Set Your TiVo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the official RTC Star System.

A quality Friday night Big East game leads us into a Saturday full of terrific matchups. There are a couple good games on Sunday, but if you’re going to watch any basketball around the New Year’s holiday, make sure you are in front of a television on Saturday.

West Virginia @ Seton Hall – 9:00 PM EST Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Kevin Jones Has His Mountaineers Surging

  • Since losing at Mississippi State four weeks ago, West Virginia has reeled off six wins in seven tries with the only loss coming in overtime to a top 10 Baylor squad. The Mountaineers have an imposing trio of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli but the timely contributions of freshmen such as Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, and Aaron Brown have pushed West Virginia over the top in a few of these close games. Bob Huggins runs the vast majority of his offensive sets through Bryant and Jones with Kilicli chipping in as well. West Virginia is not a good outside shooting team but it should be able to take advantage of Seton Hall’s interior defense, rated #258 in two-point percentage.
  • Seton Hall ran out to a hot 11-1 start but the reality check came at the hands of Fab Melo and top-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Melo blocked 10 Pirate shots in the blowout win, a game that got out of hand shortly after the opening tip for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team needs to rebound in a big way tonight, the second of three difficult games to open their Big East schedule. Going up against Jones, Herb Pope has to stay on the floor and play a strong game. After a strong start to his season, Pope has averaged only 8.7 PPG over his last three outings. If he doesn’t get well into double figures, Seton Hall will have a hard time winning. Jordan Theodore needs to be a pass-first point guard in this game rather than a guy who shoots 15+ times. Getting Pope, Fuquan Edwin and three point specialist Aaron Cosby involved will be important for the senior Pirate point guard.
  • It’s likely that Pope/Jones and Bryant/Theodore cancel each other out meaning the game will be decided by the supporting casts. Kilicli could be that guy for West Virginia while Seton Hall will look to Edwin and/or Cosby to make a winning impact. Edwin had an awful game against Syracuse but he should rebound nicely in front of the home folks and a less imposing front line. These teams have played five overtime games between them and another could be in the offing here. West Virginia is probably the better team but the Hall playing at home evens this contest up. Neither team shoots the ball well from the charity stripe but it’s something that just may decide this game.

#10 Louisville @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

Jones and Company Invite Louisville to Rupp Saturday Afternoon

  • Kentucky has blasted every inferior team it has played this season but the Wildcats have played closer games against Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Louisville is the fourth good team Kentucky will see so far, and given the passion in this rivalry, another relatively close game should be expected. The Wildcats are the better team but you can throw rankings and records out in rivalries as bitter as this one. Kentucky must use its superior offensive talent to its advantage, namely Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Louisville is highly vulnerable to the deep shot making Lamb a key player. Jones is the best player on the floor and needs to use his versatility to rack up fouls on Louisville’s interior players or step out and knock down a deep ball. Six Kentucky players average double figures and Louisville just can’t match the Wildcats offensively.
  • Where Rick Pitino’s team can match Kentucky is on the defensive end. Louisville’s game plan has to be intense full court defense, making Marquis Teague work for every dribble and every pass. Teague averages 3.2 turnovers per game and Louisville is one of the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Offensively, this is not a typical Pitino team. Louisville doesn’t shoot the three-ball well but Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric can put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t do it consistently enough to be an offensive force as a team. Peyton Siva has to be the catalyst in this game. The quick Louisville point guard has good vision but must cut down on turnovers. If Kentucky is getting runouts, it’s lights out for Louisville.
  • It’ll be hard for Louisville to score points on the road against the elite Kentucky defense but the Cardinals can force turnovers and get easy buckets. Both coaches don’t mind speeding up the game but that would favor John Calipari in this particular matchup. Pitino has to design a game plan that adeptly probes the Kentucky defense and gets quality shots. Siva is the key to execute that, plus the Cardinals must crash the boards and get second chance opportunities. That’s easier said than done against Jones and Anthony Davis. Davis has the potential to neutralize Dieng and anyone else who dares enter the paint for Louisville. The Cardinals will defend but they simply lack the offensive firepower needed to win this game at Rupp. We would be surprised if Kentucky loses at home for the first time under Calipari but this will be a fun game to watch regardless.
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SEC Morning Five: 12.30.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 30th, 2011

