropped 20 points on Florida before the then-on-the-mend Wilbekin got injured in the first meeting between the teams. Prior to the SEC Player of the Year trying to lock down the NCAA Tournament’s hottest player, the Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway took a look back at Wilbekin’s “unlikely road” to the Final Four. It’s almost unbelievable to think that just under a year ago Billy Donovan asked Wilbekin to transfer. “He needed to build his credibility back with the rest of our team,” Donovan said. Kasey Hill has shown that Florida would have still been dangerous had things turned out differently, but there’s no chance the Gators would be entering the final weekend as the favorites to win it all without their rock solid senior point guard.
  4. The players slotted in picks #43 to #45 in DraftExpress’ latest mock draft have something in common: They’re all SEC juniors who are leaving early. Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, and LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant are all expected to go pretty deep into the second round, which makes you wonder if staying another year would have been beneficial for each player. To be fair, telling someone to pass up the chance at bundles of money is foolish, and there very well could be family issues at play for any one of these players. But leaving early when you are not guaranteed to become a first round pick is a big risk, especially for players who stand to improve and enter a supposedly weaker 2015 draft. O’Bryant showed significant growth in the range of his jump shot this year and could keep that up if he stayed another season. Brown similarly looked more comfortable attacking the basket, and Clarkson would make himself infinitely more valuable as a big, athletic point guard with more refinement at the position. As of now, we’ll just have to wait until June and hope it works out for each player.
  5. Talk about a busy day. Missouri junior forward Zach Price, who sat out after transferring from Louisville last year, managed to get arrested not once but twice on Thursday. Right now it doesn’t appear that any of Price’s charges are felonies, so if he is convicted it won’t result in an automatic removal from the team. Still, Frank Haith may need to take extreme measures to get his team in line. The Tigers’ offseason has been about as disastrous as the end to their season. Price is now the third Tiger to be suspended after Shane Rector and Wes Clark were caught with marijuana before Missouri’s NIT opener. This isn’t the type of movement Haith needed in what will be a crucial 2014-15 season for him in Columbia.
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Today: Kentucky.

Kentucky was ranked #1 in the preseason polls and that was with good reason. The Wildcats were bringing in one of the most highly-acclaimed recruiting classes in recent memory and were returning sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, both of whom were also highly-regarded recruits before they arrived in Lexington the year before. Soon after the season began, it became clear that ultimate success was going to be quite the process for John Calipari’s young Wildcats. It would have been easy (and possibly logical) to count out Kentucky after a few confounding late regular season losses had one well-respected national pundit openly questioning the way in which Calipari was handling his squad. But things began to turn as Kentucky moved through play in the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats easily dispatched LSU and Georgia before giving Florida everything it could handle in a one-point loss in the SEC championship game. What’s happened since the Wildcats began the NCAA Tournament? This in-depth Final Four preview, the first installment of our four-part series, should give you a pretty good idea. Kentucky is to be taken seriously as legitimate threat to cut down the nets next Monday evening, and this, in long form, is the explanation why.

Kentucky's Aaron Harrison Joined Wildcat Lore on Sunday (David E. Klutho/SI)

Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison Joined Wildcat Lore on Sunday (David E. Klutho/SI)

Pre-Tournament Capsule. Kentucky showed its youth in its non-conference slate, as the young Wildcats dropped their first three games when pitted against premier competition. In the Champions Classic in Chicago on November 12, Michigan State was able to fend off a late Kentucky run to earn a 78-74 victory. Playing at Cowboys Stadium on December 6, the Wildcats were handed a five-point loss at the hands of a talented Baylor squad. Eight days later, John Calipari’s squad dropped another game, this time in Chapel Hill against an enigmatic squad in North Carolina. Prior to the start of SEC play, Kentucky was able to grab at least one marquee victory when Louisville visited Rupp Arena on December 28 when it appeared like things were taking shape for the talented team. However, when SEC play commenced, the dominance that was expected from the team did not come to fruition. Playing second fiddle to Florida saw Kentucky finish SEC play with a 12-6 mark, and of those 12 victories, only an eight-point January victory over Tennessee was a win over an NCAA Tournament team. When the bracket was released on Selection Sunday, Kentucky was given an eight-seed, and due to its uninspiring résumé, arguments were generally dismissed about the Wildcats being underseeded.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 75, #2 Michigan 72

