Looking Back at Kentucky’s Remarkable Run

Posted by David Changas on April 11th, 2014

On March 1, Kentucky‘s season hit its lowest point when the Wildcats lost to SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina, 72-67. Talk of a 40-0 season was a distant memory, and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed likely. After that loss, Kentucky went on to lose twice to SEC champion Florida, but it was during the second of those losses – a one-point SEC Tournament Championship Game thriller that the Wildcats had a chance to win – that gave coach John Calipari’s team confidence that all was not lost. Kentucky received a #8 seed from the selection committee, and the path ahead of it would consist of games with the region’s top seed and the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in 23 years, Wichita State, as well as a possible rematch with arch-nemesis Louisville. The regional final projected as a game against the team that lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game, Michigan, or SEC rival Tennessee. The Wildcats were able to beat Kansas State with relative ease in the opening round, and then proceed to win thrillers against the Shockers, Cardinals, and Wolverines to advance to their third Final Four in Calipari’s five years at the helm of the program.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Celebrated Its Way to the National Title Game

At the outset of the season, Kentucky was the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, and there was some serious talk in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats could reach 40-0. That dream was dashed with an early-season loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, and then Kentucky followed that with pre-conference defeats to Baylor and North Carolina. If those losses didn’t cause significant concern, the Wildcats’ play in the lowly SEC did. They were swept by the Gators and by Arkansas, and narrowly avoided a sweep by LSU. By the time the SEC Tournament arrived, many wondered whether it was too late for the club to figure things out and salvage their season. After dominant wins over LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats appeared headed for another blowout loss in the title game to Florida. They trailed the Gators by 16 early in the second half, but eventually cut the lead to one point with the ball before James Young slipped and lost control, costing the Wildcats a chance to win. While Kentucky wasn’t able to complete the comeback, that game was the impetus for the turnaround. Willie Cauley-Stein called the performance “a big confidence-booster” afterward, and said that the Wildcats were a “new team” coming out of Atlanta. While winning the daunting Midwest region appeared to be a near-impossible task for a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses, the 78-76 second-round win over Wichita State in what many considered the best game of the Big Dance served notice that the Kentucky team many had expected had finally arrived.

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Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 7th, 2014

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#7 Connecticut vs. #8 Kentucky – National Championship Game (at Arlington, Texas) – 9:10 PM ET on CBS

History will be made in some form tonight at AT&T Stadium no matter which team wins this game. Connecticut is bidding to become the first #7 seed to ever win the national championship while Kentucky is looking to become the first #8 seed since Cinderella team Villanova toppled top-seeded Georgetown in 1985, the first year of the 64/68-team era. Kevin Ollie could become the first coach to win a championship in his first tournament appearance since Michigan’s Steve Fisher accomplished that feat a quarter-century ago in 1989 at Seattle’s Kingdome. John Calipari could win his second title in three seasons, this time with the nation’s most inexperienced team (according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics). Something has to give in this game between what some observers have said are teams of destiny. Connecticut is going for the Texas triple play, so to speak, having closed out two previous Final Fours in the Lone Star State (2004 in San Antonio and 2011 in Houston) with championships while Kentucky has three players from the state on its roster, including hometown favorite Julius Randle. Connecticut is seeking its fourth national championship while Kentucky would earn its ninth with a win.

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Kentucky has had some of its best offensive games of the season in this tournament. The Wildcats have not been defensive juggernauts, but timely stops and consistent offensive output have been the keys to their success over the last couple of weeks (along with clutch Aaron Harrison shots, of course). Going up against yet another strong defensive team in Connecticut (UK has already faced Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville, all terrific on the defensive end) will be a test for the “Cardiac Cats.” At the point guard position, Andrew Harrison has to do a better job taking care of the basketball against the undersized, but quicker and pesky Huskies guards. He is averaging four turnovers per game in the tournament and making him uncomfortable needs to be part of the game plan for Ollie’s team. Daring Andrew Harrison shoot has been fairly successful for Kentucky’s opponents as he is just 18-for-52 (35 percent) from the floor in five tournament games, which even includes a solid 6-for-9 performance against Wichita State in the round of 32. By contrast, making his brother Aaron put the ball on the floor and drive is the best strategy for Connecticut. Aaron Harrison has made 14-of-25 threes (56 percent) in the tournament but he is just 8-for-27 (30 percent) when it comes to two point shots. Chasing him off the three point line and making him put it on the deck has to be a point of emphasis for Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright defensively. Kentucky is at its best when Andrew Harrison is moving the ball well, Aaron Harrison is open on the wing and James Young is either knocking down triples or slashing through the defense, opening up the lane for Randle in the post. Of course, Randle is so good and so strong that he can do a number of things on the low block. The freshman has 50+ pounds on Connecticut’s four man DeAndre Daniels and nearly 40 pounds on Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah, both of whom are good defensively but also quite raw by the same token. Ollie may very well wrinkle in some zone to keep Kentucky out of the lane and dare it to make shots. However, that is still risky because of the ability of Aaron Harrison and Young to connect from the three point line. The Huskies are sneaky good when it comes to interior defense, allowing just 42.2 percent field goal shooting inside the three point arc. That will be tested against the stronger Randle and Dakari Johnson, who is very difficult to guard when he catches the ball deep in the post. Great interior defense is a staple of the Jim Calhoun era and a part of the Connecticut culture that Ollie has carried over while building the program his way.

