Aaron Torres’ Take
By KSR on ©October 17th, 2019 @ 10:30am
We’ve got a great Aaron Torres Sports Podcast to get you into the weekend, as Aaron discusses all the comings and goings in college hoops and football, before welcoming CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish to the show. Here is the entire rundown of today’s show:
College Basketball News and Notes: Aaron opens the show by discussing a few major developments across college basketball, specifically, the Devin Askew commitment watch. Askew is set to commit on Thursday night. Aaron explains why he thinks Askew will choose Kentucky, reclassify to 2020 and what it means for the program. Also, how could it impact Cade Cunningham’s decision? Aaron then discusses the bizarre situation with N’Faly Dante at Oregon, before giving his Week 8 college football picks.
CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish Joins the Show to Discuss Memphis Hoops: There isn’t a more interesting topic in college hoops coming into the season than Memphis basketball, and Aaron welcomes on CBS Sports insider and Memphis native Gary Parrish to talk about the Tigers. Parrish discusses the excitement in the city over the Tigers, Penny Hardaway’s national championship prediction and how it all could go wrong. What is the floor and ceiling of this team? And also, what is both the good and bad impact, if the Tigers don’t have success this season? Finally, Parrish wraps up by talking some of the bigger topics in college hoops heading into the season.
Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or simply stream online through Spotify. Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.
In life, there are times when two completely different things can both be true. Take SEC basketball for example. It will never have the history or get the media love of the ACC or Big 12 (for reasons, unknown to me). But there is also no debating that no conference has taken a larger leap onto the national scale than this league either.
As the old saying goes “it just means more.” And that’s certainly the case in SEC hoops.
The facts aren’t debatable.
Three years ago, this league sent three teams to the Elite Eight. In 2018, they sent a league record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, it was seven NCAA Tournament teams, with four in the Sweet 16, two in the Elite Eight and one in the Final Four. Oh, and if things weren’t crazy enough, in a league where there were already seven coaches who’ve made a Final Four (SEVEN!!), Alabama (Nate Oats, Arkansas (Eric Musselman) and Texas A&M (Buzz Williams) all made major coaching upgrades this off-season.
So why do I bring that up? It’s because as the media descends upon Birmingham for SEC Media Day today, it’s clear that this league has never been stronger. And it has never been harder to figure out.
Below is my 2019-2020 SEC preview. But if I’m being perfectly honest, after speaking with coaches both across the league and the country, this might be the toughest conference in the country to figure out. After you get past the top three (Kentucky, Florida and LSU) there really isn’t all that much difference between any of these teams.
Therefore, don’t get mad if I have your team a spot or two lower than other media members. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the team picked to finish sixth this year could finish 11th, and the team picked to finish 11th could finish fourth or fifth. The SEC is insanely deep this year and all but impossible to predict.
Still, with SEC Media Day today, let’s do our best to make sense of these rankings:
1) Kentucky Wildcats
Key Returnees: Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards
Key Departures: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro
Key Additions: Tyrese Maxey, Kalil Whitney, Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen, Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina (grad transfer)
I’ve written about Kentucky so much this off-season, that I’m just ready for things to tip-off and for there to be actual games to react to. But in case I haven’t made it abundantly clear in all my other preseason writing, I really like the makeup of this team.
I like that that for the first time in a long time, the Wildcats have veterans. I like that they have a chance to be elite defensively, with Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley at the top of the key. And I like that they could be John Calipari’s best three-point shooting team ever with Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina, Quickley and Maxey.
Honestly, there is a lot to like here and not all that much weakness (maybe another big man, but I personally don’t think that’s as big a deal as others do). Because of it, I see no reason why the Wildcats won’t win their fourth SEC regular season title in the last six years.
2) Florida Gators
Key Returnees: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Keyontae Johnson
Key Departures: KeyVaughn Allen, Kevarrius Hayes, Jalen Hudson, Keith Stone (transfer)
Key Additions: Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Kerry Blackshear Jr. (grad transfer)
Listen, we all know the story here. The Gators’ backcourt was already loaded, and the one thing that they were missing – at least as of three months ago – was size down low. And Florida flipped that narrative when they got the best big man available on the grad transfer market, Kerry Blackshear, to come to Gainesville.
Now, when you add Blackshear to a team that already had a steady point guard (Andrew Nembhard), elite shooting with Noah Locke and a potential shutdown perimeter player in Scottie Lewis, you have a team that is not only capable of winning the SEC, but also winning the national championship.
Nembhard will have be more consistent than he was a year ago, but that’s really just being nitpicky if anything. The Gators are absolutely loaded headed into the season.
Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 189: Georgia is Upset, College Football goes Crazy + Cade Cunningham Update
By KSR on ©October 14th, 2019 @ 1:40pm
It was a busy weekend on the gridiron, as Aaron dedicates almost all of Monday’s Aaron Torres Pod to a WILD weekend in college football. Georgia choked and Aaron is gloating, LSU and Oklahoma show they might be “national title good” and poor Texas A&M isn’t even close to Bama. Aaron wraps the show by discussing a development in the recruitment of five-star Cade Cunningham, the No. 2 ranked player in high school basketball.
Here is a rundown of today’s show:
Georgia Chokes and College Football goes Crazy: Aaron takes a victory lap, as his arch nemesis Georgia choked away a game between the hedges against South Carolina. Aaron explains why they’re the “Enron of college football,” a fraud who built its entire reputation on close losses to Bama, and how this proves they’re actually no where close to Bama. Then Aaron talks about how LSU’s offense and Oklahoma’s defense prove that they might have what it takes to win the title, and why Texas A&M may be getting as little return on its investment as anyone in college football.
Cade Cunningham to Kentucky? Finally Aaron wraps with a development in the recruitment of Cade Cunningham, the No. 2 ranked player in high school basketball. With Evan Daniels’ Crystal Ball now showing that the Wildcats may land Cunningham Aaron explains what he’s hearing, what kind of player has and what impact Cunningham could have in Lexington next year. Could a Cunningham, Terrence Clarke, BJ Boston headlined recruiting class be on par with the Zion/RJ Barrett/Cam Reddish Duke class from a year ago? Aaron thinks so.
Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or simply stream online through Spotify. Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.
Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 188: ACC Basketball Media Day + Monster CFB Weekend Preview + College Hoops Mailbag
By KSR on ©October 10th, 2019 @ 1:00pm
Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or simply stream online through Spotify. Don’t forget to follow the show on Instagram too.
People, we have just about made it: This past Saturday marked the one-month countdown to the start of college basketball season. Yes, you read that correctly. Less than a month from now, Duke will play Kansas, Kentucky will play Michigan State, and the start of the greatest sport in the world will be officially underway.
