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Aaron Torres’ Take

Why Tomorrow’s Mississippi State Game is the Most Important of Kentucky’s Season

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

The rollercoaster that is the 2018-2019 Kentucky Wildcats season took another wild spin this weekend, when the Wildcats picked up a massive road win at Auburn on Saturday night.

The victory was everything that any Kentucky fan could have hoped for when the season began. Ashton Hagans was the fiery (and at times, potty-mouthed) leader that this team needs. Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson made clutch shot after clutch shot, and PJ Washington did all the little things needed down low to help the team win. Most importantly, Kentucky was a team that showed no fear. Auburn didn’t get back in the game because of some Kentucky meltdown, but instead because they are a big-time team that made big-time plays. But to Kentucky’s credit, every time the Tigers threw a punch, the Wildcats took it on the chin. Then they threw their own counterpunch until they knocked Auburn out for good and emerged with a massive victory.

Ultimately that was a gutty performance, and one that showed just how far this team has come. It also showed that when this club is locked in, there really aren’t any teams in college basketball they should fear. Kentucky already has a resume that includes wins at Auburn, at Louisville and against UNC on a neutral court, and by the way, that early win against UNC-Greensboro is better than most realize (Greensboro is currently sitting at 17-3 overall this season and in second place in their league standings). And with games this week against two more ranked foes, Mississippi State and Kansas, it isn’t inconceivable that the Wildcats could look up at this time next week and have just about the best resume in all of college basketball. Seriously, wins against Mississippi State and Kansas to go along with at Auburn, at Louisville and North Carolina would give the Wildcats just about the best resume in college hoops.

Of course to get that resume, they need to win both of those games.

And that my friends, brings me to the point of this article: To me, the Mississippi State game tomorrow night at Rupp Arena might just go down as the most important regular season game the Wildcats play all season long. That game will show us “who” this team. And what their ceiling truly is.

Now before we go further, I already know what some of you are thinking: “Torres, you so crazy!” Mississippi State isn’t even close to the biggest game on Kentucky’s schedule. The Wildcats have already played Duke, UNC and Louisville. They still have Kansas and two games left with Tennessee. How in the world is Mississippi State more important than those?

Well, the answer is simple really. No, Mississippi State isn’t Duke, UNC or Louisville. They certainly aren’t Tennessee or Kansas either. But what they are, is a good, veteran team that isn’t afraid to come into Rupp Arena and won’t be afraid of the “Kentucky” across the front of the Wildcats jerseys. The Bulldogs are a veteran, battle-tested team, with a senior point guard and four starters who are juniors or seniors. More importantly, at just 2-2 in the SEC with a gauntlet of games ahead, they absolutely have to win this game.

And to me, that’s why this game is so important for Kentucky, and why it will teach us so much about this team’s psyche and makeup: Will the Wildcats come out tough and hungry to pick up a win? Or coming off a massive road victory, will they come out with a sense of accomplishment and be too busy looking ahead to the weekend game against Kansas? Because I’ll tell you this: If Kentucky doesn’t come out focused tomorrow night, Mississippi State is good enough to pull off the upset.

That’s also why this game carries so much weight for the rest of the season. It isn’t about any one individual game, but instead, showing what the identity of this team is.

The bottom line is at this point, we already know Kentucky is a big game team. In their last three major games, against major teams, in major hostile environments, the Wildcats proved to be fearless. Wins at Louisville and Auburn are no joke, nor is a victory over North Carolina in Chicago. As we’ve learned, when the lights are bright, Kentucky comes out ready to go.

On the flip side, what we’ve also seen is that when it isn’t a major game and when the opponent isn’t quite so marquee, the Wildcats can also come out a little… meh. Remember, for all the excitement about the win at Auburn, this is also a team which fell behind 10-0 to Texas A&M before rallying back to win. This is the same team that fell behind to Vanderbilt as well. The Wildcats are also the same team that came out completely flat at Alabama and lost. Again, Mississippi State is not the kind of team you want to come out flat against, or fall behind by 10 or 12 points to. Do that and you will walk out of the arena with a loss.

And by the way, that doesn’t just go for Mississippi State, but just about everyone in the SEC. Sure, the focus right now is on Tennessee at the top of the standings. But make no mistake, there are plenty of others who will hand you a loss if you don’t come out ready to go, whether it’s LSU or Ole Miss, Florida, LSU, you name it. It also means that just as quickly as the good vibes of a win over Auburn or North Carolina can come, they can go with a two or a three game-losing streak. This Kentucky team is really good. But they aren’t invincible.

So who are the 2018-2019 Kentucky Wildcats?

A group who gets up for big games but can look past the lesser opponents?

Or a group full of dogs, who come out focused and ready to do whatever it takes to win every single time they take the court?

We’ll begin to find out on Tuesday night against Mississippi State.

(By the way, we spoke quite a bit about the Auburn game and what lies ahead for Kentucky on Monday’s Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Click here to download today’s episode, and go back and listen to Episode 104 when Mississippi State coach Ben Howland joined the show)


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 115: A Wild NFL Championship Sunday and College Basketball Saturday

We have ourselves one heck of an Aaron Torres Sports Podcast on Monday. Aaron and Nick are back, with a twist. The guys recorded just minutes after the end of the AFC Championship game, so whether you want it or not, you’re going to get some NFL talk in addition to all the college hoops that went down over the weekend. Highlights:
A quick look back at a wild Sunday in football: The guys couldn’t help but talk about an insane day of football before getting to hoops. Why, love or hate the Patriots you’ve got to respect Tom Brady after Sunday night’s wild comeback win. And, who is more hateable — Tom Brady or Bill Belichick? Also, why Aaron doesn’t blame the refs for the Saints loss to the Rams in the early game.
Now to the college hoops: The guys recap a wild weekend of college hoops. Why Kentucky’s win against Auburn was more impressive than most people realize — and just how high is the Wildcats ceiling going forward? Did we actually learn anything about Duke and Virginia following their game and is Virginia really any better-positioned to make the Final Four this year than in previous years? Also, is the honeymoon officially over for Archie Miller after a fourth straight loss for Indiana?

