Kentucky vs. Kansas: Previewing Tonight’s Champions Classic Battle

Posted by Kory Carpenter & David Changas on November 18th, 2014

When it was introduced in 2011, the Champions Classic quickly rose to become the crown jewel of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. The event was such a success that last November, all four teams – Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State – renewed the deal without hesitation. Tonight marks the start of the second rotation, and the nightcap will pit the two winningest college hoops programs of all-time (4,269 wins, at last count) against each other. Big 12 microsite writer Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) and SEC microsite writer David Changas (@dchangas) took some time to preview the matchup.

Kory Carpenter: Few coaches have a shared history like Bill Self and John Calipari. Each began his career as a Larry Brown disciple at Kansas in the 1980s, and they were famously reunited over 20 years later in the 2008 National Championship game, with Self (thanks to Mario Chalmers) taking the first championship match-up between the two. Calipari got even with Self four years later (thanks to Anthony Davis), beating Self and Kansas in the 2012 National Championship game. Aside from Coach K at Duke, there is nobody in the country recruiting like these two; and, depending on whom you ask, they could easily be considered the two best coaches in the country. In the first year of the Champions Classic in 2011, Kentucky cruised to a 75-65 win behind 17 points from Doron Lamb and seven blocks from future NPOY Anthony Davis. Kentucky is favored once again, thanks to a roster that includes more McDonald’s All-Americans than Calipari might know what to do with. Blue-blood problems, indeed.

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight's contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight’s contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

Both teams should contend for the National Championship this season, but there are always questions this early, especially when facing teams of this caliber. The biggest concern for Kansas has to be post play, specifically rebounding. Kentucky starts three guys as tall or taller than anyone in Kansas’ starting lineup. Then you have 6’9” Marcus Lee, 6’10” Trey Lyles, and 7’0″ Dakari Johnson coming off the bench. The Jayhawks started a pair of 6’8” guys — Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis — against UC Santa Barbara on Friday night. Beyond that, Landen Lucas (6’10”) and Cliff Alexander (6’8”) combined for 21 more minutes. As a result, UCSB forward Alan Williams had a field day against the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds on 50 percent shooting. But with all due respect to the future mid-major draft pick, he’s got nothing on players like Lyles, Johnson, and Towns. Kansas’ Ellis has struggled in the past against bigger, physical players, but that will have to change quickly if Kansas has a chance here, because Traylor doesn’t have a polished offensive game and Alexander looks like he will take some time to become a dominant player. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2014

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.

Kentucky Wildcats

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.

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.

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SEC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 3rd, 2014