Posted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2014

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 Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is RTC’s NCAA Midwest Regional Correspondent.
Three Key Takeaways.
  1. This was an unbelievable game. Just one week after Kentucky beat one-seed Wichita State in what, at the time, was considered to be the best game of the tournament, the Wildcats were once again locked in another epic. In a game that saw seven ties and three lead changes, both Kentucky and Michigan showcased some excellent basketball. The Wolverines exploded out of the gates and built a 10-point lead with 5:10 to play in the first half. The Wildcats then roared back to end the half on a 15-5 run to tie the game at the break. Soon after the second half began, it was Kentucky that stormed out the gates, but Michigan had an answer for every Wildcats run. Kentucky led by seven with 6:31 to play, but the resiliency of John Beilein‘s squad was on display, as it stayed the course and eventually tied the game at 72 with 27 seconds to play. From there, the game belonged to Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison, who hit a very difficult and contested three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats the 75-72 lead (which turned out to be the final score).
  2. Marcus Lee was a revelation. Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, and James Young are the Kentucky freshmen that everyone knew about and with good reason, as those five have played a ton of minutes and made a lot of plays that helped Kentucky have the opportunity to even play Sunday. One freshman, however, who had not received much attention this season was forward Marcus Lee. The McDonald’s All-American did not see too much playing time during his freshman season in Lexington. His last points before Sunday came on February 22 and he did not even play in the tournament wins over Kansas State and Wichita State. With Willie Cauley-Stein sidelined with an ankle injury, John Calipari turned to Lee to play big minutes Sunday and that paid off in a big way. Lee gave the Wildcats 10 big points off the bench, while collecting eight rebounds (seven offensive) and being part of an interior defensive attack that made things very difficult for Michigan inside all game. Considering how highly touted Lee was coming out of high school, his production in Sunday’s victory should not be all that surprising. It was just a matter of a talented player getting a chance to make an impact and Lee took full advantage of that chance.
  3. Aaron Harrison is Mr. Big Shot. Aaron Harrison was struggling. At halftime, the freshman had zero points, two fouls, and was having a hard time stopping Nik Stauskas on the defensive end of the court. Instead of losing confidence in himself and letting the poor play continue, Harrison rose to the occasion in the second half, by knocking down four of his five three-point attempts and hitting the game-winner with 2.6 seconds to play. While that shot got Kentucky to the Final Four, it was not the only important shot Harrison hit during the weekend. In Friday’s regional semifinal victory over Louisville, Harrison nailed a three with 39 seconds to play that gave Kentucky a lead it would not relinquish. Having a clutch performer is very important in the postseason and Aaron Harrison has shown that he is very capable of hitting the big shot.

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Freeze Frame: Analyzing Kentucky’s Porous Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 16th, 2013

Kentucky started out the season with delusions of a perfect 40-0 season, a fantasy even more preposterous as we look back now. The fact is that this young team is a work in progress with imperfections that need to be addressed and a resume that needs polishing. In its three losses this season, Kentucky’s defensive struggles were highlighted and exposed for the nation to see. Luckily for these Wildcats, John Calipari has been here before and he has a lot of time to work out his team’s inefficiencies on the defensive end.

Willie Cauley-Stein is an elite defender with or without his blonde hair. (Photo courtesy of Kentucky247sports).

Willie Cauley-Stein is an elite defender with or without his blonde hair. (Photo courtesy of Kentucky247sports).

To analyze the trends ailing this inexperienced squad and to quantify their individual performances on the defensive end of the floor, I have charted every defensive possession in all 11 Wildcats’ games thus far. The analysis below represents the good, the bad, and the ugly in Kentucky’s defensive score sheet this season.

The Good News 

Kentucky’s interior rim protection has been a bright spot, erasing a multitude of mistakes in the Wildcats’ perimeter defense. Both Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle have an impressive defensive rating, a metric calculated to represent the number of points allowed by an individual defender over 100 possessions. Cauley-Stein and Randle lead the team with 91.1 defensive ratings, with Cauley-Stein as a high usage defender involved in nearly 25 percent of the Wildcats’ defensive possessions.