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.


An Opposing Coach Gives a Scouting Report on How to Beat Auburn

© Justin Ford | USATSI

While it’s probably a bit too early to say that the Kentucky Wildcats have “turned a corner,” there have been a lot of positive signs during their current three-game win streak. The Wildcats have ramped it up on defense allowing just 48 points per game over the last two, and Ashton Hagans is quickly emerging into the “next great John Calipari point guard.” It’s only mid-January and Kentucky is far from a complete team. But again, there are plenty of signs this group is headed in the right direction.

Still, we’ll find out just how far Kentucky has to go over the next eight days, with a brutal three-game stretch which includes three ranked teams. Kentucky will travel to Auburn this weekend, before facing Mississippi State and Kansas at home next week. There is no “magic number” on what their record needs to be over that stretch. But if they’re to be taken seriously as a team that can make a run to the Final Four, they probably need to win two out of three to feel good. If they win all three, it’s inarguable that Kentucky has arrived as a legit contender.

Ultimately though you can’t win all three unless you win the first one, which makes this weekend’s game at Auburn so crucial. To beat a Top 15 team on the road gives the Wildcats a resume boosting win they can carry all season. Add it in with wins that Kentucky already has at Louisville and against North Carolina on a neutral court and all of a sudden you’re talking about a nice little resume for the Wildcats.

So with that said, what will it take to beat the Tigers? Well, I’m glad you asked, as I decided to reach out to a coach who has faced Auburn this season to get a scouting report on them. Remember, I did this before the North Carolina game and, I hate to brag, but it seems pretty obvious that the Wildcats staff read my article. You know, since they dominated the Tar Heels from start to finish after all.

Can I go 2-for-2 and take Kentucky’s season to another level (Yes, I’m kidding)? We’ll find out, as here is what one anonymous coach who has faced Auburn this season said about the Tigers.

Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson will play a massive role on Saturday – but it will come on the defensive end

Hagans had a breakout game offensively in his return to Georgia Tuesday (where I’m not sure if you heard, but the home fans booed him) and Johnson is the team’s best long-term NBA prospect.

But while each has the ability to light up the opponent defensively, the key for Kentucky might be what Hagans and Johnson do on the other end of the court. Slowing down Auburn’s guards is key to success against the Tigers.

“What they really do, especially at home is they make so many transition three’s,” the coach said.
“They start hitting those transition threes and it ramps up their defensive energy and they just go on these runs, man. You’ll be in the game with them and then you’ll be down 20 because they went on a 12-0 run and made four threes. It’s amazing.”

While it’s impossible to know just how many of Auburn’s threes have come in transition, what is indisputable is that the Tigers are one of the best shooting teams in college basketball. Auburn is making just under 11 three-pointers per game, which is sixth most in the country and are doing it while shooting 36 percent as a team. Although that percentage isn’t through the roof, it’s pretty darn good when you realize just how many three’s they’ve actually attempted. Overall, five different players have hit at least 17 three’s this season for Auburn (in comparison, Kentucky has just two guys who have hit that mark, Johnson and Tyler Herro) with Bryce Brown and Jared Harper combining for 92.

For what Auburn does, the coach believes Harper is the best point guard in the country (“If I’m taking any point guard in the country, I’m taking him,” the coach said) and therefore it’s key that Hagans picks him up just as soon as he touches the ball.

Equally important is who picks up Brown, and where. That responsibility will likely fall on Johnson at least to start the game.

“To me, you’ve almost got to designate someone to find Bryce Brown in transition,” he said. “You’ve got to find Brown because if you watch the film, he’s so good at running and catching hit aheads in space.  And his range is unlimited.”

But it’s not just the guards who hit threes

While Brown and Harper key the offensive attack, what makes Auburn so deadly is that – depending on the lineup – just about anyone on the court can beat you with the deep ball.

The Tigers are the rare team that has big guys that can run the floor and hit three’s, meaning that picking up the big guys in transition isn’t just about the guards – but the post players as well.

“[Anfernee] McLemore can step out and hit threes,” the coach said. “Obviously [Chuma] Okeke can step out and hit threes. Horace Spencer isn’t a great shooter but he can step out and make some.”

The numbers back up the coach.

On the season, Okeke, a 6’8 forward has tallied 17 made three-pointers and McLemore – who is battling back from a season-ending injury from last year – has made seven. He made 18 last season while shooting 39 percent from behind the arc.

So Okeke and McLemore are the big guys who can really hurt Kentucky. Which is also why they better pray…

(more…)


Why It’s Idiotic To Tell Zion Williamson to “Shut It Down” For the Season

Why It’s Idiotic To Tell Zion Williamson to “Shut It Down” For the Season

One of the frustrating things about covering college sports is that we spend way too much time arguing about stupid debates that never have a clear-cut solution. Should college athletes be paid a salary? Is it time to expand the College Football Playoff to eight teams? How the hell did Tom Crean get himself another good job so quickly?

Ok, that last one isn’t really a big-time debate, but the rest are, and the latest debate that we can’t seem to escape is the one about players sitting out games to protect their health and draft stock. We’ve seen it across college football these last few years, where plenty of guys have elected to skip meaningless bowl games to protect their health (Of course what no one talks about is the number of guys who do elect to play in meaningless bowl games. You know, like Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and LSU’s Devin White. Just as an example).

And now apparently we’re seeing the debate extend to college basketball too.

