For the fourth consecutive week, Kentucky freshman Devin Booker was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. The 6’6″ guard averaged only 10 points per game in the team’s wins over Missouri and Alabama, and while those numbers somewhat paled in comparison with previous weeks, his run is nonetheless remarkable. He was not the most heralded of the Wildcats’ class of elite freshmen, but it would be difficult to argue that he hasn’t been the best of the group. Despite going only 1-of-6 from beyond the arc in Kentucky’s 69-58 win over Georgia Tuesday night, he is still shooting better than 50 percent from three-point range on the season.
Speaking of Kentucky’s win over Georgia, the Bulldogs kept things close in Rupp Arena despite playing without senior forward Marcus Thornton, their leading scorer and rebounder. It was the second straight game Thornton has missed, as he also did not play in the Bulldogs’ weekend loss at South Carolina. Coach Mark Fox hopes to get Thornton back soon, and the team clearly needs him in the lineup. Georgia is in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, and has a favorable stretch coming up that includes home games against Tennessee, Auburn, and South Carolina sandwiched around a trip to Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs are eventually going to punch their ticket to the Big Dance, they need to take care of business against the SEC’s bottom-feeders over the next two weeks.
Thornton wasn’t the only player to miss his second straight game in last night’s match-up between Georgia and Kentucky. Wildcats freshman Trey Lyleswas out once again due to an undisclosed illness. It is unclear exactly when he will return, and coach John Calipari is not giving any specifics about what is wrong with him. Kentucky is obviously a very deep team that can overcome these losses, but given that they are already playing without Alex Poythress — who tore his ACL earlier this season — small forward is the one position at which they are not overly deep. At this point, however, it is too early to assume that Lyles’ absence will be a major cause for concern for the Wildcats.
After missing the season’s first four games with an injury and struggling to find his way after that, Mississippi State‘s Craig Sword has regained his form, and the Bulldogs, which looked like a team that would struggle to win any games in SEC play, are now 4-5 after winning at Tennessee. Over his last five games, Sword has scored in double-figures, after doing so only once in his first 13. Against the Volunteers, Sword was a sizzling 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. The Bulldogs have now won four of their last six games, and are no longer the also-ran they were for the season’s first two months.
Texas A&M has won six straight SEC games and is in sole possession of second place, sitting at No. 31 in the RPI. The team’s turnaround began when the Aggies took Kentucky to double-overtime in their second conference game, and though they ended up losing, they have used it as a springboard to success. Other coaches in the league have taken notice too, and believe that the Aggies are in fact the real deal. They are led by transfers Jalen Jones and Danuel House, who was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 17.5 points per game in the team’s wins at Auburn and at home against Vanderbilt. Texas A&M faces a tough test at Mississippi on Wednesday, but after that, the schedule sets up favorably, and the possibility that the Aggies will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since joining the SEC is very real.
News that broke late last week that Kentucky forward Alex Poythress would miss the remainder of the season with an ACL injury was met generally with the notion that the Wildcats are so deep, so talented, and have such good overall chemistry that it will not impact their quest to win the national championship. Given the Wildcats’ subsequent performance in an 84-70 thumping of North Carolina in Lexington — a game the Wildcats controlled from the start — it’s understandable that people would feel that way. But it’s also impossible to take too much from one game, and any definitive statement of how the loss of the 6’8″ junior forward will be felt is premature.
The loss of Poythress leaves Kentucky without a true small forward. (Getty)
There is no question that Kentucky’s depth, and the quality of it, is unmatched in college basketball. The Wildcats have operated well under John Calipari’s much-discussed platoon system, as no one on the team averages more than 24.5 minutes per game. For his part, Poythress played just over 20 minutes per game in his eight contests, and his overall numbers were nothing special. He averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per outing, and often appeared lost in the shuffle on the offensive end. Still, given his size and athleticism, he is projected by several outlets as a second rounder in the 2015 NBA Draft. As an explosive leaper with a propensity to make astounding plays, his demonstrated ability to guard athletic wings on the perimeter will be missed because Kentucky does not have anyone else who can be classified as a true small forward.