  1. The plan going into Vanderbilt’s win over Marquette on Thursday night was to ease Festus Ezeli into action. Ezeli played limited minutes (17), but looked good scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds. Despite his positive play, head coach Kevin Stallings says that Ezeli isn’t yet at 100%. “[Festus] has looked better the last few days,” Stallings said. “I would probably say he’s at about 75% and may be starting to inch above that. We’ll just keep trying to give Festus some time and see how it goes.” The play of both Ezeli and the entire Commodores team last night has again brought up the question of who this Vandy team really is. Vanderbilt hasn’t looked the part of a Top 25 team for most of the year, but lived up to its preseason hype in the win over the Golden Eagles. The Commodores’ inconsistent play and the return of Ezeli to full health remains the most intriguing storyline going into conference play in the SEC.
  2. Louisville plans to put Kentucky’s freshman point guard Marquis Teague to the test on Saturday. Although Teague had begun to play better of late, he reverted to his old ways in committing six turnovers in UK’s win over Lamar on Wednesday. Before he started talking about turkeys during the Marquette and Vanderbilt game, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said, “Louisville will extend pressure and try to wear down Marquis Teague. They’ll try to get into Teague.” Teague, of course, thinks he knows how to handle the pressure. “The easiest thing with the press is if you pass through it, you don’t have to waste energy,” he said. “It’s when you try to dribble through it that you get tired.” Which version of Teague will show up? We will find out on Saturday if the young point guard is up to the test against what is likely the best defensive pressure the Cats will face all season long.
  3. The guys at A Sea of Blue make the case that the Kentucky and Louisville rivalry is the best in the nation. While conventional wisdom says North Carolina and Duke create the premier matchup of the college basketball season, they also meet two to three times per season. In a typical year, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils split the season series, and go forward without real bragging rights over the other fan base. But with Kentucky and Louisville, “you have 365 days, more or less, to suffer at the hands of your rivals. If this all sounds extreme, it is, and insanely exciting. And that’s why this rivalry is the best. There are no half-measures, no splits, no draws — only victory, and defeat.” And as ASoB points out, “being the loser is P-A-I-N-F-U-L, especially when you live behind enemy lines.” A lot is on the line on Saturday, and we will all benefit by witnessing a great game filled with the emotion and passion of a true rivalry.
  4. Auburn coach Tony Barbee has been pleased with the Tigers’ defensive effort , but acknowledges a lot of work needs to be done on the offensive end. “Offensively, we were anemic tonight,” Barbee said. “Hopefully, we can chalk it up to being an off night. More of a concern was we didn’t have guys make plays when they had an opportunity to make plays.” Unfortunately for Auburn, the offensive struggles are more of a season long trend than simply an off night. The Tigers are currently shooting 44.8% from the field, and just 33.8% from beyond the arc on the season. Barbee’s squad ranks #233 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is the worst in the SEC. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for Auburn fans, but the Tigers’ defense isn’t that good either, ranking 11th out of 12 teams in the SEC in adjusted defensive efficiency. Not a good sign heading into SEC play.
  5. Jarnell Stokes has reached celebrity status in Knoxville, and he hasn’t even played his first game yet. After spending the day signing autographs and talking with Volunteer fans, Stokes said, “I’m no savior, I’m a basketball player. But I’ve always been a winner, and I plan on being a piece of what Coach [Cuonzo] Martin is putting together here. The fans here, man, they’re great. Today was awesome.” The Vols could use a little extra boost to push them over the edge. All six of Tennessee’s losses this season have been by 10 points or less. Four of the losses were decided by less than five points. One little addition (or one major addition in the case of Stokes) could be the difference between a win or another close loss for Tennessee.
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Handing Out Christmas Season Awards in the SEC

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 23rd, 2011

It seems imperative that we conclude 2011 with some sort of cliched wrap-up. It just wouldn’t be the holidays without some kind of superlatives, a top 10 list or summary of the year. So, this is our SEC version. Without further ado, here are the mid-season All-SEC Rush The Court teams and awards:

First team All-SEC:

  • C Anthony Davis (Kentucky) – 11.5 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 4.5 BPG, 1.6 SPG
  • F Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State) – 17.1 PPG, 11.4 RPG
  • G Kenny Boynton (Florida) – 18.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, 46.6% 3FG
  • G John Jenkins (Vanderbilt) – 20.6 PPG, 43.8% 3FG
  • G Dee Bost (Mississippi State) – 18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.3 SPG

Analysis: This is the who’s who of SEC performers. The numbers speak for themselves as these guys have stuffed the stat sheets all season long. Moultrie and Bost have elevated Mississippi State into the Top 25 with their solid play. Davis is the lone freshman on the list. He does a little bit of everything for Kentucky, and his impact is felt in every game. Boynton’s offensive game is much improved from last year, as he is taking better shots and looking more controlled on offense. Finally, Jenkins has been able to put up over 20 points per game without a post presence in the Commodores’ frontcourt.