And man, it couldn’t come a moment sooner.
It feels like a lifetime since Virginia cut down the nets and was crowned the 2019 national champs, and boy oh boy, has a lot of stuff changed since then. Mick Cronin left Cincinnati for UCLA, John Beilein left Michigan for the NBA, RJ Hampton left Texas for Australia, and some of the biggest stars in the sport left college for the NBA. Meanwhile, Sean Miller and Will Wade haven’t gone anywhere (remember when everyone assumed both would be gone by the middle of the summer?) and Bill Self is having to explain why he had strippers – excuse me, acrobatic dancers – at Midnight Madness.
What a world. And who could have predicted all that when last season ended?
Yet even with the change, the one thing that remains the same is that there is sooooo much excitement across the country entering the year. Sure, the faces changed, but the sport remains the same fun, unpredictable, rollercoaster ride it always is.
But we are now in October, and it isn’t “Way Too Early” anymore. It’s not even early. It’s just here. Here are those picks.
1) Michigan State Spartans
Key Returnees: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Kyle Ahrens, Xavier Tillman
Key Departures: Nick Ward, Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins
Key Additions: Malik Hall, Rocket Watts, Julius Marble
Michigan State was No. 1 the day the season ended, No. 1 in May and is No. 1 now. And it’s really no big secret why. Cassius Winston is a National Player of the Year candidate, Aaron Henry is an emerging star on the wing and Xavier Tillman is a force down low. Rocket Watts, Malik Hall and Julian Marble are freshmen who add depth to this squad.
Understand, there are still issues in East Lansing (mostly surrounding the health of last year’s second leading scorer Joshua Langford) but those issues are relative when we’re talking about the Spartans.
Michigan State still has the best player in the country (Winston), depth, and the experience that is on par with just about every recent national champion (Virginia, Villanova, North Carolina).
Michigan State is the team to beat heading into the season.
2) Kentucky Wildcats
Key Returnees: Ashton Hagans, E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley
Key Departures: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Jemarl Baker
Key Additions: Tyrese Maxey, Kalil Whitney, Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen, Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina (transfer)
In watching Kentucky’s Pro Day workouts the other day, I couldn’t help but think two things: This team has the chance to be both the best defensive team John Calipari has had since he got to Kentucky, and also the best three-point shooting team. There is no obvious star, but I do believe that with natural development, Ashton Hagans and EJ Montgomery can each be First-Team All-SEC type players, and Tyrese Maxey could end up as the best freshman in the SEC. Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina and Keion Brooks also looked farther along that I anticipated as well.
All of that is a long-winded way me saying that I not only like Kentucky’s talent this year, but their experience (they haven’t had this much in a long time) and how all the pieces fit together. It’s been five years since Kentucky last made a Final Four, but this Wildcats’ squad has all the pieces to not only get there, but win it all.
We are now less than a month from the start of college basketball and…
Wait, a second now.
Let me repeat that again for emphasis.
We are now… less… than… a month… from… COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!
That’s right, with games tipping off November 6th (including a pretty important double-header at Madison Square Garden that night) it means that we are officially under the one-month watch for the start of the best sport in the world.
And if there was any doubt at just how close we’re getting, it came on Sunday, when Kentucky hosted its annual “Pro Day.” While Pro Day has no real significance to the college hoops season, it is the unofficial marker that the season is right around the corner. It’s kind of like when the groundhog peeks its head out every February 2nd to let you know that spring is coming. Only is this case, replace the groundhog’s head, with the flowing silver hair atop John Calipari’s head and that what you’ve got.
Still, make no mistake: While Pro Day has no major, tangible, significance, it also does hold value, as an important first look at the Kentucky Wildcats every season. Meaning there are still some things to take out of Sunday’s event.
So, after watching Sunday night’s telecast, what did we learn?
Here are 10 things:
This Might Be John Calipari’s Best Defensive Team Ever
We’re now a decade into the John Calipari experience at Kentucky, and because of it, I always hesitate to say things like “This has the potential to be Calipari’s best fill-in-the-blank” ever. After all, he’s had a lot of “bests” over the last 10 years, no matter what the category is.
But when I saw this team on the court Sunday, I really did think “Man, this team has a chance to be special defensively.”
Now obviously, this team won’t have the look of other elite defensive teams under Calipari – there is no Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel or Willie Cauley-Stein down low to protect the rim and block shots. But the one thing that Kentucky does have is a group of mean, nasty defensive-minded guards at the top of the key, and wings with the length and versatility to give opponents nightmares everywhere else.
By the way, if you watched Sunday night, did you see how much trouble Kentucky’s players had getting into offense against that team? And those are guys who go against each other every day in practice. Can you imagine how hard it will be for opponents, who don’t see that size, length and athleticism every day?
(On the flip side, can you imagine how much easier it will be for Kentucky to run its own offense when it isn’t going against a crew of 7-foot wingspan monsters?)
One other note here: Over the course of the off-season, the narrative with this team has been that they are “one big man short” and needed additional size and rim protection.
Well, you know what’s the best way to negate a lack of size and rim protection down low? Don’t let the opposing team’s guards get to the rim – something Kentucky will be extremely good at this season.
This Also Might Be John Calipari’s Best Three-Point Shooting Team in a Long Time
For years Coach Cal has openly spoken about how he was changing the make-up of his team to add more shooting. How in modern basketball, you truly need to be position-less, and need a roster full of guys who can dribble, pass and shoot to be successful.
Well, after years of talking about it, Calipari finally has the roster to match that sentiment. And because of it, this Kentucky team has the chance to be the best three-point shooting team of the Calipari era as well. Johnny Juzang is lights out. Nate Sestina has a quicker trigger and smoother stroke than I expected. Immanuel Quickley proved last year he can knock down threes, and Tyrese Maxey was one of the best three-point shooters in high school basketball last year.
There are other guys who will need to be more consistent (both Ashton Hagans and Kahlil Whitney seemed to be hit-or-miss Sunday night) but the sheer number of quality shooters might be the best Calipari has had in Lexington.
Calipari Had an Incredible Line About Shooting During the Broadcast
Maybe my favorite moment during the broadcast was when Jimmy Dykes and Seth Greenberg were speaking to Coach Cal on the sideline. At one point they asked him about this team’s ability to shoot, and Calipari dropped an ALL-TIME line.
He said: “I’ve had guys who’ve been shooters in the past. The problem is, they just haven’t always been makers.”
I mean, I nearly spit out my water when I heard that.