That’s because on Wednesday, Scottie Pippen dropped an all-time awful take when he said that Zion Williamson should sit out the rest of the college basketball season to protect himself. Here’s what Pippen said:

“I think he’s locked up the biggest shoe deal, I think he’s definitely going to be the No. 1 pick, I think he’s done enough for college basketball that it’s more about him personally. I think for him as a young player, I would shut it down. I would stop playing because I feel he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.”

https://twitter.com/Rachel__Nichols/status/1085590673510653952?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1085590673510653952&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbssports.com%2Fcollege-basketball%2Fnews%2Fscottie-pippen-thinks-dukes-zion-williamson-should-shut-it-down-and-prepare-for-draft%2F

This take is so dumb, for so many reasons that I’m going to get to here in a moment.

But before I do that, let me say one thing: I really hate this crap. I really hate when adults (especially those who don’t cover college sports) project themselves onto kids that they’ve never met, and act like they know what is best for them. The bottom-line is that Zion Williamson has two more months and about 20 games of college basketball where he can enjoy being a kid. Then he will be thrust into a grown man’s world in the NBA where there are contract demands to meet and sponsors to please. And because of it, I wish Pippen and all the other “experts” who think they know what’s best for Williamson would just leave him alone and let Zion enjoy these final few moments of being a kid.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to all the reasons why Pippen’s take is idiotic. To use the famous quote, “Let me count the ways.” And believe me, there are many.

For starters, the number one thing that drives me crazy about this “injury debate” is that there actually is no “debate” at all. The bottom line is that I’ve been watching college basketball for well over 20 years now, and unless I’m forgetting something, I literally can’t remember one instance of a player suffering a career-ending injury in college. There have been nicks and bumps and injuries that have cost players a game, or the remainder of a season, but never their entire career.

I’ll go ahead and avoid going into each gruesome injury one by one, but I feel pretty confident saying this: There isn’t a single injury that Zion Williamson could suffer on the basketball court that would end his career. Not one. This isn’t 1968. It’s 2019. Modern medicine is too good. So let’s stop with the “injury risk.” There is no real risk at all.

As a matter of fact, I’ll take it a step further: Not only is there not an injury that Zion can suffer that will end his NBA career, I also don’t think there is a single injury that could even hurt his draft stock. Even if, God forbid something bad happened to him on the court (and again, I’m not going to get into particulars) I see absolutely zero scenario where he would fall beyond the second pick in the draft. None.

Sound crazy? Let’s back it up with a little thing I like to call “facts.”

And those facts are this: Does anyone remember what happened during the 2013 college basketball season? When Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending ACL injury. It was an injury which in 1968 would have cost Noel is his career, but thankfully was easily fixable 50 years later. It was such a non-issue as a matter of fact, that despite Noel missing the end of his college season and the risk that he wouldn’t be ready for his rookie year, he still went No. 6 overall in the NBA Draft. A major injury literally had no impact on his draft stock at all. Same thing a year later with Joel Embiid. He missed all of the Big 12 Tournament for Kansas and their two NCAA Tournament games that year too. By the time the draft rolled around it was clear that he would miss his rookie year as well. And he still went No. 3 overall. And some people still thought at that time it was too low.

So again, the narrative that Zion could suffer an injury that could cost him his career just isn’t accurate. Even if something bad were to happen (and again, we’re all praying it doesn’t), he has too much talent and too much marketability go any worse than No. 2 in the draft. And that’s only if some team is head over heels in love with R.J. Barrett.

Now, beyond just the fake “injury debate” that doesn’t exist, let’s also consider another thing that Pippen seemed to miss on. I’m going to assume that part of his “Hey, Zion should shut it down” hot take comes from seeing all those football players sit out bowl games.

Except here’s the thing: Let’s never forget that while we’ve had plenty of guys sit out meaningless bowl games, we still haven’t had a single player sit out of a College Football Playoff game. So you’re telling me that football players, with less market value and greater risk of injury, are willing to play for a championship, but Zion shouldn’t be? Get the hell out of here.

Now look, it’d be one thing if Zion had a growing list of nagging injuries or there were real concerns about his ability to stay healthy. I’d never blame him if he wanted to protect his future if that were the case.

But those things don’t exist. So asking him to sit out when his team has a shot to compete for a championship basically goes against everything that every athlete has ever been taught. I’m not trying to get on my whole “Put the team before yourself” soapbox, because I don’t buy that. I do think however it’s easy for Pippen to sit in a TV studio and say things that he doesn’t really believe. For example, Pippen has a son who just committed to Vanderbilt. Let’s say one day his son is good enough to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Assuming his son is healthy, do you really think there is any chance that Pippen would tell his kid to shut it down and get ready for the draft?

I’m sorry, but I just don’t think he would. Which makes the take even worse. It’s disingenuous and it was said to make a headline rather than because it’s what he really believed.

The good news is that by all accounts, Zion doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. He seems to genuinely enjoy playing at Duke and genuinely enjoy playing with his teammates. And I just can’t imagine any world where he decides to shut it down unless something unexpected happens.

Which makes me happy.

Not just because I enjoy watching him play. But because as I said at the top, Zion only has about 20 games and two months to enjoy being a kid, before he will be off to a grown man’s world.

And I hope he enjoys every last second of it.


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 114: College Hoops with Jon Rothstein


It’s the middle of January and college hoops is in full swing, which means it’s the perfect time to download the podcast that’s sweeping America, the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast! Aaron welcomes on CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein to the show to talk all the biggest topics in the sport. But first, Aaron rides solo, hitting on a few topics the guys missed. Today’s rundown:

— Can Duke win a national title without point guard Tre Jones who went out with injury?

