Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 56, #9 Kansas State 49

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

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

Julius Randle led Kentucky past Kansas State. (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. Kansas State had no answer for Kentucky’s size. Starting big men Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson stand at 6’9″ and 7’0″, respectively. Then Willie Cauley-Stein comes in off the bench at 7’0 as well. That doesn’t include three guards who are 6’6″ each in James Young and Aaron and Andrew Harrison. UK’s quintet of talented freshmen didn’t have its best game, but their prodigious size was enough to get by. Kentucky dominated Kansas State on the glass, owning a 40-28 edge in rebounds. Not many teams in the country — if any — can compete with Kentucky’s size across the starting lineup.
  2. Limiting the backcourt. Kansas State’s strength lies with its guards, and Kentucky did its best to take them away. As a result, stud freshman Marcus Foster had a rough night shooting. He entered the game averaging 15.6 PPG on the season, but his 15 points tonight came on a rather inefficient 7-of-18 shooting. Shane Southwell added 11 points as well, but he also produced inefficiently on 3-of-10 shooting. Will Spradling picked up a garbage-time three while going 1-for-8. Without the interior heft to score on a regular basis in the post, Kansas State’s guards were forced to shoulder the load. They just couldn’t get that job done Friday night.
  3. Block party. Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the best shotblockers in the country, ranking 13th in the nation by blocking 12.2 percent of opponents’ shots. Tonight he spearheaded a team effort in protecting the rim, swatting four shots in the contest. The Wildcats blocked seven shots as a team, including six swats in the opening half. Even when Cauley-Stein wasn’t blocking shots, he was altering them or deterring Kansas State from driving the lane altogether. K-State didn’t have much success going to the rim all night long.

Star of the Game: Julius Randle, Kentucky. Randle didn’t come out and dominate from the beginning. In fact, it took him about seven minutes to record his first points of the game, but he sure got going after that. Randle finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds and a block in 35 minutes of playing time. Aaron Harrison’s performance can’t be overlooked either, as the freshman guard went for 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

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Rebounding Key to Kentucky’s Success Against Kansas State

Posted by David Changas on March 19th, 2014

In one of the most intriguing match-ups of the NCAA Tournament’s Second Round, Kentucky takes on Kansas State in St. Louis tonight. On the surface, as with most #8/#9 battles, this game appears to be a toss-up. And though most oddsmakers have installed Kentucky as a six-point favorite, a fairly sizeable spread for two teams that appear to be equally matched, there is little reason to think this one won’t go down to the wire. Kansas State is battle-tested, having dealt with the rigors of the Big 12 round-robin that allowed for very few breathers. Kentucky, on the other hand, played very few conference games against quality opponents. In fact, the only NCAA Tournament team it has beaten since the calendar flipped to 2014 was Tennessee.

John Calipari and Bruce Weber both have a lot to prove this tourney.

John Calipari and Bruce Weber both have a lot to prove this tourney.

There is no question that Kentucky comes into this NCAA Tournament this season with a lot to prove. For a team that was the consensus preseason No. 1 in the polls, an #8/#9 NCAA Tournament opener is nothing short of disappointing. However, a win over Kansas State almost certainly will give coach John Calipari’s team a shot at top-seed Wichita State, and offer it a chance to wipe away much of that disappointment. Calipari has spent much of the past few days criticizing the Selection Committee for giving his Wildcats a #8 seed despite having played one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules. At this point, though, all that should matter to him is what his team needs to do to defeat its Big 12 opponent.

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SEC M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 28th, 2014

