Basketball Season Coverage
By Maggie Davis on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 9:00pm
Saturday’s agenda is packed for the biggest SEC matchup of the season: No. 1 Tennessee at No. 5 Kentucky. The two teams are set to tip-off at 8 p.m., but there’s plenty of action before then. Here’s how you can pass the time:
9:30 a.m. – Memorial Coliseum doors open for College GameDay. Admission is free! Here’s parking info from our friends at UK Athletics:
11:00 a.m. – College GameDay officially begins at Memorial Coliseum and lasts until noon.
11:00 a.m – KSBar & Grille opens their doors. There will be plenty of food and drink specials (and a surprise or two) before the game.
2:00 p.m. – Kentucky student lineup begins for game seating outside of Rupp Arena.
5:30 p.m. – Kentucky Sports Radio pregame radio show begins.
6:30 p.m. – Rupp Arena doors open to the public.
8:00 p.m. – Tip-off.
KSBar & Grille will also remain open after the game… And yes, it will be more fun if the Cats win.
And here’s how you can watch and/or listen to all of the action:
TV: ESPN. The game will be commentated by Jay Bilas, Dan Shulman and Maria Taylor.
Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington. You can also stream it online at UKAthletics.com.
By Aaron Torres on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 6:00pm
It’s the Game of the Century – welllllllll, maybe not quite. But even though Kentucky lost Tuesday to LSU, Saturday’s showdown with Tennessee remains massive. For the Wildcats, it is another chance to add a huge win to their resume, one to go along victories at Louisville, against North Carolina, and a season sweep of Mississippi State.
A win Saturday would also put Kentucky in line to reach all the goals they laid out before the season: To win the SEC, get a No. 1 seed and have a path to the Final Four through Louisville.
Of course to do that, Kentucky will have do something virtually no one else has been able to do this season: Knock off the Vols. Understand that Tennessee is every bit worthy of their current No. 1 ranking, as they sit at 23-1 overall and 11-0 in the SEC, with their only loss against Kansas, at a time when Kansas was at 100 percent. Since that loss, Tennessee has ripped off 19 straight wins. And what’s been especially impressive is that few were particularly close. The Vols have won their last six by double-figures.
So yeah, this game is huge and it won’t be easy for Kentucky to get the win – but when you’re as good as the Wildcats, it’s not impossible either.
What are the keys to a Kentucky victory? Here are six:
1. Can Ashton Hagans slow down Jordan Bone?
While it’d be easy to say “Kentucky’s No. 1 key is to slow down Grant Williams” that’s kind of approaching the problem the wrong way. You’re basically getting the right answer by asking the wrong question. Because ultimately you know what leads to so much of Williams success: Having a point guard who gets him the ball in a perfect position to score.
That point guard is Jordan Bone. And to his credit, Bone has quietly emerged into the most consistent point guard in the SEC. He is also the engine that drives the Vols’ bus, as the guy who plays the most minutes of anyone on the Vols roster (yes, more than Williams or Admiral Schofield) and has a sparkling 3.5-1 assist to turnover ratio. There is nothing more valuable in college basketball than a smart, veteran point guard who knows his role and does his job. And that is Bone for the Vols.
That’s also what makes Hagans’ play so important on Saturday.
It’s no secret that Hagans is one of the 2-3 best on-ball defenders in college basketball (if not the best) and Kentucky’s best hope of winning is to cut off the head of the snake – in other words, cut off Tennessee’s offense before they can get in rhythm. Can Hagans stay out of foul trouble and stay in Bone’s grill? Can he make it tough for Bone to get Tennessee into its offensive sets?
The best chance to beat Tennessee is to take them out of their rhythm and comfort zone. And Hagans is more than good enough to do that.
2. Kentucky needs to limit Tennessee’s three-point shooting
Again, because so much of the focus is on Williams and Schofield, what gets lost with Tennessee is that at most times they have five guys on the floor that can beat you at any given moment. It isn’t just the Vols two All-Americans, but also Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner who can get 20 if you don’t defend them.
