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Aaron Torres’ Take

In defense of the 2017-2018 Kentucky Wildcats

© Jim Dedmon | USATSI

Since Kentucky lost to South Carolina on Tuesday night, there has been no shortage of commentary on what’s “wrong” with the Wildcats. However, no voice (outside of John Calipari’s) was louder these past few days than of than ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg’s.

By now, you’ve almost certainly heard what Greenberg said (as well as his response on Kentucky Sports Radio Thursday), but for the sake of this article, let’s reiterate what Greenberg said about these Wildcats. The video clip is below and here is the actual transcription:

“To me, we spend all our time talking about the freshmen: DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, the great Kentucky freshmen, instead of maybe talking about the best teams, because these guys are not the best teams. Why don’t we spend some time talking about the Villanovas, that are connected, the Purdues? What Virginia’s doing… I think we need to start talking about the teams that are really good.”

Then he moved onto Kentucky specifically:

“These guys are spoiled by the process by the time they turn 13 years old,” Greenberg said. “And they’re clueless in understanding how hard you have to play and what type of teammate you need to be. They’re not a good team because they are not connected, and you may say it is because they are freshmen, and that sounds great but they aren’t connected because they are all about themselves instead of the good of the group.”

Now for starters, let me make a few things clear: One, it’s important to note that Greenberg did in fact scale back his comments, during an appearance with Kentucky Sports Radio just a day or two ago. I also don’t believe that his words were intended to be malicious; I genuinely think that a TV producer asked him to talk about Kentucky, and he’s probably pretty tired of it, since right now there are other stories in college basketball worth discussing. I should also say that while I don’t “know” Seth Greenberg, I genuinely like his analysis on TV. He’s smart, prepared and thought-provoking. In other words, he knows his stuff.

Therefore the following article isn’t intended to be a shot at Greenberg, but instead, a conversation about his comments. He’s certainly not the only person who has called Kentucky some variation of “entitled” or “not hard working.” But his voice is certainly the loudest.

Of course while his voice is loud, I also don’t know that it is correct. As a matter of fact, in this case, I genuinely, 100 percent disagree with Greenberg. `
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The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E13: Former NFL Linebacker Kirk Morrison

In the thirteenth edition of The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, Aaron is joined by former NFL linebacker and current ESPN and Sirius XM analyst Kirk Morrison. First up though, Aaron and Nick Coffey dive into a few topics from the college hoops scene, like…

— Seth Greenberg’s comments about Kentucky.

—  The potential new transfer rules and what it would mean for college athletics.

—  “National title contender or not?”

—  Kirk Morrison’s outlook and picks on the conference championship games.

—  Will Jon Gruden have any success with the Raiders?

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


Why changing the transfer rules would be one of the worst things to ever happen to college sports

Why changing the transfer rules would be one of the worst things to ever happen to college sports

I’ll be the first to admit that at times, us media folk (myself certainly included) can be a little bit prone to hyperbole. We exaggerate everything, turning games into “battles” and coaching decisions into life or death decisions. Even if for the most part they are inconsequential. Therefore, when I say that there’s a new rule that could be coming which might “change college sports forever” I know what most of you are probably thinking: Sure, Torres. Sounds like a whole bunch of hyperbole to me.

Only it isn’t, and here me out.

That rule has been a much-discussed alteration to the current transfer rules in major college football and basketball. As all of you know, the current rule states that if a player decides to transfer from one school to another, they must (unless they’ve already graduated) sit out for at least a year. It’s a rule that’s designed to protect both the school and coach, but also players from making any rash, emotional, poorly-thought out decisions.

Or at least that was the rule, as it’s looking more and more like things are about to change in college sports, and football and basketball players will now be allowed to transfer from one school and play right away at the next. It’s something that’s been reported for months, but really picked up steam on Wednesday when ESPN’s Matt Schick tweeted that he’d heard from an NCAA source that it’s “95 percent certain” to pass. A different source told me something similar, and that the change could go into effect as early as February.

And ultimately while I hate to use hyperbole, what I said above is correct: This is a rule which could alter college sports forever. It could also be one of the worst thing that has ever happened to major college football and basketball, and create way more problems than it helps.

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The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E12: A Preview of Zion Williamson’s Decision with Corey Evans

In this edition of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, Corey Evans from Rivals joins the program to talk about Zion Williamson’s upcoming college announcement.  But first, Nick Coffey and Aaron talk about a wild Tuesday of college basketball.  Highlights from the exciting episode:

—  The podcast receives a shoutout from Fran Fraschilla on National TV.

—  What went right for UofL at Notre Dame and what went wrong for UK at South Carolina.

—  Can anyone keep Zion from his home state school of Clemson?

—  How would Zion fit at Clemson and would he be able to have a major impact with minimal talent around him?

—  The the latest on Romeo Langford — is he headed to Indiana?