— Why Kentucky has a lot of positives heading into this weekend’s showdown with Auburn.

— Aaron goes after Penny Hardaway for his idiotic comments on Rick Barnes.

— Rothstein explains why Virginia might FINALLY be different this year; but different enough to make the Final Four?

— Jon explains why the Pac-12 is such a mess, and what needs to be fixed before it joins the rest of the elite conferences. Also, is UCLA headed for a disappointing hire for its new head coach? Jon thinks so.

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 113: Louisville and Kentucky win + Tennessee does the Gator Chomp

We are officially in the heart of college hoops season and there’s no better way to take it all in than by listening to a new episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Aaron is joined by his buddy Nick Coffey to talk about all the big topics from the weekend, like…
Louisville Beats North Carolina — Does it say more about the Cards or the Tar Heels, who are struggling right now?
Where’s P.J.?  Kentucky won, but P.J. Washington had another poor performance. Will Washington ever figure it out before he departs Lexington?
Gator Bait — Do they have a problem with Tennessee’s postgame Gator Chomp in Gainesville?  Nick and Aaron also talk about Duke’s wild win, why Gonzaga is just different this year and Kyler Murray’s future.

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.


The SEC is Better Than Expected: Here’s What it Means for Kentucky

As we reach the midway point of the college basketball season, there have been no shortage of stunning results so far. Villanova lost to Furman. New Mexico walloped Nevada the other night. Texas Southern, coached by the immortal Johnny Jones, has beaten Baylor, Oregon and Texas A&M.

Wait… WHAT????? Yes, that actually happened. And the list goes on and on.

Yet I can genuinely say that one of the most stunning results that I’ve personally seen this season came Wednesday night when Auburn traveled to Ole Miss. The Tigers came into the game ranked No. 11 in the country and had won eight of their previous nine entering the game. They walked out with an 82-67 loss to an Ole Miss team that was picked to finish last in the SEC preseason polls. Yes, the team that was picked to finish last in the SEC standings, just kicked the #&#*%&$ out of a team that many (or at least me) thought was capable of going to the Final Four.

And as I look at that result, I realize that it might be a reflection of something I could have never seen coming, even as recently as last week. Understand, I’m the guy who just seven days ago said that the SEC had a clear Top 4 of Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi State and then a big drop-off after that.

Now, one week into SEC play I can say I was definitively wrong. The SEC is way deeper than I imagined. And since this is a Kentucky fan site, it brings me to this: If Kentucky doesn’t come out focused and ready to play in just about every conference game they play, they are capable of being beaten.

Again, this isn’t something I envisioned, and to be blunt, there were reasons to doubt some of these teams just a week or two ago. Beyond the clear-cut Top 4 (Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, Mississippi State) everybody else looked wishy-washy at various points throughout the preseason. Some, like Alabama took bizarre losses (in their case, Northeastern and Georgia State). Others, like Ole Miss just didn’t have any good wins (outside of Baylor, nothing moved the needle). And still others were just bad. Yeah, I’m looking at you, South Carolina.

Only fast-forward to the beginning of conference play and it’s clear that the rising tide of conference play has lifted all boats. Again, the stats back me up on this. Of the 14 teams in the league, 10 have already taken at least one loss through one or two games in league play. Only three teams who have played two games have started 2-0. They include Tennessee, the preseason favorite, but also South Carolina (which was picked to finish 12th in the league) and Ole Miss (picked to finish 14th).

Yes, the teams that were picked to finish 12th and 14th are a combined 4-0 in league play. Meanwhile, three of the four teams who were ranked in this week’s AP Poll (Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi State) have already taken at least one loss in league play.

Welcome to the SEC, where it just means more. And where no one is safe.

(By the way, one quick random side note and I’ll get back to Kentucky. But let me start by saying: Shout out to Kermit Davis and Ole Miss. Look, we all thought that the Rebels would be improved this year… but nobody thought it would be like this. Ole Miss finished last season at 12-20 overall and in last place in the SEC. They have already matched that win total and thanks to the Auburn win and now sit at 12-2 overall. I still don’t think that Ole Miss will end up in the NCAA Tournament, but if they do, just hand Kermit Davis National Coach of the Year. Because NOBODY saw this coming)

Ok, now back to Kentucky, and why I am bringing this all up: It’s because if the Wildcats take the court with the intensity they have against Alabama and early against Texas A&M (before they got right) they will be beat on most nights.

Again, it was hard to see this coming. Entering into SEC play, I really did think that outside Tennessee and maybe Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State, Kentucky could basically “out-talent” anyone in the league.

Now? Not so much.

We’ve already seen the Wildcats lose to Alabama, LSU is really good and all of a sudden, Ole Miss is no pushover. Missouri played Tennessee tough at home the other day, and Kentucky will have to travel to Columbia to face the Tigers on the road. Florida is one of the top defensive teams in college basketball (not the SEC, college basketball) and Kentucky will play them twice, which is no easy feat. The Wildcats will also play Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State twice as well, a sign that maybe the SEC office cares more about making marquee TV matchups than what’s best for its leagues teams (seriously, sticking Kentucky in home-and-homes with the league’s three top teams including non-traditional rivals will almost certainly only hurt the Wildcats and their seeding come March).

It also means that Kentucky needs to bring their best game every night, because realistically there don’t appear to be a ton of wins if the Wildcats don’t show up ready to go. Here are the teams that are just plain bad in the SEC: Texas A&M (who Kentucky has already played for the only time this season, Vanderbilt (who Kentucky plays this weekend. They then travel to Memorial Gym later in the year), Georgia (the Wildcats travel to Athens next week) and maybe Arkansas. That’s really it. And I’m not even totally sure Arkansas is bad at that point.