A bleary-eyed Bruce Pearl was not happy with his team after Auburn was outscored 52-25 in the second half of its midnight tilt against Colorado late Monday night. “You can tell, in a game like this, who belonged out there,” Pearl told the Auburn IMG Sports Network after the loss. “KT Harrell belonged out there. Cinmeon Bowers belonged out there. K.C. Ross-Miller, offensively, belonged out there. You go beyond that, it’s really hard to look at Jordon [Granger], who didn’t score, and Tahj [Shamsid-Deen] who was 1-for-8, but God bless for playing with the shoulder that got separated.” The smart money is that Pearl isn’t really all that angry, that these comments are just his way of pushing the right buttons. To expect the Tigers, with Antoine Mason out and Shamsid-Deen playing with a separated shoulder, to compete against a good Colorado team on the road, is irrational. The second half and the 24-0 run that the home team teed off on went on certainly wasn’t pretty, but growth is the theme at Auburn this season.
For the second straight year South Carolina came oh-so-close to knocking off Baylor before falling in the final minutes. Yesterday’s loss, however, felt more like a missed opportunity since it was a home game against a Bears team needing to replace Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. Ty Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell couldn’t exploit Baylor’s zone, though, going a combined 4-of-15 from three. The encouraging news for Frank Martin? Freshman point guard and Columbia native Marcus Stroman can really play. He scored South Carolina’s biggest basket of the game to cut the lead to three with just over two minutes left, and has notched nine assists against just one turnover in his first two college games.
Several outlets are reporting that Donnie Tyndall met with NCAA representatives yesterday in Knoxville, but Tennessee officials won’t confirm whether the meeting in fact took place. For his part, Tyndall has stayed quiet on the situation. The only public comment he’s reportedly made was telling the Knoxville Quarterback Club last week that everything would be “fine.” The Vols next play on Thursday against Texas Southern, and the long layoff from Friday’s game against VCU seems even more extended with all the rumors swirling about. Unfortunately it’s a story that will continue to linger around this program for the foreseeable future.
Kasey Hill did not have a particularly good night in Florida’s loss on Monday night to Miami. As Alligator Army points out, the sophomore committed two critical, poor fouls on Angel Rodriguez down the stretch: one while Rodriguez was in the act of shooting a three, and the other 40 feet from the basket. The blog also points out that the Gators’ lack of point guard depth means that Hill must improve, and fast. The sophomore may be the key to the ultimate success of this Florida team since efficient point guard play from him ties individual strengths like Michael Frazier’s shooting and Chris Walker’s athleticism together .
The SEC’s first weekly awards are in, and the leagued picked Cinmeon Bowers for the Player of the Week honor and Trey Lyles for the Freshman of the Week honor. Bowers had 17 rebounds in Auburn’s win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was almost a one-man wrecking crew considering the Tigers’ depleted front line. Lyles scored 13 points in both of the Wildcats’ first two games and has impressed playing a bit out of position on the wing in John Calipari’s “white” platoon, showing great touch for a guy his size.
The SEC microsite is wrapping up previews on each team this week, and with the start of the season approaching we begin wrapping up with the league favorite, Kentucky.
Strengths. Kentucky has size, depth, athleticism, and nine McDonalds All-Americans at its disposal. The Wildcats welcome back a number of veterans, with 59 percent of last season’s scoring returning to Lexington. They welcome in another highly-ranked recruiting class, of which we have become accustomed to see at least one or two destined to succeed and proceed to the NBA. John Calipari roams the sidelines with a 2012 National Championship and five Final Four appearances under his belt. Someone might bring up vacated appearances, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Calipari was there, and the point here is that he has the necessary experience to guide Kentucky to the promised land once again. Another Final Four run, an SEC championship, and title number nine all seem well within the grasps of the eager paws of a more than capable platoon.
John Calipari’s team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.
Weaknesses. Kentucky’s laundry list of strengths does not imply that this team is without a weakness. One of the areas of most concern is at the three position. Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles will both play out of position at the three, causing match-up nightmares for the opposition but also presenting a challenge in a couple of ways. First, both are still developing the ball-handling skills that Calipari is accustomed to having on the wing. Second, a potentially more difficult challenge to address will be defense. Poythress and Lyles will be forced to guard smaller, quicker wing players. Poythress is fairly quick and a good shot-blocker — and there are always several good defenders waiting underneath on Kentucky’s front line — but a true small forward with excellent quickness could give these bigger defenders some trouble. We’d also be remiss for failing to mention the possibility that someone becomes unhappy with his playing time this season. Dissatisfaction can occur on any team within any program, so we have to acknowledge the possibility of unmet expectations here. However, it seems that Kentucky is very well-situated with its depth to deal with a disgruntled player. If someone lets up in practice or games, he knows that somebody else is more than ready to fill his spot. In such a case, Calipari has the luxury of looking down a long bench to find a replacement.
