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Aaron Torres’ Take

5 Things To Watch for As Kentucky Gets Set to Battle Louisville

It’s no secret to anyone reading this, but there is a big, massive, season-altering game on the docket for Saturday afternoon.

No, I’m not talking about Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl. Although I hear that will be a good one.

I am of course talking Kentucky vs. Louisville, at 2 p.m. from the Yum Center. And what I can tell you is that this is a MASSIVE game this particular season for both teams. Louisville is still trying to find itself, and would love a big win heading into ACC play. Kentucky meanwhile wants to prove to America that last week’s win over North Carolina was no fluke. Win this one, and the Wildcats are officially on a roll heading into SEC play. They would also have a second, big-time non-conference win to add to their eventual NCAA Tournament resume.

So with so much on the line, what are some things to watch out for? Here are five things I’m looking for from the Kentucky perspective.

How is Ashton Hagans ankle? And how replicable is his performance from last week?

As best I can tell they don’t hand out MVP awards for the CBS Sports Classic, but if they did, there is no doubt that Hagans would have taken home the honor for Kentucky. The freshman point guard was simply the most impactful player on the floor for the Wildcats against UNC, setting up the offense on one end and completely causing nightmares for the Tar Heels on the other end. He finished with eight steals on the night, and the crazy part is that he did it on basically one leg after turning his ankle early in the game.

Talk about a gutsy performance in what was essentially a “must-win” game for Kentucky. Now the question is, how healed is his ankle? And can he come close to replicating that performance on Saturday at the Yum Center?

Look, it’s obvious that no one expects Hagans to finish the game with eight steals like he did the other day. But if he can continue to bring the intensity that he did on the defensive end, he can once again completely get Louisville out of its rhythm on offense. Louisville point guard Christen Cunningham is actually coming off an injury himself (in his case, a concussion) and probably won’t be 100 percent, which makes Hagans performance that much more important.

If Hagans can get under Cunningham’s skin, and help on leading scorer Jordan Nwora, he could make it difficult on Louisville’s offense and once again completely swing a game. And it could completely swing a win in Kentucky’s favor.

How will the entire team’s intensity be?

While Hagans was the headline story of last week’s win against North Carolina, the underlying story was that the entire team had a different attitude than we had seen all season. Gone was the loosey goosey, float-through-the-game attitude we saw the first two months of the season, and in was an intensity and anger that we frankly hadn’t seen the entire regular season.

As I joked when Keldon Johnson and P.J. Washington bumped chests late in the game: “Bahamas Kentucky is BACK, baby!” (Ok, as you can see, I spelled Kentucky wrong. But hopefully you got the point).

Anyway, it was that exact intensity and that style of play which created so much excitement for this team following the Bahamas trip. Yet sadly, we really hadn’t seen much of it since the team returned to the mainland this season. But for Kentucky to get a win in this one, and get on a roll going forward, they’re going to once again need that intensity. Heck, they’re going to need that intensity all season long.

And if they can get that intensity all season long? Well, look out. There isn’t a single team in college basketball that Kentucky can’t play with.

Can Tyler Herro start hitting his open shots?

As I wrote earlier in the week, all the pieces are slowly starting to fall in place for Kentucky. Hagans has established himself as this team’s point guard. Reid Travis and P.J. Washington have figured out how to play together. Keldon Johnson is doing Keldon Johnson things.

But the one missing piece right now is Tyler Herro. And if he can start to knock down wide open jumpers, can you imagine how much more dangerous this team could be?

Look, I know what some of you are thinking: “AT, cut the kid a break. He’s averaging 12 points per game. That’s nothing to scoff at from a freshman.” I totally, 100 percent agree. At the same time, let’s also never forget that he’s shooting just 29 percent from three this season. This, after shooting a staggering 57 percent in the Bahamas over the summer.

And the crazy part is, it’s not as though he’s taking super-tough shots, or that the shots have even been defended well. It’s not as though he’s going up against elite players every game either. The bottom-line is that at this point, Herro has wide open shots. And they’re just not falling.

The good news is that this is perfectly normal. All great shooters go through slumps. The fun part is this: Imagine when those shots start to go in? And how much more dangerous this UK team will be?

If that happens… WATCH… OUT.

What can Kentucky get from its bench?

In hindsight, probably the most incredible thing about the North Carolina win is that Kentucky got the victory while getting virtually nothing from its bench. In total, non-starters combined for just six points (although Nick Richards did add six rebounds as well).

And the crazy thing is that Kentucky still won going away! Can you imagine how dangerous this team will be once it starts getting production from non-starters?

And again, here’s the wild thing: It’s not like the guys on the bench aren’t capable of playing better. It’s not like they’re a bunch of three-star recruits who are just filling out the back-end of the roster. Instead it’s three McDonald’s All-Americans coming off the bench right now (Richards, Immanuel Quickley and E.J. Montgomery) with another Top 75-ish or so recruit in Jemarl Baker.

So seriously, can you imagine how dangerous this team will be when Baker gets comfortable on the floor for the Wildcats? Or if they can start to get just a tiny bit more from Montgomery, who is averaging just five points and four rebounds so far this season? Seriously, everyone – even Montgomery – knows he can do more than that. And we know Richards and Quickley can give more when given the opportunity as well.

Finally, will there be a hangover this weekend?

To fully explain my last thought, we must go back to a blurry night in Vegas a few years ago. I was actually at the Kentucky-North Carolina game in Vegas two seasons ago when Malik Monk went off for a surreal 47 points in a win against the Tar Heels. It remains one of the best college basketball games I’ve ever been to. And the after-party certainly hasn’t been matched since.

Anyway, enough about my Vegas nights, because the bottom-line is, we all remember what happened next: Kentucky came back home high off that win and ended up losing at Louisville. I don’t remember ever detail of the game, but I seem to remember the 73-70 final score was closer than the game itself was.

So coming off a massive win, can Kentucky avoid seeing history repeat itself and get another big win heading into SEC play?

It’s just one of many things I’m interested to see this weekend.


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 108: Kentucky-Louisville preview + Dave Wannstedt talks College Football Playoff

It might be a vacation week for some – but it’s never vacation for the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Nick Coffey and Aaron preview Louisville-Kentucky this weekend, before Fox’s Dave Wannstedt and Alabama radio host Ryan Fowler preview the College Football playoff. Here is a preview of today’s show:

A preview of Louisville-Kentucky with Nick and Aaron: Aaron and Nick Coffey discuss all the elements of the biggest college hoops game of the weekend – Louisville-Kentucky. Does either fan-base really know what to expect coming into this game? What are the keys to the matchup? And who do the guys think will win? Aaron and Nick also talk College Football Playoff as well, previewing the big games and explaining who they like to get victories. Are we sure Notre Dame can’t beat Clemson? And why Aaron thinks Alabama will have extra motivation versus Oklahoma.