Thankfully as I said, I don’t expect shooting to be an issue in Lexington this season.
I May Have Been Wrong About Nate Sestina
Since the day Nate Sestina committed to Kentucky, I’ve warned Kentucky fans to temper their expectations. That this was different than Reid Travis – who had played Power 5 basketball for four years – coming in as a grad transfer, and that there would be a big step up in speed, skill and style of play in the SEC from where Sestina was coming from. That fans shouldn’t expect the same kind of production they got from Travis last season.
Again, I literally wrote it the day Sestina committed – and have stood by it all summer.
And I’ve got a confession to make: I think I may have been wrong on this one. Like flat-out wrong.
Sometimes in life you’ve just got to take the “L” and this might be one of those times for me.
When I watched Sestina play on Sunday, I was blown away by how much Sestina looked like… well, a guy that totally, 100 percent belonged at a program like Kentucky. I saw nothing that made me think “This guy doesn’t belong at this level” or heck, even anything that made me say “Well it’s obvious this guy was playing mid-major hoops last year.” Instead, I saw a guy whose body has clearly changed in the last six months (Instagram has proven that) and was effective both defensively and shooting the ball.
Sometimes it’s good to have a truly bad opinion. And my original Nate Sestina take my go down as one of those.
Johnny Juzang Might be the Surprise of the Season for Kentucky
Because Johnny Juzang committed so late in the process, and because – at least on the surface – he wasn’t on Kentucky’s recruiting radar for long (something that absolutely wasn’t true by the way) it doesn’t seem like he got the buzz of some other big-time freshmen in the past.
But as someone who watched Juzang throughout his high school career in California, I knew he would be a breakout player this season at Kentucky. And on Sunday he made me look smart.
During the five-on-five portion of the scrimmage Juzang showed an ability to consistently knock down three-pointer and do it from behind the new college three-point line. Still, as I’ve emphasized all summer, this guy isn’t just a “shooter.” He’s a true hooper, a guy who can beat you in so many ways, whether it’s from behind the arc or off the dribble.
Also, another thing I can tell you is this: Juzang is competitive as hell and unafraid of the spotlight. As I’ve written before, he played for one of the most prominent AAU programs in the country, the Compton Magic, and has played in so many big games and with so many elite players (just on his last AAU team there were three other Top 30 recruits) that nothing will phase him.
Look, I’m not going to make any bold predictions about Juzang. I’m not going to promise a certain number of points or a certain three-point percentage or that he will be in the NBA a year from now.
But the one thing I do believe is that he’ll be ready to step, contribute and be a difference-maker from the day the season starts.
Keion Brooks is the Kind of Guy Every Team Needs
All off-season long, Brooks – the 6-7 freshman from Indiana – had garnered rave reviews as one of the pleasant surprises of early practices. And on Sunday you could see why, as he showed off a versatile game offensively and an ability to guard anyone on defense. And when I say “anyone” I mean anyone. He literally was defending Ashton Hagans at certain points in the scrimmage.
Yes, a 6-7 wing was guarding one of the quickest point guards in all of college basketball. and more than held his own.
In the end, I don’t know exactly what Brooks’ role this season will be. But what became abundantly clear after watching practice is that he’s a guy that can do a little bit of everything, and has versatility on both ends of the floor.
And those are the exact kind of guys that every team needs.
Tyrese Maxey is Just… The Best
Listen, we’ll have plenty of time to break down Tyrese Maxey’s game over the course of the season, to break down who he is and what he brings to the table for this team. But watching him on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think one thing: Man, that kid is just the best. He’s always got a smile on his face, always encouraging, always getting the best out of everyone around him.
I remember last year when I had Maxey on my podcast, and being blown away by his poise, maturity, confidence and just upbeat-ness (yes, I know that’s not a word).
It’s good to see that nothing has changed since then.
(And yes, that was a totally shameless plug of my podcast. But at least for that episode, you should listen anyway)
I expect Immanuel Quickley to be More Confident This Season
During the broadcast, Jimmy Dykes (who is just awesome at his job, by the way) said something that really caught my attention about Immanuel Quickley. Dykes said, “I think he played a little tight last year.”
I completely agree, and it reminds me of something that someone close to Quickley told me this off-season. I don’t have the exact quote, but it was something to the effect of “Immanuel was so in awe of being at Kentucky last year and playing for Coach Cal that he tried to be perfect. That he tried to do too much. Now he’s playing much more confidently and not letting the small stuff get to him.”
One, I can see how that could happen (all freshmen handle the spotlight differently) but also it shouldn’t come as a surprise since the buzz out of Lexington all off-season was that Quickley was much improved.
Without putting too much expectation on him, I expect Quickely to thrive this off-season.
Speaking of Kentucky’s Vets, They Now Look Like… Well, Vets
Nothing much stood out to me about the vets last night that hasn’t already been written up top. Quickley, Hagans, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have all been there before and carried themselves that way on Sunday night.
But there was one thing that did stand out. They look like vets now. Like legit, grown men with SEC-level strength to compete with anyone.
Now obviously that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise after they all spent another off-season in an elite strength and conditioning program, but it is still worth noting. It’s obviously important for Hagans, who admitted he wore down a bit last season, and for EJ Montgomery, who will be expected to handle a big load down low this season.
As a matter of fact, another thing that one of the announcers said which caught my attention was when either Dykes or Greenberg (I can’t remember which) said, “Last year, EJ Montgomery just looked like a really tall high school basketball player. This year, he looks like a college basketball player.”
With his improved size and explosiveness, I expect this to be a breakout year for Montgomery.
And Finally, Sunday Showed Us A Team Capable of Getting Back to a Final Four – and Maybe More
College hoops is a fickle sport by nature, something that makes it hard to project who are the real “preseason favorites.” After all, one bad night in March can cost you, even when you have the best team. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Kentucky was a play or two away from going to the Final Four in both 2017 and 2019 and could have won it once they got there – but things didn’t go their way. In 2014, it was the opposite. The team struggled all year, but got hot when it mattered and made it to the national title game.
I bring this up for this reason: While it’s tough to predict who will make it to the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the one thing I can definitively say about these Wildcats is they have ever piece needed to get there: Veteran guards, shooting, a tough-minded defensive personality, the talent and coaching. Yes, they lack a little bit of size, but how much size did Auburn have last year? Or Loyola (IL) the year before? Size is overrated. Especially when you have shooting and defensive toughness from your backcourt.
Point being that there are no certainties in college hoops, but on Sunday night I saw a team that has the talent to literally matchup with anyone in college hoops.