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  1. SI.com released its SEC preview last week, and it’s worth a read to get ready for the upcoming season (in addition, of course, to all the content on this microsite). The only thing that’s ripe to nitpick is the prediction that Georgia will finish seventh in the conference with an 8-10 league record. It could be that I’m too high on the Bulldogs, but Mark Fox returns the core of a team that went 12-6 and finished tied for third in the SEC last season. Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines are two guards with upside who should be one of the more difficult-to-stop scoring duos in the conference. The Dawgs’ frontcourt may be thin, but Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic are still quality players, so seeing Georgia fall that far back just doesn’t seem likely.
  2. Scrimmage highlights should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s hard not to like what Karl-Anthony Towns showed at Big Blue Madness and during a recent scrimmage. His footwork and mobility for a guy that size are impressive, and his versatility could be a great asset for John Calipari and his cramped roster. Towns looks like he’ll be a threat away from the basket in addition to on the low blocks, whether facing up and driving to the rim or knocking down the occasional long jumper. That should allow him to play well with Kentucky‘s rim-centric players like Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein without stifling the offense.
  3. Marshall Henderson is gone from Oxford and no longer available for our college basketball viewing pleasure, but shocking as it may be, there will be basketball at Ole Miss this season, and as the Associated Press’ David Brandt points out, this may be Andy Kennedy’s deepest team yet. The Rebels return five of their top six players in minutes per game, and they could have the deepest SEC frontcourt in the league outside of Kentucky and LSU. Aaron Jones is a solid senior big man who can clean up the defensive glass, and sophomore Sebastian Saiz (20 points against LSU on January 15) and junior Anthony Perez (21 points against Kentucky on February 22) showed flashes with big offensive nights against strong frontcourts in 2013-14. This is a far cry from the beginning of last season, when Kennedy was trying to replace his two primary big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway.
  4. Florida freshman guard Chris Chiozza is learning that playing for Billy Donovan is no walk in the park. “Got to run, every play, sprint,” Chiozza told GatorCountry.com. “If you stop sprinting, he’s going to make you run on the side, probably.” Donovan will need his freshmen ready to go this season because he no longer has the luxury of a senior-laden lineup. Junior Devin Walker (knee injury) and freshman Brandone Francis (academically ineligible) are out for the year, leaving Chiozza as the Gators fourth option at guard behind Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and Eli Carter. It’s likely Chiozza and freshman forward Devin Robinson will be called upon to contribute right away, making every sprint worth it.
  5. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander has Kentucky’s backcourt ranked as the fourth-best in the country, and it’s hard to find a beef with putting Duke, Arizona and North Carolina above the Wildcats. The development of Andrew and Aaron Harrison will be one of the more compelling SEC storylines this season, after their up-and-down freshmen years were capped off with solid performances (and big shots from Aaron) leading up to appearance in the national championship game. What makes the backcourt even more interesting, as Norlander points out, is the presence of 5’9’’ “passing wizard” Tyler Ulis. He’ll be an absolute change of the pace from the big-bodied Harrisons, and it’ll be fun to see him create looks for the all Kentucky big men.
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Seven Sweet Scoops: A Viewer’s Guide to the McDonald’s All-American Game

Posted by Sean Moran on April 2nd, 2014

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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 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Tonight the top high school players in the country gather to participate in the 37th annual McDonald’s All-American game held at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Twenty-four of the top ranked high school seniors will provide the college basketball world with a glimpse of what can be expected from the next touted class of youngsters on ESPN at 9:30 PM ET. The high school class of 2014 might not have the star power similar to last year in a game that featured the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon, but there are still several good storylines and match-ups to keep an eye on during tonight’s contest.

1. Chicago Natives At Home

There are three McDonald’s All-Americans from Chicago this year, including two of the top five players in the country. Five-star center Jahlil Okafor and five-star power forward Cliff Alexander will suit up for the East and West squads, respectively. The two played together on the AAU circuit this past summer and faced off in high school action several times over the last three years. Okafor is considered the No. 1 player in the country and is headed to Duke next year, while Alexander is ranked No. 5 and has committed to Kansas. Alexander put together a monster senior campaign, but it was Okafor who won the Illinois state title. Okafor and Alexander excel with different styles although they are both low post scorers. The 6’11” Okafor has the more refined post game and is almost impossible to stop in a one-on-one situation while Alexander is a DeAndre Jordan clone who looks to dunk and block everything in sight. While these two might not match up in tonight’s game, you can be certain that they will both have the hometown crowd on their feet. To go along with the Windy City twin towers, there is also diminutive 5’9” point guard Tyler Ulis (#29). The four-star prospect is headed to Kentucky and will be the quickest player on the court. The floor general is great at beating his man off the dribble and creating easy shots for his teammates. Ulis will suit up on the East squad along with Okafor, while Alexander will play for the West.

2. Where Will Myles Turner Go?

There is only one prospect in the game that remains uncommitted and he is 7’0” center Myles Turner, who is also the No. 2 ranked recruit in the country. This time last year the Texas native wasn’t even considered a top 100 player, but after a meteoric rise last summer he is now the hottest commodity in high school. Turner just recently took an official visit to Texas after previously visiting Ohio State, Duke, Oklahoma State and Kansas. He has also taken unofficial visits to SMU and Texas A&M, and is also reportedly considering Arizona and Kentucky. It’s been a whirlwind journey for Turner, who plans to sit down with his advisers and family after the Jordan Brand Classic to discuss his choice of suitors.