Dave Wannstedt talks all things college football: Next up, Fox’s Dave Wannstedt joins the show to break down a variety of topics across college football. He talks about his glory days as an assistant with the Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys and why he believes it’s time for an eight-team playoff. Also, he gives a game-plan on how to go about beating Alabama.

Finally, Alabama radio host Ryan Fowler: Fowler brings the Bama perspective to the show prior to kick-off Saturday. He discusses – in the way that only he can – what it is like to cover Nick Saban. Could he have ever seen this success coming? And what does he think about Tua losing the Heisman to Kyler Murray and how it could impact this game?

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

 


We Are Just Now Seeing What Kentucky’s Ceiling Might Look Like This Season

As has been written several times over the last few weeks, the gift and the curse of the John Calipari era at Kentucky is that regardless of what happens early in the season, he always has his teams ready for March. No matter how hopeless things might seem in November and December, by tournament time, his team is always a threat to make a run.

We now have over a decade’s worth of data to prove it.

Remember, even before Calipari got to Kentucky, his final four teams at Memphis made it to at least the Sweet 16, a staggering string of success that the school has never come close to replicating. And since he’s gotten to Kentucky it’s been much the same. While there have been plenty of years where Calipari has had one of the best teams in the country all season long (2010, 2012, 2015, 2017) there have been plenty others where things looked hopeless early, before they picked up late (2011, 2014, 2018).

Still, even with that as a background, even with the knowledge that Calipari always figures it out, I’ll readily admit one thing: I’ve been blown away by Kentucky’s improvement over the last two games. It was less than 20 days ago that we were wondering what was wrong with the Cats following a loss to Seton Hall, with everyone (including myself) questioning if they’d ever figure it out. Fast-forward, and they’ve got two straight wins, including one over a really good North Carolina team, in a game they largely dominated from start to finish. As anyone reading this knows, the 80-72 final was much closer than the game itself actually was.

And as I sit back and reflect on that win, it’s got me thinking about Kentucky, and the fact that – as we all know – John Calipari is only going to have this team playing better and better as the season goes and peaking in March.

Therefore, it feels fair to ask: Are we just now starting to see what this team is capable of? Because I do believe we are. And if that’s the case, just how high could this team’s ceiling be, come March? It’s a little scary to think about right now to be honest.

Let’s start with what we learned over the last few games, which could be best summed up by saying “Hmm, maybe this team isn’t so bad after all.” In the Bahamas we saw just how good these individual pieces were, and now we’re starting to see how they all fit together.

In terms of the good stuff, there are a few things we know so far. One, Ashton Hagans is the answer at point guard. This is no longer debatable. After a game where he completely dominated against North Carolina – and did so basically on one leg – we now know that Hagans is the engine that will drive this team. While his jump shot is a work in progress (and will be even after he leaves Kentucky) he can still get to the spots on the floor he wants to on offense, which in turn helps create offense for others. And defensively he’s just a nightmare. Good luck to any guard who is trying to run offense against the Wildcats from here on out.

Beyond Hagans, we’ve learned some other things as well. P.J. Washington and Reid Travis are starting to learn how to play together. Travis is of the most intimidating low post presences in all of college basketball, and Washington is versatile enough where he can step outside the paint when he and Travis are on the floor together. When Travis is on the bench, Washington can go into the low post and dominate against most teams Kentucky will play, like he did against Seton Hall. Additionally, Keldon Johnson is evolving into exactly what he was promised to be: An uber-competitive two-way player who busts his butt on both ends of the floor. His offense has picked up exponentially over the last two games, and even if we can’t expect him to keep those numbers up (he’s averaging 23.5 points on 10-14 shooting), he is a player who is capable of going off for 20 on any given night.

So that’s what we know about Kentucky right now. But here is the scary part: They still have so much more growing to do before they come close to the team that they could be by March. Admittedly, most teams grow through the season. But with so many young players, so much raw talent and so many new faces, it does seem like Kentucky’s growth – like it usually is – will be more pronounced than some other schools.

Seriously, think about how much better this team can get.

Let’s start with Tyler Herro. Looking at the raw numbers he’s been fine so far – 12 points per game from a freshman is never anything to scoff at. Yet he is also only hitting 29 percent from three-point land right now. And it’s not like he’s taking highly-contested shots against elite defenders. He’s missing wide open bunnies that eventually will fall for him. Can you imagine how much more lethal this offense will look if, and when, a few of those will fall? If he can just get that three-point shooting percentage to say 35 or 36 percent, you’re talking about an addition six or so points per game.

Beyond Herro, how about Jemarl Baker? We saw flashes against Utah and to John Calipari’s credit, he ran Baker out there quite a bit against North Carolina. What if Baker becomes another threat off the bench that can hit threes? At that point, you’d have a team with about five or six guys (Johnson, Herro, Baker, Washington, Immanuel Quickley) who can hit deep threes. You know how much more that will spread out the defense and make life easier for the Wildcats on offense?

Furthermore, at some point you’ve got to think that the Wildcats will get something more from E.J. Montgomery as well. He’s in a tough spot behind Travis and Washington but we all know he’s capable of more than the five points and four boards per game he is averaging right now. Same with Quickley, who can add scoring punch off the bench as well.

So let’s just take those little tweaks. Take a little bit more consistent shooting from Herro, a bit more from Montgomery, anything from Baker, and add it in with the production Kentucky is already getting, well again, I’d ask, what exactly is the ceiling of this team?

Because as someone who covers college basketball for a living, I can tell you this: If we ever do see that version of Kentucky? There aren’t many teams in the country that will be able to hang with them. And there aren’t many teams, even at the top of the rankings, that Kentucky wouldn’t be able to compete with – and potentially beat – on a neutral court in March.

Seriously, I watch about as much college basketball as anyone, and when I think about a Kentucky squad firing on all cylinders, there aren’t many teams that come to mind who I’d think “Man, they’d give the Wildcats problems.” A full-strength, peaking Kentucky can absolutely hang with the schools atop the polls like Michigan, Tennessee (the team I believe should be No. 1 in the country right now) and Kansas. Same with Virginia and Nevada. Heck, I think they’d be favored against some of those squads on a neutral court.

Others would give them more trouble like Gonzaga (don’t overthink the Zags loss to North Carolina – they were down two key players. The Zags are very much legit), but I even think the Wildcats would be capable of hanging with Duke. Yes, we all saw the debacle in Indianapolis a few weeks back. But as the season wears on it’s looking more like that was the best game Duke played all year, and the blueprint is now out on how you can hang with them. Plus, I would think the Wildcats would come out more focused and fired up in a second meeting with them.