Will they? We’ll find out in a month when they take on Michigan State, and in the 30+ games that will come after that.
But as John Calipari is famous for saying, “I like my team.”
And I suspect he, and all Kentucky fans will really like this group by the end of the season.
By KSR on ©October 07th, 2019 @ 11:00am
By KSR on ©October 03rd, 2019 @ 10:30am
It’s a WILD episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Aaron discusses California’s new Fair Pay to Play law, the unintended consequences that could come and how it started a Twitter beef with Richard Sherman. Then, iconic college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit joins the show to talk the college football season, and his work with Goodyear, the College Football Hall of Fame and their “Headed to the Hall” campaign. Aaron wraps up the show with a college hoops mailbag! Here is a rundown:
What the California Bill Means for the Future of College Athletics: Aaron takes a deep dive on the new California Fair Pay to Play law, which will allow athletes to benefit off their name and image. Aaron isn’t opposed to the bill, but says that there will be unintended consequences and hopes that the NCAA properly legislates endorsement opportunities for athletes. He also explains how he ended up in a Twitter beef with Richard Sherman over the bill on Wednesday.
Kirk Herbstreit joins the show: It’s a monumental moment on the Aaron Torres Pod, as iconic college football voice Kirk Herbstreit joins the show. They discuss what’s wrong with Bama, what makes Alabama so great every year, as well as the current national title race. Also, his role with Goodyear and the College Football Hall of Fame’s “Headed to the Hall” campaign.
College Hoops Mailbag. He discusses Penny Hardaway’s national title prediction, sleeper NBA Draft prospects and who you need to know in the Pac-12. More college hoops mailbags to come in the future!
Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 185: Who’s No. 1 in College Football? + The NCAA Hammers Georgia Tech
By KSR on ©September 30th, 2019 @ 11:30am
It’s Monday and you already know what that means, a new episode of the Aaron Torres Podcast. With Clemson struggling on Saturday, Aaron asks: Who’s No. 1 in college football? He also discusses major sanctions coming down for Georgia Tech and what it means for the rest of college hoops. Here is a rundown of today’s show:
Who’s No. 1 in college football? Aaron breaks down a huge Saturday in college football. Clemson is ranked No. 1 but struggled, and Aaron wonders if they can make it through the schedule undefeated. Could they get left out of the playoff as a one-loss ACC champ? Is Ohio State the best team in college football after their dominating victory at Nebraska? And also, why was everyone so quick to ask if Nebraska is “back?” Finally, with so much hype on Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow, are we overlooking just how incredible Tua Tagovailoa?
Georgia Tech gets Hammered with NCAA Sanctions – what does it mean for Kansas? Aaron turns his attention to college basketball, where some surprising news came from the NCAA offices when Georgia Tech was hit with major sanctions. Aaron explains why yes, this is a big deal, but not for the reason you think. Could this be a sign that the NCAA is ready to come down on Kansas and everyone else who got caught up in the FBI investigation?
By Aaron Torres on ©September 26th, 2019 @ 9:00pm
It’s been a tough few weeks for Kentucky football, but there is little doubt that the program has come a long way from where it was prior to Mark Stoops’ arrival. A team which hadn’t made a bowl game for three seasons prior to Stoops showing up has now made three-straight, and the program is of course coming off its first 10-win season since 1977. The Wildcats defeated three ranked teams on the way to those 10 wins a season ago.
So yes, it’s been a pretty good run for Stoops in Lexington, a run that has caught the attention from plenty of outsiders. That includes Stoops’ own brother Bob Stoops. The soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach knows success in his own right, after leading Oklahoma to a national championship and 10 Big 12 titles in 18 years at the school.
That’s also why there is no one better to ask about Mark Stoops’ success than his older brother.
Which is exactly what we did. On Thursday Bob Stoops joined KSR’s Aaron Torres Podcast on Thursday, where Aaron asked him if he’s had a chance to enjoy Mark’s success at Kentucky.
You can listen to the interview by clicking here and going to the 55-minute mark, but regardless, it was clear that the elder Stoops has nothing but love for his little brother.
“I’m of course very proud of my brother Mark and the job he is doing at Kentucky. He’s done an awesome job, he and his assistant coaches have really built that program to last. They’re going to continue to do well.
It isn’t just one year there. Year in and year out they’ve been playing consistently. They’re a tough team to play. And they just have to continue to win. They were on the cusp of beating Florida [a few weeks ago]. They aren’t going away. They’re going to continue to do a great job there.”
Clearly Bob Stoops has been paying attention, since as he said, Mark’s run wasn’t just a one-year blip last year, but a slow and steady build culminating with last season’s 10-win campaign. In the process, Mark Stoops has proven the ability to compete with and beat the best teams in the SEC East, ranging from Florida last season, to Tennessee the year before with five-straight wins against South Carolina heading into the weekend.
Of course, as Marks continues to have success he will also deal with something Bob dealt with throughout his career: Interest from other programs.
That’s also why there is no one better to ask about the subject than Bob, who had multiple college and NFL offers during his time at Oklahoma.
While Bob was hesitant to say if he thought Mark would spend his entire career at Kentucky, he did share what advice he would give Mark if he asked him.
“All circumstances are different. His is different is mine. I always trusted the people closest to me. [In my case it was] my wife. And I always kind of just evaluated my own circumstances when weighing an option to do something different with a different job.
The bottom line is you’ve got to live your life and be true to yourself and do what’s best for them as well. So I wouldn’t give anyone advice on it, because no one knows your life better than you do. I would just say [to him] trust your own instincts and your own family and what you feel is best for you.”
By KSR on ©September 26th, 2019 @ 10:30am
You picked the right episode to listen to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Aaron breaks down all the rules Kansas broke and explains just how much trouble they’re in. He’s also joined by legendary Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops. Highlights:
Kansas and Bill Self are in Big Trouble: On Monday, the NCAA sent Kansas it’s Notice of Allegations and Aaron thinks they are in big trouble. He explains why Bill Self was caught red-handed and that he really has no good way to defend himself. If the NCAA comes down on Self, what does it mean for his future? And what about the futures of Arizona, Louisville and Rick Pitino? Aaron concludes by talking about “tanking” in college football and gives his Week 5 picks.
Bob Stoops joins the show: Next Aaron next welcomes one of the most prominent guests to ever join the show, legendary Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. He shares what he first saw in Lincoln Riley and talks about the recruitments of Adrian Peterson and Baker Mayfiel. Also, what are his thoughts on the work his brother Mark is doing as the head coach at Kentucky? And will he ever coach college football again?