Temple is set to compete in the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Duke, Stanford and UNLV, organizers announced on Tuesday. The tournament will take place in the Barclays Center on the nights of November 21-22, with each game airing on truTV. “It is an honor to be participating in such a prestigious tournament as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic,” coach Fran Dunphy said in a statement. “[T]o be playing in this tournament is not only great for our team and our fans, but also helps to continue to raise awareness and money to combat this deadly disease.” For Dunphy’s Owls, the event also represents an opportunity to showcase their program’s return to college basketball’s upper echelon after a forgettable rebuilding year. With Big 5 rival Villanova and a rematch with Kansas in the Wells Fargo Center already on tap next season, Temple appears set to play a very challenging non-conference schedule, perhaps timely given that the AAC schedule is poised to take a step back next year.
Heading into a senior night match-up with the defending national champions, SMU coach Larry Brown says his team is “capable of beating anyone” right now. “We still don’t have the look in our eye yet and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Brown qualified, adding, “We need to get to the point where we have the look in our eye that when we take the floor we know we’re going to win. We’re just not at that point yet.” While previous home wins over Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati have had more of an impact in terms of building a tournament resume and generating enthusiasm among the SMU fan base, there’s a certain element of celebrity to hosting Rick Pitino’s Cardinals that isn’t lost on Brown. “I think we could get 20,000 people if we played at American Airlines Center. I don’t know if everyone would come to see us but I think we could get 20,000 people.” Expect the bandwagon in Dallas to grow exponentially if the Mustangs can top off their resurgent season with a win over Louisville.
After a few days of reflection, it sounds like Cincinnati coach Mick Croninhas no regrets about his high-profile confrontation with official Ted Valentine during last weekend’s loss to UConn. Being covered in the news for any reason, he remarked facetiously, can enhance a coach’s visibility and name recognition on the recruiting trail, which Cronin recalled was an issue for him when he first arrived at Cincinnati. “I talked to Coach [Rick] Pitino about his beard situation, keeping Louisville in the limelight,” Cronin joked, “so my goal is to make sure Cincinnati stays on the ESPN.com front page.” Adopting a much more serious tone, Cronin also criticized the AAC for arranging the Bearcats to close out their regular season with a Thursday night home game against Memphis followed by a Saturday noon tip-off at Rutgers. “I voiced that to them through our athletic director when the schedule came out. My thing to them was there is a chance we could be playing for a conference championship and how fair will that be?”
Louisville coach Rick Pitinostirred up a minor controversy on Tuesday with comments he made on “The Dan Patrick Show” about class of 2014 recruit Trey Lyles. Asked whether he had ever been told by a recruit that he intended to leave college after one season, Pitino responded that Lyles, who ultimately signed with Kentucky over Louisville, “said to me he wanted to stay in college one year. I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t make that decision. I certainly couldn’t make that decision. You should let the pros make that decision.’” Responding to the interview, Lyles’ father gave a different account of the conversation in question to The Indianapolis Star, maintaining that while the NBA was discussed, “it’s not accurate to say Trey told him he’s going to be one-and-done.” In fact, Tom Lyles said, “part of the recruiting pitch from [assistant coach Kevin] Keatts was that Trey could be Pitino’s first one-and-done player… that he could break that stigma that Pitino doesn’t get one-and-done players.” The two versions seem so fundamentally opposed that some revision must have taken place on one, if not both, ends.
For UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander, tonight’s senior night represents the beginning of the end of four years in Storrs that began with a national championship. The trio helped guide the Huskies program through a period of major transition and upheaval, helping to earn 95 career wins under Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. “We needed those guys to stay, and they stuck with us,” reflected Ollie, whose tenure as head coach began with a one-year postseason ban in 2012-13. “That loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership that they showed in a difficult time really means a lot to me.” Napier, who described playing at UConn as “kind of like utopia” and leaves behind the most illustrious legacy of the three, is currently fourth all-time in program history in career assists (606) and eighth in career scoring (1,755 points). Read the rest of this entry »
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, 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 atThe Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date 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 email@example.com.
This past week 24 of the top high school seniors in America were selected for the most prestigious prep event in the country, the McDonald’s All-American game. After moving around to different spots for a number of years, this game is now held each year at the United Center in Chicago and gives college basketball fans a chance to catch the soon-to-be top incoming college freshman. NBA general managers and front office staff also descend on the Windy City in order to watch the team practice sessions held the two days prior in order to assess the prospects that will start to enter the NBA Draft in 2015 and beyond. This year’s event features many interesting personnel match-ups that will take place in the practice sessions and in the nationally-televised game. There were also several surprise selections to the rosters and a few noticeable omissions, all of which we’ll cover below.