Of course these are all just hypotheticals right now, and we’ll find out just how far this team has come, and how far they have to go, Saturday when the Wildcats return to the court against Louisville.

But based on what we’ve seen the last few weeks, it’s perfectly acceptable for Kentucky fans to dream big.

And wonder just how good this team might be come March.

 


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 107: Kentucky-UNC Headline Wild CBB Weekend

It’s a Christmas treat — a new episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast to take you into the holiday, as Aaron and Nick recap a busy weekend of college hoops. The guys discuss:
Kentucky’s win over North Carolina: The guys break down the Wildcats’ dominant win over North Carolina in Chicago. Aaron explains why he believed UK could get win, even if he was surprised how easily it happened. Nick thinks we’ve found the formula to success for Kentucky. Also, is this team better without Quade Green? Is Ashton Hagans its most important player? And after a win like this, how high is the Wildcats’ ceiling?
The rest of the weekend in college hoops: The guys discuss the rest of the college hoops weekend. With Kansas’ loss, who should be No. 1 in the polls — Duke, Tennessee or someone else? They also break down Steve Alford’s “Only God can judge me” quote and why it really is over for the UCLA coach. Finally, they discuss the new Greek Freak Rick Pitino and his new head coaching job.

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


Why Saturday’s North Carolina Game Might be the Most Important of Kentucky’s Season

If you’ve read my coverage of Kentucky basketball through the years, you know that I always try to be fair and balanced in my coverage. I try to take the good with the bad, and add perspective when needed. And that’s made this season so specifically interesting. As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous articles, I understand both sides of the Kentucky fan-base right now. The side that says “I’m tired of being lousy in November and December, even if it means we’ll turn things around by March.” And the other side that says “We’ll be fine come March – and that’s all that matters.”

Still, even though history does tell us that Calipari will in fact figure things out by March, I am ready to admit one simple thing: This weekend’s matchup with North Carolina might just be the single most important game Kentucky plays until the start of the NCAA Tournament. That’s because the Tar Heels are the perfect opponent, at the perfect time, to gauge exactly where Kentucky is in the season right now. The Tar Heels are good, but not elite, and a club that plays the kind of style that the Wildcats are capable of winning against.

That’s also why the stakes feel so important in this game. If Kentucky wins, all will be right in Lexington heading into the Christmas holiday. If they don’t, it won’t be pretty. And if Kentucky gets blown out let’s be honest: It could be a sign of a long, cold, dark winter for the Wildcats.

Now I already know what some of you are thinking: “Aaron, how can you possibly think that Kentucky is ready to compete with Carolina? Carolina is coming off a home win against Gonzaga. Kentucky has played a grand total of three games against Power 6 competition and lost to two of them. Their best win is against Utah, which is bad… even by the terrible standards of the Pac-12. How, can North Carolina possibly be the perfect opponent for the Wildcats? Heck, how are they going to beat them period?”

Well, let’s start with Kentucky. Because while I understand any Wildcat fan who doesn’t want to get too excited about a win over lowly Utah, I do think there were positives to take out of that game, and even to a smaller degree from the loss two weeks ago against Seton Hall (yes, I’m being serious).

What positives are those?

In no particular order: Ashton Hagans is slowly establishing himself as the “prototypical Calipari point guard” this team needs to have success. P.J. Washington and Keldon Johnson have been the best player on the floor at moments in each of those two games – and looking at the rest of Kentucky’s schedule, there’s no reason to think they can’t be the best player on the floor against just about any opponent left on Kentucky’s schedule. Reid Travis is doing Grown Man Reid Travis things. Immanuel Quickley and E.J. Montgomery are slowly finding roles off the bench. Jemarl Baker might just be the greatest shooter of all-time (thanks to Drew Franklin for crunching the numbers here). Meaning that man, if Tyler Herro can start hitting shots… look out. This team could be lethal.

To put things a different way: While Kentucky hasn’t come close to reaching its potential yet, you can start to see signs that they might get there. And what that potential might actually look like.

Of course, that’s if all these guys develop the way they’re capable of. And if some of Kentucky’s weaknesses start to get cleaned up. You know, like allowing opponents to shoot 42 percent from the field, which ranks 159th nationally entering this game. Or, the fact that – in case you haven’t heard – Kentucky’s perimeter defense has been abysmal. The Wildcats currently rank 359th in that category nationally, just behind Eastern Illinois and Maine, and slightly ahead of Lafayette and Northern Colorado. Just a hunch, but I’m guessing none of those four teams have eight former Top 50 recruits on their roster.

Anyway, that’s also why North Carolina is a fantastic litmus test for where this team is: As I said, the Tar Heels are a good but not elite team. And more importantly, North Carolina doesn’t play a style that should have Kentucky out of sorts. They play a more “traditional” two big-man lineup, and don’t shoot a ton of three’s. As a team they’re shooting just 37 percent from beyond the arc, and if you take out their best three-point threat Cam Johnson, they’re shooting just 33 percent as a team.

But wait, there’s more.

Defensively, they – like Kentucky – are a work in progress (which really is kind of a nice way of saying “They stink”). The Tar Heels currently rank just a few spots ahead of Kentucky in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 42.2 percent from the field. They’ve given up 92 and 84 points in their two losses and even in last week’s win over Gonzaga, allowed the Zags to put up 92. As an opposing coach told me earlier this week they can be exposed defensively on the perimeter, which should allow for potential big games from P.J. Washington, E.J. Montgomery and Keldon Johnson. And as the coach also told me, the way to slow down the Tar Heels is to slow down their point guard Coby White. Luckily for Kentucky, their best defensive player will be the guy tasked with picking up White, Ashton Hagans.

Therefore, even though North Carolina is a good team, and even though they’ve got a couple wins that should make UK fans nervous (specifically Gonzaga over the weekend), this is a game the Wildcats, even as they currently stand, are capable of winning. While it feels like some teams would give UK fits at this point in the year (Michigan, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Duke, maybe Virginia), North Carolina isn’t one of them.

That’s also why this game is so important.

Look, we know that Kentucky is far from a finished product. And we know that they will pick things up at some point because, again, with Calipari they always do. But at a certain point it can’t just be about “getting better” and “developing good habits” and “tweaks.” It’s got to be about getting good wins. Not only to give this team confidence heading into the Louisville game and SEC play. But because they need to start building a resume to hopefully get a good seed come March.

Kentucky still has a long way to go.

But we’re going to find out just how long that road is this weekend.


