Basketball Season Coverage
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 4:14pm
The Rule of 71 abides.
Kentucky reached 71 points with 3:04 to play to take a four-point lead, a lead they would never surrender. After faltering down the stretch time and time again, the Cats reversed course to take down the Crimson Tide 81-71 in a must-win game at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky snapped the four-game losing streak by attacking the glass and playing aggressive defense. The Cats created 20 second chance points off 20 offensive rebounds and turned 12 Alabama turnovers turned into 18 Kentucky points.
With the season hanging in the balance, Kentucky still has life after a hard-fought win over Alabama.
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Collin Sexton is the best player Kentucky will face all year. Period.
Considered the second-best point guard prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft, Sexton is a physical force with the ball in his hands. He scores 18.3 points per game in a variety of ways. He will make 34.1 percent of his three-pointers, then go dunk on your face (his McDonald’s AA Game dunk contest victory is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in person).
Slowing down Sexton will not be easy. Here are Kentucky’s options:
Diallo is undoubtedly Kentucky’s best perimeter defender. He has length that bothers opponents and can match Sexton’s physicality. However, there are a few problems you could run into by starting Diallo on Sexton.
Diallo is in the middle of a mind-numbing slump. Against Auburn he picked up two quick fouls guarding Auburn’s Bryce Brown, which forced Diallo to the bench. When he re-entered the game, he was not the same. Starting Diallo on Sexton could just dig Diallo into a deeper hole.
The most-likely option isn’t a bad one, but it isn’t that great either. Shai just doesn’t have the physicality to match Sexton’s aggressiveness. Quade Green has the physicality and attitude to go toe-to-toe with Sexton, but he also struggles to defend stationary chairs.
John Calipari unveiled a new zone defense against Auburn, and the Tigers didn’t know what the hell to do. Today the Cats won’t have the benefit of surprise, but it might be their best alternative. The 1-3-1 takes away the quick three-pointer from the wing that John Petty loves. The catch: UK’s middle man must be quick to help when Alabama inevitably uses a ball screen to free Sexton.
The truth of the matter is Kentucky doesn’t have any great option to beat Sexton. He’s going to get his. What Kentucky must do is force everybody else to beat them. The Cats can’t let Petty get hot from three (he hit seven in a win vs. Auburn). Kentucky must cool down Donta Hall, the forward who has 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the last two games.
Kentucky probably can’t contain Sexton, but they can still win if they can shut down Sexton’s teammates.
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 12:32pm
Go behind-the-scenes to see the story of the 2017-18 Kentucky Wildcats by watching episode one of “Inside the Madness: Kentucky Basketball.”
Before you watch Kentucky take on Alabama, see how Kentucky started the season with a road trip to Madison Square Garden to play Monmouth.
A Quadrant One Win
A win over Alabama would be a bigger resume boost than Kentucky’s 29-point win over Louisville. The Crimson Tide are currently ranked No. 30 in the RPI, which falls within the Quadrant 1 parameters. Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament resume is solid, thanks to plenty of wins that fall in Quadrant Two. Another Quadrant One win would all but lock up an NCAA Tournament bid.
Wednesday Night at the SEC Tournament?
The fall to the bottom is not as far as you think. Kentucky is just two games ahead of the worst teams in the league. Entering today Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and South Carolina are 4-9, tied for the worst record in the SEC. A lot will happen between now and the end of the year to change things, but a UK loss and wins from Georgia and LSU today would place Kentucky into the fourth Wednesday night slot.
A Rare Rupp Arena Loss to Alabama
Kentucky is 56-10 against the Crimson Tide in Lexington. The last time Kentucky lost to Alabama at home, Mark Gottfried roamed the sidelines. Tubby Smith’s 2006 team fell 64-68 thanks to Jermareo Davidson’s 28 points. You probably don’t remember that name, but you probably do remember Ronald Steele; he was Bama’s second-leading scorer with 14 points.
An Even Rarer Losing Streak
Kentucky’s current four-game losing streak is rare. It’s just the seventh since Adolph Rupp took over the program. Rupp and Tubby Smith never lost four-straight games.
If Kentucky falls to Alabama and makes it five straight losses, it’s “Kentucky’s Shame” bad. There have been just two five-game losing streaks in the history of UK and they occurred in back-to-back seasons. Kentucky lost six straight in February of 1989 as pressure mounted on Eddie Sutton in the midst of an NCAA investigation that would cost Sutton his job and keep UK out of the NCAA Tournament for the next two years. Playing with a piecemeal team, Rick Pitino lost five straight in 1990.