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  1. Chris Mannix’s NBA Big Board 4.0 has three SEC players on it, all of them Wildcats. None of the three, however, has the last name of Harrison. Mannix has Julius Randle at #4, James Young at #14 and Willie Cauley-Stein at #15. He writes that Cauley-Stein has the tools to be a solid defensive presence but his “lack of consistency is alarming.” This makes me wonder whether it would make sense for him to hold back on the NBA yet again? Cauley-Stein will always have a place in the league, at least for a few years; his seven-foot frame and athleticism virtually guarantee that. While going in the middle of the first round is attractive, if he were to stay another year and show a bit more consistency and development, he could potentially crack the lottery in a weaker draft class. That could be a decision worth several million dollars, but there’s also risk associated with it. In a somewhat smaller role, his rebounding and shooting percentages are down, and a similar setback next season could start to raise serious questions about his commitment. The point is that Cauley-Stein should at least consider hanging around Lexington another year. Again.
  2. LSU has gone over a week without a bad loss, and that’s an accomplishment in the SEC’s middle class. Their RPI is still too high (#66) to seriously be in the NCAA Tournament discussion, and as Brian pointed out yesterday on Twitter, Tennessee is the best bet for a third SEC bid. Still, LSU has a potential ace in its pocket. If the Tigers can somehow, someway, win at Florida this weekend, they’ll vault themselves right into the picture. It’s not likely, but LSU did play a great game at Rupp Arena last weekend and Florida hasn’t blown many teams away recently. Jarell Martin continuing the improvement he showed against Texas A&M could go a long way in LSU pulling off the upset. The freshman scored 20 points in part by tweaking his shooting form by going straight up more often and not falling back. “We had to double on Johnny O’Bryant so much that Jarell was just spotting up and shooting threes,” Billy Kennedy said. “He’s a McDonald’s All-American and played like it.” That’s the encouraging thing about LSU making a late run: The Tigers don’t lack for talent.
  3. Ole Miss will be without Derrick Millinghaus for the foreseeable future, as the sophomore guard has been suspended indefinitely. This caps off a disappointing season for Millinghaus. Despite getting six more minutes per game this season his usage rate has been virtually identical to what it was as a freshman. His PER (9.0) and true shooting percentage (37.7%) have both sharply declined, and his results have been especially poor lately. In the last three games he’s played 39 minutes, and scored five points on seven shots. Millinghaus has the ability to put up points, but is the type of player that needs a high volume of shots to do so. That simply isn’t a good fit alongside Marshall Henderson. But Henderson will be gone next season, and Millinghaus (if whatever spawned this suspension doesn’t linger) could be a candidate to replace some of those shots and points. In short, this suspension doesn’t hurt the Rebels much the rest of the way, but Millinghaus can still be a big part of their future.
  4. Matt Norlander has an interesting look at Billy Donovan’s career that is steeped in historical nuggets. Donovan will almost certainly get to 500 wins before he turns 50 and he has a legitimate chance to become only the sixth coach with three or more national titles. He definitely already gets recognized as a great coach, but Donovan seems to always slip through the cracks when the “elite coaches” discussion gets going. That’s obviously not a scientific statement, just based off a feeling. If Florida were to win the title this year, what would there be left for Donovan to prove? Putting together two completely different championship teams just about does it. To connect this team to the Al Horford/Joakim Noah teams, you need to go back to when these seniors were freshmen playing with Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes, who played with Walter Hodge and Mareese Speights when they were freshmen. That’s a lot of good recruiting and coaching. Would winning this year be enough for Donovan to finally make a (permanent) jump to the NBA? On a non-Donovan note, Norlander also mentioned Adolph Rupp’s “Cy Young-like unbreakable record” of being the fastest coach to reach 500 wins, in only 583 games. No matter in what era the achievement was reached, that is insanity.
  5. If you want to be called an idiot, just walk up to Kevin Stallings and suggest that Cuonzo Martin should be fired. The Vanderbilt coach went on the offensive to protect his in-state counterpart. “Hopefully, the powers that be over at Tennessee will tune those idiots out and give [Martin] the kind of time he deserves to do the job he needs to do,” Stallings said. This is an admirable coaching fraternity defense, but also goes deeper as Stallings and Martin both come from the Gene Keady-Purdue tree. On Wednesday we wrote about the growing calls for Bruce Pearl around the Tennessee program. And this makes sense, especially if Martin misses the NCAA tournament this year. It’s a difficult situation to really get a handle on because it is unique. Martin may be a good coach: he comes from a good coaching tree and did build a winning program at Missouri State, and you can’t always establish yourself in three years. But the pressure is ratcheted up on Martin with the fan favorite and uber successful Pearl still living in Knoxville and being visible on ESPN.
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SEC M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 5th, 2014