Top Game Match-Ups
1) Jahlil Okafor, 6’11”, C (#1 overall) vs. Myles Turner, 7’0”, C (#2 overall)
The top two players in the country will face-off at opening tip on April 2. The two big men matched up back in August during the championship of the Adidas Nations tournament in Long Beach, California, but this time around the stage will be much brighter. Jahlil Okafor, the hometown favorite, has been groomed for this day from the time he first stepped on the court for Whitney Young (IL) as a freshman. Myles Turner, on the other hand, was not even a top 100 prospect one year aga, but a scintillating summer and high school season vaulted him up the recruiting rankings and to the top of many NBA Draft boards. Okafor’s game is based on power and a soft touch close to the basket while Turner is a long, lean and versatile center. Okafor has been frustrated this season with the constant double- and triple-teams and will finally face a man-to-man defense when going up against the superb shot-blocker, Turner. Okafor committed to Duke in the fall and Turner is the top uncommitted prospect in the country with the Blue Devils in his final six along with Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, 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 at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The much anticipated college decision date has been set for center Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones. On Friday at 3:00 PM CT the two friends and five-star recruits will choose between Duke, Kansas, and Baylor. Okafor is currently ranked as the No. 1 player in the class of 2014 and Jones is currently ranked No. 4 overall. A package deal has long been rumored for these two players over the past two years and appears set to come to fruition on Friday. Okafor will make his announcement at Whitney Young (IL) High School in Chicago while Jones will simultaneously announce at Apple Valley (MN) High School. Kansas and Duke are the two favorites in this recruiting race as both Bill Self and Coach K have tried their hardest to sell the duo on their schools. First the two coaches will go head to head Tuesday night in the Champions Classic at the United Center and then they both will square off again for the services of Okafor and Jones. While the winner of Tuesday’s night game will get the short term praise, the winner of Friday’s recruiting battle will position themselves quite nicely for another title run in 2015.
Wildcats Reel in Lyles
As noted in the most recent Seven Sweet Scoops, Kentucky now has the number one ranked recruiting class in 2014 with the addition of five-star power forward Trey Lyles. On November 5, the No. 1 power forward in the country and No. 9 recruit overall chose the Wildcats over their in-state rival, Louisville. Lyles is a native of Indianapolis and like many recent talented Indiana prospects, he de-committed from his original college choice. Before Lyles played a game at Indianapolis (IN) Tech, he had committed to play for Tom Crean and the Hoosiers at the start of his freshman season. Two years later, prior to beginning his junior year, Lyles decided to re-open his recruitment and received early interest from numerous schools. Kentucky was the presumed leader from the start and Calipari closed the power forward with his pitch about getting players to the NBA. Lyles has been a top 10 player in his class from the time he entered high school and is now the fourth player to sign with Kentucky in the class of 2014. The first member to sign with Kentucky was center Karl Towns Jr. (#11 overall, #4 C) who will now have another low post counterpart in Lyles. In AAU play, Lyles was hampered by injuries early but still averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on the competitive Nike EYBL circuit. He is a true post player and is very effective when he catches the ball in the post. He uses a mixture of good footwork and a soft touch when going against the defense and can score after one or two post dribbles or with an over-the-shoulder hook shot. He is also comfortable facing up for turnaround jumpers. With power forward Julius Randle on the one-and-done route; Lyles will have an opportunity to provide the Wildcats with another strong low post presence next season.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date 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 email@example.com.
Continuing the trend of commitments, four-star power forward Reid Travis is set to make his announcement today at 3:30 PM CST. Travis is a 6’7”, 240-pound power forward from De La Salle (MN) High School who is currently ranked as the No. 7 power forward in the class of 2014 and No. 40 prospect overall. He is set to choose between his hometown Gophers, Duke and Stanford. Coming out of his junior season, Travis was ranked No. 95 in his class but impressed college coaches and scouts throughout the spring and summer in AAU games and camp tournaments. Playing for the Howard Pulley Panthers Nike AAU team alongside Tyus Jones (#4 overall – 2014), Travis averaged 19.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 51.7 percent from the field. In today’s day and age, Travis is the rare power forward that likes to work inside-out. Physically, he is one of the strongest players in the class of 2014 and uses his strength down low to overpower opponents for layups or short jump hooks. When not in the post, he also has a nice shooting touch out to 15 feet. When it comes time to choose a college, Travis has three strong options:
Minnesota – The hometown school first started recruiting Travis under former head coach Tubby Smith. When Richard Pitino took over the job, Travis became his top priority and the most likely of the Minnesota Big Three (along with Jones and shooting guard Rashad Vaughn) to stay in Minnesota.