Kentucky fans cringe when they think of the embarrassment that took place in 1989. This team does not deserve to be associated with that time, and that’s why they can’t afford to lose five straight.
Wednesday night’s loss at Auburn, on paper at least, shouldn’t be a low point in any team’s season. A team with an average record lost at a top 10 team in a game that was relatively close throughout. Enter in the fact that Kentucky had lost three straight before the Auburn game, and the loss becomes what is hopefully rock bottom for these young Wildcats. I’ve told myself this year that I wouldn’t waste time moping about individual losses, so I’ll move on to today’s game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
There is some disagreement as to what Kentucky needs to do to keep themselves out of the NIT this year. However, most would agree in saying that a win over Alabama puts Kentucky in the driver’s seat and they would then control their own destiny moving forward. I’ve been saying since before the loss at Texas A&M, that Kentucky would just need to defend their home court and they’d be fine come Selection Sunday. Today’s game is the first of three remaining home games, with the other two being against Missouri and Ole Miss.
Alabama Head Coach Avery Johnson has invigorated the Crimson Tide with energy and a high talent level in only a short time there. The Crimson Tide have been up and down this season, with highs coming in wins Oklahoma, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee, but also lows in losses to Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and UCF. Let’s take a look at Alabama’s projected starting lineup for this afternoon.
#2 Collin Sexton, Freshman Guard, 6’3″
Collin Sexton is one of the highest rated recruits to ever commit to Alabama for basketball. Sexton was a top 10 player in nearly every recruiting service’s rankings, and he has immediately become one of the best player’s in the country. Sexton won the McDonald’s All-America Game Jam Fest Dunk Contest this past summer.
The freshman phenom is widely regarded as a sure-fire one and done, and he has the stats to back up those claims. Sexton leads the Crimson Tide in points at 18.3 per game and assists at 3.5 per game. His scoring is good for third in the Southeastern Conference. He’s also grabbing 3.7 rebounds per game, swiping one steal, and hitting 34.1% of his three point shots on the year.
Starting at the point guard position and as a very ball-dominant player, Sexton is going to be an absolute chore for Kentucky to defend throughout today’s game. There are essentially two schools of thought when defending a player of this caliber. One is to throw everything you have at him, including double teams and ball denials, forcing every other player to beat you. Two, and I think the one that Kentucky will use, is to let him take his man, most likely Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and don’t provide too much off help. Force Sexton and only Sexton to beat you by himself, while not letting any of the other four players contribute.
#0 Donta Hall, Junior Forward, 6’9″
Donta Hall is the lone upperclassmen in the starting lineup for Avery Johnson, surrounded by two sophomores and two freshmen. The Alabama native was the top player in the state coming out of high school and was an ESPN Top 100 recruit. Last year against the Cats in two games, Hall totaled 9 points and 6 rebounds.
The junior is a physically intimidating presence in the paint for the Crimson Tide. He’s ranked 5th in the conference and first on the team in rebound at 7.2 per game. He’s also third in the SEC at 2.3 blocks per game. Hall is scoring 11.4 points per game and has the highest field goal percentage in the SEC at 74.5%, but only shoots 57.7% from the free throw line.
At 6’9″ and 232 pounds, Hall will match up at the four position with Kentucky’s PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Wenyen Gabriel, depending on the lineup. Kentucky throws three very athletic forwards at him, but they must stay out of foul trouble to be able to utilize that athleticism advantage.
#23 John Petty, Freshman Guard, 6’5″
John Petty was the second highly touted freshman in the most recent recruiting class for Avery Johnson. He was a top 30 player in the class and had a 5-star ranking out of Mae Jemison High School in Hunstville, Alabama. His hair resembles Gilgeous-Alexander’s from the beginning of the season, except much larger and unkempt.
The freshman has been the definition of a streaky shooter throughout this season. His free throw percentage sat near 50% for a lot of the year, but has now grown to nearly 64%, while he shoots 38.1% from three. It is feast or famine for Petty, as he’s made 3 or more threes 11 times this season, hitting 10 of them in a game once, but has also made one or less in 8 games. He’s averaging 10.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on the year.