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Who’s Got Next? Charles Matthews Goes With Kentucky and Rhode Island Nabs Their Point Guard

Posted by Sean Moran on March 3rd, 2014

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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 recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Kentucky Lands First 2015 Recruit

The 2014 recruiting class marked the first time that John Calipari did not come away with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country during his tenure at Kentucky. While he still ended up with the No. 2 class, Kentucky has their sights squarely set on landing the No. 1 class in 2015. They got their first commitment this past week when five-star shooting guard Charles Matthews announced his intentions to play for the Wildcats. The 6’5 guard is currently the No. 15 player and No. 4 shooting guard in the junior class and is the next Chicago native to make the journey down to Lexington.

The 6’5” guard missed the first month of his junior season at St. Rita’s (IL) High due to an ankle injury, but is now back to full strength. Matthews proved his status as a five-star player over the summer on the Nike AAU circuit. Playing against older competition Matthews always had a large contingent of colleges watching him including Duke, Illinois, Kansas, and Michigan State. He averaged almost 13 points a game while playing for the Meanstreets AAU program and scored from all areas of the court but was especially effective from mid-range. With long arms and good height for his position, Matthews can also elevate with the best of them making his jump shot unblockable. While he proved his elite status on the summer circuit, he also developed a strong chemistry with his squad’s point guard. That point guard just happens to be four-star point guard Tyler Ulis (#29 overall, No. 6 PG) who committed to the Wildcats in the fall.

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Who’s Got Next? Point Guards Jalen Brunson and Tyler Ulis Square Off

Posted by Sean Moran on January 28th, 2014

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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 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

The Match-Up: Tyler Ulis vs.  Jalen Brunson

The top two point guards in the state of Illinois faced off against each other Saturday night in a much anticipated match-up of contrasting styles. Four-star senior point guard Tyler Ulis of Marian Catholic (IL) has a game built on speed and quickness and is currently rated as the No. 6 point guard in the class of 2014 and No. 29 overall. His opponent, four-star junior guard Jalen Brunson, is ranked as the No. 2 point guard and No. 29 overall in the class of 2015 and has a game built on smarts and a feathery jump shot.

Jalen Brunson and Tyler Ulis went head to head on Saturday night – photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Jalen, the son of former NBA journeyman Rick Brunson picked up the win, leading the way with 32 points on 9-of-15 shooting. After a 12-point fourth quarter, Brunson’s Stevenson (IL) team took a 55-38 lead into the final quarter. Despite the deficit, the 5’9” Ulis and future Kentucky guard came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 of his 23 points in the final stanza in a comeback that fell just short. Both point guards had strong games, but it was the younger Brunson who was more efficient and came away with the win.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Big Cliff and HoopHall Action, Djuan Piper Update, and More

Posted by Sean Moran on January 24th, 2014

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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 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Big Cliff Dominates HoopHall Classic

Cliff Alexander, a five-star power forward and future Kansas Jayhawk, put on a dominant display against Montverde (FL), the #1 prep team in the country, this past Monday at the HoopHall Classic. Prior to his senior season, the 6’8” manchild was rated as the No. 5 recruit in the class of 2014, but after his three-month run at Curie (IL) High it might be time to talk about Alexander as the top player in his class. In a comeback win, Alexander scored 30 points and added 13 rebounds and five blocked shots to raise his season averages to 27 points, 17 rebounds and 5.5 blocked shots per game. Throughout the second half Alexander ran the floor and threw down several vicious dunks that energized his teammates. Montverde did not have any one with Alexander’s size, but they did have Ben Simmons, a top 10 junior, to try his hand a few times. Just like in December when Alexander dominated five-star juniors Stephen Zimmerman (#3 – 2015) and Chase Jeter (#19 – 2015), Simmons was no match for him. Next year Alexander is expected to contribute right away in Lawrence, especially if freshman center Joel Embiid enters the draft, as expected. It will be harder for Big Cliff to physically dominate his opponents at the next level, but his athleticism, raw power, and shot-blocking acumen will help him adapt very quickly and offset the expected Jayhawks’ departures.