What Will it Take for Kentucky to Beat UNC? We Asked a Coach Who Has Faced the Heels

It’s no secret that this weekend’s game against North Carolina is shaping up to be the most important of Kentucky’s young season so far. Through 10 games this season, Kentucky sits at 8-2 overall. The problem of course is that they’re just 1-2 against Power 6 conference programs and 0-2 away from Rupp Arena.

That’s certainly not good, but it can all be erased with a victory over North Carolina Saturday evening in Chicago. The Tar Heels are currently sitting at 8-2 themselves and coming off a big win against Gonzaga. Meaning, that a victory over UNC would not only give the Wildcats a much-needed confidence boost heading into next week’s Louisville game, but also would give them a very important out of conference win to help their resume later in the season as well. It would also prove that maybe these Wildcats can play with the big boys after all.

So yeah, this one is big, and as we enter the game, it’s left all of Big Blue Nation wondering: What is it going to take to pull out a victory?

For fun, I decided to call an assistant coach whose team played North Carolina earlier this season for a scouting report.

Understand, his team played UNC a few weeks back, so the Tar Heels have changed a bit since the opener. But here were a couple of his thoughts, pointers and opinions on what makes the Tar Heels tick, what their weaknesses are, and how to beat them:

Point guard Coby White is what makes this team tick

Luke Maye may be the most recognizable player on North Carolina’s roster. Nassir Little is the best long-term NBA prospect. Cam Johnson the team’s leading scorer. But it’s freshman point guard Coby White, and his ability to push the ball in pretty much any situation, which makes this team so deadly.

“Coby White’s speed is really, really unique,” the coach said. “The way he’s able to push the ball on misses or makes, and to get the ball down the floor [is lethal].”

And that last part is key: Unlike so many point guards, White doesn’t just push the ball off turnovers or in transition. Roy Williams has given him the green light to push the ball at pretty much any time, including off an opposing team’s made basket.

“On a made basket he gets that outlet and he’s able to get ahead of the defense before it can get set,” the coach said.

“The pressure he puts on the defense is different than any other point guard we’ve seen all year.”

Kentucky’s big guys better bring their hard hats

Another thing that makes North Carolina so unique is the versatility of their roster. They can run out lineups heavy on the things that are important in modern college basketball, superficially three-point shooting and spacing, thanks to the versatility of guys like White, Johnson and Nassir Little. But with Maye, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman, they also have a dearth of “old-school” bigs down low who can mix it up and get physical.

“What I didn’t mention is how great of an offensive rebounding team they are,” the coach said, when asked about their size in the paint. “They really punish you on the glass.”

The stats back it up. North Carolina enters this game ranked No. 1 in the country in rebounding margin, averaging 14 more rebounds per game than opponents. The Tar Heels also rank in the Top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounds.

The good news for Kentucky is that the Wildcats actually rank fifth in rebounding margin nationally. So it’s not like they’ll be completely out-manned on the boards.

But it does mean that for Kentucky to win, they’ll need Reid Travis and P.J. Washington to bring their hard hats.

It might also be a big day for E.J. Montgomery

When discussing the size of Carolina’s front line, the coach mentioned that while it might be a strength in some cases (that whole “dominating the glass,” thing) it could be a weakness as well. That’s because when the Tar Heels do face teams with smaller, quicker front lines that can stretch the floor and make jump shots, it makes that front-line susceptible on defense.

“That’s why Michigan gave them so many fits,” the coach said. “They had to guard smaller fours and more active fours and those guys aren’t comfortable playing like that.”

For those who missed the Michigan game, umm yeah, it wasn’t pretty for the Tar Heels. North Carolina lost to the Wolverines 84-67 on the road, in a game that Roy Williams said was “the worst” coaching he’s done in 31 years as a head man. And it was – in large part – due to what our coaching friend said: Michigan’s ability to space the floor. The Wolverines “power forward” Iggy Brazeikis finished with 24 points, including two three-pointers. Overall, Michigan hit 11 three’s as a team.

Add it up, and it means that as weird as it sounds, E.J. Montgomery – and his ability to space the floor – could be key to this game. If he can hit a few jumpers to loosen up the North Carolina defense, it could give the Wildcats the push they need. Also, could this serve as a breakout game for Jemarl Baker, who looked good in limited minutes against Utah on Saturday?

The longer you make North Carolina’s defense work, the more likely they are to fall apart

All season long, North Carolina has been known as a bad defensive team. And honestly, that assessment isn’t really fair. The bottom line is that because North Carolina plays at such a fast pace, it creates more possessions for both themselves and their opponents, which of course leads to more points for both teams. While I’m not a huge numbers nerd (listen to Monday’s podcast if you don’t believe me), it is important to note that UNC is ranked 39th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency stat, which basically factors in how fast they play with the number of points they give up. That’s not a great number, but not terrible either.

At the same time, the coach was adamant about one thing: If you can slow down the game, not give Carolina the chance to fast-break, and make them play 20-30 seconds of defense, they will eventually break down.

“If you’re able to reverse the ball and have a little bit of patience, they do struggle defensively reacting to the ball,” he said.

Then, he continued.

“I think that you need more of a disciplined offense when you’re playing against them. If you try to score early that’s not going to work. But if you keep the ball moving, you have a much better chance to score later in the shot clock.”

White can be turnover prone, and that’s especially the case in the half-court

To bring this bad boy full-circle, I think what we’ve all learned by now is that the Tar Heels transition game is what makes them so lethal. It allows them to feature their best trait (an ability to push the ball) while limit their weakness (half-court defense).

It also takes away what is their most important player’s individual weakness. That is Coby White and turnovers.

For all the great that White brings to the table, he is averaging 2.4 turnovers per game. And while there is no definitive stat to prove it, it seems like a lot of those turnovers come in the half-court, when White is asked to run an offense, as opposed to in the open court, where he is at his best.

“They’re good in the half-court but they’re better in transition,” the coach said.

Naturally.

The question now: Can Kentucky keep North Carolina out of transition?

That might be the key to winning and losing their most important game of the season.


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 106: American Idol Winner Taylor Hicks Returns

What an episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast it is.  Before the holidays Aaron is joined by his old frenemy, turned friend, American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Before the two talk shop, there is a TON of great college hoops to talk about, like…
Everything you need to know in college hoops: He breaks down NC State’s massive win over Auburn on Wednesday, and why the Wolfpack are a rising program under the watch of Kevin Keatts. Plus, why Keatts still doesn’t get enough credit for the early success he’s had.
Aaron also talks about the disaster at UCLA, after the Bruins lost by 30 to Cincinnati on Wednesday. Aaron says it’s over for Steve Alford and gives you the names to watch out for in Westwood. Also, it might be time for Jim Boeheim to consider stepping aside and a short preview of Kentucky-North Carolina.
Next up, Aaron welcomes American Idol winner Taylor Hicks: The pair re-hash their once blood-boiling feud, before explaining how they got over it, and are now friends. Taylor then talks about his new show “State Plate” and traveling the country, before the guys wrap by talking Taylor’s beloved Auburn Tigers and what it’s like to root against a Nick Saban coached team.