Is Jenkins still the best player in the SEC?

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SEC Morning Five: 12.19.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 19th, 2011

  1. Terrence Jones worked hard in practice this week to prove doubters wrong after a four-point performance against Indiana, but Jones’ bounce back game was ruined by a dislocated finger. “It bothered him the whole game,” center Anthony Davis said. “He’s going to come out next game with even more of a vengeance to prove people wrong.” Jones is listed as day-to-day right now, but it is likely that he will miss Kentucky’s game on Tuesday with Samford. Jones has drawn the ire of some UK fans who expect more leadership and consistency from the sophomore superstar.
  2. The Florida Gators can make three-pointers from just about anywhere in the gym, but free throws have been a consistent struggle for the Gators’ shooters. The Gators were shooting 59.6% from the charity stripe going into Saturday’s matchup with Texas A&M despite being one of the best prolific offensive teams in the country. “I think it’s something we’ve got to get better at,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s something we spend time on and it’s an area of the game we’ve underachieved in right now just because we’ve got guys who are better shooters than what they’ve displayed to this point in time.” Against the Aggies, Florida went 23-30 from the free throw line for a season’s best 76.7%. The 23 makes were the most the Gators have made this season.
  3. Alabama basketball is just painful to watch. At least according to an Alabama blogger who must not watch much Auburn basketball. We don’t happen to agree (ok, we could have done without the losses to Dayton and Kansas State!), but the author hits on a point that bears mentioning again — the Crimson Tide struggles shooting from behind the arc. Until Anthony Grant’s team can find a consistent perimeter shooter, they will continue to see packed-in zones that take away the athleticism and strength of Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green inside. Surprisingly, Mitchell is the team’s best three-point shooter so far at 34% (12-35). The next on the list is Rodney Cooper, a 6’6″ freshman who has made six of 22 threes (27%). As a team, the Crimson Tide are shooting a feeble 24% on the year, a percentage that lands them at 342nd in the nation. Ok, that is pretty painful.
  4. Speaking of painful, Vanderbilt loses another game at home to a team it should have beaten. Indiana State won 61-55 against the Commodores. This loss happened at Memorial Gym, with Festus Ezeli back in the starting lineup for the ‘Dores. THAT is painful. “I think it’s just more of a mentality than anything,” Vandy guard Brad Tinsley said. “We have the talent and we have the experience to (finish games). We have almost the exact same team as last year when we finished a lot of games.” Vanderbilt has almost exactly the same team as last year, but last year’s team let leads slip away then too. The Commodores lost second half leads in five of their 11 losses in 2010-11, a reason many analysts thought Kevin Stallings’ team may have been overrated coming into this season. Vanderbilt’s issues seem to be more mental than anything else because Vandy simply has not shown a winning attitude.
  5. While Kentucky won by 25 against UT Chattanooga on Saturday night, John Calipari was not happy with the lack of physical play from his Wildcats. “I look at us right now and say, ‘OK, you know, what are we going to have to do to take this to another level,'” Calipari said. “What do we have to do to get guys to understand, let’s just be a vicious team, let’s go out and fight. We are just not that right now.”  Point guard Marquis Teague agreed with his coach saying, “we’re still going for rebounds one-handed and not diving for a few loose balls.” Kentucky has a few warm-up games before a huge clash with Louisville on New Year’s Eve. The Cardinals are one of the best defensive teams in the country and the close rivalry between the nearby schools could create a physical atmosphere. You may remember, Louisville and Kentucky got a little rough with each other two years ago. It will be interesting to see how the 2011-12 version of Kentucky responds without a physical player like Demarcus Cousins to set the tone.
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Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 14th, 2011

Gerald Smith (@fakegimel) is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference. 