2. Calipari Watches Rashad Vaughn

Despite already having a four-man class in 2014, including four-star shooting guard Devin Booker (#31 – 2014), John Calipari is making a late push for five-star shooting guard Rashad Vaughn. The No. 13 ranked player and No. 2 shooting guard in the country is the one of the few impact players left on the board in the class. After Calipari attended one of Vaughn’s practices at Findlay Prep (NV) in the fall, Vaughn started to list the Wildcats as one of the main schools in his recruitment. Calipari was also in attendance in Springfield, Massachusetts, for Vaughn’s first game back from injury, and is pushing for an official visit. So far Vaughn has taken official visits to Iowa State and UNLV and has one scheduled for UNC on February 15. He also has Kansas in his top five, but doesn’t have any plans to set up a visit, per Evan Daniels of Scout.com. Fred Hoiberg has been recruiting Vaughn the longest out of all the aforementioned schools and UNLV has the home-court advantage with Vaughn’s high school transfer. Roy Williams is desperate for a shooting guard based on the team’s current outside shooting deficiencies and Calipari wants to add Vaughn and/or Myles Turner (#2 – 2014) to his #2 recruiting class. This recruitment won’t reach Andrew Wiggins levels in the spring, but it will certainly heat up over the next few months.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Malachi Richardson to Syracuse, Diamond Stone’s High Profile Visitors, and More…

Posted by Sean Moran on December 13th, 2013

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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 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Malachi Richardson Announces for Syracuse

With 97 of the top 100 prospects in the class of 2014 already committed to colleges, the majority of ongoing recruiting speculation has turned to this year’s junior class. Two five-star prospects from the class of 2015 are currently committed in forwards Ben Simmons (#8 overall, LSU) and Mickey Mitchell (#16 overall, Ohio State). Today Malachi Richardson became the third five-star recruit to make his announcement as he chose to stay on the East Coast and play at Syracuse. The 6’6” Richardson is rated as the No. 17 prospect in the class of 2015 and the No. 3 small forward. He made his college selection this afternoon from Trenton Catholic (NJ) High School and chose the Orange from a list of six schools that also included Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Rutgers, and Villanova. He most recently took an unofficial visit to Syracuse and watched its victory over Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. With that commitment, Richardson joins four-star forward Tyler Lydon (#94 overall – 2015) in Jim Boeheim’s 2015 recruiting class. Richardson is a lethal scorer with a sweet stroke from the outside and will cause a lot of problems in the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense with his 6’10.5” wing span.

2. Top Center in 2015 Receives Hall of Fame Visitors

Two Hall of Fame coaches made their way out to Milwaukee over the past week to check in on 6’10” Diamond Stone, the top center in the class of 2015, and the No. 2 prospect overall. Last Friday, Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Capel started their Midwestern recruiting trip by watching Stone and his Dominican (WI) High School team defeat St. Thomas More in a game where Stone finished with 23 points. Four days later, Roy Williams and assistant coach Steve Robinson made a quick trip to Wisconsin and watched Stone’s 24-point performance in a blowout win against Prairie (WI) High. Both rivals have made Stone their number one big man target in the class of 2015; however, it might be hard to get the five-star center out of his home state. Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Wisconsin’s ‘Bo Ryan have also recruited Stone hard during his early high school tenure. Marquette sits right in his back yard and had Stone on campus for its version of Midnight Madness this fall. He was also high school teammates with freshman point guard Duane Wilson. UNC currently has Wisconsin native J.P. Tokoto in its starting lineup, but the last time both UNC and Duke went after a Wisconsin kid they both lost out to Bo Ryan in the recruitment of freshman guard Bronson Koenig. Expect Stone to receive a lot more visits from Coach K and Roy while Buzz and Bo Ryan try to keep the talented big man in Wisconsin.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Reid Travis Announcing Today, Kentucky’s Top Class & More…

Posted by Sean Moran on November 8th, 2013

7sweetscoops

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 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. PF Reid Travis Set to Chose From 3 Schools

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.