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  1. The most unlikely of Wildcats played the starring role in Kentucky‘s win over Ole Miss last night. A guy who had lost his starting spot and grabbed 13 total rebounds in the last five games suddenly looked like an NBA prospect again. I’m talking about Willie Cauley-Stein, who put up a great stat line (18 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) to bust out of his slump in a big way. His effort contributed to Kentucky’s dominance on the glass (+15) despite Andy Kennedy starting a big lineup that included Aaron Jones, Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz. Cauley-Stein’s out-of-nowhere performance is part of what makes the Wildcats so dangerous. They’ve been inconsistent, but there are seven players on that team who will play professionally, and each can break out and carry the team for a few moments at a time. That’s something opposing coaches just can’t prepare for. On the Rebels’ side, Jarvis Summers had a disappointingly quiet 11 points and three assists. The junior has been one of the best guards in the SEC this season, and it was a shame he wasn’t able to make his mark on national television.
  2. There are teams that grind you to a nub, and there is Florida, which grinds you into oblivion. The Gators were sloppy with the ball in the first half and let Missouri hang around in Gainesville until deep into the second half. But Florida’s high-energy, effective defense finally wore the Tigers down, forcing them into a prolonged scoring slump midway through the second half that allowed the Gators to reach a comfortable lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Jabari Brown ended up with a decent stat line (15 points, six assists), but the Gators did a great job chasing him off of screens and denying him open looks. Florida’s offensive balance also showed up big time in this game. Casey Prather was held to a season-low five points, but Scottie Wilbekin got to the line 16 times while Michael Frazier had four second half threes to bury the Tigers. There are a variety of ways the Gators can score, and Chris Walker is now in that mix too. The freshman only played seven minutes, but snuck behind Missouri’s zone for two lob dunks in that brief time. Billy Donovan simply has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal this season. Earnest Ross’ play is somewhat concerning for Missouri. The senior scored just three points and is 3-of-15 in his two games (after scoring 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting against Arkansas). A two-game slump isn’t a death sentence, of course, especially when it comes against Kentucky and Florida, but Missouri doesn’t have the offensive firepower to overcome another low-output game from Ross.
  3. Jordan Mickey was bound to eventually get some national credit, and he finally broke through by winning last week’s Wayman Tisdale Watch’s Freshman of the Week award. He outclassed Kentucky’s bigs during the week, then outperformed Arkansas’ Bobby Portis over the weekend. CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello writes, “He will continued to be overshadowed within the SEC by Kentucky’s stud group of freshmen and on a national level by the future top-five draft picks, but Mickey has shown for three months that he is one of the best freshmen in the country — at both ends of the floor.” He was also initially overshadowed in his own class by Jarrell Martin, but at this point it’d be hard to keep him off the SEC’s lengthy all-conference first team. Mickey is leading the conference in blocks per game (3.8), eighth in rebounds per game (7.3) and averaging a healthy 13.6 points per game. It’s nice to see him get some well-deserved recognition after spending all that time in the shadows.
  4. Alabama‘s tumble can be seen in a lot of places, one of which is the current RPI standings. The Tide dropped 27 spots to #114 after lopsided losses to Auburn and Tennessee in the last week. According to AL.com‘s Andrew Gribble, no team in the current top 175 took a bigger hit last week. Anthony Grant’s squad entered SEC play with a fair number of understandable losses (five losses against teams in the RPI top 25), but they can no longer hang their hat on that qualifier. The Tide now have four losses to teams with worse RPI ratings, and that is the real disappointment. It’s a shame that Trevor Releford, one of the SEC’s more productive four-year players in recent memory, is having to wallow through such a frustrating senior season. What’s scary for Grant is that he has only three players on his roster that are either freshmen or sophomores and he loses Releford’s stabilizing presence after this year.
  5. Apparently Billy Kennedy hasn’t shown much emotion since arriving in College Station, but he showed a sense of humor recently. That’s probably a good thing, since his team’s offense has been depression-inducing. The Aggies have averaged fewer than 0.77 points per possession in three of their last four games. This culminated in their 36-point, 0.57 points per possession performance on Saturday against Florida. What needs to change? For one, Kennedy could use a true point guard that would allow Alex Caruso to play off the ball, and he might have that next season in incoming four-star point guard Alex Robinson. Caruso is a great creator, but not a true point guard in terms of speed, and putting his abilities off the ball could really open up the offense. This all assumes that Kennedy is still the coach next season, which is not a sure bet in Aggieland.