This match up is huge for Kentucky today. Petty most likely plays the shooting guard position for the Crimson Tide, meaning he’ll match up with Hamidou Diallo. As much as Diallo hustles and as hard as he’s trying to play well, it has been more than a struggle for him lately, to the point where he can’t be on the floor in the second half of a close game. Today more so than any game this year ,the Cats absolutely must have a smart game from Diallo, not necessarily a huge scoring game, but a smart game. Limiting turnovers on offense and limiting Petty’s shooting will be key today.
#12 Dazon Ingram, Sophomore Guard, 6’5″
Dazon Ingram should forever be remembered, to Kentucky fans, as the recruit who picked Alabama over Kentucky….except he didn’t have a Kentucky scholarship offer, so he picked Alabama over no one. Drew Franklin’s post from his commitment day simply stated, “the classic example of a recruit wanting Kentucky on his final list when, in reality, he never had an offer,” and it was the absolute truth. Nevertheless, Ingram has been a solid player for the Crimson Tide in his time there, despite being injured for most of his freshman season, and eventually redshirting.
The redshirt sophomore was the best player on last year’s Alabama team, but has taken a bit of a backseat to the two talented freshmen guards. Ingram is currently averaging 10 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. He’s shooting 23.7% from three this year, down from his 42.9% from deep last season. He played well against Kentucky twice last year finishing with a combined 29 points and 12 rebounds over two games.
Ingram played the point guard slot for a lot of last season, but as moved to more of a small forward this season. At 6’5″ and 207 pounds, he doesn’t have the height of most forwards, but he has the strength to keep from being bodied around. Similar to Auburn, this is a game that Kevin Knox should be able to get the ball in or near the paint and work from there.
#4 Daniel Giddens, Sophomore Center, 6’11”
Daniel Giddens has started 16 games this season, but is splitting his playing time with fellow big man Braxton Key. Giddens actually started his career at Ohio State but transferred after one season, sat out last year, and now is back in action. Giddens was a top 50 player coming out of high school and the potential to be a stud is still there.
Neither of the two starting big men are giving Alabama jaw-dropping numbers, but they both are doing what is asked of them. Giddens is averaging 4.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and blocking 1.2 shots, while Key is averaging 6.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Key has hit 10 of his 39 attempted threes this season.
These two players provide different roles for Avery Johnson. Giddens is a big body that can be a force in the paint, while Key has the ability to play on the perimeter some, while stepping away to defend or take a jump shot. Kentucky center Nick Richards has been steadily improving, but it has been masked by the losing streak. If Richards can continue to make open layups, not foul, and pull down strong rebounds, he is doing his job for the Wildcats.
Go Cats. Beat Crimson Tide.
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 10:00am
Now or Never
Kentucky is running out of time to turn around the season. Throughout Kentucky’s four-game losing streak, the Cats have been close. In each game they’ve shown signs that they’ve turned a new page, yet every time they appear to take a step forward, they go right back to where they started. Whether its offensive ineptitude or mistakes down the stretch, John Calipari’s team has failed to put together a complete game.
“A bunch of these games, it’s not that they were taken (away), it’s that they were given (away). And we’ve gotta get out of that mode,” Cal said yesterday.
Kentucky can’t afford to give Alabama anything. Led by the excellent freshman backcourt combination of Colin Sexton (18.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) and John Petty (10.8 ppg, 38% 3FG), Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide have won their last two games by a combined 43 points.
If Kentucky can’t contain Alabama to snap the four-game losing streak, it’s hard to see a scenario where the season is still salvageable. Today is the day UK must leave it all on the line, or risk losing the fan base for good.
Tyrese Maxey on Campus
Today’s game has a little more on the line with Tyrese Maxey in town. The nation’s second-ranked point guard is in Lexington for an unofficial visit this weekend, his second UK game this season. If Kentucky can put on a good show, Calipari will be in great position to land another great point guard.
TV, Radio, Vegas
TV — A 2:00 tip-off on CBS with Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas on the call.
Radio — KSR Pregame Show on 630 WLAP at 11:30. Hear Leach and Pratt on the UK Sports Network, Sirius-137 and XM-190.