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


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 105: The Return of Nevada Coach Eric Musselman

It’s another lively edition of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast.  Aaron recaps a wild weekend in college basketball before Nevada’s Muss Bus returns to the show.
Why Tennessee Should be the No. 1 team in the country right now: While Kansas is No. 1, Aaron makes the case for a team Kansas beat — Tennessee. The Vols lost in overtime against the Jayhawks, in a game they dominated before their best player Grant Williams fouled out. After beating Gonzaga and dominating Memphis the last two weeks, why shouldn’t the Vols be No. 1?
Why Kentucky vs. North Carolina is HUGE: Next, Aaron discusses big wins this weekend for Kentucky and North Carolina. Aaron explains why he thinks UK is finally starting to turn a corner by figuring out who they can “go to war with,” while North Carolina is coming off an impressive win against Gonzaga at home (where Gonzaga wasn’t close to 100 percent). Aaron then asks: Is this weekend’s UNC-Kentucky game the one that will define both team’s seasons?
Next up, it’s the return of one of our favorite guests as Nevada coach Eric Musselman joins the show. Among the many topics they discuss include:
Nevada’s rise into the Top 10: Coach Muss talks about his current team, which is ranked No. 7 in the country. How did he build this team? What characteristics did he look for in his players? And why he always believed Year 4 (this season) was the one the Wolf Pack would break through. He and Aaron also discuss how analytics have sometimes hurt college basketball and what his Nevada team needs to work on to get better throughout this season.

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


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 104: Quade Green Transfers + Ben Howland

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast is back with a BIG-TIME guest, Mississippi State coach Ben Howland. Howland leads the 18th ranked team in the country as they get set to face Cincinnati this weekend. He and Aaron talk about a ton of topics, ranging from coaching Russell Westbrook to this year’s team.
But first Aaron discusses the biggest stories in college basketball, starting with:
Quade Green Elects to Transfer: The big news in college hoops is the decision of Quade Green to leave Kentucky. No one should be surprised, but Aaron explains why this is continuing a bad trend for Kentucky. Why is it that they can’t seem to keep a quality player past his freshman season? Is there anything Calipari can do to change that? The answer isn’t as simple as you think.
Trouble at Villanova: Next up, Aaron discusses another back-up point guard with big-time problems, Villanova’s Jahvon Quinerly. Quinerly is a McDonald’s All-American who can’t seem to find the court.  He sent out a cryptic Instagram message following Villanova’s loss to Penn on Tuesday night. Aaron gives inside information on Quinerly’s recruitment and why he doesn’t blame the kid for being frustrated. Also, Aaron compares Jay Wright’s system of going with veterans over talented freshman with John Calipari’s system of spotlighting freshmen.
Next Aaron welcomes a special guest, as Ben Howland joins the show.
Coach Howland’s Coaching Journety: Coach Howland’s first job in coaching, which involved guarding John Stockton every day in practice, and what it was like to coach Russell Westbrook at UCLA. Then he discusses this year’s Mississippi State team and why the SEC has gotten so good, so quick in basketball. Finally, he wraps with a couple incredible Westbrook stories.

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


Does Kentucky Basketball Have a Branding Problem?

A bad couple months for Kentucky basketball got worse on Wednesday with the news that Quade Green has decided to transfer from the school. When it rains it pours, and right now it’s pouring in Lexington. The Wildcats are 7-2, basically have no quality wins and are coming off a disappointing and at times head-scratching loss to Seton Hall on Saturday. Now they’ve lost a key reserve off their bench.

And if we’re being totally honest, Green’s departure really hurts. Sure, Ashton Hagans is slowly evolving into a solid starting point guard for the Wildcats, and yes, Green has deficiencies in his game that limited how much you could play him depending on the opponent, but that doesn’t change the fact that Kentucky lost a very valuable piece on Wednesday afternoon. On a team lacking three-point shooting, Green was the team’s best outside shooter (hitting 42 percent) and brought a veteran poise to games that neither Hagans or Immanuel Quickley has at this point. As Jon Rothstein pointed out on Twitter, Kentucky now has zero guards on its roster who have ever played in an NCAA Tournament game.

More important than Green’s individual departure however, is that this decision continues a disturbing trend for the Wildcats. For the fourth time in the last 30 months, Kentucky has now lost a non-freshman who has seemingly gotten lost in the rotation, with Green joining Charles Matthews, Marcus Lee and Sacha Killeya-Jones on the transfer market since spring of 2016. Not to mention that Wenyen Gabriel, Isaac Humphries and Isaiah Briscoe went pro despite minimal NBA prospects (although Briscoe has played himself into an NBA prospect during that stretch) during that stretch as well.

Add it up, and what has become a common talking point among fans has become an increasingly obvious trend. With each passing departure, it’s becoming more and more apparent that for whatever reason, players don’t seem to think there is a future for them at Kentucky after their sophomore seasons. Kentucky has become a place where it’s basically become “one-and-done or bust” for their players.

And it’s led me to one simple question: Does Kentucky basketball have a branding problem right now?

It seems so.

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Why It’s Perfectly Understandable for Kentucky Fans to Be Frustrated Right Now

So as you’ve probably definitely heard by now, Saturday was not a good day to be a Kentucky Wildcat. Not only did Kentucky lose to Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden, but they didn’t even lose to a particularly good Seton Hall team. There haven’t been many truly stunning regular season losses in the John Calipari era at Kentucky. But falling to a Seton Hall club which lost four starters off last year’s team and already had three losses this regular season would certainly qualify as one.

Still, despite the disappointing result I did what I try to normally do in situations like this: Look at the big picture and provide perspective for Big Blue Nation. No, a loss to Seton Hall doesn’t look good. But there were positives. P.J. Washington played like the star Kentucky needs him to be, Ashton Hagans is coming along as “the guy” at point guard, and Reid Travis is who we thought he was going to be when he decided to play his final season of college ball in Lexington.

More importantly though, this is both the gift and the curse of the John Calipari era at Kentucky. With John Calipari, it isn’t always going to be pretty in November and December. But you take some of the bad for the reality that come February and March this team will be in the hunt for a championship. And in sports, where the ultimate end prize is to win a title, isn’t that what matters? To win it all? It is, and say what you want about John Calipari, but when you have Coach Cal, you’re almost always going to be in the conversation to win. Even last year when the Wildcats went 21-10 in the regular season (including a four-game losing streak in SEC play) they were a couple missed free throws away from playing Loyola-Chicago for a trip to the Final Four (a game they would have won by a billion, by the way).