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SEC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Experienced guards with a killer instinct can be extremely valuable in March, and Billy Donovan has one in Scottie Wilbekin. The senior’s fallaway jumper with under two minutes to go against Auburn kept the Tigers at bay, and came a week after his buzzer-beater to force overtime at Arkansas. “I have confidence I can make plays,” Wilbekin said. “Luckily, they’ve been going down for me. I just want to keep trying to play the right way, regardless of how much time is left in the game.” Between Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young, there may not be a team in the nation with more talented impact seniors, and these are players who have been to three straight Elite Eights. Prather’s solid return (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, six rebounds) was the most important storyline to come from the closer-than-expected win over the Tigers. But Wilbekin’s continued ability to hit the big shot bodes well for the Gators’ future as well.
  2. Maybe some good came out of Kentucky’s loss at Bud Walton Arena after all. Kentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that a spark may have been lit under Andrew Harrison. “Instead, it’s been some up, some down, inconsistency all around. Rhetoric without results. There have been body language issues, quickness issues, shooting issues. It looked more and more as though the Harrisons would have their Bluegrass stay extended, and not for the right reasons.But then the forgotten thing from Tuesday’s dramatic 87-85 loss at Arkansas was Andrew Harrison rising up from the right corner and nailing a three-pointer to send the late show into overtime.” Harrison was the star for the Wildcats against Tennessee (26 points, three assists, zero turnovers), one of the few times all year that statement can be definitively made and not involve Julius Randle. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Kentucky was demolished on the glass, and couldn’t overwhelm the Vols with its frontcourt strength and depth. Development is the story to watch for the Wildcats as the season winds towards March, and on Saturday Andrew Harrison took a big step forward.
  3. NBCSports.com‘s Scott Phillips doesn’t have as rosy a take on the Wildcats after the Tennessee win. He writes that the pieces aren’t quite fitting together yet. “James Young is a great complementary kickout on offense and Cauley-Stein can play to his strengths of catching lobs and hunting offensive rebounds, but the Wildcats will not beat the best teams in the country until their three isolation-based main offensive players — the Harrisons and Julius Randle — figure out how to move the ball well and shift the defense around from side-to-side to make things easier on themselves.” Getting this team to reach its potential will certainly be one of the toughest challenges John Calipari has ever faced, mainly because of the preseason expectations and early “struggles.” Phillips’ point about a consistent lack of cohesion is a valid one. But I’m still drinking the Kentucky Kool-Aid because their pieces should be able to eventually fit together. Cauley-Stein needs to add more on offense, but he doesn’t need the ball to be successful and that’s perfect alongside Randle. In the back court, is indeed the perfect floor spacer for the more drive-oriented games of the Harrison twins. It all should work, and until they’ve been eliminated I’ll give Calipari the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Michael Qualls’ dunk put a cap on the Mike Anderson road hex, right? All the momentum and good vibes created by that putback slam had to carry Arkansas through their game at Georgia, right? Nope, it was business as usual for the Razorbacks in Athens, as they failed to pick up a necessary road win. Graham Reaves at Arkansas Fight writes, “What made this game that much more frustrating is that for much of the game it appeared the Hogs would win, knock the monkey off their back on their way towards an NCAA berth. Coming off a win at home over No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night, this Razorbacks squad had made believers of those who had doubted for so long. As good for the fanbase Kentucky game was, this one was bad.” And that’s the rub: This was at its core a deflating loss for Arkansas fans. The loss, however, didn’t shoot their NCAA Tournament chances to pieces. The Kentucky win was a good one, and should continue to resonate given it happened in dramatic fashion on national TV. But their next two road games are in Knoxville and Baton Rouge, so that monkey might continue to hang on Arkansas’ back, and the longer it does, the more pronounced the storyline will get.
  5. Missouri stopped the bleeding, at least for the time being, on its disappointing SEC start with a dominant second half against Alabama. Jabari Brown was super efficient (24 points, 7-of-9 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line) in pulling the Tigers ahead. Jordan Clarkson also played a big role offensively, but his overall play has dipped since SEC games began. Rock M Nation‘s Bill Connelly, in his always interesting “Study Hall” piece, writes, “Jordan Clarkson has five assists in four SEC games, and his %Pass was lower than Jabari’s on Saturday. He is no longer Missouri’s point guard.” Clarkson is not a pure point guard, so it was always unreasonable to expect him to keep up the assist numbers he posted in non-conference play. But Wes Clark has also struggled recently, leaving Frank Haith with a problem to solve at the position. He doesn’t seem to trust Shane Rector yet, so the only option seems to be riding out the growing pains of Clarkson and Clark.
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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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Prather, Randle, Clarkson Emerge as Favorites for SEC POY