Today’s episode is brought to you by Simple Contacts. Order your contacts – and go to SimpleContacts.com/Torres or use “Torres” at checkout, to get $20 off your first purchase.
In case you haven’t heard, it hasn’t been a fun few days for Kansas basketball.
On Friday, the Kansas City Star reported that the school was in big trouble with the NCAA, and could potentially get hit with multiple Level I NCAA violations. And as it turned out, that report was the appetizer to the main entrée that hit Monday afternoon.
That’s because, after an investigation into the school, the NCAA dropped their “Notice of Allegations” on Monday night (the Notice of Allegations is a report on what the NCAA found during their investigation). You can read the whole thing here if you please, but if you want the short, sweet version, here is what you need to know:
The NCAA has basically accused Adidas of recruiting on behalf of Kansas, of promising or giving money to players families and guardians to help steer them to Kansas. And according to the NCAA, those Adidas reps did all of that with the approval and knowledge of Bill Self and his lead assistant Kurtis Townsend. Basically, Self and Townsend may not have directly dropped a duffel bag of cash at recruits’ feet. Instead, according to the NCAA, Adidas did it for Bill Self. With Bill Self’s blessing.
With the news, it put Kansas in the direct cross-hairs of the NCAA. Based on what we learned on Monday, the NCAA appears serious about going after one of its cash cow programs and golden goose head coaches.
So to answer your question, yes, Kansas could and likely will be in real trouble. And yes, it leaves Self’s future at the school quite cloudy.
Let’s take a look at what we know, what went down, and what could be next for both Kansas and other programs in college basketball:
By KSR on ©September 23rd, 2019 @ 10:30am
It’s a very special episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, as Aaron traveled all the way to Las Vegas to bring you this live show to talk all things college football, plus the impending NCAA basketball sanctions for Kansas basketball.
Here is a full rundown of today’s show:
A Wild Weekend in College Football: Aaron tells you why, if you went to bed before 2 a.m. ET on Saturday night/Sunday morning you already missed the game of the year in college football, and also, why Saturday proved Michigan will never reach elite status under Jim Harbaugh. Also, did Georgia blow their shot to prove to America they’re the best team in the country? And if so, who is the best team? Aaron’s answer might surprise you.
Trouble Looming for Kansas Basketball: Aaron wraps the show by talking impending NCAA sanctions for Kansas basketball. He explains why this news shouldn’t be a surprise, and how the Jayhawks have already admitted to at least one major violation. Also, why Bill Self has — to this point — proven to more knowledgeable of violations than either Sean Miller and Will Wade, and is there any chance at all that Self loses his job at Kansas over this mess?
By Aaron Torres on ©September 20th, 2019 @ 8:30pm
It goes without saying that recruiting is always a big subject when it comes to Kentucky basketball, and even though it’s football season, it feels like not only has recruiting news not slowed down in recent weeks, but actually picked up.
Terrence Clarke and Lance Ware have committed (this after BJ Boston and Cam’Ron Fletcher committed over the summer). The school has decided to part ways with Top 15 prospects Jalen Green and Joshua Christopher because of fit and need. And the will he/won’t he Devin Askew reclassification rumors took a new twist, when Askew said this week that no, he won’t be reclassifying (something I’m still not sure that I 100 percent believe, by the way).
More than just the actual news itself however, the uptick in both recruiting news and action comes at an interesting time. It comes just a few weeks after Calipari had his preseason media “State of the Union” address, a press conference where he talked extensively about UK recruiting and philosophy.
You can read what Calipari said that day here, but what’s interesting to me is it seems as though we are already seeing Calipari put in motion what he said during that press conference. That he is already practicing what he preached that day.
With that, let’s look at some of the news from recent weeks, how it pertains to Kentucky’s recruiting success of late, and what it could mean for the future of this program, not just in the 2020 recruiting class, but well beyond.
Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 182: Rick Pitino Settlement + Week 4 CFB + Former Pro Bowl WR Braylon Edwards
By KSR on ©September 19th, 2019 @ 1:30pm
It’s an all new Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, and boy was it a doozy. Aaron welcomes Nick Coffey back onto the show to talk about the latest developments at Louisville before Torres takes a look at Week 4 of college football. He wraps with a wild interview with former Michigan Wolverine and New York Jet, Braylon Edwards, where Edwards holds nothing back!
Here is a recap of the day’s show:
College Hoops in the News: Aaron opens the show by welcoming in Nick Coffey to talk about all the big comings and goings in college hoops. The guys discuss the Louisville settlement with Rick Pitino, what’s next for Louisville and now that this is behind him, will Pitino ever coach again? Then the guys discuss this week’s news that Tony Bennett refused a raise from the University of Virginia, why it’s impossible to dislike Bennett, and just how lucky was Virginia to actually win the title last year? Then Aaron makes his Week 4 college football picks.
Former Michigan Wide Receiver Braylon Edwards: Next up Aaron is joined by Braylon Edwards, a former All-American at Michigan and Pro Bowler in the NFL. He discusses his time in Cleveland where he got in a bar fight with LeBron James’s friend, what it was like to play for Rex Ryan and why the Jets should have won the Super Bowl in 2010. Then he discusses the state of Michigan football heading into the weekend. What is holding them back and is Jim Harbaugh the guy to figure things out? This is one of the best interviews in the history of the podcast, as Edwards holds nothing back.
By Aaron Torres on ©September 16th, 2019 @ 9:30pm
We have now reached mid-September, which means that with every single day that passes, we get a day closer to the start of college basketball season. At this point the season is so close, you can practically hear Jay Bilas complaining about the referees already!
And if there was any sign that we are in fact getting close to tip-off, it came this weekend, when John Calipari had his state of the union address with the media. He hit on a number of different topics that KSR has covered over the last couple days, ranging from this year’s team, to recruiting and his golf trip with Barack Obama.
Now, with Calipari’s preseason availability done for a few weeks, it’s time to reflect.
Here are nine thoughts on what Coach Cal said, and what it means for this season and beyond:
By KSR on ©September 16th, 2019 @ 11:30am
It’s a busy day on the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, as Aaron not only reacts to Week 3 of college football, but also shares his thoughts on high school superstar Terrence Clarke committing to Kentucky. What does it mean for the Wildcats and college basketball as a whole? Here is a rundown of today’s show:
Week 3 College Football Recap: Aaron gives the full rundown from this weekend in college football. He says that the top of the sport is starting to separate themselves — are Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and Oklahoma just as good as Alabama and Clemson? Also, he discusses the Florida-Kentucky game at length, why it is so disappointing for Kentucky, who dominated the game, and why he was a bit disappointed with the Wildcats’ coaching staff down the stretch who got conservative after taking the lead. Also, Urban Meyer made some interesting comments about his coaching future this weekend.