—  Recruits impacted by the FBI probe into college hoops.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


What to Watch For on a Busy Saturday of College Basketball

What to Watch For on a Busy Saturday of College Basketball

It’s mid-January and you know what that means! No – not that it’s time to get fake-fired up for this weekend’s lousy NFL playoff games. It means that we’re knee deep in college basketball season!

That’s right, we are now into the new year, and with a couple conference games under our belts, we’re slowly but surely learning quite a bit about the teams, coaches and players we’ll follow through March. There’s no more hiding behind crappy out of conference schedules, games that aren’t on TV or that one player that your coach insists is ready for a breakout but we all know won’t (Yes, I’m looking at you, everyone on Duke’s bench). Instead, we’re slowly but surely finding out who is good, who’s not and who is a legit title contender.

And with another weekend ahead of us, I decided to do a little something different with my column this week: Give you a few different storylines (both nationally and locally to Kentucky) that are worth keeping an eye on.

Enjoy:

Will we get any further clarification on the state of the SEC this weekend?

If you follow my work, you know that I have been driving the SEC basketball bandwagon since the summer. And so far, I feel like I look pretty smart; I’m honestly not sure there’s a better conference top-to-bottom, from first team to last than this one. Some conferences have more national title contenders at the top, but none has a 1-14 Death March like the SEC does.

Therefore, the question heading into this weekend isn’t whether upsets will happen, but instead where.  More importantly, can a couple teams that desperately need wins pick them up?

We’ll get to Kentucky momentarily, but the two games that I’m most curious about are Texas A&M at Tennessee and Missouri at Arkansas. As I wrote on Wednesday after Kentucky beat A&M, I’m convinced that Texas A&M is better than their record indicates. And now that they finally have a full roster (after a month full of injuries, suspensions and illness) I really do believe they’re about to make a mini-run. The simple truth is that no one has more top to bottom talent in the SEC than the Aggies do (except maybe Kentucky) and now it’s about putting it together. And if they can’t put it together this weekend, it’s fair to ask if they ever will this season.

Then there’s Missouri-Arkansas. I’ll admit that I’ve been stunned that Missouri has been able to stay afloat without Michael Porter Jr., but I’ve also been equally as stunned to see the Arkansas Razorbacks drop three straight after a solid start to league play. Remember, this is a team that picked up several good wins in the out of conference play, including taking down Oklahoma at the PK80 Tournament. They’re still one of only two teams to beat Oklahoma all year.

Sometimes the most desperate teams are the most fun to watch. And A&M and Arkansas are certainly that right now.

What about Auburn?

Staying in the SEC, I’ve got to ask: Is there a more surprising club in all of college basketball right now than Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers? If there is one, I’m having trouble finding it.

Seriously, I don’t think people appreciate how incredible what they’re doing is. Keep in mind, Auburn lost two of its best players to the FBI probe, big man Austin Wiley (who will be suspended for the year) and sophomore guard Danjel Purifoy who was the team’s second leading scorer last year. And despite all that, they’re still tied for first in the SEC! How is that possible? It’d be like Kentucky losing Hamidou Diallo and P.J. Washington this past preseason and not missing a beat. And ultimately, whether you like Bruce Pearl or not, and whether you feel bad for the Tigers or not (since most of their problems are self-inflicted) this whole little run is still pretty incredible.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images North America

But just how incredible is it? We’re about to find out, with three of Auburn’s next four games on the road, starting Saturday at Mississippi State.

By the way, how wild would it be if in a season where his program was under the constant watch of the FBI, Bruce Pearl went out and won National Coach of the Year?

Saturday’s best game might be its ugliest

Moving away from the SEC, the best game on paper Saturday might be a matchup between No. 2 West Virginia and No. 8 Texas Tech. But while this one looks fun from a rankings perspective, be prepared: It could get ugly. Not ugly in a “watching Louisville run a half-court offense kind of way.” But ugly in a “both teams play insane defense and points will be at a premium” way.

Looking at the stats, these two teams are absolutely incredible on the defensive end of the court.    As things stand, Texas Tech actually ranks in the Top 5 nationally in both fewest points allowed (60.5) and field goal percentage defense (holding opponents to 37.5 percent) and West Virginia forces over 20 turnovers per game, which is third most nationally. It could make for an ugly product on the floor, even if these are two really good teams.

In a sort of related note, if you have no rooting interest in this game, go ahead and pull for Texas Tech. Their head coach Chris Beard has one of the wildest backstories I’ve ever heard. The dude has coached everywhere from junior college to the ABA (whatever that is) and as recently as four years ago, was actually coaching at a DII school. Then he went to Little Rock, led them to the NCAA Tournament in his first and only year there, and took the Texas Tech job.

So just how good of a coach is this guy? He once set a school record for wins at two different schools, in back-to-back years, which really is an incredible stat when you think about it. And now he has Texas Tech – Texas… freakin’ Tech!!! – rocking and rolling.

The second best game of the day also features Big 12 schools

It comes in Norman, Oklahoma where TCU takes on Trae Young and Oklahoma.