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 7th, 2014

Conference play finally gets underway tonight, so there’s no better time than now to look at which players have emerged as the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year. The following list definitely omits a number of worthy candidates, but as with any list, debate is encouraged through social media and in the comments section. Also, overall team success was definitely a factor, but not a definitive one. Here are the players who have set themselves up in the non-conference season for a run at SEC POY:

Casey Prather, Florida (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 28.5 PER, 61.4% eFG, 94.2 dRTG)

It's never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

It’s never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

If you’d have asked a Florida fan before the season which Gator would have the biggest impact this year, Prather might’ve been the fifth or sixth player mentioned. But he’s easily topped that list thus far for Florida, turning himself into one of the best players in the SEC. The senior is playing 12 more minutes per game this year, and has built on the solid peripherals that he posted in his junior season. Prather’s emergence has been key for a team that had many important players either suspended or injured to begin the season. The big pluses of his talent (getting to the rim and playing defense) are generally sustainable attributes that should help Florida win a lot of games in SEC play. Florida is the conference’s highest-ranked team right now and Prather has been their best player. For those reasons, he deserves to be at the front of the POY discussion.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (18.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 28 PER, 56.6% eFG, 94.7 dRTG)

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SEC M5: 01.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 3rd, 2014

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  1. SI.com‘s Luke Winn always has interesting metrics nuggets in his weekly power rankings. This week he has Kentucky at #15, and writes that Willie Cauley-Stein is living up to the rim-protecting precedent set by Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. Cauley-Stein’s block percentage (13.8%) is identical to Davis’s and better than Noel’s (13.2%). He is also keeping a greater percentage of those blocked shots (64.2%) than Davis or Noel did. On the whole, the SEC has a handful of elite swatters, but not much after that. In addition to Cauley-Stein (who leads the league), only Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, Jordan Mickey, and Aaron Jones have block percentages greater than 10 percent.
  2. You have to go back a few days, but Tennessee picked up a momentum-building win on Monday night over Virginia. The margin they won by (35 points) was the largest in the Cuonzo Martin era, and all the more impressive because the Cavaliers are a good defensive team. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton writes that the Vols improved shooting percentage against Virginia could be a sign of good things to come. ”Tennessee isn’t going to shoot 60+% from three and 85+% from the line every night.  But the fact that they did it [Monday] against such a great defensive team and got it from so many different contributors suggests the transformation we’ve all known this team needed is very possible.” The Vols have largely disappointed this season, but when their solid defensive and elite offensive rebounding is paired with shots falling, it’s not hard to see why they were given such lofty preseason expectations.
  3. Georgia‘s five game winning streak was snapped last Saturday in Boulder, but the Bulldogs can rebound in a big way with a road win tonight over George Washington. Colorado is a good team so Georgia’s 14-point road loss isn’t a head-scratcher. If you want to stretch optimism to its limits, you could say that the Bulldogs were nearly even with Colorado in the second half, losing just 38 to 35. Winning at George Washington would be no small feat, as the Colonials own an impressive win over Creighton this season. But they are coming off a loss to Kansas State on New Year’s Eve and have a weakness the Bulldogs could exploit. George Washington allows its opponents to grab 30 percent of their own misses. Georgia has also struggled giving up offensive rebounds this season, and must take advantage of extra opportunities that may come their way.
  4. It’s never good when a head coach starts apologizing. ”I apologize to the fans that came to the game,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We are not that bad, but we sure looked like it at times,” Kennedy felt compelled to say that after the Aggies’ 20-point loss to North Texas at home on New Year’s Eve. The Aggies enter conference play without a quality win, and are now saddled with a demoralizing home loss. One issue Texas A&M has had this season is a lack of effectiveness from the three point line. The Aggies were just four of 18 against the Mean Green, and as a team have shot 30.2% on the season, good for just 286th in the country. That’s difficult for a team that lacks many impact athletes. Senior guard Fabyon Harris shot 45%last season but has followed it up at 33% thus far this season. The Aggies best three-point shooter, J-Mychal Reese (42%), is no longer with the team. Opposing coaches may be more willing to unleash a zone defense on Texas A&M if they continue to struggle from deep.
  5. It hasn’t been all bad news for the Aggies recently. Kennedylanded SMU transfer Jalen Jones, and if he’s granted a waiver to play immediately, will be a big help in avoiding a repeat of the offensive performance against North Texas. Jones was a respectable shooter last season (56% true shooting), and got to the line nearly 5 times a game. When paired together on the perimeter, the 6’7” Jones and 6’8” Jamal Jones should create challenge for play-by-play announcers and opposing defenses. It appears Jones left SMU because of playing time, so if there isn’t anything more to the move a waiver seems unlikely. If there is no waiver, it’ll be interesting to see if Kennedy even gets to coach his prized transfer in an actual game.
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Freeze Frame: Re-evaluating Kentucky’s Pick and Roll Defense After Beating Louisville