Terrence Clarke’s Commitment to Kentucky: Aaron concludes the show by discussing the commitment of one of the top high school players in America, Terrence Clarke, who will reclassify and play college basketball next year at the University of Kentucky. Aaron explains why he believes that Clarke has the look of a future NBA All-Star, and why, if there was doubt about John Calipari’s recruiting touch, it has officially been silenced once again. Also, what could be next in the Wildcats’ recruiting class?
By Aaron Torres on ©September 14th, 2019 @ 10:00am
On Saturday one of the biggest dominoes in all of high school basketball will fall, and one the best players in America will have his college home.
The question: What school will the player pick? And what year will he enroll in college?
That’s because at 1 p.m. ET, Terrence Clarke, the No. 3 ranked player in the high school class of 2021 according to 247 Sports, will make his college decision. Clarke has a list of six schools. But considering that he has only visited Kentucky and Boston College, it feels like things are trending towards the Wildcats. That’s especially true when you consider that 100 percent of Clarke’s 247 Sports Crystal Ball picks have him selecting the Wildcats as well. And if you’re into reading tea leaves, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway cancelled his visit to see Clarke earlier this week. Just a hunch, but – at the sake of not trying to sound like a total jerk – I’m guessing it wasn’t Boston College that Hardaway was ceding Clarke to.
So yes, all signs point towards Kentucky, and it’s also no secret that Clarke is trying to reclassify into the class of 2020. Meaning that whoever Clarke picks could be getting a cornerstone commitment for next season.
Therefore, with his commitment eminent, now seems like a good time to take a look at who Clarke is, and how – at least in theory – he could fit in the Wildcats. To be clear, I’m not claiming to have any inside information that says he will end up in Lexington. But with a commitment coming in hours and every logical sign pointing towards Kentucky, it only makes sense to take a look at how the two potentially go together.
After seeing Clarke several times this summer, and interviewing him one-on-one at the Pangos All-American camp back in early June, here are some thoughts:
Who is He?
By now, the vital details on Clarke’s background have been shared over and over again, so it’s not as though I’m breaking a ton of new ground here. However, here are some quick essentials for those who don’t necessarily follow recruiting closely or simply have been paying attention.
Clarke is a big, hyper-athletic, 6-7 wing who is originally from Boston, but played last year for prep powerhouse Brewster Academy up in New Hampshire, where he helped the school to a Prep School National Championship. He played on a loaded roster that included all sorts of talented players, everyone from Jalen Lecque (who went to the NBA following his prep school season and signed with the Phoenix Suns), Alonzo Gaffney (now at Ohio State), Joel Brown (Cal), and Jamal Mashburn Jr. And despite being just a sophomore in grade standing, Clarke was the leading scorer on that squad and arguably their best player.
Not bad for a kid who was two years younger than some of his teammates.
Tell Me About His Game:
In terms of his game, if you’re looking for a comparison, Clarke actually told me – and don’t get mad when I tell you this Kentucky fans –that he has actually watched a lot of Penny Hardaway video on YouTube, and tries to emulate his game after him.
Again, please don’t shoot the messenger here, but here is what he said in an exclusive interview with KSR.
“I’m a 6’7 playmaker,” he said. “I get others involved while getting myself involved. I can create shots off the dribble, off the catch. I can score at all three levels.”
While I agree with the whole “ability to score on all three levels” front, I don’t necessarily think that his game reminds me of Penny Hardaway. Hardaway was a much more traditional point guard. Instead, Clarke is, as he said, a playmaker. But more of a combo guard or wing in my opinion.
But man, oh MAN is he a good one.
Despite being one of the younger players at the Pangos All-American Camp (the first place I saw him this summer) he largely dominated, showing a versatile game which – as he described – he was able to score at all three levels. He was also one of the more athletic players there, and was super bouncy for a kid who stands 6-7. I honestly think I remember him putting the ball between his legs on a dunk, but I could be making it up.
Still, the fact that it could have happened, and seems conceivable to me shows you just how athletic the kid is.
What About His Demeanor?
Well, Clarke certainly does not lack for confidence. That’s not to say he is cocky or arrogant. Just supremely confident.
When I asked him about being one of the better players at the Pangos camp despite being just a class of 2021 prospect (when most of the players there were entering their senior years), Clarke smiled and succinctly said:
“I’ve played in a lot of camps before with older guys. 2019 guys last year, 2020 now. I played well against them last year, so this is the year for me to show I’m fearless.”
That doesn’t sound like a kid who will be intimidated if he ends up playing college basketball next year.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) June 7, 2019
Just How Talented Is He?
If you’ve been following my work for long enough you know that I’m not one to overhype guys. When I really believe in a guy, I’ll tell you (in recent years, it’s been big on guys like Jayson Tatum, Kevin Knox and Marvin Bagley – all of whom had nice college careers). There are others (Markelle Fultz, Mo Bamba and others) who I just don’t buy into, and I’ll tell you that too.
There are times I miss on guys (Trae Young comes to mind). But I’ll never hype a kid just for the sake of hyping him.
And I bring that up because I take what I’m about to tell you about Clarke very seriously.
That is this: I’ve seen just about every big-time high school player in both the 2020 and 2021 high school classes. There are a lot of talented kids, at all ages and stages of their careers.
However, there were only two who – when I first saw them – I said to myself, “man, that looks like a future NBA All-Star.”
Those two players were Cade Cunningham and Terrence Clarke.
Again, I don’t make a statement like that likely.
It also shows you just how good Clarke has a chance to be (at least in my eyes). He’s already got advanced skill, athleticism and toughness for his age. And if you don’t believe me (and shame on you) here is a bit of further confirmation: Evan Daniels said last week that if Clarke does join the class of 2020, he could eventually be ranked as high as No. 3 nationally behind only Cunningham and California big man Evan Mobley (who is a stud in his own right).
That’s also why, assuming that Clarke does commit and assuming he does reclassify (more on that coming) I wouldn’t worry about how it might impact the rest of the class. I’ve seen some Kentucky fans worry that a commitment from Clarke could cost them a shot at Joshua Christopher and Jalen Green.
Well, one, I’m not sold Kentucky is even the leader for Green. And two, with zero disrespect intended to Christopher (seriously, I’m not here to pick on any high school kid, especially one as talented as he is), Christopher isn’t Terrence Clarke. I’d take Clarke over him every chance I get. You just don’t worry about who you will lose, when you’re getting a kid that talented coming in. You just count your lucky stars you’re getting a guy that good.