And that’s especially true from beyond the three-point line. On the season, the Vols are shooting nearly 37 percent as a team with Schofield (40 percent), Bowden (39.5 percent) and Turner (37.5 percent) all hitting an insane number of threes.
That’s the bad news for Kentucky, but the good news is this: While three-point defense was once of this team’s biggest weaknesses it has now become a relative strength. The overall numbers don’t totally back it up (again, because Kentucky was so bad in the category to start the season) but the recent numbers do. In the Wildcats last four games, three of their opponents have shot below 30 percent from the three-point line. Even Tuesday’s loss to LSU wasn’t so much to do with the Tigers getting hot from the three-point line as other factors – LSU finished just 6 of 21 from behind the arc.
More than anything on the defensive end, limiting the three-point shot for Tennessee is key.
3. Get deep into Tennessee’s bench
Fun story. Late last summer I had Nevada coach Eric Musselman on the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast (by the way, if you haven’t been listening, this week’s guest is ESPN’s Sean Farnham – and he was awesome. Download here) and one of the topics we discussed was his team’s depth entering this season. I asked him if it was nice to have all those extra pieces and he told me something surprising. “No,” he said. “I’d rather have a shorter bench where everyone knows their role.”
Well, if there is one team that follows the “a short bench where everyone who knows their role is ideal” edict to a tee, it’s Tennessee. The Vols have six players who play 25 minutes or more this season, and basically take up big chunks of minutes. Two other players (Yves Pons and John Fulkerson) average between 10 and 12 minutes a piece. After that, basically no one sees the floor.
But even that eight-man rotation (the six who average 25+ minutes a game + Pons and Fulkerson) is deceiving. While Pons does play quite a bit because of his defensive presence (he’s 6’9 and a good defender) he brings next to nothing to the table offensively, averaging just three points per game. Fulkerson plays an “average” of 10 minutes per game on paper, but if you really dig deeper, most of those minutes came during blowouts in out of conference games. He has played 10 minutes or less in seven of Tennessee’s 11 SEC games.
Again, it’s Tennessee’s top six or bust. Meaning that the best thing that Kentucky can do is attack the Vols and try to get a few of their key guys in foul trouble. Do that, and the Vols have to insert either Pons or Fulkerson (or maybe both) into the lineup which makes them less versatile and less of a threat offensively.
Here’s a random prediction for you: If either Yves Pons or John Fulkerson plays more than 15 minutes on Saturday, Kentucky wins.
The line is out for tomorrow’s game and Kentucky opened as a three-point favorite over the No. 1 team in college basketball. The total on the game is 146.5.
Kentucky’s seven-game streak of covering the spread was snapped in Starkville last Saturday with a push, then came an overall loss as a nine-point favorite in Tuesday night’s game against LSU. Will the Cats get back to their covering ways tomorrow night? If they do, we’re in for a fun evening.
Good luck to everyone.
By Nick Roush on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 4:15pm
Immediately after Tuesday’s home loss to LSU, John Calipari was disappointed in the outcome. Two hours later he sent his players a different message.
“It’s tough losing, but we needed this,” he told his team in a text message.
“People were moving in the wrong direction and not listening to what we were saying. I said it’s not only our team. We went from the best defensive team in the country to giving up layups. How does this happen? To giving up baskets, to not rebounding — We’re playing a half, and in the second half not playing. How does that happen?
“Most of it’s mental and most of it becomes what I talked about eight, nine days ago: there becomes an arrogance when you’re winning. We kind of got away from what makes us good, including individual players. Hopefully that’s a great lesson going into this game. I hate losing, but if you need to get rocked, then so be it.”
Kentucky looked like one of the most dominant teams in the country in the first half at Mississippi State and in the second half at Florida. Even though they were far from perfect for significant portions of those games, Kentucky was still good enough to win. That didn’t cut it against a good LSU team.