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • That’s Why You’re Mad: Kentucky was seeing red on Saturday as they dropped a game to Indiana. Coaches across the country (especially in the SEC) had a good look at the blueprint to upset Big Blue: Hot outside shooting, strong post play, and good interior defensive positioning to take charges on driving Wildcats. Much has been made about Terrence Jones‘ malaise and Marquis Teague‘s resurgence. Although the Wildcats have plenty of time to lick their wounds the pride of being the last undefeated SEC team was trampled by the Hoosier faithful rushing their court.
  • Desperately Seeking 3-Goggles: Another SEC power-team also had its pride damaged last week. Dayton exploited Alabama’s weakness — awful three-point shooting — to pull off a 74-62 upset. Though the Crimson Tide’s next game yielded a better result (64-52 win over Detroit), the three-point shooting woes continued (2-15 vs. Detroit, 10-58 the last four games). Coach Anthony Grant was counting on one or more of his freshmen guards — Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph — to provide the outside shooting. None of them have risen to the challenge yet. Alabama will be particularly vulnerable to upsets from streaky-shooting teams until they find a solution to their outside shooting woes.

The Iron Has Been Unkind To Trevor Lacey's Three-point Shooting. (Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE)

  • Big: A pleasant surprise in the SEC this season has been the play of Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie. The transfer from UTEP, averaging 17.1 PPG and 11.2 RPG, is exceeding the expectations set for him. Unfortunately the 6’11” forward is battling with knee tendinitis. He has missed three games for the Bulldogs, including yesterday’s 75-68 victory over FAU. Moultrie will hopefully be ready for Mississippi State’s next series of games which include two away games, including a tilt at #6 Baylor.
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SEC Morning Five: 12.12.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 12th, 2011

  1. Kentucky played really well on Saturday considering it was without its best player playing in a hostile environment against Indiana. Ok, so technically Terrence Jones played for the Wildcats, but he performed quite a disappearing act. “These guys are not machines, guys,” John Calipari said. “They’re not computers. They have bad games. You move on. Hopefully he plays better from here on. Maybe five games from now he has another bad game. You try to win without him.” In the end, the Hoosiers were too much to handle for the Cats with Jones playing the worst game of his career. Jones was limited to 28 minutes, four points on only three shot attempts, one rebound, and six turnovers. He failed to hedge on pick-and-roll situations multiple times leaving his teammates out of position on penetration. Jones’ defensive deficiencies helped create a 10-point deficit mid-way through the second half. What was even more alarming was Jones’ attitude as he sulked his way through almost the entire second half.
  2. The sky isn’t completely falling in Lexington. There were some positives from the Indiana loss for the young Wildcats, mainly the emergence of Marquis Teague in the second half. Teague played about as badly as I have seen a point guard play in the first half. He missed several open layups, he turned the ball over, and he failed once again to lead his team. But the second half was a different story. During the second 20 minutes, Teague was 6-6 for 15 points and one assist in 16 solid minutes. Anyone can see that Teague’s development at point guard is key to Kentucky’s play this season.
  3. Florida coach Billy Donovan had a heart-to-heart with his starting guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton regarding ill-advised shot selection following a combined 5-27 shooting night against Arizona. Walker and Boynton received the message loud and clear as both responded with improved play on Friday night against Rider. “I think sometimes those two guys get misconstrued of what they are about,” Donovan said. “They want to win and they have a strong desire to win. I do think that’s what makes them both great players is there is a fearlessness there of wanting to go out there and do it.” Boynton finished with a season-high 26 points and Walker added 12 points and four assists. Florida’s guard play has been both a strength and a weakness at times this year. The Gators have the talent to be a team that could win the SEC, but their guards can be overly selfish and can rely too heavily on outside shooting.
  4. Andy Kennedy‘s Mississippi Rebels have been a surprise so far this season at 8-1 overall, but the Rebels still have to work on their offensive efficiency. Ole Miss is shooting 27% from three-point range and 59% from the free throw line. “We’ve really struggled,” Kennedy said about Ole Miss’ offensive struggles. The Rebels currently average 69.3 points per game which is 153rd in the country and an adjusted offensive efficiency of 99.7 for 171st in the country. 5’11” guard Dundrecous Nelson takes 31.4% of the Rebels shots, but he has an effective field goal percentage of just 43%. Look for Kennedy to work forward Murphy Holloway more into the Rebels offense as his efficiency is much higher than the remainder of his teammates, yet he is only averaging just over 11 points per game.
  5. Mississippi State enjoyed a 106-68 blowout win over Troy on Saturday. Despite their usual reliance on the inside game, the Bulldogs tied a school record with 16 three-pointers. Forward Arnett Moultrie still did plenty to establish himself on the low block with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but it was the outside shooters who helped MSU run away with this one. Senior Dee Bost was 7 for 13 from beyond the arc on his way to 28 points. Even Renardo Sidney got in on the action with a three of his own, his first of the season, mid-way through the first half. The 51.6% shooting clip was the first time Mississippi State has shot over 50% from three-point range this year. The Bulldogs are now 9-1 on the season. Not coincidentally, in their lone loss this year against Akron, the Dogs shot 2 of 13 (15.4%) from three.
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Checking In On… the ACC