At this point the Trae Young narrative has been beaten to death (so you don’t need me to tell you anything more), but what I can tell you is this: These two teams already played once this season, in what turned out to be one of the best games of the season. Oklahoma won 90-89 on a last second play from… you guessed it… Trae Young. Surprise, surprise, right?

Texas Tech-West Virginia is the “bigger” game on paper. But if you’re looking for the “best” game to watch, this might be it.

Will Michigan State reach its potential?

Guys, I’ve got a confession to make. And I really hope you don’t judge me. But a few weeks ago, I made a really bad joke on Twitter. Again, please forgive me. I promise to never do it again.

It was about the Michigan State Spartans. And the joke was – and again it was bad – me calling the Spartans “The Noah’s Arc of college basketball, because they have two of everything.”

Yes, I felt like Jon Rothstein the second I hit “send.” And yes, I promise to never say anything like it again.

At the same time, as bad as the joke was, it was kind of accurate. The Spartans really do have two of everything. Two points guards, two shooters, two rim protectors, two elite wings, you name it. That’s also why I believe that they’re the best team in the country. They have elite talent, play great defense and have no obvious weakness.

What’s weird though is that since I sent that tweet, the Spartans have fallen apart (maybe it was bad karma on my end for the awful joke). In their two most recent games Michigan State got crushed by Ohio State, and needed overtime to beat Rutgers at home. Yes, Rutgers!

I still think that when they’re clicking, the Spartans have the best team anywhere in college basketball. But they will need to prove it, starting with their game Saturday against Michigan, which tips off at noon ET.

Are we sure Arizona is any good?

If you listen to my podcast here on KSR – and if you aren’t listening, what the hell are you doing with your life? – you know that me and my co-host Nick Coffey have spent a lot of time asking one simple question: Is Kansas actually any good? I’m pretty sure the answer is “no” and at the same time, I also think it’s fair to start asking that same question about Arizona. The Wildcats were my preseason national championship pick but then proceeded to have a disastrous November, bounced back nicely in December, but now that we’ve entered conference play are kind just “meh.” They lost at Colorado last week (not an easy game because of the altitude) and then nearly lost at home to Oregon State. That my friends, is not good.

On a different note, let me throw out a theory that I heard a few days back that might be worth exploring: How much is this FBI/NCAA investigation weighing on Sean Miller? And more importantly, how much does he need the assistant coach that was fired as part of the sting?

The simple truth is that Miller doesn’t strike me as a warm and cuddly guy, and if you read up on a lot of his top player’s recruitments, they were much closer to the assistant coaches than they were to Miller. As we know, there are plenty of places where the head coaches are very active in their players recruitments (cough, Kentucky, cough). But apparently Arizona is not always one of them.

On kind of on the same subject, I also noticed something interesting last week that no one is really talking about. After the loss to Colorado, Miller dropped a comment that no one really paid attention to, but perked my ears. He said “I have a hard time reaching our guys.”

To me, that’s a very interesting comment, and I feel like it’s about more than just coaching, but also his relationships with the players. It’s something to keep an eye on, starting Saturday when they host Oregon.

What about UCLA?

With Kentucky’s loss to UCLA earlier this season, it’s probably worthwhile for UK fans to follow what the Bruins are doing this season. Kentucky doesn’t necessarily need UCLA to be good going forward, but it certainly would make that loss look better.

Well, I’ve got good news for Wildcats fans: UCLA is coming on strong. I actually think they’re one of the more underrated teams in college basketball right now.

If anything, they’re actually kind of like a West Coast version of Kentucky: A young team that has all the talent in the world, but also has at times this year has played down to their competition. Of their four losses, the Bruins had huge leads in two of them (at Michigan and at Stanford) and completely gave things away down the stretch. Had they won those two games, they’d probably be a Top 15 team right now. Instead, they’re 13-4 and lying in the weeds, but should be able to pick up another win against a good Colorado club on Saturday night.

By the way, remember after the Kentucky-UCLA game when I told you that Aaron Holiday was better than anyone realized? Yeah, he’s leading the Pac-12 in scoring during conference games and is averaging over 19 points per game this season. He’s also probably the early favorite to win Pac-12 Player of the Year. If anything, this once again proves that you’ve always got to listen to Nostra-Torres. He never lets you down.

And finally, what about Kentucky?

Honestly, I don’t know what there is to say that I haven’t already written here at KSR about these Cats. I also don’t know where I stand relative to everyone else reading, but I am incredibly optimistic, probably more optimistic than most. Yes, they’re an insanely young team, but when they’re locked in (as they have been for most every game except the UCLA game and the second half against Tennessee) they can play with anyone. It doesn’t hurt that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and P.J. Washington are turning into stars before our eyes.

Still, Saturday will be an interesting test. Not a “big” test. Not a “tough” test but an interesting one. Yes the Cats are on the road, but they’re also playing arguably the worst team in the SEC against Vanderbilt. Do they come out, jump down the Commodores throats and win convincingly? Or do they struggle, play flat in various moments and allow an inferior team to hang with them?