“I saw it coming,” Calipari said at Friday’s press conference. “I think you almost have to get knocked in the mouth and take a loss.”
After taking an eight-point lead into the halftime locker room, LSU knocked Kentucky in the mouth to start the second half. Despite that setback, he believes his team can turn it around after fighting for a win in the final minutes.
“There is a lot of growth left in us and a lot of it’s a confidence that if you’re going to be one of the last teams standing, you have a confidence. I loved how we finished the game against LSU. We finished with confidence. You can’t only be confident when you’re desperate. You gotta play that way and young teams, it takes time.”
To beat the No. 1 team in America, Calipari’s players must respond to LSU’s punch with urgency and confidence for 40 minutes.
Much of the focus on Saturday’s night game is on the matchups in the post. How the Cats defend Tennessee’s two bigs are important, but John Calipari knows Tennessee’s success comes from more than Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
“They’ve got a deep team and their guard play, the way they shoot and the things that they do,” Coach Cal said at Friday afternoon’s press conference. “They’re not winning with one guy or two guys. They’re winning because of how they’re playing. The biggest thing is because they lead the country in assists, they’re not going to beat themselves and they’re going to create opportunities and they shoot the ball well. You better play a good game. Better not be any tentativeness, just let it go and go play.”
Over the last three games, Calipari has seen too much tentativeness from Ashton Hagans.
“Ashton the last three games has not played well. Matter of fact, he’s not played well at all. This is a game where we’re going to need him to get back to where he was ten, twelve days ago when everybody was talking about him as the best on-ball defender in the country, a difference-maker, a creator, he pushes. That’s all gone away. We need that back.”
Over the last three games UK’s point guard has committed nine turnovers, while forcing just three steals. He’s averaging 4.6 points and assists through the three-game stretch.
“He’s a freshman. He hit a little bit of a wall.” Calipari believes it’s a hurdle Hagans can overcome.
“I just think you get tired. You lose focus and you get numb. Every game we play is the same. It’s someone’s Super Bowl. It’s an out of this world game, the stadium’s filled. Other teams are playing out of their minds and you kind of get numb to it and all of a sudden you’re not playing with the energy, the focus that you need to play with.”
Calipari added, “He’s had a heck of a year, he’s just had a bad week and a half.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 12:45pm
Tennessee will come into Rupp Arena as the No. 1 team in the country tomorrow night, and if you listen to ESPN’s panel of experts, they’ll leave with a win. All four of ESPN’s college basketball writers picked the Vols to beat Kentucky in their predictions for the weekend:
“Give me Tennessee on the road,” Jeff Borzello writes. “I think the Volunteers will pose too many issues for Kentucky with Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, as PJ Washington can guard only one of them. I also think Tennessee offers a little bit more from the perimeter — which could be the difference in a game where both teams prefer to live in the paint.”
“I suspect, however, that LSU just showed the blueprint for how to score points against UK at Rupp,” adds John Gasaway. “Basically, the cheat code here is normal shooting (which against Kentucky is outstanding) plus zero turnovers and an offensive board on one in every three shots you miss. The Vols are eminently capable of checking all of those boxes.”
That’s cool. I like this team better when people pick against them. Read the rest of the predictions at the link below.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 12:00pm
After officials missed LSU’s basket interference on the game-winning tip-in and were unable to review it per NCAA rules, the SEC is doing its part to make sure it doesn’t happen again. According to Kyle Tucker, the SEC will lobby for instant replay in game-ending situations, such as goaltending and basket interference; in fact, they’ve already talked to the NCAA about it.
As John Calipari said on Tuesday night, it looks like Kentucky being screwed over is going to lead to another rule change.