Posted by mpatton on December 6th, 2011

Matt Patton is the ACC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter @rise_and_fire.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • Kentucky and North Carolina: College basketball’s “Game of the Century” lived up to the hype coming down to the last possession (even if it ended bizarrely) and was fun from start to finish (well, almost finish for Tar Heel fans). The game was a reminder that North Carolina can be the team people thought it would be coming into this season. The Tar Heels were aggressive, knocked down perimeter shots, and controlled a little over half of the game. Harrison Barnes was outplayed by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but Kendall Marshall was passable on defense [Author’s Note: That wasn’t meant to be a bad pun. He actually played solid defense on Teague most of the game.] and his usual self on offense (though I was very surprised he saw as much time guarding Marquis Teague as he did, considering Teague’s turnover woes). I’m not sure any college basketball fan would mind seeing a rematch this spring.
  • Terrell Stoglin Can Score: Unfortunately, his teammates are struggling to keep up their end. Only three BCS-conference teams (Penn State, Washington, and Utah) have players with higher usages, and none have players more likely to take a shot (shot percentage). Stoglin is the only player on the team averaging over 20 points a game with 22.4. His field goal percentage could be a little higher, but right now he’s the best scorer in the conference. For more on Stoglin, check out our post from yesterday on his scoring ability.
  • Sportsman of the Year: Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt joined the prestigious ranks of Sports Illustrated‘s “Sportsman of the Year” winners and are only the third and fourth college basketball coaches to be chosen for the honor (Dean Smith and John Wooden are the other two). Both are worthy choices, as they both signify excellence over the course of 73 combined years of coaching.

Terrell Stoglin is Maryland's Offense.

Power Rankings

1) North Carolina (6-2) lost to the #1 team in the country on the road by one point. But it was the second straight game that the Tar Heels were unable to control the tempo. Is this a problem going forward, or is the defense good enough to win ugly?
Ken Pomeroy Fun Fact: The only player in Roy Williams’ rotation that is not averaging over a point per possession? James Michael McAdoo (fellow frosh PJ Hairston leads the team with a 129.0 offensive rating).

2) Duke (7-1) hasn’t played since last week. My guess is this means a lot of quality time watching film on Ohio State.
Ken Pomeroy Fun Fact: Duke has the third worst free throw defense in the country, as opponents are shooting a whopping 80.6% from the charity stripe against the Blue Devils this year.

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Reflections on North Carolina’s Loss to Kentucky

Posted by mpatton on December 5th, 2011

The game was terrific. I’ll admit, I didn’t think it would be close. I was sure that one team was going to win by ten, running too quickly for the other to catch up. In fact, when it was 43-35 with a couple minutes left in the first half, I expected the Tar Heels to step on the accelerator and force a couple of freshman turnovers that led to easy transition buckets and go into the half with a ten point lead. [Author’s Note: For the record, I would have expected the exact same thing coming from Kentucky if they had been up eight in the first half.] Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

North Carolina and Kentucky Lived Up to the Hype Saturday.

A few observations that have already been brought up are worth examining more closely. First and foremost, Harrison Barnes was outplayed by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist straight up. No ifs, ands, or buts. That surprised me, especially on the defensive end, where we saw Barnes excel at times last year even when his shot wasn’t falling. Gilchrist was the player of the game, and a lot of his performance won’t show up on a stat sheet. I agree that at least some of Barnes’ struggles came from early foul trouble, but as an experienced player he should have avoided dumb fouls.

One thing that went under the radar is John Calipari‘s effect on the game. Calipari rarely gets credit for outstanding coaching because of his phenomenal recruiting, but he really changed the game with just under seven minutes to play in the first half. At that point, each team had played 26 possessions in 13 minutes. That’s on pace for an 80 possession game — which is breakneck speed. The pace was creating a lot of problems for the Wildcat defense, as North Carolina already had 34 points (good for a ludicrous offensive rating of 130.8). The game ended with only 64 possessions. And it wasn’t because North Carolina wanted to slow down. Calipari and Kentucky effectively slowed the game down, which saw their offensive productivity improve dramatically.