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SEC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 20th, 2013

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  1. For the first time in eight seasons, Alabama scored more than 100 points in a game. All it took was playing Division II Stillman to pull it off. Two things worth noting really stood out in the box score. First, the Crimson Tide attempted 31 free throws while Stillman took just nine. Clearly, Alabama was more aggressive offensively, and were able to take advantage of the new NCAA rules. Second, and perhaps more remarkable in the age of the three-pointer, but Alabama made just five threes for the game. They made 32 two-point field goals, yet another testament to their aggressive mentality on offense. That is the mentality Anthony Grant needs from his team when they play better opponents the rest of the season.
  2. Frank Martin is concerned that his team is suffering from a lack of leadership, and it is showing with the team’s bad start. Martin felt that a lack of preparation led directly to the Gamecock’s inability to run their offense against Clemson, in true coach’s fashion Martin hated the team’s defense too. With seven true freshman on the roster, this really shouldn’t come a surprise. While Martin can lean on sophomore Michael Carrera for leadership, that is a lot to ask of a player with just one year of NCAA experience under his belt. As the season goes on, South Carolina will work out their issues, and a leader will emerge. In the meantime, enjoy Frank Martin’s brilliant quotes throughout the article, which include complimenting his team’s defense by calling it “not pathetic”.
  3. When a team is as deep and talented as Kentucky is, someone suffers a loss of playing time. At the start of the season it looked like Marcus Lee and Dominique Hawkins would not be in the Wildcat rotation. Flash forward to five games into the season and the picture has already changed. Lee started his second straight game last night, scoring 10 points and three blocks. Hawkins only scored 3 points, but played 13 minutes in a blowout win. John Calipari likes the way Hawkins brings energy when he plays, something the Wildcats have struggled with at times this season. Lee adds a versatile defensive element that Calipari loves. Lee can lead a press and also protect the rim in half court situations. Exactly what the rest of the country wanted, for Kentucky to find even more depth.
  4. LSU has one of the most talented front courts in the country this season, and their rebounding numbers reflect that so far. Even without start freshman Jarell Martin, the Tigers averaged 53.5 rebounds in their first two games, and added 56 last night. Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey have been dominating the glass, and even 5-9 guard Andre Stringer has been contributing quite a few rebounds. This is an advantage that LSU should continue to exploit all season long. Not only will it keep them in contention against Kentucky and Florida, but it will cause major issues for teams like Missouri that don’t have much size inside.
  5. Speaking of Martin, his return is still up in the air right now. While there was speculation he might return last night, precaution won out and Martin sat out again. It’s hard to determine the impact of Martin’s injury since he has only played 33 seconds and the LSU big men haven’t missed a beat without him. Still Martin is a five-star recruit and expected to make a major impact whenever he does get back from his injury. The sooner he comes back and develop chemistry with his teammates the better. In the meantime, fellow freshman Jordan Mickey has been a revelation for LSU and added 16 points and 11 rebounds last night.
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SEC M5: 11.13.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 13th, 2013

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  1. The Preseason Wooden Award list was announced yesterday afternoon and the SEC occupied seven of the fifty spots. This was the first year freshmen and transfers were included and not surprisingly Andrew Harrison, James Young, and Julius Randle were among them. They are joined by teammate Willie Cauley-Stein, and Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae. The “snub” discussion is too tempting after any list is put out there, and there’s a good argument Trevor Releford should have been included. He’s the SEC active leader in points, assists and steals. Releford (career: 12.6 points, 2.9 assists, 16.5 TO%, 20.2 PER) is comparable to Memphis point guard Joe Jackson (career: 11.5 points, 3.9 assists, 22.1 TO%, 18.3 PER), who is on the list. Patric Young might have an argument too.
  2. LSU’s heralded freshmen class had a relatively rough go at it in the Tigers’ season opening loss to UMass. Jarrell Martin turned his ankle on the team’s first possession and didn’t return. This proved especially costly when Johnny O’Bryant picked up a third foul late in the first half, and a fourth midway through the second half. Jordan Mickey played well overall (16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 10 rebounds), but missed a couple point blank layups and more importantly allowed the Minutemen far too many easy looks at the rim. Johnny Jones probably had to play Mickey far more (38 minutes) than he wanted in this game because of the circumstances. Tim Quarterman got the start, but the offense moved much better when Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer were the primary ballhandlers.
  3. South Carolina nearly toppled #23 Baylor in Waco in what would have been the signature win of Frank Martin‘s young tenure. Three things from this game stand out going forward. Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell is emerging as a legitimate go-to offensive option as he scored 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting. His 6’5” size and perimeter skills will be a tough match-up for most teams. Second, the Gamecocks interior defense, led by the undersized Michael Carrera, was impressive against one of the more talented frontcourts in the country as Isaiah Austin and Corey Jefferson scored only 21 combined points. Finally, high foul counts are a theme of the season thus far, and Frank Martin’s aggressive style play was no stranger to this. The Gamecocks were whistled 29 times, leading to 43 Baylor free throw attempts. The Bears were atrocious from the line (51 percent), and had they been better the game would’ve been very different.
  4. Billy Donovan has a lot of nice pieces at Florida this season. He has a frontcourt that goes four deep and two distributors in Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill. But for perimeter scoring he is relying on two players transitioning from bench players to main contributors, one of which is sophomore Michael Frazier. “My team is going to need me to have an increased role this year,” Frazier said. “I knew that going into the summer. I’ve been really trying to expand my game.” The three-point shot is a big part of Frazier’s game (46 percent last year), but he struggled in only shooting 29 percent from three during a stint with the Team USA U-19 team this summer. He began the season with a career high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting against North Florida, so it doesn’t appear his summer struggles had a lasting effect on his confidence.
  5. John Calipari might be beginning damage control with Marcus Lee. “‘But this program is going to be about you Marcus Lee. I just need you to get better. I’m going to coach you and I’m going to develop you, and understand right now these guys are ahead of you, but that doesn’t mean anything’. You know what he responds? Greatest kid. Tried to leave the locker room, he forgot shoes he was walking out with bare feet. I said, ‘what are you doing?’ He said, ‘oh, I forgot my shoes,'” said Calipari. It was inevitable that someone in Kentucky’s historic recruiting class would have a tough time getting on the court; there are only so many minutes to go around. Lee appears to be the guy thus far, and he played less than a minute against Michigan State last night. Media blitzes like this are part of what makes Calipari such a great coach because he understands better than probably anyone how to manage emotions and personalities.
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2013-14 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2013