So that’s basically five games that should be no-doubt-about-it, roll-out-the-ball-and-do-your-thing wins. Every other game will likely be an absolute dog fight.

On a positive note, the schedule does open favorably for UK. Of those five seemingly winnable games, three will come in the first four games of SEC play. Kentucky should take care of Vanderbilt and Georgia in the next two days, and should enter Auburn at 3-1 in league play next Saturday.

But after that…. Man do things get hard, and they don’t really get any easier at any point going forward.

The good news is that I still believe Kentucky is talented enough to beat anyone left on the schedule (yes, even Tennessee).

But they also better buckle their chinstraps, because if they’re serious about winning an SEC title, the road won’t be easy.


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 111: College Football Championship + College Hoops Recap

Just as college football winds down, college hoops is heating up.  It’s the perfect time for a new episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast! Aaron is first joined by Nick Coffey to talk Monday night’s title game, before he rides solo to talk Kentucky, Tennessee and all the big college hoops topics. Here’s what you need to know about today’s show:
A recap of the College Football National Championship: Yes, the game is now 24 hours old, but it’s never too late to talk about Clemson’s stunning win against Alabama on Monday night. Aaron explains why this was a once-in-a-generation team at Clemson, and why no one should be surprised by Monday’s result. Also, is Trevor Lawrence the best college QB prospect they’ve ever seen? And Aaron explains why it’s idiotic to say Alabama’s dynasty is “dead.”
College Hoops Recap After a Big Tuesday: Next, Aaron recaps all the big storylines in college hoops from Tuesday night. He discusses Kentucky’s win, what the biggest positives were and the one, big negative that NEEDS to get figured out. Aaron also explains why Tennessee proved that they’re the best team in college basketball Tuesday night. And finally, do both NC State and UNC have positives to take out of the Tar Heels win in Raleigh on Tuesday night?

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.


To Reach Its Potential, Kentucky Needs More Consistency From PJ Washington

On Saturday afternoon, Kentucky lost to Alabama. The good news was that this wasn’t one of those “the sky is falling, Kentucky is screwed beyond belief, just go ahead and cancel the rest of the season” kind of losses. Instead, it was more one of those “Kentucky is everyone’s Super Bowl, if they don’t come to play every single night on the road, they can get beat,” games instead.

No, the Alabama loss isn’t about doom-and-gloom, but it did once again spotlight some weaknesses for the Wildcats that seem to show up every now and again. For one, Reid Travis can at times struggle against other team’s length down low, and it happened again this weekend. Kentucky’s three-point shots don’t always fall, and they certainly didn’t Saturday in Tuscaloosa (the Wildcats finished 5 for 18 from beyond the arc). And most nights, you Kentucky really just has no idea what you’re going to get from P.J. Washington.

More than anything, that last one would be my biggest concern if I were a Kentucky fan. And it’s something that John Calipari absolutely has to get figured out: What’s up with P.J. Washington? And why does no one– including seemingly P.J. Washington himself – have no idea what he will bring to the court on any given night?

It is the single most important question surrounding Kentucky in my opinion. And if the Wildcats want to reach their potential as a national championship caliber team (a run I still believe they’re capable of making), they will need to figure out an answer to the question.

Now I already know what some of you are thinking: “Aaron, this feels like the wrong time to bring up P.J. Washington since, you know, he was arguably Kentucky’s best player on Saturday against Alabama. He finished with a team-high 15 points and chipped in seven boards as well.”

Fair, but to anyone who watched the game, you know that of those 15 points, nine came late in the final seven minutes right? And they came at a time when Kentucky was down double-digits and Alabama was (for lack of a better term) in a prevent defense. It also highlights exactly what I just said above: You really never know what you’re going to get from P.J. Washington this season. A near 30-point performance? Eight points and no energy at all? Somewhere in between? No one knows. Including, again, Washington.

The only consistency is inconsistency, and a sad, mopey face doing it. And the numbers back me up, as here are Washington’s stat lines in the last four games:

Alabama: 15 points, seven rebounds, 0 blocks
Louisville: 5 points, eight rebounds, four blocks
North Carolina: 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assistants
Utah: 9 points, four rebounds
Seton Hall: 29 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four blocks

Mercy. This dude is more inconsistent than summer weather in Florida.

The sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington has proven that he can be consistent, and that he can play with a chip on his shoulder. He did it last year, when – to his credit – he brought it every single, darn night. He wasn’t always great, but did always hustle, play hard, crash the boards and do all the little things to win.

This year he’s been the exact opposite: He’s shown a much better all-around game, but again has no real consistency. Some nights he plays with the fire in his belly he had last year – though if we’re being honest, I really can’t think of too many instances where that has been the case. Instead, he has spent most of this season moping around like his puppy just got run over by a car. And if this really is about impressing NBA scouts, well, here is a quick warning to Washington: NBA scouts watch everything you do. Believe me, I talk to them all the time. And while part of “impressing the NBA folks” is about showing off a more complete game, stepping out and hitting three’s, all that stuff, you know what else it is about? Effort and attitude. Yes, the NBA cares about stuff like that as well.

And right now the right attitude isn’t there and neither is the effort – at least most of the time. What’s especially maddening is that it can be, when Washington decides he wants to show it off. Anyone else besides me remember that Seton Hall game, when Washington caught the ball on the block time and time again, and the Pirates couldn’t do anything? How they had no answer for him? I watch a TON of college basketball and can tell you that it was one of the best performances I’ve seen by anyone, all season.

I’d also add that even during that game though, the announcers Gus Johnson and Jim Jackson even mentioned that Washington himself admitted that he can be difficult to motivate at times. That his dad knew how to push his buttons when he coached him in high school, but that it was different in college.

Well P.J. here is a quick heads up: Want to get angry? Want to get fired up? Well, you’re going to be plenty fired up when your NBA Draft stock falls because you’re not showing enough consistency.