I expressed this exact sentiment in a tweet shortly after the Seton Hall loss.

Yet after I sent out the tweet, something strange happened: I got a little bit of a pit in my stomach. While what I said was true, it also felt a bit hollow to me, and it does feel like something is a little bit… different this season. More importantly, I kind of understand the perspective of fans who are frustrated with where Kentucky is at right now. I understand the ones who are starting to say “I’m tired of hearing we’ll be fine by March. I want to win in November and December, darn it!!”

And for the first time, I find myself somewhat siding with them. Why do Kentucky fans have to sacrifice wins in November and December just to be in the hunt late? At a school like Kentucky – with every resource available imaginable – why can’t you have both? Why does it have to be one of the other?

Now before we go forward, like I always try to do, let’s go ahead and clarify a few things.

One, this isn’t a “Calipari is on the hot seat” column. Don’t be ridiculous. Heck, it’s not even a “Calipari has lost his touch” article either. Despite what the nameless, picture-less accounts on Twitter will tell you, 99 percent of Kentucky fans realize just how good they have it with John Calipari and that if Calipari left (for the NBA or retirement) there isn’t anyone out there who is guaranteed to replicate the success he’s had in Lexington. Most of the fan-base appreciates Coach Cal, and most remember what life on the other side was like. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just go ahead and look at the “Kentucky” section on Billy Gillispie’s Wikipedia page. It ain’t pretty.

At the same time, it doesn’t mean that the fans who are frustrated are necessarily wrong either. Even if having Calipari on your sideline always guarantees you a shot in March, in the past it also meant you were going to be damn good early in the season as well. It’s no secret that in his first six seasons, there were three (2009-2010, 2011-2012 and 2014-2015) where Kentucky was unquestionably the class of college basketball. Yet here we are in 2018-2019 and it looks like for the third time in four seasons (excluding the 2016-2017 De’Aaron Fox/Malik Monk season), the Wildcats will be largely out of the national conversation for most of the regular season.

And the frustrating part that there is no obvious answer as to why. That’s something you couldn’t say in previous seasons. In 2016, Kentucky had basically lost its whole team from that magical, 2015 campaign, so a drop-off was expected. And last year Kentucky was the youngest team in college basketball.

This year though, what is Kentucky’s excuse? They brought back plenty of experience, and also added the best grad transfer on the market and a bunch of five-star recruits. Also, despite what some of the experts will tell you, the talent isn’t nearly as bad as some make it out to be: P.J. Washington and Keldon Johnson are projected by just about everyone as Top 20 picks in the next NBA Draft. Ashton Hagans and E.J. Montgomery could get there in the coming months as well. That’s not “We’re going undefeated!!” type talent. But it’s better than all but a handful of teams in college basketball.

Add it up, and that’s the most frustrating part right now: There is no obvious reason why this team is so bad. Maybe they were a little overhyped in the preseason, and I include myself in those who did the overhyping. At the same time, the reason that this team had so much hype was explainable. Kentucky entered the season with seven McDonald’s All-Americans and nine Top 40 recruits on this roster. Where were we supposed to rank them? Especially after they blitzed through a bunch of pros in the Bahamas. How could anyone have logically watched that team in the Bahamas, and then predicted that they would get blown out by Duke, lose to Seton Hall and struggle with just about everyone other than Monmouth on the schedule? It was flat-out inconceivable.

Only that’s exactly where we are, which is what’s so perplexing. It’s also why I’ve begun to side the fans who have grown tired of the whole “We might not have it all figured it out now, but we will by March” spiel. Why? One, this isn’t the typical Calipari team that struggles in November and December – again, there’s no tangible, logical reason for this team to be this bad.

And also, why does it have to be OK for the team to struggle early if it means they’ll be competitive late? Why can’t Kentucky be good in November and December as well as February and March? Duke is. Kansas is. Villanova historically has been. Same with Virginia. Even if Kentucky fans wouldn’t trade their March results with Virginia (or most anyone on this list) why does it have to be an either/or proposition? Why do the fans have to be OK with it? Especially at a place like Kentucky, where John Calipari is the second-highest paid coach in the sport and the fan-base and alumni provide every resource needed to compete at the highest level? That’s kind of the deal you make when you take the job at Kentucky: When you have every resource needed to compete at the highest level, it’s expected that… you know… you actually compete at the highest level. It’s not that you play well for a few weeks in February and get hot in March.

And that really is the gift and curse of being the head basketball coach at Kentucky, isn’t it? As John Calipari likes to say, he “can’t hide” his players in Lexington and right now it seems like the same can be applied to him. Again, I’m not saying Calipari needs to go (frankly, Kentucky fans are lucky to have him) but it is fair to question what’s wrong with this team, and why the November/December swoon has basically become an annual tradition.

Ultimately, the good news is as I’ve said all throughout this article: History tells us that Calipari will get things figured out by March. Like I said at the top, for as frustrating as last year’s team could be at times, they were basically a missed free throw or two away from playing Loyola-Chicago to go to the Final Four (a game I’m 1000 percent sure they would have won by the way). And I do believe this team will again be in position by March to compete with anyone in college basketball, be it Kansas, Gonzaga or yes, even Duke.

At the same time, March is a long way away.

And for the first time I can say that I understand any Kentucky fan that says “I don’t want to wait until March to have a competitive basketball team.”

For the first time, I get the fan’s frustration.

(By the way, Nick Coffey and I spent a lot of time talking about Kentucky, the frustating loss to Seton Hall and why the fans have every reason to be mad. To listen, download and subscribe here)


Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 103: Should UK Fans be Worried and How did Tua Lose the Heisman?

It is a jam-packed edition of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, as Aaron and his buddy Nick recap a wild weekend of college basketball and football. They talk a whole bunch of college hoops then go off on the Heisman trust.  A few of the topics touched on…
Kentucky’s loss to Seton Hall: Aaron and Nick take a deep dive on Kentucky’s loss to Seton Hall. First they focus on the positives (PJ Washington’s emergence as a star and Ashton Hagans) and also ask the question: Is there really any reason to believe Kentucky wont be fine by March? But that dive isn’t deep enough. Is the excuse of “We might not be good in November, but we will be ready by March” an acceptable excuse for Kentucky and John Calipari anymore?
The rest of the weekend in college hoops: They break down Tennessee’s victory over No. 1 Gonzaga. The Vols are just an old-school, hard hat college hoops team and the guys love it. Plus, they discuss Nevada’s victory over No. 20 Arizona State and why this Nevada team can hang with anyone in college basketball.
Aaron goes off on the Heisman Committee: Aaron can’t believe Tua lost the Heisman. If this is a season-long award, how did Tua lose it to Kyler Murray? Also, will this change the way Nick Saban coaches next year? And finally, Aaron explains why Tua and Alabama will get their revenge in the playoff in a few weeks.