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And so it begins. The time of year where we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams finally playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With the games commencing on Friday evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2013-14 Preseason Top 25. Starting November 18, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2012-13 preseason poll — we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas), and swung and missed on others (Kentucky, NC State, Missouri, UCLA). We promise to do better this time around.

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Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Majority Likes Kentucky – Four out of our seven pollsters are in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the other two teams that were picked first were Louisville (one #1 vote) and Michigan State (two #1 votes). It is really difficult to argue with any of the three selections, but Kentucky reigned supreme due to the star-studded recruiting class of Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson that John Calipari was able to lure to Lexington. Do not forget that Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein also return for the Wildcats. Defending national champion Louisville is once again loaded with talent, led by preseason All-American Russ Smith and 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. Michigan State is a squad that was helped immensely when both sophomore Gary Harris and senior Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to return to East Lansing.

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SEC M5: 04.05.2013 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 5th, 2013

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  1. Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson stayed in the spotlight this season for rude, crude, and controversial behavior, but it never seemed that he was aware that he was acting a fool. Well, apparently he was. Henderson issued an apology to Ole Miss fans saying, “I take responsibility for my actions this season and apologize to anyone I offended,” Henderson said. “However, my edge on the court has made me the player that I am. I can’t change that, but I do understand that I can take things too far.” He also seemed to confirm that he would return to Oxford next season claiming, “With only nine hours left to earn my degree, I want to help build this program and that means I need to be a leader for my teammates both on and off the court.” Watch out SEC. Marshall Henderson is coming back and he is looking to get paid.
  2. Will Patric Young stay? Or will he go? The debate is on, and the good folks over at Alligator Army weigh in with a summary of reports. One comment from Young seems to suggest that he is staying in Gainesville. According to comments he made to the Palm Beach Posts’ Jason Lieser, Young spoke about next year saying, “to make sure we can have another spectacular season.” Next season could be special indeed for UF, especially if Young progresses in the middle with the additions of Chris Walker and Kasey Hill along with the return of Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin, and Casey Prather.
  3. While much of the conversation this week has been on current student athletes who are making decisions on whether or not to return to the University of Kentucky, last night was all about the high school athletes who have signed to play in Lexington next year. The McDonald’s All American game on Wednesday night featured six future UK athletes, and Kentucky fans are excited after seeing the future backcourt in action. Projected starting point guard, Andrew Harrison scored 10 points to go along with four assists while his brother Aaron Harrison, the projected starting shooting guard, added six points and five assists. The duo connected on an alley-oop lob that resulted in a slam dunk for Aaron. The Harrison twins were impressive, but they weren’t the only future Kentucky stars doing good work. Julius Randle contributed 11 points and seven boards and center Dakari Johnson added 12 points and five rebounds.
  4. The future University of Kentucky athletes know that in order to see playing time this year, they will have to battle future NBA players for it. Several players predicted physical practices that would prepare them for the college and pro level, and they know they will be better players because of that intensity. “I think at this point it’s, ‘Who else do I want to play against in practice?’ I feel like the practices are going to be a lot harder than the games at this point,” incoming freshman forward Marcus Lee said. “Going against (Julius) Randle and all these other major players, I think it’s more, ‘Who wants to fight to be on the court?’ than it is, ‘Who are we fighting against?'” Perhaps UK should enter a second team into SEC play this year so the reserves can see playing time as well.
  5. Former standout Alabama high school star Ricky Tarrant is transferring from Tulane University and is potentially interested in returning closer to home. The sophomore point guard confirmed the news saying, “I will not be attending nor playing basketball for Tulane University next year.” Originally, Tulane was not going to allow Tarrant to transfer, but have now granted him permission to contact other schools. The rumor at this point is that the former Pleasant Grove star would be interested in playing basketball at the University of Alabama, though his father says he has not made a list of potential destinations just yet.
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Who’s Got Next? Kentucky Receives Commitment From Dakari Johnson