Thankfully for Washington it hasn’t happened yet, and I will give him credit for one thing: Late in the Kentucky-Bama game, when the Wildcats were making their run and Washington was getting his buckets, he seemed to take on a more active, leadership role. As Kentucky battled back into the game, Washington was barking out instructions, telling guys where to go… all the things a leader needs to do.

Hopefully it was a positive sign of what’s ahead for Washington.

For Kentucky to reach its potential, they’ll need that attitude from Washington every night.


A Full SEC Basketball Preview Heading into Conference Play

Another checkpoint on the road to the Final Four will be marked off this weekend, as SEC basketball will tip-off yet another season on Saturday. A league that saw a record eight teams make the NCAA Tournament last season is looking to see if it can repeat history or possibly top it. In the process they’re trying to prove once and for all that the SEC Basketball Revolution is in fact real my friends.

So with the league tipping things off with Kentucky at Alabama at 1 p.m. ET tomorrow, and four more conference games to follow, what do you need to know?

Here’s your SEC season review heading into conference play.

The Favorite: Tennessee

If you want to make the case that there should be co-favorites between Tennessee and Kentucky or even tri-favorites with the Vols, Wildcats and Auburn, I will hear no objection. But right now the Vols are both playing as well as anyone in the conference, with the wins to back to it up. They have beaten both Gonzaga and Louisville on a neutral court, and destroyed everyone else on their schedule, with their only loss coming in overtime to Kansas, in a game where their best player Grant Williams fouled out.

What’s most interesting to me about Tennessee however, is this: Despite splitting the SEC regular season title with Auburn last year, it appears as though just about everyone has gotten better for the Vols. Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year has actually seen his numbers jump in every major category (he’s averaging an absurd, 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks per game) and Admiral Schofield is dropping a cool 18 points a game on 51 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent shooting from three.

And when you add in that Jordan Bone, Kyle Alexander and Lamonte Turner are all averaging double-figures as well, it means that the Vols aren’t just the favorite to win the SEC, but a threat to cut down the nets in Minneapolis as well.

Coming on Strong: Kentucky

Again, if you want to make the case that based on what we’ve seen the last two weeks from Kentucky they’ll end up winning the regular season title I’m not going to argue with you. Quietly all the pieces have come together for the Wildcats in wins over North Carolina and Louisville the last two weeks, with Ashton Hagans taking over at point guard, Tyler Herro hitting his threes and everything else falling into place. I especially like the fact that the Louisville win came on the road. It will prepare them for life on the road in the SEC, where every game is the opponent’s Super Bowl.

Considering I’ve written a ton about Kentucky the last few weeks, I won’t bore you with too much more here.

But if you told me that the Wildcats eventually took home the SEC regular season title, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

© Justin Ford | USATSI

They’re riiiiiiiight there, but we need to see a little more: Auburn and Mississippi State

The Tigers and Bulldogs basically have the same resume at that point: Two teams that we all thought were legit, Top 15-20ish teams coming into the season and have done nothing to dispel that theory. They also don’t have that one, signature win on their resume that makes us say “Oh, OK. They’ve arrived!”

Auburn of course feels the realer of the two, mainly because they’ve been there before. They are the reigning SEC co-champs after all. But when you really look at the Tigers schedule, they have played one real game since the end of the Maui Invitational and lost it in ugly fashion (at NC State). Their best wins (against Washington and Arizona) also don’t look nearly as impressive as when they happened. You know, since the Pac-12 is terrible and all.

It’s kind of the same with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs actually enter SEC play with the best record overall in conference (12-1) and to their credit, have racked up a slew of B- to B+ wins (Cincinnati, Clemson, BYU, at Dayton). But they just don’t have that one win that jumps off the page and says “Oh, they’re legit.”

Ultimately, this isn’t a knock on either team. Both will be in the NCAA Tournament and both will be threats once they get there. Right now, it’s just tough to say whether either is really a threat to win the SEC regular season title or not.

Young and Still Figuring It Out: LSU

LSU might just be the hardest team to peg in this league. If I’m being 100 percent honest, it’s kind of hard for me to tell if they’ve overachieved early in the season, underachieved or are right where they’re supposed to be.

What a world, huh?

On the “overachieved” side, they are still one of the youngest teams in college basketball, with basically their entire rotation made up of freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors and still sit at 10-3 overall entering league play. On the “underachieved” side, it doesn’t feel like anyone is really playing particularly well except Skylar Mays right now, and you could argue Tremont Waters has been one of the most disappointing players in all of college basketball this season. Waters was by far this team’s best player last year and was supposed to be helped by all the additional talent that arrived in Baton Rouge. Instead, he’s seen regression in basically every meaningful stat including points, assists and field goal percentage, while his turnovers have risen.

Then there is the “right where they’re supposed to be” side of things, and if I’d told any LSU fan they’d be 10-3 entering league play I’m guessing all of them would have taken it.

Still, something doesn’t seem totally right with this team. And therefore, anything ranging from an NCAA Tournament bid to “missing the NIT” wouldn’t surprise me with this group.

The Pleasant Surprise: Ole Miss

So, I’d like to take a poll of the room. Can I get a quick show of hands: How many of you had any idea that Ole Miss 10-2 entering SEC play?

Anyone?

Anyone?

That’s what I thought.

That’s also why it isn’t a stretch to say that the Rebels have been a pleasant surprise in Kermit Davis’ first season in Oxford. They’re playing hard and together and to their credit are winning.

Of course if you look at their schedule, they still haven’t beaten a power conference team and even some of the traditionally strong mid-majors they’ve beaten (Middle Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast) aren’t particularly strong this year.