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


Your Guide to the First Big Saturday of the College Basketball Season

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in over eight months we enter a Saturday where college basketball takes center stage. No pesky college football. No NBA Playoffs, NFL Draft, WNBA playoffs, skeet-shooting, jai alai. Nothing to steal the spotlight from the greatest game on planet Earth, college basketball.

That’s right, it’s December and it’s college hoops season. And to quote my guy Drew Franklin: Let’s goooooooooooooooooooooo!!

Honestly there is so much good college basketball on Saturday that, to be honest… well, that is the problem. There is… so… much… college… basketball. Where do you even begin?

Thankfully I’m here to answer that question, with your guide to the first Saturday of college hoops season with no football.

No. 9 Kentucky vs. Seton Hall, 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX

It only seems appropriate to start with the game that is of the most interest to everyone reading this post: Kentucky vs. Seton Hall. The marquee program in college hoops, playing in the marquee arena in all of basketball. What’s better than that?

Not much, and what makes it even better is that for the first time in a long time we should learn something about these Wildcats. Seton Hall almost strikes me as the perfect team for Kentucky to play in this setting; the Pirates are a step up in competition and the first Power 6 program they’ve faced since opening night. Just seeing a Big East caliber opponent should light a little fire under the butts of these Wildcats. But Seton Hall isn’t good enough where they will likely challenge the Wildcats for 40 minutes. If Kentucky can slow down the Pirates best player Myles Powell (who averages 22 points per game) they  should be able to win.

Therefore, this game is about getting a win for Kentucky, but also showing improvement against a better opponent. Specifically we all want to see how their perimeter defense holds up, and personally I want to see how P.J. Washington plays. While Washington looked solid for a couple games, he’s averaged just seven points per game in Kentucky’s last three wins.

The Wildcats can beat Monmouth, UNC-Greensboro and maybe even Seton Hall with Washington averaging seven a game. They won’t be able to beat the teams that matter in January, February and March unless he steps his game up though.

No. 10 Michigan State at Florida, 12:00 p.m. ET, CBS

Keep that remote control ready, because Kentucky-Seton Hall isn’t the only intriguing game worth keeping your eye on in the early window. Michigan State-Florida might not be as sexy on paper as it was two months ago, but it holds important intrigue for both teams.

For Florida it’s been an up-and-down start at 5-3 overall, but what better way to get back on track than by knocking off a Top 10 team at home? Michigan State meanwhile is already a solid 7-2 with victories over UCLA and Texas. Why not add a road win over a power school to your resume?

This is one that will be fun to watch on Saturday and could have wide-ranging impact come March.

South Carolina at No. 5 Michigan, 12:00 p.m. FS1

Poor Frank Martin. Since South Carolina made the Final Four two years ago his team has completely fallen off the cliff. And yes, I am very aware that if Frank Martin sees that above sentence my life might potentially be in danger. So if this is my last post at Kentucky Sports Radio, just know how much I appreciate everyone’s support.

But if it isn’t my last post, here’s the reality at South Carolina:  Since that Final Four run, just about everything that could go wrong for the Gamecocks has, and it didn’t get better this week when South Carolina lost at Wyoming. That’s a bad loss no matter how you cut it. And it probably doesn’t even help that this isn’t even a particularly good Wyoming team, as they entered the game at 3-5 overall.

So if a 3-5 Wyoming team can get a victory over South Carolina, what could the No. 5 team in America, and one that I believe might be the best team in college basketball do? I’m almost afraid to find out.

Xavier at Cincinnati, 2:00 p.m. ESPN2

This starts a long day of good games on ESPN2 (seriously, if you decide not to change the channel from about 2 p.m. ET to midnight you should be just fine) as bad blood is renewed in one of the nastiest rivalries in college basketball.

The disappointing thing is that there is no Chris Mack in this one, although there is still Mick Cronin on the other sideline.

Which means there’s like a 200 percent chance that if Cincinnati wins this game, Cronin will throw out some kind of sick brag like “There’s no way Indiana, Louisville or Kentucky did what we did today.”

You can count on it.

Louisville at Indiana, 2:30 p.m. FOX

Speaking of Louisville and Indiana, the “Rick Pitino Revenge Tour” – aka the schedule that Louisville put together before firing Pitino – takes a stop in Bloomington this weekend for another brutal game for Chris Mack. The Cards have already survived Michigan State and Seton Hall in the last month. Will they have as much success at Assembly Hall?

On the flip side, I’m excited to see Indiana as well. The Hoosiers have probably played a bit above expectations, especially when you consider their two losses were at Arkansas (when three or four key players weren’t playing) and at Duke. Not to mention that their game at Duke came directly after their loss to Gonzaga – so they didn’t just get Duke, but a pissed off Duke.

Therefore, while I wouldn’t say that Indiana is necessarily “exceeding expectations” right now, they have played better than I personally expected. We’ll see if they can keep it up against a Louisville squad that looks good in their first month under Mack.

Western Kentucky at Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

This might just be the sneaky interesting game on Saturday’s schedule, as it pairs up two potential first round NBA Draft picks in Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey and Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford. The “Bassey Era” in Bowling Green hasn’t quite gone to plan, as Western Kentucky enters this game at just 4-4 and could really use a big win as they get set for Conference USA play.

On the flip side, Arkansas has unquestionably been the surprise of the SEC as they enter this one at 6-1 overall, and were one missed free throw from being undefeated right now. What’s been especially cool is that the Hogs aren’t just about Gafford but have gotten contributions across the board. Freshman Isaiah Joe earned SEC Player of the Week last week and guard Jalen Harris had a 12-assist performance against Colorado State earlier in the week.

That game actually led to a cool moment as well, when following Arkansas’ victory I mentioned how the Hogs are about more than Gafford and are really developing into a nice team. Well apparently Gafford noticed the tweet, and not only responded but referenced it in a press conference later in the week.

So yeah, I hate to brag, but think Daniel Gafford and I just became best friends. And the Torres-Gafford friendship is the bromance of the college hoops season that no one could have seen coming.

Georgetown at Syracuse, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

“It’s an old-school, Big East rivalry and”… blah, blah, blah. You get the point. Can’t lie: I’m an old-school Big East guy and even I’m getting sick of all the nostalgia every time two teams from the old Big East conference get together.