Posted by CLykins on January 8th, 2013

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Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player ranking

Top Center Dakari Johnson Announces For Kentucky

Whether you love them or you loathe them, there is no denying the pure dominance on the recruiting scene in recent years from the Kentucky Wildcats. Since head coach John Calipari took the position in 2009, he has secured the No. 1 recruiting class in three of the past four years — Kentucky’s 2012 class was ranked No. 2 by some outlets — and 12 five-star recruits during that span. However, the Wildcats’ 2013 class is shaping up to be arguably the best recruiting class ever (at least on paper). Entering this past Saturday, Kentucky had a five-man class while still in the mix with four prospects ranked inside the top 15. As the day concluded, that five-man class turned into six as the Wildcats gained a verbal commitment from Dakari Johnson out of Montverde Academy (Florida).

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Dakari Johnson joins a historic recruiting class for Kentucky in 2013

Johnson, the No. 1 center and No. 12 overall ranked prospect, picked the Wildcats over Georgetown and Syracuse following Montverde’s game against Simeon Career Academy (Illinois) at the Cancer Research Classic, in which he notched 18 points and 15 rebounds in the victory with Calipari in attendance. The 6’10”, 250-pound center cited winning, honesty with Calipari and his staff, and his pursuit to develop into the best player that he can become  as the deciding factors in his recruitment. “I just want to win a national championship,” Johnson said. “The coaching staff told me this was not the place to come if I didn’t want to work hard. But I want to work and I want to get pushed. And I think Kentucky is the place for me.”

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Who’s Got Next? Karl Towns Chooses Kentucky Over Duke, Stevie Clark Signs With Oklahoma State…

Posted by CLykins on December 4th, 2012

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings

Kentucky Lands Top Sophomore Karl Towns, Jr.

Right on cue. Tuesday was considered decision day for Karl Towns, Jr. and as expected by virtually everybody that follows high school basketball recruiting, Kentucky was the choice. Previously the nation’s No. 1 sophomore, Towns also revealed that he would be reclassifying into the class of 2014, a move that had been speculated upon for the past couple of weeks. The 6’11” center out of St. Joseph High School (New Jersey) unofficially visited Kentucky for its game against LIU-Brooklyn on November 23, just days after revealing his announcement, further enforcing the belief that Kentucky was the front-runner in this recruitment. Towns had limited his list down to eight in the coming weeks before narrowing it down to two just prior to the announcement. He chose the Wildcats over Duke, with the likes of Florida, Indiana, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Seton Hall also in the mix. “The first thing I have to say is that I’m going to reclassify to the year 2014,” the 17-year old Towns said. “The second decision I have to make is my university. The university I’ve decided to play for in the year 2014 is the University of Kentucky.”

Standout sophomore Karl Towns, Jr. becomes the fifth Kentucky commitment in the last two months

Towns has already gained valuable tutelage under his future collegiate head coach John Calipari while he was a member of the Dominican Republic national team over the summer. His participation allowed him the opportunity to hone his skills and to strengthen an ever-growing post game against players at the professional level, including Dominican Republic teammate and Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford. Along with a refined post game, what really grabs the attention of analysts is Towns’ ability to play on the wing. With arguably the best outside skill set of any high school prospect at his position in the country, he is a constant threat from deep. He is consistent from three and is capable of taking opposing defenders off the dribble with either hand and scoring from the mid-range. His all-around game has drawn many comparisons to that of NBA superstar Kevin Durant.He is currently in tremendous academic standing at St. Joseph High with a 4.0-plus GPA and his move to the junior class was discussed at length in the last two weeks.  Towns decision to reclassify will immediately impact the class of 2014 rankings as he will now be slotted behind the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects, Tyus Jones and fellow center Jahlil Okafor.