Duke – Coach K started to recruit Travis after watching him during his scintillating performance at the Nike Peach Jam tournament in July. Last week the Blue Devils lost out on power forward Kevon Looney (#14 overall, #2 PF – 2014), but would love to add the Minnesota duo of Travis and Jones.
Stanford – Travis took an official visit to Stanford on October 18 and is attracted to the academics offered by the university. With a commitment, Travis would be the Cardinal’s third Top 100 recruit in 2014 and perhaps the most important.
2. Kentucky Back on Top
North Carolina had claimed the top spot in the 2014 recruiting rankings for quite some time with earlier commitments of five-star point guard Joel Berry (#21 overall, #3 PG), five-star small forward Justin Jackson (#9 overall, #3 SF) and four-star small forward Theo Pinson (#27 overall, #10 SF). With its most recent commitment from Trey Lyles (#8 overall, #1 PF), Kentucky made its way past UNC into the number one spot in the rankings, the spot they’ve held since 2009 when John Calipari first brought in stars John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins. The Wildcats now have two fivestar players in Lyles and center Karl Towns (#11 overall, #4 C) and two four-star guys in point guard Tyler Ulis (#29 overall, #6 PG) and shooting guard Devin Booker (#31 overall, #5). All four players are not considered explosive athletes and in turn are not a lock to become one-and-done like most of Calipari’s previous top recruits. What this means is that this talented class could stay in school for a bit longer than normal and could replicate the success of UNC’s top-ranked class in 2006 which eventually won a championship in 2009.
After securing a commitment from power forward Trey Lyles, Kentucky now has the number one ranked 2014 recruiting class – seemingly an annual tradition at this point. With six of 247Sports top 10 players still undecided, that ranking is by no means locked in, but regardless, the Wildcats will reload again. Even if Kentucky does not land the biggest names like Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander (and the rumors are that it won’t), this is still an amazing recruiting class. Kentucky fans should take a look at the players they are adding next season as a net positive. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are two players that are likely to stick around for two or three years rather than leave for the NBA after one season. Those are the type of players who help sustain championship-level teams as the elite prospects roll through on their one-year stopovers. The 2012 National Championship team needed senior Darius Miller as well as sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. The one-and-done players are awfully nice, but having some 4-star recruits stick around an extra year or two also benefits the team in the long run.
Speaking of Kentucky and highly touted recruits, Ken Pomeroy examined how many first round picks this Kentucky is likely to have next June. He looked back in the Draft Express archives and examined where players were picked and then compared it to their projected draft position before the season. The conclusion was that Kentucky is most likely to have either four or five first round picks this season. Something to keep in mind is that what we think of players now is often not what we think of them at the end of the season. Last January nobody would have thought Alex Poythress would be back for his sophomore season, and Nerlens Noel was the runaway choice to be picked first overall. Things can change drastically over the course of a season. Perhaps Andrew Harrison wants to stay in school with his brother who is not ready for the NBA yet. James Young could decide he wants to wait a year and get picked higher. No matter what happens, projections suggesting up to seven Kentucky players could go in the first round should be taken with a grain of salt. Too much can change between now and June to know anything for certain.
When Missouri coach Frank Haith sits for his five-game NCAA suspension related to the Miami/Nevin Shapiro scandal, Tim Fuller will take over the Tigers’ head coaching duties. Fuller came to the Tigers with Haith and has been the associate head coach the last two years. This move is a bit of a surprise, considering assistant coach Dave Leitao has some experience as a head coach at the D-I level. Still, Fuller has been rumored to be a prime head coaching candidate the last couple of summers, and he deserves a chance to prove himself too. Missouri has a fairly easy opening five games (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI), but not having the head coach in place creates a leadership void. Haith feels as though Fuller is up to the task, and it is a good bet that when Haith returns on Thanksgiving to face Northwestern, the Tigers will already be 5-0. The two things to watch for with Fuller: managing the rotation of players, especially with a young and unpolished frontcourt; and how he coaches at the end of games. Haith struggles himself at the end of close games, perhaps Fuller can prove himself capable in avoiding that same issue.