We’ll find out in a few hours. But as weird as it sounds, this does feel like a really important game for Kentucky. If they are who I think they can be – which is a good team that can compete for an SEC title and deep tournament run – than they come out, take an early lead on a team that they are clearly more talented than and run away with the game. If they are who they’ve been at times this year, then they allow that inferior team to hang around.

So which Kentucky will we get? And which Kentucky will they be going forward? We will get the answers soon.

It’s just one of many fascinating stories entering the day in college basketball.


The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E11: Reid Forgrave

We’ve got another episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast to get you ready for the weekend, as Aaron welcomes on Reid Forgrave from CBS Sports. But first, Nick Coffey joins Aaron to talk about a variety of topics, like:

—  Will Brian Bowen ever play at South Carolina?

—  A breakdown of Louisville’s big win over Florida State and Kentucky’s win over Texas A&M.

—  Why Forgrave picked Villanova to win the 2018 National Championship.

—  What makes Jay Wright’s program so special?

—  Reid’s relationship with John Calipari and an upcoming feature he has coming out on Coach Cal.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


6 reasons Kentucky’s win over Texas A&M is more impressive than many realize

6 reasons Kentucky’s win over Texas A&M is more impressive than many realize

On Tuesday night, Kentucky beat Texas A&M 74-73 in a hotly contested game at Rupp Arena. Admittedly, that isn’t news to anyone reading this. What was news (at least to me anyway) is how little folks seemed to care about the win. Outside of a few savvy Kentucky and A&M fans, most reacted with apathy.

Yes, apathy.

Sure, Kentucky won at home. But it came against a reeling Aggies club which entered the game coming off a three-game SEC losing streak. Meaning that (according to my very awful math) when the final buzzer sounded at Rupp Arena, Texas A&M fell to 0-4 in league player. Therefore, it felt like just about everyone in the national media (with the exception of a select few) brushed off Kentucky’s victory as if it were a November win over Coastal Carolina or something. It hardly made a blip on the radar. And the few that did reference it, made light of Kentucky playing a close game against an 0-4 SEC team more than anything else.

Fortunately, I’m not most national media members (and not just because I’m handsomer than them all). I know just how tough the circumstances were Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, and know– despite what their record might indicate – how good Texas A&M is.

Yes, Kentucky has things to work on (including free throw shooting, turnovers late and a disappointing defensive effort for part of the second half). But make no mistake, this was an important win. And should resonate come March.

So why was this win more impressive than most realize? Here are six reasons why.
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The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E9: Todd Fuhrman

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast returns to tickle the fancy for our fans who love to wager on athletics. Todd Fuhrman, a former oddsmaker at Caesar’s Palace, joins Torres to give an inside perspective on how Vegas makes lines for big games, like the College Football Playoff.  They also talk about…

—  Where is the smart money in the CFB Playoff Final?

—  The important yet overlooked stats that could determine the Championship Game’s outcome.

—  Are the Patriots in disarray?

—  What it was like to interview Bill Belicheck.

—  Aaron defends Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan tenure.

—  Jake Fromm’s Mom.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


Q&A: Kentucky commit Keldon Johnson discusses senior year and what’s ahead in Lexington

The Kentucky Wildcats are off to another excellent start to the season, picking up a 74-71 victory over LSU on Wednesday night to improve to 12-2 on the young season. But even as exciting as this season has been, it’s hard for fans not to imagine what could come next year, when a bunch of the current Wildcats could team with another talented freshman class that includes three current commits and a few more which might later come.

One of those high school commits is Keldon Johnson, who back in early November became the second player to join the Wildcats’ 2018 recruiting class, following in the footsteps of Baltimore point guard Immanuel Quickley (Wisconsin guard Tyler Herro would later be the third member of the class). At the time of his commitment, KSR spoke with Johnson’s high school coach to find out what kind of player Kentucky would be getting next fall. You can read that article here.

But with the high school season comfortably underway, we decided to follow back up with Oak Hill Academy and this time, speak to the man himself, the future Cat, Keldon Johnson.

Below is our Q&A with Johnson (our questions are in bold). There, Johnson discusses his senior season, what convinced him to go to Kentucky and if he is helping recruit any other players to Lexington. Enjoy!

The place I guess I’d start very simply is this: It’s your first year at Oak Hill Academy (after transferring from Huntington Prep). How are you enjoying the year? It’s your senior year, you’re closer to home (than when you were at Huntington). How’s everything going so far?

Everything is going great here at Oak Hill. It’s definitely different than any other high school, prep school [that I’ve been around]. It gives you that edge for the next level of basketball.

Why do you say that? What is Oak Hill doing that will not only help you next year at Kentucky, but also throughout your basketball career?

First off, I play for a legendary coach, Steve Smith. Everything up here is just school and basketball. There are no outside distractions. You don’t have a choice but to focus on school and basketball. And if you focus on school and basketball you evolve, mature and I do think it’ll get me ready for that next level?