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 2nd, 2014

Kentucky’s porous defense was a hot topic last week as fans and analysts attempted to make sense of a preseason No. 1 team that has failed to meet historic (read: unrealistic) expectations. There was certainly reason for concern. Coming into Saturday’s Battle of the Bluegrass with Louisville, John Calipari’s squad had played exactly three top 50 teams, (according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings) and had come out of those three games winless. It wasn’t time to hit the panic button just yet, as the Wildcats had lost to three quality teams on the road or on neutral courts, but then again the Wildcats were running out of opportunities for quality wins to bolster its inadequate resume. They do play basketball in the SEC, after all. Saturday’s 73-66 win over Rick Pitino’s Cardinals was about as close to a must-win situation in December as Calipari’s young Wildcats will experience.

Kentucky's defensive score sheet vs. Louisville including Alex Poythress' monster defensive performance.

Kentucky’s defensive score sheet vs. Louisville including Alex Poythress’ monster defensive performance.

A lot of positives emerged for Kentucky on Saturday. The offense finally clicked, putting together 1.04 points per possession against a stingy defense. Andrew Harrison grew up before our very eyes, leading the offense down the stretch like a veteran point guard. And this was all with the Wildcats’ best offensive player, Julius Randle, on the bench after a 17-point first half performance. Perhaps nothing was more impressive, however, than Kentucky limiting KenPom’s most efficient offense (at the time!) to just 0.94 points per possession for the game. So how did a team that has had trouble guarding manage to stifle one of college basketball’s best teams at putting the ball in the basket?

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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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Previewing Kentucky’s Visit to Chapel Hill

Posted by Lathan Wells & Matt Patton on December 14th, 2013

Today’s match-up between North Carolina and Kentucky in Chapel Hill looks a bit different than it did on paper at the start of the season. Some Kentucky fans talked up a perfect 40-0 record before reality set in with losses to a veteran, talent-laden Michigan State team and a more physical, driven Baylor squad. Neither loss is a bad one, of course, but both brought the Wildcats back to the realization that this year would not be a simple strut to the national championship game. North Carolina, meanwhile, has suffered puzzling losses to Belmont at home and UAB in a winnable game on the road, but also stunned then-#1 Michigan State in East Lansing and defending national champion Louisville on a neutral floor. No one seems to know what to make of this Tar Heels squad, especially with PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald still swimming in NCAA limbo. Today marks the renewal of the rivalry after a one-year hiatus between these goliath programs, each with plenty of question marks at this early stage of the season. RTC ACC microsite columnists Lathan Wells and Matt Patton break down the game in point/counterpoint style below.

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

Lathan: Kentucky’s strength obviously lies in its overall athleticism, but it seems that its dominance in the paint early has been the key to their victories. Do you see them overwhelming North Carolina there, or do the guards have to be the difference?

Matt: Kentucky has to get something from its guards, as North Carolina is one of the few teams in the country with the size to match up against the Wildcats in the frontcourt. That said, Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle are tough for anyone to stop. Randle’s strength and athleticism makes him an impossible match-up, but the real key is that Kentucky has to play good defense. It’s no coincidence that Kentucky’s two losses have come during the only two times opponents have topped 1.1 points per possession against them. But I’ll ask a similar question. No one on North Carolina, apart from Marcus Paige, has shown the ability to make a three, and Kentucky has the second best two-point field goal defense in the country. Which will give first: Kentucky’s defense or North Carolina’s offense?

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