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BGTD: Assessing Kentucky vs. North Carolina

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2011

What a game. It was the most highly-anticipated regular season game of the college basketball season with good reason. The likelihood that both of Kentucky and North Carolina will be playing deep into next March/April is better than not, and although we find the “look how many NBA players there are on the court” mantra somewhat tiresome, there’s no denying that elite talent was peppered all over the Rupp Arena floor this afternoon. Let’s take a look at some of our thoughts and observations from today’s early Christmas present to hoops fans around the nation.

The Play of the Game (credit: Larry Vaught)

  • CBB Atmosphere At Its Best. It’s really, really hard to completely silence Rupp Arena, yet at a couple of points in the first half — notably when Kendall Marshall and James McAdoo dropped threes to give UNC an eight-point lead twice, you could hear the coaches yelling at their players on the sidelines, sneakers squeaking, and the ball bouncing off the floor. That’s no easy task in a building that holds over 24,000 people. But as Kentucky mounted its inevitable comeback in the second half, the old barn roared to life. When Marquis Teague’s layup a few minutes into the second half finally gave UK its first lead since the opening minute, the energy coming from the place could have fueled all the power needs for the city of Lexington for the next several days. It never relented the rest of the afternoon. Given the overall atmosphere of Rupp, the high quality nature of the play, and the regal names on the front and back of the jerseys, today was a special day that captures what college hoops is all about when it’s at its best.
  • Kidd-Gilchrist Was the Star of Stars. Anthony Davis may get all the attention (including from his coach, who has declared Davis as the definite #1 pick in next year’s draft) and he may have been the less heralded player in his matchup against preseason 1st team All-American Harrison Barnes, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the best player on the court today. It is easy to forget that he was the top recruit in his class until his senior year when some recruiting services moved Davis and/or Austin Rivers ahead of him. Kidd-Gilchrist may not have that one skill that makes NBA scouts jump out of their seat, but he does a lot of things well and you would have a tough time convincing us that there were many players in the nation tougher than him after the show he put on today. While Terrence Jones kept the Wildcats alive early, he did not score another point after hitting three free throws with 4:27 left in the first half. After that, it was Kidd-Gilchrist leading the way as he scored 14 of his game-high 17 points when Kentucky most needed it. Davis and Jones may get most of the headlines for the Wildcats, but today showed that opposing teams would be wise to game plan for Kidd-Gilchrist too.
  • Anthony Davis Is a Work In Progress. After the game everybody wanted to talk about the late block by Davis on John Henson’s final jump shot. While it was an outstanding block and something that we would not have gotten to even if we were holding a broom, it is worth pointing out that Davis didn’t really play all that well today. For most of the first half he was abused by Tyler Zeller, who quickly realized that he had to make his move early on Davis before the precocious freshman could collect himself to rise for the block. Davis is unbelievably long and athletic with a ceiling that makes NBA scouts and fans drool, but he is nowhere close to a finished product right now. Davis probably will end up being the top pick in next year’s NBA Draft, but it isn’t because he is the best player or even the best freshman in the country. In fact, he may not be the best freshman on his own team. But as we discuss below breaking down the final play, he has tools that are simply beyond normalcy — it’s going to be simply a matter of harnessing them.
  • Harrison Barnes Comes Up Small. We don’t want to come too hard on Barnes because we saw what he was capable of late last season, but today he was outplayed by Kidd-Gilchrist. Part of this was due to some early foul trouble (picking up a dumb third foul with 6:19 left in the first half when UNC was up by seven), but at times he seemed to drift a bit and he certainly was not as assertive as the Kentucky freshman. He is probably still a top 10 prospect, but we should stop expecting him to be a superstar every game until he proves that he can do it on a consistent basis. We should also probably re-evaluate where he is in the pecking order of college basketball stars and whether he is still the regular go-to guy that we thought he was last season or if UNC should spread the ball around a little more in late-game situations. He made a clutch three with just over three minutes remaining to keep Carolina alive, but he should be more than a long-range jump shooter (4-5 threes today, but only five FGs) given the overall skill set that he has developed.
  • The Phenomenal Davis Block. John Henson is an awkward, unnatural jump shooter, and his catch wasn’t clean on a tipped pass to the spot he was standing with eight seconds remaining, but we’d wager that Anthony Davis’ swooping block coming from somewhere around Section 230 at Rupp Arena is the first time he’s ever been packed on a wide open jump shot when he left his feet. That’s how phenomenal that defensive play was. Davis was standing right in front of the basket when the ball hit Henson’s hands about twelve feet to the right side of the basket. Watch the replay closely. In less than a second with one step and a leap, Davis’ hand covered about 15 feet of space and met Henson at the top of his jump to swat the ball back into his hands to secure the victory. That play alone may have secured his selection as the #1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Not only did it save the game for Kentucky, it was the kind of play that makes scouts take notice — if you hadn’t seen it before, those Marcus Camby comparisons forced themselves out of the screen on that play.