Not to mention that there is of course the possibility that Clarke will remain in the high school class of 2021. Meaning there is the possibility you get Christopher next year. And Clarke the season after.
With that said…
What’s Next, and Do You Think Reclassification is Likely?
So again, I’m not claiming to have any inside information on this one, but I’ll tell you this: It absolutely makes no sense for Clarke to commit now if he isn’t planning on being in college next season. If he were to stay in the 2021 class it means he wouldn’t get to campus for almost two full years following his commitment. Do you know much could change in two years? College’s coach is on the hot seat, he could be gone. Penny Hardaway could be coaching in the NBA. John Calipari could be retired.
I know the latter two aren’t likely. But what would be the point of committing that early? It makes no sense. Especially for a player as good as Clarke. He is talented enough where he could literally commit to Kentucky (or any school for that matter) the day before he wanted to show up to campus, and the program would figure out a way to make it work.
Now, since I’ve made it clear that I believe he wants to reclassify, here is why I also think it can and ultimately will happen.
Over the summer I actually did a profile of Johnny Juzang’s reclassification process and if there’s something I learned from that, it’s way harder to reclassify than most people realize.
Still, what made it especially hard for Juzang is that he waited until very late in the process to make the decision. Because Clarke began the process much earlier, it should make it easier for him.
With almost an extra full year, I’d be genuinely surprised if he didn’t end up getting his schoolwork in order and enroll in college in the fall of 2020.
And If He Does End Up at Kentucky Next Season, What Does It Mean Big Picture?
Let’s play the look-ahead game and assume that Clarke does commit to Kentucky and does get to Lexington next season.
In the context of next season, it’s hard to know exactly what Clarke’s role will be. Mainly because its hard to know who exactly will be back for Kentucky. Still, even if we just assume the most obvious names return (Immanuel Quickley, Keion Brooks and Johnny Juzang) and BJ Boston and Cam’Ron Fletcher enroll, Clarke should be one of the key, centerpiece players of another high-upside team. In my opinion, he’d be the most high-upside NBA prospect to come to Kentucky since De’Aaron Fox, and should have the kind of impact Kevin Knox did as a freshman, as a big wing with the ability to score all over the floor. I’d also assume that – based on the other players Kentucky is recruited the last few years – that it also means that John Calipari will likely stick with the small-ball that he is likely to implement this season.
In the bigger picture though, this would just be such a massive, major recruiting win for the Wildcats. And proof that Kentucky is unquestionably still a destination for big-time recruits.
Now look, I’ve never bought the notion that Kentucky wasn’t a destination spot. After all, in recent years they beat out Duke for Kevin Knox and EJ Montgomery, Memphis for Ashton Hagans, and signed four of the Top 35 players in America this past cycle. Let’s also never forget they also finished second in some of the biggest recruitments of the past few years. If James Wiseman’s high school coach wasn’t hired at Memphis he’d be at Kentucky. If Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards didn’t stick with the hometown schools, both seemed to be leaning UK. If EJ Montgomery had gone pro, Kentucky might have landed Kerry Blackshear. The Wildcats seemingly finished second in N’Faly Dante and Scottie Lewis’s recruitment as well.
So yeah, UK is not exactly struggling.
But still, to get Clarke, a consensus Top 5 recruit that everyone in America wants, would show that UK remains a home for the “best of the best” high school players. Especially when you consider they already have another Top 15 prospect in BJ Boston.
We will find out for sure where Clarke is going to college in the next few hours.
But if it is Lexington, the Wildcats will have themselves a special, special prospect.
Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 180: Week 3 Picks, The Worst Second-Year Coach + Barstool’s Brandon Walker
By KSR on ©September 12th, 2019 @ 1:00pm
College football is in full-swing. Get ready for Week 3 with a new edition of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Aaron talks about all this weekend’s big games, a shake-up at USC and asks the question: Who is the worst second-year head coach in college football, Jeremy Pruitt, Willie Taggart, Chip Kelly or other? Before the show ends he is joined by Barstool’s Brandon Walker to talk more college football.
Here is a complete rundown of the day’s show:
A full look-ahead to Week 3 in college football: Aaron talks about all the big games in college football this week. He explains why Bama and Clemson roll and why Florida-Kentucky may be the most intriguing game on the docket. Then he ranks his worst second-year head coach: Did Jeremy Pruitt or Chip Kelly win? He talks about a major change at USC and gives his Week 3 college football picks.
Brandon Walker of Barstool Sports: Next up, Aaron is joined by Barstool Sports’ college football expert Brandon Walker. The guys discuss Brandon’s unique path to Barstool and what it’s like to work there. Also, why are his picks so hot and why is Jeremy Pruitt so bad? Also, Brandon goes off on one of the powers that be in college football.
By Aaron Torres on ©September 11th, 2019 @ 1:30pm
So, look, we all love football. Duh. That’s obvious. But the reality also remains that as we get deeper into September it also means we get closer to the start of college basketball season each and every day.
No one is complaining about that.
And if we needed proof of just how close things are getting, a big, final piece of the 2019-2020 college basketball puzzle came together on Tuesday, when the SEC released its full basketball schedule. Things tip off on January 4th (with what is a very juicy slate) and run all the way until mid-March with the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
And now that the schedule officially out, it seems like now is as good a time as any to get some quick reactions.
Below are some thoughts on the league schedule as a whole.
Also, before we get started, here is a look at how I have the SEC ranked headed into the preseason. As a baseline, I believe that – as things stand in mid-September – Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State and Tennessee are in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament. I also believe that Arkansas and Ole Miss will be around the bubble all year. On the flip side, I’m not as sold on Georgia as everyone else. South Carolina, Texas A&M, Missouri and Vandy will be competitive, but someone has to finish at the bottom of the league. And they seem like it.
With that as a baseline, here are some thoughts on the schedule:
SEC Hoops Starts off With a Bang!
Yes, SEC will always be football country. We all get that. But the league did an excellent job this year of setting up marquee matchups on the opening day of conference play, which should set the tone for the season ahead.
Auburn will play at Mississippi State, in a matchup of two teams that made the Big Dance last year and should feel good about getting back in 2020. Alabama is a sleeper in the conference with the return of Kira Lewis and John Petty, and opens at Florida, which might be the preseason favorite (I personally have Kentucky). And you want to talk about bad blood, how about this: Last season, LSU won the regular season SEC title, edging Tennessee down the stretch. Considering the, umm, circumstances with which LSU won it (you know, with LSU having a potentially higher payroll than the Brooklyn Nets) Vols fans weren’t happy.