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Kentucky’s Improbable Journey Rolls On: Three Takeaways

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 6th, 2014

The cardiac ‘Cats did it again. Aaron Harrison continued to make the late-game extraordinary look routine and Kentucky’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run lived to see yet another day. The only thing now standing between the Wildcats and the program’s ninth National Championship is UConn on Monday night, but the #8 seeded Wildcats will be a favorite to knock off the Huskies and complete the six-game sweep. With an eye towards Monday night, here are three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Will Play For The Program’s Ninth National Title On Monday Night

  1. James Young was aggressive and effective attacking the basket. Young is far from a one-dimensional player, but with more three-point attempts than two-point attempts to his name this season, there have been times when the freshman’s role has been reduced to that of a jump shooter, almost exclusively. This was not the case against the Badgers. Young scored a game-high 17 points, and only three were earned from behind the arc. Nine of his 11 field goal attempts came from two-point range, and Young showed off a more varied offensive game in getting into the lane often and to the free throw stripe almost as frequently (he went 6-of-7 on free throws). His floor-stretching ability will again be crucial on Monday night, but a Young capable of manufacturing points in different ways is a scary proposition moving forward.
  2. Alex Poythress may never be the player everyone hoped he would be when he arrived in Lexington, but he has become a key role player on this team. Poythress played 29 minutes last night, had eight points (4-of-4 FG) and seven rebounds, and even did a nice job defending Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky when called upon. His offensive game is still unrefined, but as an athletic energy guy off the bench who can guard almost every position, Poythress has real value for the Willie Cauley-Stein-less ‘Cats. Expect another heavy dose of the sophomore on Monday night, as he would appear to be a perfect defensive match-up for UConn’s DeAndre Daniels. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS

The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #4 Louisville 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #8 Kentucky’s 74-69 win over #4 Louisville. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. The atmosphere was unbelievable and the game lived up to the hype. The build up for the Sweet 16 edition of the Battle for the Bluegrass rightfully garnered a ton of national attention leading up to the tip. And boy, was it worth it. Lucas Oil Stadium was overtaken by Louisville and Kentucky fans. Red and blue were all over the place and both factions were loud and involved throughout the night. The game, itself, was a nail-biter to the very end. Both sides were living and dying with every possession and that made for an amazing atmosphere. When Kentucky emerged victorious, the Kentucky section acted as if a weight had been lifted from its shoulders. On the other hand, the Louisville fans were heartbroken over the close lose to their bitter rivals.
  2. Free throw shooting and rebounding did Louisville in. In a close game like Friday night, you can often pinpoint factors that played a big role in deciding the game. Those two factors in Louisville’s loss were its poor free throw shooting and inability to keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. The Cardinals were just 13-of-23 (including 6-of-15 in the first half) from the free throw line. Included in that statistic was that senior standout guard Russ Smith went just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe. Louisville also struggled keeping Kentucky’s bigs off the rebounding glass. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cardinals 37-29 and gathered 15 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second chance points. A huge Kentucky offensive rebound came at the 2:11 mark when sophomore forward Alex Poythress grabbed a putback and converted a three-point play to turn a 66-63 deficit into a 66-66 tie – and that helped set the stage for the Wildcats to ultimately grab the lead and get the victory.