For those who haven’t had a chance to follow, how is your senior year going? Also, does playing at a school with other elite players (Kansas commit David McCormack and Florida commit Keyontae Johnson are amongst his teammates) help you for next year, when you’ll be playing with so many stars at Kentucky?

I would say that it prepares me pretty well. Being able to play with other good players, I think it really makes me better. To play with other good players day-in and day-out, going against those guys in practice, I really benefit from it every day.

On the court, how would you say your season going so far?

It’s going pretty well. We’re 21-0. I’m doing pretty well, having a pretty good season [Johnson is averaging a team-high 21 points per game, and shooting 54 percent from the field for the No. 2 ranked team in the country). Hopefully it continues that way.

I know you’ve talked about it a lot, but take me through the recruitment with Kentucky. It seems like things moved pretty quickly, receiving an offer late in the summer, an official visit and then commitment. Take us through the decision for you to go to Kentucky?

At the beginning, I sat down with my parents and I told them that I wanted to get my decision over with in the first signing period. And once things got going, I thought that Kentucky would be the best fit for me. I talked to Coach Cal, I talked to my parents, and it was at that time that I knew that it would be the best fit for me. Me and my family came to an agreement, and it all came together.

Why do you personally think Kentucky was the best fit for you?

A. I feel like me and Coach Cal, we clicked from Day 1. He was very honest with me. Coach Payne and Coach Justus, we all clicked. So we clicked from Day 1, everyone was honest, and I think they can get me where I want to go.

You say they were “honest.” What were they honest about exactly?

[Cal was honest about] his is expectations. The things that he expects and the things he knows I can do. He didn’t really try to compare me to this player or that player. He compared me to Keldon Johnson, and told me that he really just wants me to be the best Keldon Johnson I can be.

I could be mistaken, but I’ve read a lot of places that your dad wasn’t sold on Kentucky. Not to say that he thought Kentucky is a “bad” school or anything, but more that he needed some convincing.

In a way, I guess you could say that. He thought some other things might be better for me, but I thought Kentucky was the best for me. And I just sat down with him, and we had a man-to-man, heart-to-heart conversation and I made my decision [with his blessing] from there.

…💙🙏🏾

A post shared by KJ (@keldonjohnson) on

I know you took your official visit with [fellow Kentucky commit] Immanuel Quickley and you both committed a pretty short time after. Did you guys connect on the trip?

Me and Immanuel we get along pretty well. I’ve always known Immanuel [for a while]. So with me and Immanuel being on an official visit together, we both kind of clicked there, kept talking after that and then we committed… He’s an amazing point guard.

Let me ask you this: There are now a lot of kids starting to make their college decisions. Are you now an active recruiter for Kentucky?

I mean, I guess you could say that. I don’t think I’m the best active recruiter. I’ve been so busy with high school basketball and things like that, but I think my future teammates that have committed have done a good job recruiting. I think they’ve been picking up the slack for me.

Have you had a chance to watch any Kentucky games this year?

I definitely watch them a lot. You’re going to have to come to play [against them] from the jump because they’re going to bring it to you. The only weakness I’d see is that they’re young, but that’s a strength too because the young players have so much upside.

Final question: [According to a tip to KSR] There’s a rumor floating around that you’re actually going to be performing with the Oak Hill dance team later this year? Any truth to that rumor?

Oh, man. Who told you?

Everyone knows. It’s all over the internet

Oh man, me and a couple of other players, we’re on the dance squad. We haven’t practiced much because we’ve been on the road. But yes, we are practicing to dance with some of the other kids here, and we’re currently on the dance team.

How would you grade yourself as a dancer?

[Laughing]. I can’t dance at all. I’m always open for new things, and I’m willing to try it. Why not?

Anything else that you’d want a Kentucky fan who doesn’t know a lot about you to know?

We’re going to get a lot of wins next year.

Aaron Torres is covering basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”


An outsider’s view on Kentucky’s win over LSU

One of the cool things about my job here at KSR, is that this is the first time in my career that I’ve ever really been a “beat writer.” In the past I’ve spent so much time covering the national scene (and still do) that I haven’t had time to really follow a team from start to finish, watch them grow, watch them get better and watch them mature as the season has gone on.

Therefore, you can imagine how much fun I’m having covering this particular Kentucky team. It certainly isn’t the most talented of the Calipari era (or at least doesn’t appear to be at this point in the season anyway) but it’s also a group that’s impossible not to like. A group that – at least right now – plays hard, plays for each other, and oh by the way is getting better with every game. Had you asked me what the ceiling was for this team after the Kansas game, I would have said “not good.” Only here we are less than two months later and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what this team is capable of by March.

And no place was that more evident than on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge. While some will look at a 74-71 win over LSU as not very impressive (more on that coming) I think it’s the opposite. In a true road environment, this young team handled itself well, and – like they have as the competition has improved the last few weeks – seems to be getting better with each and every game.