The Rebels are a good story… for now. I wouldn’t expect it to last long.

Coming on Strong: Florida

Coming out of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving weekend, Florida was 3-3 overall and appeared headed to the NIT. But if history has told us anything it’s that Mike White always seems to figure it out, and it appears he’s done it again this season. Maybe all that sun got to the Florida players in the Bahamas, but they’ve been a completely different team since they’ve returned to the mainland with four wins in their last five games. That includes dominant victories over West Virginia and Butler, with their only loss coming to a Michigan State team which is ranked in the Top 10 right now.

The Gators do come with a Surgeon General’s Warning however: Watching them might be hazardous for your health. They rank 261st nationally in offense and are averaging just 71 points per game.

It might not be pretty basketball, but to their credit, the Gators are winning.

Wait and See Mode: Alabama and Arkansas

Entering the season, I had Alabama in my preseason Field of 68 and Arkansas just outside it. Now entering SEC play both are 9-3 but have gotten there in two completely different ways. And I’m not entirely sure what to make of either.

Let’s start with Bama who – to be blunt – was abysmal early in the season. They opened the year with an early loss to Northeastern in a Thanksgiving tournament and were left for dead after back-to-back losses to Central Florida and Georgia State. Both those schools are actually pretty good (UCF could potentially get an at-large out of the AAC and Georgia State is the favorite in their league as well) but still, those are not teams that a good, competitive, NCAA Tourney caliber SEC squad school lose to. Yet since those losses, the Tide has turned (bad pun, forgive me) and they have won four straight, knocking off both Arizona and Penn State at home.

Arkansas is the exact opposite. They rode the hot play of a couple young guys early and picked up a monumental win over Indiana back in November, and at one point were 7-1. Then the Hogs lost games to Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech (neither team is particularly good) and now, I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to make of them.

Actually, I don’t know what to make of Arkansas or Alabama. If either one made the NCAA Tournament, I wouldn’t be totally shocked. If they were sent to the NIT I wouldn’t be surprised either.

Playing well, but the injuries will pick up late: Vanderbilt and Missouri

I won’t bore you with too many details on either, because the bottom line is this: While both are playing well, each has lost its best player to a season-ending injury (Darius Garland at Vandy and Jontay Porter at Missouri). Since neither player is expected back this season, it makes it hard to take either one seriously as a realistic threat to make a run in the SEC.

Different coach, basically the same team: Georgia

Let me go ahead and give Tom Crean a little credit here. I crushed his hire when it happened, and I still don’t believe he is going to work at Georgia long-term. But he does have the Bulldogs playing hard. They are currently 8-4 overall and actually rank in the Top 20 nationally in field goal percentage defense. Defense is often about effort, meaning that again, to Crean’s credit, he does appear to be getting effort out of his guys.

AT the same time, Georgia is just 8-4 overall with 24-point loss to Georgia State on their resume (whoof) and a 15-point loss to Clemson. And their best win is against who exactly? Georgia Tech, who is the worst team in the ACC?

Tom Crean might have the ‘Dawgs playing hard. But they’re going to run into real talent soon. And it’s going to get ugly.

Oh, they bad: South Carolina and Texas A&M

Man, was it really just two seasons ago that South Carolina made the Final Four? It might as well have been 100 years ago with the way the Gamecocks are playing. South Carolina already has losses to Wofford, St. Bonaventure and at Wyoming. Not to mention that they’ve also lost to all the legitimately good teams on their schedule as well (Michigan, Virginia, Clemson etc.). The Gamecocks are the only team that will enter SEC play under .500.

Then there’s Texas A&M who is just above .500, but also a complete mess, just one season after making the Sweet 16 (although in defense of the Aggies, they were basically a mess all season last year as well, even if they did eventually make that Sweet 16 run). The Aggies have losses to UC-Irvine and Texas Southern on the schedule, with their best win coming against… Oregon State? Woof.

There’s got to be a basement in every major conference. And it looks like the Aggies and Gamecocks will be occupying it for most of the season.


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 110: Who will be the next UCLA hoops coach + Clemson-Alabama talk

It’s an all new Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, where Aaron gives you the best talk you’ll hear anywhere on the UCLA basketball opening, before Nick Coffey joins the show to talk about Alabama-Clemson and wrap up the 2018 college football season. Here are today’s topics:

The UCLA job is open – who is next: It’s been several days since the UCLA basketball job opened, but Aaron has insight on the gig you won’t hear anywhere else. Aaron explains why the job is unique, but still one of the best jobs in college basketball. He also explains the qualities that are needed to succeed in the gig. Finally, he tells you who he is hearing UCLA likes the most for the job – and who he would hire if he was UCLA. Yes, they are two very different people.

College Football Talk with Nick Coffey: Next, Aaron welcomes in Nick Coffey for the rare, back-of-show appearance for his buddy. The guys talk about all the latest in the college football world: Georgia talked a big talk on Twitter – and then didn’t back it up. Is that proof they don’t belong in the playoff? Aaron dispels the dumb narrative that ticket prices in the championship game are dropping because of lack of interest in the big game. And finally, Aaron and Nick preview Clemson-Bama and tell you who they think will win.

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.


Everything You Need to Know As We Head Into The Second Half of the College Hoops Season

Well kids, welcome to 2019. It’s January 2nd, and with bowl games basically complete and the NFL playoffs about to get underway it also means one thing: We have just about reached the point on the calendar when we turn our undivided attention to college basketball.

While it isn’t fair to say we’ve reached the “halfway point” of the college basketball season just yet (more like the “40 percent of the way there point”) what is fair to say is that this is the time of year where things in college hoops really heat up. Conference play has started in some leagues already and all others will kick-off this weekend. It’s time to separate the boys from the men, hide the small children and really get down to business to find out who are the pretenders and contenders in this sport.