But in terms of the actual regular season, well, this one is important. In a down Big East, the Hoyas are very much a tourney contender – but need a signature out of conference win as they head into league play. On the flip side, with so many big games on their schedule, Syracuse should be fine. But it would still be a little bit less than ideal to drop a third out of conference game before the start of ACC play.

This one will be a tough, hard-nosed game.

Not only because it’s an old-school rivalry. But because it has big implications.

Clemson at No. 22 Mississippi State, 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This is the first of a double-header in New Jersey and like so many other games, it has big meaning for both teams.

It’s especially important for Mississippi State.

Remember, this was a team that got left out of the NCAA Tournament field last year, largely because of a disappointing out of conference resume. Well, their out of conference resume isn’t all that much more impressive this year. They’ve played a single big-time opponent (Arizona State) and lost.

It’d probably behoove Mississippi State to win this game here. Also, I can’t believe I just used the word “behoove” in a sentence.

No. 12 Wisconsin at Marquette, 5:00 p.m. ET, FOX

This one is basically Xavier-Cincinnati with worse PR. Take two schools that are a short drive from each other, match them up in a once a season affair and what do you have? A rivalry that one local writer this week called “Like the Super Bowl… only five times more important.”

While that one might have a liiiiiitle bit of hyperbole rolled in, it isn’t that exaggerated and this year it should be heightened by the fact that both teams are actually really good. Marquette is 7-2 and coming off a nice win over Kansas State last week, while Wisconsin’s only loss is to Virginia on a neutral court.

Basically, this one will have the feel of a Sweet 16 game, only in December.

And while we’re at it, has anyone else noticed that Wisconsin’s Brad Davison is basically the 2018-2019 version of Marquette coach Steve Woji-however-you-say-his name, when Steve Woji-however-you-say-his-name was a player? You know, the floor-slapping, charge-taking, 5’10 white dude that gets under the skin of every opponent and every opponents fan-base?

If you haven’t seen Davison play, this tweet pretty much sums up his style of play.

No. 11 Florida State vs. UConn, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This is the second half of that double-header in New Jersey, and I can’t lie, this is a pretty big one for my Huskies. If they can somehow win this game, I feel pretty good that they’ll have a resume strong enough to get an at-large bid come Selection Sunday. It’s a long way away, but as they say, it’s never too early to start thinking about March.

On a completely different and random note, this also might be a matchup of the most entertaining coach on the sideline (Dan Hurley) against the most boring (Leonard Hamilton).

Seriously, is Dan Hurley screaming “MOTHERF****ER” after a random, mid-November win against Morehead State doesn’t get you fired up, I don’t know what would.

New Mexico State at No. 2 Kansas, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Like I told you, if you just leave on ESPN2 all day you should be set, and I can’t lie, this one might be a weeeee bit more entertaining than many of you expect.

The bottom-line is that while Kansas is the No. 2 team in the country, they aren’t exactly playing like it. They’ve had to go to overtime in two of their wins (including last Saturday against Stanford) and trailed at halftime in a few others. They’re ripe for an upset.

While I wouldn’t say the upset will necessarily happen this weekend, this one could be close. For starters, Kansas will be out without forward Udoka Azibuke, but more importantly, New Mexico State is a dangerous mid-major capable of pulling an upset. Incredibly, the Aggies have won their conference in six of the last seven seasons and won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere in Lawrence.

I’m not calling an upset, but this one could be close.

Notre Dame at UCLA, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Ok, ok, so this one isn’t quite as exciting as it was on paper two months ago, but hey, you’ll probably be up anyway, so why not watch?

One, it’s two big brand names, and two, I’m 99.99999 percent Bill Walton is on the call, so you know something crazy will happen.

More importantly, grab a cold one – you have survived the first big Saturday of college hoops season…

With so many more to come!


10 Things We’ve Learned One Month Into the College Basketball Season

10 Things We’ve Learned One Month Into the College Basketball Season

Today is Thursday, December 6th, which means that – as hard as it is to believe – we have reached the one-month point since the start of college hoops season. It really is incredible to think about how much has changed since that first night of the season in Indianapolis, when Kansas beat Michigan State and… well, actually, as best I can remember that happened in Indy that night.

Like Urban Meyer, I must be suffering a bit of memory loss.

Regardless, it’s incredible to sit here one month into the season and think about how much things have changed in the weeks since that opening night. Contenders that weren’t contenders a month ago have emerged, other teams have fallen, and Duke has gone from “print up the undefeated t-shirts” good, to just another really solid college hoops team at the top of the sport.

So one month into the season, what have we learned? Here are 10 things:

There are no great teams, but a whole lot of good ones

It’s pretty clear that five weeks into the season, there is no team like the 2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcats, a club that is overwhelmingly better than everyone else in the sport. But in their place however are a lot of really good teams, and a couple that more closely resemble Villanova last year, a 30-4 club in the regular season that rode upperclassmen and a handful of good-but-not-elite NBA Draft prospects to the national title. There really are about seven or eight teams that feel a cut above the rest to me.

Right now Gonzaga is No. 1, and with good reason. To me, they most closely resemble the Villanova team from last year. If you’ll remember, Villanova had a bunch of pros masquerading as college players and Gonzaga does too, with four veterans on their roster (Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Killian Tillie and Zach Norvell) who could all hear their names called on draft night. They also have the wins to back it up. That victory over Duke in Maui will likely only get better as the season wears on, and they also have wins over Arizona, Creighton and a last-second victory over Washington on their resume as well. The crazy part is, the Zags aren’t even at full-strength yet with Tillie and Geno Crandall currently sidelined with injuries.

Behind them are a bunch of other teams that feel capable of having what it takes to win the title in March. Kansas is deep and talented (insert your own Adidas/T.J. Gassanola joke here) but still a work in progress. Michigan picked up right where they left off last year (more on them coming), and as much as I’ve been critical of Virginia in the past, they’ve been phenomenal early on. Nevada is undefeated, and yes, good enough to win a title. Duke of course has the two most talented players in college basketball, even if they haven’t been the same since that opening night win against Kentucky.

I’d throw in a few more names behind those teams as well. Tennessee looked REALLY good against Kansas (they controlled that game for about 32 minutes) and although I was critical of them in the preseason, I could see them taking home a title. Auburn can get hot from behind the three-point arc which is all you need to make a deep tourney run. And I haven’t given up on Kentucky and their depth yet either (although obviously the defense needs to improve).

Point being, it’s a wide-open season, where it feels like there is no real separation between the top 8-10 teams in the sport. Which should make for a compelling regular season, and even better basketball once we get to tournament time.

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