I’ve done takeaways columns recently after both the UCLA and Louisville games and have found them incredibly therapeutic – here are some thoughts on Wednesday’s win over LSU:

What in the world has gotten into Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?

So, Jack had his magic beanstalk beans. Popeye had his spinach. Mark McGwire had copious amounts of steroids. And Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has his new haircut, apparently. Honestly, the new haircut is the only logical explanation for the sudden uptick in Gilgeous-Alexander’s game, and it’s clear that his barber’s clippers gave him super powers. That’s really the only explanation I’ve got.

In all seriousness, I can’t ever remember a single player, making a single bigger leap in a shorter amount of time than Gilgeous-Alexander has in these last few games. For months we were told how much potential Gilgeous-Alexander had and it seems like it’s finally all clicked since the Louisville game (the first with the new haircut).

Looking at his numbers tells the entire story. In his last three games, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 21 points and four assists per game, and the best part he hasn’t forced any of it. He has only attempted 41 total shots in those three games (an average of about 14 a game) and has been a hyper-efficient 51 percent from the field. He also isn’t a great three-point shooter at this point in his career, and has limited himself to just five attempts over that stretch, preferring to attack the basket.  In the process, he is also showing off skills that most of us (or at least me) didn’t know he had, including those wild, lefty finishes in the lane. Point being, that in the last three games, Gilgeous-Alexander has been the team’s best (and most efficient) scorer, distributor and finisher. Not bad for one the “lower” rated recruits in this freshman class, huh?

By the way, you know what the best part of Gilgeous-Alexander’s night was Wednesday against LSU? In addition to everything he did offensively, he also perfectly defended Tremont Waters last shot defensively as well. He kept Waters in front of him, and when LSU’s freshman guard tried to jump into him to create a foul, Gilgeous-Alexander backed off and watched as the shot missed wildly. That’s the kind of basketball smarts you simply can’t teach.

Now granted, I’m not sold that this all means that Gilgeous-Alexander is going to springboard to the NBA like some do. But right now he is a really, REALLY good player for Kentucky. And apparently, it’s all thanks to a haircut.
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The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E8: Mike Decourcy

It’s time to ring in the New Year (OK, you did that three days ago) with a new episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast.  After a candid conversation with Nick Coffey, Aaron is joined by Mike Decourcy from The Sporting News.  Highlights from the sports podcast that is sweeping America:

—  What it was like to be in the Yum Center when Kevin Stallings was yelling at fans.

—  How bad is Kansas is?

—  Is the SEC the best conference in college basketball?

—  Mike Decourcy reveals the lies about the “One and Done” rule.

—  Is there a surprise best team in college basketball no one is talking about?

—  How and why Michigan State is peaking going into conference play.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


An outsider’s perspective on Kentucky’s dominant win over Louisville

As you all know by now, Friday might have gone down as the wildest sports day on the calendar in 2017 for the Kentucky Wildcats fan-base. Admittedly, most of you have had your fill of Music City Bowl content by my esteemed KSR colleagues, so instead I figured I’d focus on the basketball win over Louisville.

Even the dumbest outsider (me) knows how important this game was, not just because of the rivalry aspect of it, but because entering a brutal SEC, Kentucky needed as many signature wins as they could get. And outside of a victory over Virginia Tech two weeks ago, they really didn’t have one.

Instead, the Wildcats needed to bounce back after that sloppy game against UCLA last Saturday and did it Friday.

Here are some thoughts on the Wildcats’ win:

Kentucky’s best work couldn’t be found in the box score

If you read my write-up following the UCLA game, you know that what I thought was especially frustrating about that loss was the effort that Kentucky put forth. The players seemed a little too high coming off that Virginia Tech win, a little too eager to hit the Christmas holiday, and it showed in their effort. In essence, it seemed like every loose ball and hustle play went the way of the Bruins, and I wrote about Tuesday morning. Apparently John Calipari agreed, since he mentioned just hours later how he needed to see “more fight” from his team. (Clearly, he’s reading my articles at KSR).

Regardless, something had to change on Friday against Louisville. And it did. Kentucky dominated on the scoreboard, not so much because they were the bigger, more talented team (although that helped), but because they dominated in all of the areas that don’t show up on the box score. They played with more energy, effort and hustle, and attacked the rim off the dribble (especially Hamidou Diallo, Shai Alexander and even P.J. Washington). They also scrapped for every 50/50 ball, which led to second chance and trips to the foul line.

You can point to a million different stats in the box score, but more than anything, it was the intangible stuff, the things you can’t measure, which helped them not only win this game, but dominate.

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Why Kentucky fans should be disappointed, but not concerned with the Wildcats loss to UCLA

As the resident “outsider” here at Kentucky Sports Radio, I always do my best to stay in tune with the “mood” of the Kentucky fan-base. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll never understand the exhilarating highs or devastating lows of rooting for this particular team. But as someone whose job it is to give fans an outside view, I do try to at least understand where they are coming from.