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SEC M5: 11.15.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 15th, 2012

  1. Preseason tournaments aren’t always just about the basketball, as teams travel to exciting destinations like Maui, Puerto Rico, or New York City. So is Anthony Grant planning anything fun for his team’s visit to the Big Apple for the 2KSports Classic this weekend? “Yes,” claims the Alabama coach. “We are going to play basketball.” The Crimson Tide are all business on this trip. Oregon State will be joining them at Madison Square Garden, and although the Beavers don’t have a history of scaring anyone, they appear to have their best team in years. The Pac-12 foe has a post game that can exploit Alabama’s interior weakness, but their lax perimeter defense should provide the Crimson Tide with plenty of open looks from deep. These contrasting strengths will produce some open-ended basketball. Maybe the Crimson Tide will even be allowed some off-the-court fun in the big city if they can take care of the Beavers Thursday night.
  2. I wrote yesterday that Florida’s offense could struggle against Wisconsin with star guard Kenny Boynton playing out of position, creating a mini-ballhandling crisis. The Gators did have trouble in taking care of the ball by committing 20 turnovers against the Badgers, but you don’t need to make the most of your possessions when you shoot as well as Florida did in its 74-56 win. Erik Murphy in particular put in a masterful performance — the senior forward, still recovering from an illness, shot a perfect 10-for-10 from the field for 24 points, not to mention the eight boards (four offensive) he tallied. Murphy’s offensive versatility was on full display against a Badger team that ranked 7th nationally in defensive efficiency last season. The Gators’ 62% field goal percentage clearly isn’t sustainable for the long haul of the season, but when suspended point guard Scottie Wilbekin regains his eligibility, the Florida offense has all the pieces to become a juggernaut.
  3. Kentucky’s vaunted 2013 recruiting class moved a few steps closer to becoming official yesterday, as Marcus Lee and Derek Willis signed national letters of intent. But the good news didn’t stop there. Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who had originally intended to wait until April to sign, will instead sign with the Wildcats before the end of signing period, according to the twins’ father, and James Young is expected to follow suit. While there was no reason to think that the Harrison twins were wavering in their decision to come to Lexington, Wildcat fans will love to see the pen hit paper. Kentucky’s 2013 recruiting class is already being touted as one of the best ever, and Calipari is still in the running for almost every other top uncommitted player.
  4. In AJ Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli, Kevin Stallings has become accustomed to having a reliable center patrolling the paint at Memorial Gym. He may have to do without that this season, but he won’t wait much longer than that after Damian Jones became Vanderbilt’s first 2013 commitment. The 6’9” defensive specialist from Baton Rouge spurned nearby LSU to sign with the Commodores. “I really like the coaches and players, and they have a really good work ethic,” Jones said when asked what attracted him to Vanderbilt. “That’s what I like and what I’m used to. Coach Stallings makes sure they work hard.” According to 247Sports recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer, Jones may not have the offensive skill set of Ogilvy or Ezeli, but he is an elite athlete who will be a dominant rebounder. Stallings doesn’t have a ton of talent in Nashville at the moment, but Jones makes for a great start in his efforts to fix that with his next recruiting class.
  5. Auburn will face several quality players in the conference season, but they might just have their toughest individual test of the year against Isaiah Canaan and Murray State tonight. Coach Tony Barbee isn’t taking the challenge lightly. “Murray State is a very talented team. The guys they have returning with Isaiah Canaan being a preseason first-team All-American and how great he was last year from the point guard position. He has the ability to score and get everyone involved.” Dexter Fields and Stacy Wilson join Canaan in a backcourt that will have a distinct advantage over the Tigers, so don’t be surprised if Barbee encourages his team to feed center Rob Chubb early and often. The 6’10″ senior will enjoy a height advantage over the Racers’ frontcourt, and has shown that he can score if his guards can find him in advantageous positions. With an off shooting night from Canaan and Barbee finding the right matchups to exploit, the Tigers could give themselves some momentum early in the season.
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