“It’s another one — do you remember we lost in the Final Four when there was a goal, a shot clock violation and they said it was not reviewable and then they changed the rule to say, why would you want to lose a game on a shot clock violation and it’s easy to go check? Well, this one easy to go check, too. Just go check it. Why would you not — why would that not be reviewable? So we’re like Wilt Chamberlain; we change rules. I don’t know.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 10:30am
Look at LSU taking a page out of Indiana’s book. Breaking T is selling a t-shirt commemorating “The Tip,” aka Kavall Bigby-Williams’ controversial tip-in at the end of the Kentucky/LSU game. You know, the one that should have been called basket interference but the refs weren’t allowed to review it on replay, so LSU won.
“The shot missed, but the tip was good! Sorry Lexington,” the item’s description reads.
Here, Breaking T, let me fix that for you:
Knocking off No. 5 Kentucky in Rupp is definitely something to be proud of, but to make a t-shirt about a basket that should have been waved off? C’mon, Tigers. At least Christian Watford’s shot was legal.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 14th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
One of Tennessee’s biggest strengths is experience. With a plethora of upperclassmen, this Volunteers squad is practically a carbon copy of the one Kentucky faced three times last season, but with another year of growth and maturity.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what happened in those three games to determine Kentucky’s best strategy for Saturday.
January 6: No. 23 Tennessee 76, No. 17 Kentucky 65 (Knoxville)
Several Kentucky players were battling the flu, PJ Washington went down with cramps, and the refs were terrible. Excuses aside, the Cats got whipped, with Kevin Knox turning in one of the worst games of his Kentucky career.
KEY FACTOR: PJ Washington exiting the game with cramps. Before going to the locker room with 12 minutes left, PJ had 13 points and was winning his matchup with Grant Williams. Once PJ was out, Williams took over, scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Afterwards, Williams admitted that PJ was in his head.
“He shut me down in the first half,” Williams said. “I’ll give it to him. He was in my head a little bit. I think the cramps hurt their team a lot. Just the fact they were playing with so much confidence when he was in the game.”
QUOTES: “They out toughed us,” Caliapri said. “They just threw us around. It was embarrassing. As soon as we had PJ out of the game, we had no shot of winning…When PJ went down, they saw a wounded animal and went right at them. We were literally standing with cheerleaders on a bunch of shots. ”
February 6: No. 15 Tennessee 61, No. 24 Kentucky 59 (Lexington)
Costly turnovers by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander resulted in a clutch three by Lamont Turner with 26 seconds left and the game-winning dunk by Admiral Schofield with four seconds left, the latter a cruel twist of the knife in what was an epic collapse by Kentucky.
KEY FACTOR: There were plenty of reasons Kentucky lost — Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, and Hamidou Diallo didn’t play well — but what people will remember most is Calipari’s decision NOT to call a timeout to set up a play in the final seconds. As a result, chaos ensued and the Cats took an L at Rupp.
QUOTES: “I make mistakes at the end and cost them the game,” Calipari said. “But I should have called a timeout. I don’t ever like to in those situations, but this is a different team. This team is too young. They’re just too young to know that what’s there and if they get in trouble just call a timeout.”
March 11: Kentucky 77, No. 13 Tennessee 72 (SEC Championship, St. Louis)
Unlike his last meeting with the Vols, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shined, finishing with 29 points and SEC Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. Similarly, Kevin Knox played much better, turning in 18 points, including three threes. Kentucky led by as many as 17 in the first half, but Admiral Schofield brought Tennessee back into it, leading a 15-3 run to bring the Vols within five at half. From there, it was a back and forth battle, but Shai’s free throws with 2.4 seconds left clinched the victory.
KEY FACTOR: Shai. After costing the Cats in the last game vs. Tennessee, Shai took over this time around, hitting clutch bucket after clutch bucket to drag Kentucky to the win.
Also big: three-point shooting. Kentucky was 7-16 (43.8 percent) from behind the arc vs. 3-14 (21.4 percent) in Rupp a month prior. And any discussion of this game is incomplete without the clip of Sacha Killeya-Jones’ dunk:
QUOTES: “I think right now he’s playing his best basketball because he’s one of our leaders,” Kevin Knox said of Shai. He knows he’s getting better with the decision-making. Late in the game, he made some huge plays, knocked down some free throws, and found people. He’s also doing it on the defensive end. He’s really good defensively, and he’s playing really well right now.”