That’s also why I tried to my best to pay especially close attention following the Wildcats’ loss to UCLA on Saturday. I knew that fans would be salty after the loss, and to be blunt, I understand why. This was a game where Kentucky entered as the favorite in Vegas and entered as the better team in the minds of virtually every impartial observer (myself included) and found a way to lose the game anyway. Even worse, it was a game where they largely because of their own self-inflicted mistakes like shooting too many three’s, turning the ball over, and in general, just getting outhustled.

In essence this is a loss every fan had the right to be mad about.

But even with that said, part of the job of being the outsider here is to try and give a broader, 30,000 foot perspective, and I feel like this is an especially good day to do that. Not only because I focus so much on Kentucky thanks to my job at KSR, but because I also know the UCLA program insanely well from living in Los Angeles and covering quite a few of their games over the last few years. As I said on Friday, I have already been to several of their games, and would argue that no one in the national media knows that program better than I do.

And it’s because of that, that I’m here to hopefully remove some of the gloom from Saturday’s loss For Kentucky fans. Because while there were some, big-picture problems that need to be addressed, this was also a game that the Wildcats could have won if just a couple things had gone different.

In other words, while fans have a right to be frustrated following this loss, I don’t think they have a reason for wide-spread panic or a need to give up on the season as a whole.

Here’s why:
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The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E7: Tim Brando

It’s a post-Christmas edition of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, as Aaron has his regular visit with Nick Coffey, before he welcomes iconic college football broadcaster Tim Brando to the show. Before Brando starts a conversation about the College Football Playoff, Aaron and Nick discuss…

—  Brian Bowen’s comments on ESPN.

— Should Kentucky fans be worried after the UCLA game?

—  A Kentucky-Louisville Preview.

—  Why Brando believes the CFB Playoff will soon expand.

—  Is Georgia close to catching Alabama as the best program in the SEC?

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


5 things you need to know about UCLA

5 things you need to know about UCLA

 (Note: This article was written before UCLA announced that forward Jalen Hill and Cody Riley would be suspended the rest of the season)

It isn’t an exaggeration to call Saturday’s game between Kentucky and UCLA “one of the marquee matchups of the college basketball season.” Take two of the most successful programs in college basketball history, two that have combined to win 19 national championships and produce roughly 11 billionty All-American’s, All-Conference performers and players of the year, and this one just feels big. Like seeing Notre Dame and USC get together in college football or the Dodgers and Cubs in baseball.

But the crazy thing is that in addition to all the ancient history between the two schools, there is also a lot of modern history too, in what is budding into a fun rivalry. In total, Saturday will mark the fifth time in four seasons the two schools have gotten together, with the teams splitting the previous four matchups. Last year was especially epic, with UCLA notching a shocking win at Rupp Arena, only to see Kentucky come back and knock the Bruins off in the tournament.

Still a lot has changed since last March’s matchup (including, two Balls coming and going from the UCLA program – yes, I realize the terrible double-meaning there but just roll with it) and Kentucky fans might not be totally caught up with the new Bruins. Thankfully that’s what I’m here for: I live on the West Coast and have seen UCLA a number of times in person this year. I’d venture to guess I know more about this program that just about any national media member out there.

So what do you need to know about these Bruins heading into Saturday’s matchup? Here are five things:

Their best player is point guard Aaron Holiday

Holiday is an interesting story, and ultimately a pretty cool one, if you’re simply a fan of college basketball and seeing good kids work hard and be rewarded.

Holiday is the youngest of three basketball playing brothers, with his two older brothers, Justin and Jrue Holiday both currently play in the NBA. To those of you thinking “Wow, I didn’t know that” as it turns out, not all parents with three basketball playing sons have parents who crave the spotlight. Not that I’m talking about any parent specifically, of course.

Anyway, speaking of unnamed players and parents, Holiday was also the guy who largely had to take a back seat last season with the arrival of Lonzo Ball at UCLA. After starting a bunch of games and averaging 31 minutes a game as a freshman, he actually saw his numbers dip last season to just 26 minutes per game, with Ball getting the brunt of the minutes at the point guard position. To Holiday’s credit he largely took the role in stride (both publicly, and as best I can tell privately as well) and instead provided a nice lift off the bench. Steve Alford liked to call Holiday his “sixth starter” as he averaged 12 points in a reserve role last season. There were games where he was actually the best player on the court.

Yet for the huge backseat he took last year, Holiday has stepped to the forefront in 2017-2018. He is averaging a team-high 17 points per game this season, and has also hit the biggest shot of the year for the Bruins, a near buzzer-beater to knock off Wisconsin in November.

And ultimately that’s again what makes Holiday’s story so cool. In a world where there is so much turmoil and turnover in college basketball – with players transferring the second they don’t start – it’s nice to see a kid be patient, adjust as the coaching staff needs him to, and ultimately be rewarded the way Holiday has been this year.