  • A Strange Ending. After the Davis block, it appeared that UNC just gave up on the game. There were at least five seconds remaining when he secured the ball after the tip, and even after finding Marquis Teague in the corner to dribble the clock out, the Carolina players only half-heartedly ran at him to commit a foul. Once a Tar Heel got to Teague with about a second left on the clock, he only provided a very light push to his back which was not (and should not have been) called. Roy Williams will without question use this as a teaching moment for his guys, because Kentucky had just missed the front end of a one-and-one prior to the Henson/Davis shot-block, and there would have been at least a second or more remaining had the Heels put UK back on the line. The other side of this is that for the second time in a little over a week, a player in live game action picked up the ball and started running with it prior to the clock expiring. Last week in Maui, Wesley Witherspoon did the same thing in a game against Tennessee, turning the ball back over to the Vols for a last shot attempt, and today’s culprit was Teague. He tucked the ball on his hip in the open court with just under a second and started running with it, thinking that the clock had run out. Luckily for the Wildcats, there was no whistle (the refs probably couldn’ t hear the horn), and the game ended just after that. Without question, both coaches will have a few teaching moments deriving from the last six seconds of what was otherwise a pretty entertaining game.
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A Quick, Fake Summary: There Ain’t No Easy Way Out of Rupp Arena

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 3rd, 2011

Seven or more potential NBA Lottery picks! The new #1 team in the nation versus the old #1 team! Jim Nantz put on his extra-stretchy pants! Almost everybody in college basketball was excited for this afternoon’s tilt between Kentucky and North Carolina. Would the teams bring the kind of effort and execution that the nation would expect from them?

Absolutely!

North Carolina took a 43-38 lead at halftime thanks to incredible 3-point shooting (6-8) and great execution from junior forward John Henson, who had six points, three rebounds, and three blocks in the 1st half. Kentucky missed tons of lightly-contested jumpers and shot only 14-38 FG (36.8%) and a dismal 2-9 3FG (22.2%). Terrence Jones (5-11 FG, 3-3 FT for 14 points in first half) and Mike Kidd-Gilchrist (eight points, seven rebounds in first half) kept the Wildcats close.

Surprisingly it was John Calipari’s young squad that stepped up to the challenge by controlling the game. Kentucky forced North Carolina to play a slower-tempo game and started double-teaming senior forward Tyler Zeller (14 points, eight rebounds, and four turnovers for the game). North Carolina got blocked six times in the second half and was limited to just 10-29 FG (34.5%) and six free-throw attempts on just five Kentucky fouls.

Neither team would back down: It took a block by Anthony Davis (seven points, nine rebounds, and two blocks) on Henson (ten points, eight rebounds, and three blocks) to prevent North Carolina from going ahead in the final seconds. The future NBA Stars all contributed to the epic game: UNC’s Harrison Barnes scored 14 points with four 3-pointers in just 24 foul-limited minutes. Kendall Marshall had eight assists and three turnovers with eight points. UK’s Jones (14 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, and two steals), Marquis Teague (seven points on 3-11 FG, four assists, and one turnover) and Doron Lamb (14 points on just two 3-pointers) all shined on both offensive and defensive ends. Even Rupp Arena attendees seemingly forced a turnover when Dexter Strickland fumbled away an inbound pass during a deafening “Go Big Blue” chant.

Kentucky wins 73-72, but neither team would back down. That made for an awesome experience that will be talked about in the annals of college basketball history.

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The MOST ANTICIPATED North Carolina at Kentucky Preview!

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 3rd, 2011

The game that nearly every college basketball fan has circled on their calendars is finally here: #4 North Carolina visiting #1 Kentucky. The hype for the game started with Kentucky’s defeat of UNC in the 2011 Elite Eight. Then anticipation turned into a frenzy when upperclassmen — sophomore Harrison Barnes, senior Tyler Zeller, and junior John Henson for the Tar Heels, sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones for the Wildcats — passed on the 2011 NBA Draft. Instead the NBA will be coming to them (if they can get the media credentials) Saturday at Noon EST. Plebeians like the rest of us can watch the national broadcast on CBS.