So, what lessons did we learn from last season about this Tennessee team?
- PJ is capable of shutting Grant Williams down
- Can’t get bullied in the post (paging Reid Travis)
- Call the timeout if you need to, Cal
- Hit threes
- Strong guard play is key
- Random dunks by big men off the bench are good omens
We got this.
By Drew Franklin on ©February 14th, 2019 @ 4:00pm
ESPN’s Jay Bilas released “Volume II of The Bilas Index” on Thursday, a ranking of the top sixty-eight teams in college basketball. Bilas refers to his Bilas Index as, “the most dependable and trusted metric of hoop quality and capability in the known universe,” and I think you’re going to like where he ranks the Cats.
In the first tier of the five-tier rankings, you’ll find Kentucky among Bilas’ five NCAA championship contenders. He ranked the Cats fifth on the list, behind Duke, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga, saying, “in all likelihood, the national champion will come from this group.”
Read the part about UK:
5. Kentucky Wildcats
Don’t be too concerned about the loss to LSU. Kentucky is looking more like the team that was ranked No. 1 before the season. Is this team as good as Duke? No. But this team can beat Duke or anyone else. A major difference has been the stellar play of PJ Washington, who is averaging 21 points and almost six rebounds in his past three games. Washington is a legit pro.
For what it’s worth, Kentucky moved to +800 odds to win it all, behind only Duke (+170) and Tennessee (+750) among the favorites on the board. Virginia is also +800, Gonzaga is +900.
To read Bilas’ entire Bilas Index, click here.
By Nick Roush on ©February 14th, 2019 @ 2:00pm
Future Kentucky point guard Tyrese Maxey will represent the USA in April’s Nike Hoop Summit.
Maxey is the only current UK signee on Team USA’s roster. Kahlil Whitney was passed over for lower-ranked players who have more experience in the USA Basketball program, ESPN reports. Last year two Wildcats played in the Hoop Summit, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.
Maxey will be joined by UK target Matthew Hurt. The two teamed up for Team USA last summer to win a gold medal in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Canada. A look at the rest of the roster:
The World Team rosters will be announced at a later date. The Nike Hoop Summit is April 12 in Portland, Oregon.
Celebrate Valentine’s Day with these Kentucky basketball-themed Valentine’s Day cards. You can save them to your phone to send to your significant other or print them out and pass them around town. Choose your own adventure.
And have a Happy Valentine’s Day from us here at KSR.
If the SEC Tournament started today, Kentucky would be the three seed, playing the winner of Alabama vs. Texas A&M/Vanderbilt Friday night at 9:30 p.m. ET.
With one month until the tournament begins, here is the bracket based on the current standings:
Here are the current standings after last night’s games:
And the tiebreaker procedures, if you’re curious:
1. Two-Team Tie: The following procedure will be used in the following order until the tie is broken:
A) Won-lost results of head-to-head competition between the two teams.
B) Won-lost record of the two teams versus the No. 1 seed (and proceeding through the No. 14 seed, if necessary).
C) Coin flip by the Commissioner.
2. Three-Team Tie (or more): Won-lost record of the two teams versus the No. 1 seed (and proceeding through the No. 14 seed, if necessary).
A) Best winning percentage of games played among the tied teams (Example: Team A is 3-1, Team B is 2-2 and Team C is 1-3 – Team A would be seeded highest, Team B second highest and Team C lowest of the three).
B) Best winning percentage of the tied teams versus the No. 1 seed (and proceeding through the No. 14 seed, if necessary).
C) If two teams remain, coin flip by the Commissioner.
D) If three or more teams remain, draw by the Commissioner.
Obviously, with a month’s worth of games left, these will likely change. If you want Kentucky to avoid the late Friday night game, it’s time to cheer against LSU.