Big man Thomas Welsh is still at UCLA

Any Kentucky fan should know exactly who I’m talking about, since Welsh has basically killed the Wildcats in the last two regular season games the teams have played. Welsh was an absolute monster two seasons ago when the teams played at Pauley Pavilion, tallying 21 points and essentially single-handedly beating the Wildcats that night by hitting one pick-and-pop mid-range jumper after another. He followed that up with a similar performance last year at Rupp Arena where he tallied 14 points and eight boards. T.J. Leaf was the star that night. But Welsh had a hell of a performance in his own right.

Well this year Welsh is back for his final season on campus, and is having his best statistical year yet. As things stand, Welsh is averaging 13 points and a team-high 10 rebounds per game, and has also extended that mid-range game to the three-point line. He is shooting 45 percent from the three-point arc, making 9 of 20 this season.

Outside of Welsh, suspensions have killed UCLA’s front court

Hey, remember that time three UCLA players got arrested for shoplifting in China? And remember when it became an international incident that eventually led to LaVar Ball throwing verbal jabs at the President on CNN? Remember that? Well, while it was obviously a huge issue off the court, on the court it has also had a major impact on the Bruins season – and not in the way you’d expect.

That’s because while all of the focus was on the middle Ball brother, LiAngelo, getting caught up in the mix, in actuality, Ball was the least important of the three suspended players. Even if Ball had never been suspended, he would have struggled to get on the court this season for the Bruins.

Ironically, it’s actually the other two suspended players – Cody Riley and Jalen Hill – whose absences have been felt much more severely. Both were Top 50 recruits and both were expected to provide some much needed size in the paint. Riley is a 6’8 bruiser (who is best known as Marvin Bagley’s teammate last year at Sierra Canyon High School) and was expected to start in the low block alongside Welsh. He would have brought the toughness and physicality that the team is lacking right now. Hill is a lanky 6’10 kid who would have provided some much needed shot blocking.

And honestly, the Bruins are lost without the two. With all due respect to Welsh (who is a solid player), he does his best work playing on the perimeter, and even on defense doesn’t have the quickness or athleticism to protect the rim. The other two big guys that UCLA regularly plays are GG Goloman and Alex Olesinski, a pair which would have barely seen the floor this year without the suspensions, but now are being forced into roles they weren’t expected to play. It’s especially tough for Olesinski, who actually sat out last season with an injury.

Point being, if there’s one place Kentucky can exploit the Bruins, it’s in the paint.

The rest of UCLA’s freshman class is loaded

It’s common knowledge that Kentucky and Duke finished with the top two recruiting classes in college basketball last year, but what few people realize is that the Bruins were right behind them. This was a loaded, eight-player class, although it has admittedly taken a bit of a dip without Hill and Riley in the lineup.

The two most notable names in the class (and the two players Kentucky fans should fear the most) are point guard Jaylen Hands and wing Kris Wilkes. Hands had the unfortunate distinction of coming in as a highly-rated point guard tasked to replace Lonzo Ball, an impossible request since, well, no one is Lonzo Ball (kind of like Brandon Knight having to be the guy to replace John Wall at Kentucky years ago). Still, even though he’s not Ball (who is?) Hands has had a nice start to the season, averaging 12 points and nearly three assists a game.

Wilkes is even more of an interesting backstory. He actually won Indiana Mr. Basketball last season, but ultimately chose the Bruins over Indiana (just another death knell for Tom Crean at Indiana) and for the most part has lived up to the hype this season. He’s averaging a respectable 11 points per game, but has had some of his best games in UCLA’s biggest games (including 18 in their opener against Georgia Tech).

And finally…

This just isn’t the same Bruins’ team from last season:

It’s funny, whenever I watch these 2017-2018 UCLA Bruins, I can’t help but think back to their team last year. I was at their first exhibition game of the season, and it was incredible to see how effortlessly that team jelled since Day 1. Lonzo Ball got all the credit, but what people forget is that he walked into a near perfect team to highlight his unique skill-set. In addition to Lonzo, the Bruins had two of the best shooters in school history on the perimeter (Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford) and two big guys who could hit open jumpers (Welsh and T.J. Leaf). Ball set them up, and those guys knocked down shots every time.

(In a lot of ways, that 2017 UCLA team reminded me a lot of the 2010 Kentucky team that I wrote a book about. Everyone remembers John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins on that team, but so much of their success was because of the returning players like Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins).

But seeing UCLA open things up last season also set up the jarring reality when I saw the Bruins debut in their first exhibition this year: They looked like just another lost college team trying to figure things out. If the Bruins were a well-oiled machine from the beginning last year, they were very much a work in progress coming into 2017-2018, and that was only made worse by the suspensions of Hill and Riley. It’s also clear how far the Bruins have to go every time they take the court; they’ve lost to the three best teams they’ve played this season, Creighton, Michigan and Cincinnati.

Point being that while the front of their jerseys say “UCLA” the Bruins are far from the team that they put on the floor last year. They lost too much off last year’s club, and the suspensions have – in large part – depleted what’s left.

On a neutral court, in New Orleans, I actually expect the Wildcats to win Saturday pretty easily.

Aaron Torres is covering basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”