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SEC Superlatives: The Non-Traditional Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 11th, 2014

The SEC’s long (and often bumpy) basketball road has finally led to Atlanta. There were some memorable performances as the season unfolded, and players stood out in a number of ways. Before we unveil the RTC SEC microsite’s predictable year-end superlatives, here are players that made impressions in less traditional ways:

Most Exciting Player Award

This isn’t necessarily the player you know will consistently produce. In fact, it might be a player that spends most of his time maddening you. But every so often this guy will throw down a dunk or hit a crazy three that gets you out of your seat like no one else.

Somehow, Marshall Henderson was not a unanimous selection as the SEC's Most Exciting Player.

Somehow, Marshall Henderson was not a unanimous selection as the SEC’s Most Exciting Player. (Getty)

  • Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): For me, there is no one more exciting than Marshall Henderson. You don’t have to like him, but you have to appreciate what he is able to do on the court. Henderson single handedly shot Ole Miss into contention during several games this year (and subsequently shot the Rebels out of many games too), so he is nothing if not entertaining.
  • David Changas (@dchangas): Marshall Henderson. Sure, he didn’t recreate the magic or draw the attention of last season, either on or off the court, but anyone who shoots so often (12.2 threes attempted per game) and from so many spots on the floor and keeps his team in games they otherwise wouldn’t be in is fun to watch. And there’s still time for the senior guard to do something special and go out with a bang at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
  • Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland)Marshall Henderson. Come on – like it could be anyone else? Henderson misses way more shots than he makes, but the ones he hits have kept us all coming back for more. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get at least one Land Shark moment in Atlanta this week.

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SEC M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 24th, 2014

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  1. This isn’t the time or place, and I’m not the writer, to rehash the one-and-done debate. But Alex Poythress’ recent string of good games shows that development is more than a buzzword, and patience can be rewarding. The sophomore essentially separated the Wildcats from Texas A&M in the second half of what was a sloppy game. The Louisville Courier Journal‘s Kyle Tucker writes, “In both the way he talks and the way he’s suddenly playing, it seems Poythress is just now figuring out exactly what his 6-foot-8, 240-pound body can do. While he hasn’t started a single game this season — after starting 31 in a somewhat disappointing freshman year — Poythress has become the Cats’ go-to energy source lately.” There are a lot of factors involved (playing time, for example) and it’s not that simple, but Archie Goodwin has played 20 total minutes over the last two weeks for the Phoenix Suns, while Poythress has emerged at Kentucky. Who knows if Goodwin would’ve been better off staying at Kentucky; what is clear is that Poythress’ decision to stay and develop might have been right for him.
  2. The usually-bland Mike Anderson had strong words to say after Arkansas‘ not-so-surprising road loss to Tennessee. “McRae played well, but the MVP was the flagrant foul call,” he said after the game, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “You get in two or three minutes and that’s one that should play on. I thought it just changed the whole dynamic of how the game was going.” The flagrant foul Anderson is referring to was called on Kikko Haydar’s wrap up of Jeronne Maymon with 2:52 left and the Razorbacks up by eight. NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has a good screen shot of the foul, and thinks the refs got it right, and I’m inclined to agree. Anytime you blatantly do not “play the ball” you open yourself up to flagrant calls. Haydar is considerably smaller then Maymon and was contesting from behind leaving little chance his challenge could be seen as “playing the ball.” The senior has to be more aware of the risk involved in wrapping someone up, especially late in such an important game.
  3. Here’s an alarming stat for Missouri fans from the Kansas City Star‘s Tod Palmer: no Tiger other than the Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, or Earnest Ross has reached double figures since Jonathan Williams scored 10 points against North Carolina state on December 28. Missouri’s uber-reliance on their starting back court for offense came to a head against LSU, where the three players accounted for 88.7 percent of the Tigers points (another stat from Palmer). “We’ll have to figure that out in practice,” Clarkson said. “We’ll be all right. We’ll go back to the drawing board and fix some things.” The problem is Missouri just doesn’t currently have the pieces to complement those three guards offensively. Ryan Rosburg has improved since his freshman season, but is nothing more than a “garbage man-type” big guy right now. Torren Jones and Keanau Post are raw offensively, and Wes Clark can’t find his outside shot. The key is Williams, who has shown strong offensive moves when going to his left, and was assertive last Saturday against Alabama in the second half. Consistency, however, is a lot to ask from a freshman.
  4. It wouldn’t be a proper week on this microsite without Luke Winn’s power rankings making an appearance. He has Florida #5 in his latest edition, and writes the following about Casey Prather‘s return from injury against Auburn. “That Prather has shot 64.2 percent from inside the arc this season is remarkable, since he’s doing plenty of his work as a slasher and making tough finishes around the rim, rather than simply dunking drop-off passes from his guards.” It’s hard to argue Prather’s meteoric rise is an anomaly anymore since it’s the end of January and he’s still scoring in bunches. And it shouldn’t fade anytime soon. Even if he is making difficult shots, his offensive game has been predicated on generally-more-reliable shots at the rim (60.3 percent of his shots have been taken at the rim).
  5. Florida beat Alabama last night in a game that followed a familiar script for both teams. The Tide battled hard but came out on the losing end as Florida won its tenth straight game. Perhaps more interesting is the Jacob Kurtz story, which has been there all year but floated largely under-the-radar. Kurtz is a former team manager, and discussed his previous team contributions with the Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway. ”I did laundry, water bottles, wiped the floor — all that. Then they had walk-on tryouts and now we’re here,” Kurtz said. The student manager component is obviously what makes this story eye-catching. Kurtz clearly has game: he’s averaging 12.1 minutes per game on a top five team with legitimate national championship aspirations. Yet he swallowed his pride and did what was necessary to get in with the Florida program. That kind of dedication is impressive.
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Calipari Knows Kentucky is Making Progress