Buried within the Tim Fuller news was the announcement that two Missouri big men might not play the season opener on Friday night. Forward Tony Criswell has been suspended for the first game of the season, while fellow big man Keanau Post hasn’t practiced all week with a bad ankle. Criswell is the only returning interior player for the Tigers this season, so they need him to play as much as possible. While Haith said he expected Criswell to be back for the team’s second game, that is not a given. When a team has as much roster turnover as Missouri does, they need as much time to play together as possible. Post was a solid scorer at the JuCo level and Missouri desperately needs someone who can score inside this season. Until these two inside players are able to return to the lineup, look for Mizzou to use its four-guard lineup quite often to spread the floor and overcome the size disadvantage.
Billy Donovanisn’t sure what to expect in the early part of this season because he’s missing so much of his team. Donovan questions the team’s top 10 ranking to start the season, pointing out that the team pollsters voted on is not the team he currently has available. With three key players suspended, one sick with mononucleosis, and five-star point guard Chris Walker struggling with test scores, the Gators are missing a starting lineup that could beat Auburn by 15. Donovan is right, his team is going to hit some really rough patches early. Their non-conference schedule is tough, and they could suffer a few losses that probably would not have occurred if the team was at full strength. Playing Wisconsin on Tuesday will be especially challenging without all their athletes around to negate the Badgers more deliberate pace. Hopefully by the time Florida plays UConn on December 2, the team will be more intact. Like Devon Walker says in the article, eventually they will get most of their players back and have time to come together. Perhaps a slow start removes an opportunity for a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a fully healthy Florida roster in March has no ceiling.
Despite a few late rumors to the contrary, Trey Lyles ended speculation and picked Kentucky over Louisville yesterday afternoon at his Indianapolis Arsenal Tech High School. All signs pointed Lyles to UK after he experienced Big Blue Madness, but leading up to the decision, a few people including Scout.com analyst Brian Snow hinted the five-star recruit may have made a different choice. Lyles cited his desire to get the the NBA and UK’s 22 players in the league as an enticing reason to wear blue over red next season. A power forward, Lyles is a top 10 prospect by all accounts. Kentucky racking up another major recruit doesn’t mean a whole lot, just more of the same; but for Louisville, however, a program that collected a national title of its own without a plethora of five-star players, it would have ignited the fan base in excitement.
In other recruiting news around the AAC, 6’8″ junior power forward Alex Owensrecently backed out of his September commitment to Central Florida. The news may have come as a surprise to Knights fans, since Owens transferred to Orlando’s Oak Ridge High School last spring. Owens is ranked No. 44 in the class of 2015 by ESPN. Oak Ridge head coach Alex Jackson said Owens still likes UCF as one of his finalists, but he wants to enjoy the recruiting process. Central Florida should not be too bummed, because it’s not unprecedented for a recruit to back out of a commitment and then eventually return to that school. It happened just last week with James Blackmon Jr. and Indiana, in fact.
Louisville senior walk on guard Tim Henderson, who saved the day with two monumental three-pointers in the Carinals’ Final Fur game against Wichita State, said he’s already impressed with the progress of Kevin Ware. Ware just began full practice on Sunday after suffering a horrific compound fracture in his left leg in the regional finals versus Duke last March. Henderson said he’s coming hard off screens, still has his explosiveness and quickness, and is taking it to the big men. Ware may even see the court in the squad’s season opener Saturday against College of Charleston. At full strength, the junior guard gives coach Rick Pitino all sorts of options in the backcourt. He was a key component in the team’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Oregon after Peyton Siva went to the bench with foul trouble. Ware and Terry Rozier give Louisville great length in the backcourt as well, making Pitino’s full court press that much more difficult to manage.
Houston is still awaiting word on whether its highly-touted four-star recruit, Danrad “Chicken” Knowles will be eligible this season. Knowles sat out all of last season because he was ruled academically ineligible, but the 6’9″ forward could be the missing piece the Cougars need to make a run into the middle of the pack of the AAC this season
Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said former walk-on Logan Kelleyis no longer with the basketball team. Kelley saw action in three games a year ago and Jordan placed him on scholarship after replacing the fired Mike Rice. It doesn’t sound like Kelley found himself in any trouble, as Jordan only revealed that the best course of action was for Kelley to pursue other opportunities elsewhere. Rutgers opens the regular season Saturday against Florida A&M.