Of course, if you’ve been distracted up until this point and not fully engrossed in college basketball, it’s easy to understand. Again, there has been a lot to distract you – college football, the NFL regular season, the holidays, spending an uncomfortable amount of time with your family etc. – but now it’s time to get back on track.

For those who need a quick recap of what you missed, and what’s to come, here is everything you need to know about college basketball so far:

There is no clear-cut best team in college basketball – but eight or nine who can all beat each other on any given night

If the early season portion of the college hoops season has taught us anything, it’s that the top of the sport is as healthy as ever. There isn’t any one great team, no one that is steamrolling the competition and separating itself from the pack. There are however probably eight or nine teams that are a cut above the rest and all capable of beating just about any of each other on any given night.

As I’ve stated for weeks, I actually think the best team in college basketball is Tennessee. The Vols are currently 11-1 with their only loss coming in overtime, against Kansas when Grant Williams fouled out of the game. Other than that, they have wins over Gonzaga and Louisville, with every victory besides those two coming by double-figures. The Vols can play fast or slow, small or big. They have no obvious weaknesses as best I can tell.

After the Vols, you can go in any particular order you want. Duke has been largely dominant outside their loss to Gonzaga, with (as we all know) wins over Kentucky, Auburn and Texas Tech among others. The Blue Devils still have holes (particularly three-point shooting) but can still flip a switch and dominate when they want to. Same with Virginia, who might actually have enough offense (for once) to make a real run this year, and Michigan is undefeated as well. It is fair to question just how good the Wolverines are however, since their two best wins (blowouts against Villanova and North Carolina) don’t look quite as good as when they happened.

Then there is Gonzaga, a team which I believe might just be the best in college basketball overall. Yes, they have losses to Tennessee and at North Carolina, but they were also down two key players in those games and logged an insane amount of travel in the out of conference portion of play (including 10,000 miles over a three-week stretch). Nevada is undefeated, and I truly believe a national championship threat, and let’s not forget about Kansas. The Jayhawks are 11-1 with probably the best collection of wins in college basketball (Tennessee, Michigan State, Marquette, Villanova) and the crazy part is that they basically only have two guys who are playing well right now (Dedric Lawson and LaGerald Vick). Can you imagine what they might be like if Quentin Grimes starts hitting shots? Or when Udoka Azibuke is back to 100 percent?

Oh, and there’s one team I haven’t mentioned. How about…

Kentucky, which is the total wild card to this entire college basketball season

My oh my how the tides have changed in Lexington huh? A few weeks ago everyone (and I, regrettably, include myself in that group) had given up on the Wildcats and wondered what was wrong with them. Two weeks later they are coming off wins over North Carolina and at Louisville. And once again, idiots like me are left wondering not what’s wrong with the Cats… but what’s wrong with ourselves, for doubting John Calipari?

Yup, I’m that dope and as time goes on, I think two things are clear with Kentucky: One, the trip to the Bahamas set the bar too high, and if anything, probably gave this group a false sense of just how good they are. I’d also add that I think the Duke loss set the bar too low on what realistic expectations are, and that it probably took several weeks for the Wildcats to recover from that. As I said at the time, I truly believed that Duke just might have played their best game of the season that night in Indianapolis, and as the season goes on it’s looking more and more like it.

So that’s the reality, but the good news is that over the last few weeks Kentucky has really hit its stride. Since Quade Green’s departure all the pieces have fit into place, with Ashton Hagans now the leader at point guard, and everyone else falling in line behind him. With Tyler Herro now hitting open shots it adds another element to this team and will make them more deadly going forward. If he (and to a smaller degree, Jemarl Baker) can hit deep three’s regularly it creates more spacing and driving opportunities for the guards on this team.

I’d also add that with those two big wins, everything is still on the table for Kentucky. The SEC is a bit down this year, which means there are more wins to be had (and fewer likely losses as well) and remember, Kentucky still has another major out of conference game when they welcome in Kansas at home. We’ll have to wait and see how the Wildcats fair against Tennessee and Auburn, but if the Wildcats can take down Kansas and show well in the SEC it’s impossible to say just how high their ceiling might be. Yes, that could even include a No. 1 seed in the Louisville region. And if the Wildcats can play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in Louisville, we all know how much easier the road to the Final Four could be from tehre.

A lot remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: All the goals Kentucky had at the beginning of the season are still ahead of them. Remind me again: Why did we doubt John Calipari?
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Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 109: Recap of College Football Playoff and Kentucky-Louisville

We had a wild weekend of sports – so what better way to re-live it all than with a new episode of the Aaron Torres Sports. Aaron and Nick Coffey break down all the action from the College Football Playoff and Louisville-Kentucky basketball! They discuss:

Bama’s win over Oklahoma: The Crimson Tide are headed back to the championship after a resounding win over Oklahoma. Was anything about the final result surprising? Also, did this game help or hurt the argument that Kyler Murray deserved the Heisman over Tua? Also, should Oklahoma fans feel better or worse about the state of their program after the loss to Bama?

Clemson advances too: The guys talk about Clemson’s easy win over Notre Dame as well. Aaron makes the argument that Notre Dame actually played Clemson tough early, before big plays doomed them. He also dispels the narrative that this game is proof that Notre Dame didn’t belong in the playoff and explains why anyone demanding an eight-team playoff can’t complain about the Irish’s loss yesterday.

Finally, Kentucky-Louisville talk: The guys wrap by discussing Kentucky’s dominant win over Louisville. The loss showed just how far the Cards have to go to become elite, and also shows how far Kentucky has come in a short amount of time. Aaron explains that all of a sudden the path is wide open for Kentucky, to a No. 1 seed and maybe more!

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.