Posted by David Changas on January 12th, 2014

All college basketball teams change from year to year. Players graduate, leave early, transfer, and new recruits fill their spots. But as everyone knows, no team changes year over year like John Calipari’s crew. And regardless of the fact that he brought in what many considered the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history this year, he knew that it would take time for his team to come together. After a Christmas week win against archrival Louisville and opening SEC wins over undermanned Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, he is finally confident that things are in fact starting to coalesce. ”We’re still not there. But I’m looking around the country, I don’t see anybody there. I like my team. I like our progress. We have the biggest upside of any team in the country. We’re  the youngest team in the country; that’s where we are. I just have to try to [have] patience when I have none,” Calipari said after Saturday’s 71-62 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville.

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

Don’t look now, Coach Cal’s crew is slowly coming together. (AP)

Calipari knows that bringing in such a haul of talent and that playing almost an entirely new set of players (only Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Jarrod Polson are significant contributors from last year’s squad) will require him to exhibit that patience. “I got a brand new team, and every year it’s something different, and as we go, you start figuring out how we have to play,” he said. Calipari was particularly pleased by the performance of the sophomore Poythress, who has not lived up to the lofty expectations set for him coming into college, and someone whom Calipari thinks has been limited by his lack of self-confidence. “Like I say to him, ‘You’re as good as anybody in the gym. Why won’t you play that way?’ And I asked the team, ‘What’s holding him back?’ [They said], ‘He is,’” Calipari said. The talented veteran forward will be a key for the Wildcats as they try to develop into a team that can win Calipari’s second national championship.

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Previewing the Battle of the Bluegrass

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 28th, 2013

The 2013 version of the Battle of the Bluegrass between Louisville and Kentucky will be a passionate, hard-fought affair. What makes this season’s game a bit different is that both teams fancy themselves as national title contenders even though neither squad has produced a win worth justifying that talk. That will change Saturday for one of the two teams, making this game even more important from a resume perspective than it already is. The Wildcats opened the season as the No. 1 team in the country and have proceeded to lose all three of its games against ranked opponents (Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina), although Big Blue does have two decent home wins against Boise State and Belmont.

These Two Longtime Foes Will Meet Again This Afternoon

These Two Longtime Foes Will Meet Again This Afternoon

Louisville has similarly lost to the only ranked team it has faced (North Carolina) and has feasted on an otherwise weak schedule to build an 11-1 record. To the Cardinals’ credit, feasted may be an understatement as the Cardinals sit first in the nation in scoring margin at 26.2 points per game. The second place team, Utah, is a full 2.7 points behind. When it comes to seed implications for the NCAA Tournament, the importance of this game cannot be understated. Neither Kentucky nor Louisville plays in an elite basketball conference, so opportunities for high-quality wins against strong competition will be scarce. The loser of today’s game will have little margin for error when it comes to their marquee conference games such as the two Florida games (for Kentucky) and Memphis and Connecticut (for Louisville). And make no mistake about it, earning a top seed matters come March. Both Pitino and Calipari, winners of the last two national championships as No. 1 overall seeds, know that and strive for it. So let’s look at what each team has to do to walk away with a win at 4:00 PM ET on CBS.

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Freeze Frame: Analyzing Kentucky’s Porous Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 16th, 2013

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

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

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

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

The Good News 

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

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