Series History (by Gerald Smith): These two programs are the foundation of college basketball, yet on Saturday they play each other for just the 35th time in history. The Tar Heels own the overall series 22-12 and have padded their lead with a 6-2 record since 2004. Back in the 1920s, North Carolina and Kentucky were actually conference-mates in the Southern Conference. The two teams played each other twice in the conference tournament held in Atlanta and once in Lexington, with the Tar Heels coming away victorious each time. Kentucky left to join the Southeastern Conference while North Carolina eventually split off with other Southern Conference teams to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Adolph Rupp Helped Turn This Into A Regular Series in the 1960s

Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp and first-year UNC coach Dean Smith organized a ten-game home-and-home series starting in 1962. According to BigBlueHistory.net’s highly-detailed write-up of the UNC-UK rivalry, the first game of the series saw the debut of Smith’s “the Kentucky play”: a prototype version of Smith’s (in)famous Four Corners offense. North Carolina point guard Larry Brown — yeah, that Larry Brown — would move the ball to the middle and all other Carolina players would space out to the four corners of the floor. By controlling the ball and limiting Wildcat great Cotton Nash to 12 points, North Carolina upset the Wildcats, 88-86. During the 11 games that encompassed this first regular-season series, UNC won eight of them.

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Five and Five: Kentucky’s Strengths and Weaknesses Against North Carolina

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 2nd, 2011

Kentucky is the best team in the land, but no team is without faults. In preparation for Saturday’s showdown with North Carolina, we will highlight Kentucky’s five biggest strengths and five biggest weaknesses of this early season. (Ed. Note: The UNC analysis is here)

Weaknesses

  • Ball Control/Turnovers — The Cats turned the ball over 21 times against Old Dominion with point guard Marquis Teague racking up six by himself. The Kentucky offense has to learn to play under control. The Monarchs showed the Cats a packed-in zone disrupting Kentucky’s desire to take its man off the dribble resulting in more missed shots and more turnovers than the Cats were accustomed to. If Teague can continue to grow and develop into the leader this offense needs, Kentucky’s half court sets will continue to improve exponentially.
  • Defensive Rebounding/Frontcourt Strength — Kentucky has a 73.1% defensive rebounding percentage, which is not great. This can mostly be attributed to games where the thin frontcourt was pushed around a little bit. Anthony Davis isn’t going to out-muscle any of his opponents. But he is quick and can beat other big men to the ball. Davis has used his athleticism and wingspan to block shots and grab rebounds, but he will have to learn to body up with big men who will attempt to push him out of position. North Carolina’s John Henson has a similar body type to Davis, so this may not be as evident on Saturday.
  • Free throw shooting — The Cats are shooting 68.2% on the year from the foul line. They hit a low-point against Kansas going 16 of 29 for 55.2%. Kentucky is aggressive on offense, and ends up going to the free throw line often. They will need to begin converting at the line to avoid this being an issue in the future. Davis leads the team with 36 free throw attempts, but is only making 53%.
  • Depth — Kentucky has at least six future NBA pros on the roster. However, John Calipari is only going about seven deep right now. Freshman Kyle Wiltjer and senior Eloy Vargas don’t have much consistency to their minutes. Wiltjer is averaging just over 15 minutes per game, but only saw three minutes of action against Kansas. And Vargas is averaging just over eight minutes per game. Outside of early season blowouts, Calipari has not stretched his rotation past eight players. It hasn’t been an issue thus far for the Cats, but Kentucky has avoided foul trouble for the most part.
  • Three-point Shooting — The Cats are a much better three-point shooting team than they were in 2009-10 when they couldn’t shoot West Virginia out of a 1-3-1 zone in the Elite Eight, but the Cats could still get better at knocking down open shots from beyond the arc. On the year, Kentucky has been a solid 39.6%. However, the Cats were disrupted into shooting 4 of 13 against Old Dominion for 30.8% in that game. Kentucky is sure to see more zones like the one that Old Dominion employed this year, and the one that the Mountaineers used on their way to the Final Four in 2010, so three-point accuracy will continue to be important. In addition to Doron Lamb, who has been hitting 48.3% of his three-point attempts this, Kentucky also has two great shooters in Wiltjer and senior Darius Miller, both of whom have struggled thus far. Look for both to find their stroke as the season goes on and their confidence grows, and perhaps they could move this area into the strength column.

Kentucky needs Darius Miller's three point accuracy from last year to re-emerge

Kentucky’s strengths are what have put them as the number one team in the country right now.
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