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SEC M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 7th, 2013

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Billy Donovan isn’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.
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Seven Sweet Scoops: Big Blue Madness, Visits for Top 10 Recruits, & Georgetown vs. Indiana…

Posted by Sean Moran on October 18th, 2013

7sweetscoops

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 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Big Blue Madness

Big Blue Madness is Always a Sensory Extravaganza

Big Blue Madness is Always a Sensory Extravaganza

Since the arrival of John Calipari at Kentucky, Big Blue Madness has been the event to visit as a recruit. Last year it was current Kentucky freshmen Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, and Marcus Lee that showed up in Lexington and this year it will be a new batch of fresh faces. Attendees expected at Rupp Arena include some of the biggest names from the 2014, 2015, and 2016 classes, including one of UK’s 2014 commitments in point guard Tyler Ulis (#29 overall, #6 PG). Ulis and Big Blue Nation will do their best to impress senior small forward Stanley Johnson, power forward Trey Lyles, and shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. Johnson is the top small forward in the country; however he still has a ways to go with his decision. Right now the big fish for Kentucky are Lyles and Blackmon, both of whom committed to Indiana early in their high school careers and later de-committed after their junior years. Lyles is a 6’9” power forward who is ranked seventh in the country and is the most fundamentally sound post player in the senior class. Blackmon stands at 6’3” (#56 overall, #10 SG) and is one of the best long distance shooters in the class. Kentucky is thought to be the leader for both of the Indiana natives.

2. Stanley Johnson – Making the Rounds

As noted above, Stanley Johnson is taking his official visit to Kentucky for its Midnight Madness this Friday. Johnson is currently the top rated small forward in the country and No. 6 overall. The California native also took an official visit to Arizona last week for their Red-Blue game and watched former AAU teammate and soon to be freshman sensation Aaron Gordon win the team slam dunk contest. The other three schools still in contention for Johnson’s services are Oregon, Florida, and USC. While schools such as Arizona, Kentucky, and Florida are used to getting top 10 recruits, a commitment for the Trojans or Ducks would represent a landmark victory for either of those programs. Johnson is a bulldozer in the open court and considered one of the strongest perimeter players in high school. With his strength and improved ball-handling ability, he can get to the rim at will. Along with his skill set, he is also a winner. In 2012 he won a Nike AAU championship with the Oakland Soldiers and followed that up by leading Mater Dei to a California state championship. All five schools will take their best shot at landing Johnson over the next few months.

3. Myles Turner Off to See Columbus

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Kentucky’s Unusual Position: How to Build a #1 Class After Recent Misses

Posted by nvr1983 on October 10th, 2013

While Jayhawk fans celebrated Kelly Oubre’s commitment to Kansas on Tuesday, the announcement left Kentucky and its fans in a situation they are not accustomed to — one in which they are left wondering which recruits are still available. It also comes as the third consecutive major commitment — Andrew Wiggins and Emmanuel Mudiay were the other two — that Kentucky has missed out on, which is a highly unusual development in the Calipari era. Now this is not to say that the Big Blue Nation should go into panic mode and their first glimpses of Julius Randle and the Harrison twins next week will certainly help to alleviate any pending anxiety. Still, for the first time since John Calipari rolled into Lexington in 2009, Kentucky is now in danger of not having the top recruiting class in the country.

Calipari is All Smiles About This Year's Group. What About Next Year? (AP)

Calipari is All Smiles About This Year’s Group. What About Next Year? (AP)

Of course, Kentucky will be getting its share of incoming stars, but it probably will not be the type of ridiculous haul that Wildcat fans have enjoyed over the past four seasons. Calipari already has received commitments from 7’1″ Karl Towns, Jr., a top-10 recruit according to nearly every major recruiting service, and Tyler Ulis, a strong point guard prospect despite his 5’9″, 150-pound frame. The Wildcats are still in the running for eight more five-star recruits in the class of 2014 — big men Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Trey Lyles, and perimeter prospects Tyus Jones, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker and James Blackmon, Jr. — but a closer look suggests that their prospects of landing each are less promising than they might first appear.

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