So, how about the fact that LSU opens this season at Tennessee and Thompson-Boling Arena. Think Vols fans will be fired up?
Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, it’s a bit of a pedestrian start to the season, as they host Missouri, which should be improved, but not elite this season.
Kentucky’s Front-End of the Schedule is Manageable:
Kentucky is the SEC’s marquee program, and because of it, the league is never going to make it easy on the Wildcats. But the front part of their schedule is manageable. Of their first seven games, four are at home, with only Alabama looking like a formidable threat. And of the three road games, two are against a pair of teams that I’m just not sold on – Georgia and South Carolina. Half the national media will try to tell you how great Georgia is this season, but I just don’t buy it. The Dawgs were abjectly terrible last season, and Tom Crean isn’t the kind of coach who will get the most out of his young players. Especially early. The Wildcats should be comfortable favorites in that game.
Of the opening stretch, the two biggest challenges will be facing a good Alabama team at home, and Arkansas on the road. Bud Walton Arena is always buzzing, and you know that Eric Musselman will infuse some life into that program and arena by the time this game comes around.
Still, it seems like a worst-case scenario for Kentucky to open the SEC would be a 5-2 mark, and 6-1 seems likely. A 7-0 start is definitely in play.
On the flip side, the Back-End of Kentucky’s Schedule Is Brutal:
As easy as the front end of the schedule is, the back-end is equally as tough.
Kentucky’s final six games read like a “Who’s Who” of SEC powers: at LSU, Florida, at Texas A&M, Auburn, Tennessee and at Florida.
Realistically five of those six games will be against NCAA Tournament teams, and you’re talking about facing arguably the two best teams in the SEC not named “Kentucky” both on the road in LSU and Florida over those final six.
Plus, the one non-marquee opponent is Texas A&M, and it’s not like College Station is an easy spot to win. Kentucky lost to the Aggies in both 2016 and 2018 when they played Texas A&M on the road.
Wrapping on Kentucky, I Hate How the Two Best Teams Play Twice Late in the Season:
If I have one gripe with the SEC schedule makers, it’s that I hate, hate, HATE how they always manage to squeeze the matchups between the best teams into the final few weeks of the season. Last year, Kentucky played Tennessee twice after Valentines Day. This year they play Florida twice after February 22nd.
Look, I know it’s to build excitement and create hype, but guess what: These are the two best teams in the league, there will be hype whenever they play!
So the SEC schedule-makers, here’s some advice for next season: Put one game in late January and the other one to end the season. We shouldn’t have to wait until late February to see these two teams go against each other.
The Kerry Blackshear SEC Hate Tour Will Be Fun
Because players come and go so quickly, there isn’t enough genuine hatred between players and fan-bases anymore.
That should change this season however, with the arrival of Kerry Blackshear at Florida. Not to say that Blackshear himself is hate-able. But remember that before he committed to Florida, Blackshear took trips to Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. And at various points in the recruitment, there were rumors that Blackshear favored all three of those schools.
While that isn’t necessarily Blackshear’s fault (as much as the media who covers him) it doesn’t necessarily make him the most liked man across the SEC this season either.
Expect his trips to Lexington (February 22nd) and Knoxville (February 29th) to be two of the most hostile arenas anywhere in the SEC all season.
Speaking of Florida, the League Did Them Some Favors This Year
Last year Florida had a gauntlet of a schedule, as they were the only team that had to play LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky twice each. For those that don’t remember, those are the teams that finished 1-2-3 in the final SEC standings. All three also earned 3-seeds or better in the NCAA Tournament, and each advanced to the Sweet 16 or further. So yeah, the SEC did the Gators no favors last year.
But this year? Well, there are still home-and-homes with Kentucky and LSU, but there are some breaks as well. Specifically, they only play Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State once each, four teams that look like early NCAA Tournament contenders. Of those four games, they get Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State all at home, without a return trip to the visiting arenas. They also don’t have to travel to Arkansas, which is one of the more brutal road environments in the SEC.
Kentucky appears to be the best team on paper to me, but Florida’s road to an SEC regular season title seems much more manageable.
The SEC Also Lightened Things Up on Tennessee
The Vols are another club which has an easier path through the SEC than in years past, with just one game against Florida, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss (the Rebels are another quality team). Their only game against Florida and LSU – arguably two of the top three teams in the league are both at home.
However, I’d add that the Vols final five are no walk in the park either, when they play at Auburn, at Arkansas, Florida, at Kentucky and at Auburn.
So while the Vols do get a break to start, few teams will have a tougher finish than the Vols.
Speaking of a Tough Finishing Stretch, How About Auburn?
As you may remember, Auburn is the reigning SEC Tournament champs, the Auburn Tigers who of course advanced to their first Final Four in school history last year.
Apparently the SEC noticed, as they play a gauntlet of a schedule, that includes two games each against Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee, as well as Ole Miss, which should be in the mix for a tourney spot down the stretch. More importantly, their last five are BRUTAL, with the schedule looking like this: Tennessee, Ole Miss, at Kentucky, Texas A&M and at Tennessee.
Trips to Rupp and Thompson-Boling Arena in the final week-and-a-half of the season?
No one has a tougher final stretch than the Tigers.
The Wildest Schedule Quirk Comes Courtesy of Alabama
If Nate Oats was looking for a warm welcome to the SEC, the league offices did him no favors. Get this: Of Alabama’s first three SEC games, two of them are at Florida and at Kentucky. In an even stranger twist, that’s the only time Alabama will face either team.
That’s right: The Tide will be done with the two best teams in the league by the middle of January.
Not to say that the rest of Alabama’s schedule is easy – they play LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State twice apiece.
Bud Walton Will be Rocking
As mentioned up top, Bud Walton is always one of the toughest places to play in the SEC, and when you add in Eric Musselman – who is a walking, talking, ball of energy – the venue could be even better for bigger games.
Therefore, shout out to the SEC, which certainly gave Coach Muss no shortage of big ones in his first season in the SEC.
Among the teams who will visit Fayetteville include Kentucky (the only game Arkansas plays against them this season), Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Auburn and LSU.
Not a bad way to kick things off in Year 1 of the Musselman era, I must say.
Things aren’t so bad for LSU
Finally, let’s wrap with the Bad Boys of College Basketball (yes, that’s what we’re calling them from now on) the reigning SEC champs, the LSU Tigers.
Will Wade’s boys were given a tough, but not impossible schedule. They do play both Kentucky and Florida twice, but also get Tennessee, Mississippi State and Auburn once apiece.
SEC basketball just means more, folks.
And it will be here before you know it.