Vegas — Kentucky -4.5
Today’s Tale of the Tape
Murray and Fox’s All-Star Appearances
De’Aaron Fox and Jamal Murray were the first of ten Wildcats to take the Staples Center court at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. In defense of his 2017 Rising Stars MVP crown, Murray had 21 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds in a 155-124 victory for Team World. Fox played 16 minutes as a Team USA reserve and finished the night with 4 points, 2 assists and 2 rebounds.
Murray will return to the court for tonight’s Skills Challenge. Devin Booker will try take the 3-Point Shooting title from Klay Thompson. Coverage begins at 8:00 on TNT.
College Basketball on TV
|Noon||Texas at #23 Oklahoma||ESPN|
|Noon||Syracuse at Miami||CBS|
|Noon||Providence at Butler||Fox|
|1:00||Iowa State at Kansas State||ESPNU|
|2:00||#2 Michigan State at Northwestern||Fox|
|3:30||#10 Auburn at South Carolina||SEC|
|4:00||#21 Texas A&M at Arkansas||ESPN|
|4:00||Florida at Vanderbilt||ESPN2|
|4:30||#3 Villanova at #4 Xavier||Fox|
|6:00||#20 West Virginia at #13 Kansas||ESPN|
|6:00||#18 Tennessee at Georgia||SEC|
|8:00||Oklahoma State at TCU||ESPN2|
|8:15||#14 North Carolina at Louisville||ESPN|
|10:15||Oregon at UCLA||ESPN|
By Drew Franklin on ©February 16th, 2018 @ 6:00pm
Did you miss John Calipari’s pre-Alabama press conference earlier today? That’s too bad. Good news for you though. You can read the entire transcript below. You’re welcome.
On if he worries about the Facebook all-access series being around with young players …
“No. We’re all just acting like they’re not here.”
On if that’s easy to do …
“It is for me and I think it is for them. We’re just literally ignoring them.”
On what he sees from Alabama …
“They’re good. They’re a good team. They’ve got some young guys playing well. They’ve got their veterans playing well. They’re physical and athletic. They’ve got length. They’re a good team. They’ve beaten good people. They’ve beaten ranked teams. Beat Auburn, so they’re good. They’re a good team.”
On John Petty …
“Yeah, he’s playing good for them. He’s playing good. He’s a good player.”
On what he tries to remind the guys of being there in all four of the recent losses …
“Well, you know, last game, the last five or six minutes we got 1 for 7 with two turnovers when we have a four-point lead. Missed a 3 in the corner that you can’t believe didn’t go in. But with that being said, a bunch of these games, it’s not that they were taken (away), it’s that they were given (away). And we’ve gotta get out of that mode. I’ll say this though: Because of that – even watching the last game, we’ll have a spell of three minutes, four minutes, and instead of being up 10 or 12, all of a sudden it’s anybody’s ballgame. We gotta get through that. This is the hard part of it and this could make us what we’re going to be at the end of the year or this could break people down. What I’m trying to do is say, ‘Let’s use this as fuel. Let’s have this make us stronger.’ Talk about coming together, man. ‘You’ve gotta do this together. You’re not going to be able to bust through this by yourself.’ ”
On if the league being so strong this year can better prepare them for getting through the NCAA Tournament …
“Well, we’ve gotta get through the league. We’ve got stuff we’ve got to get through here and it makes it harder. I mean, there have been times (in the past) where you’re struggling but you’re playing a team coming up – ‘Ok, we can get these guys at home. We know that.’ And none of that (are) in this league right now. I said after the last game: You want to talk about Vanderbilt or whoever else, Mississippi beat Alabama, so we can talk about who we want but we’re all within three to five points of each other. The team that’s been doing the best job is Auburn. They’ve figured out ways of winning any type of close game, and then they create a gap and they’ll get somebody by 25. The rest of us – everybody is hanging around everybody, and so I think the veteran teams have done better than we young teams.”
Las Vegas likes Kentucky to get back in the win column on Saturday. According to the sports books out there in the desert, the Cats are giving up 4.5 points to the visiting Crimson Tide.
If you’re wondering how Kentucky has performed against the spread lately: close your eyes and picture a big pile of money sitting on a long wooden table; then pour gasoline all over the pile until it’s completely soaked; and then set it on fire. That’s how it’s been for Kentucky backers over the last five games.
Good luck, everyone.
Following Kentucky’s loss at Auburn earlier this week, John Calipari said he believes his team is only one win away from turning this whole thing around.
“I really believe if we win a game we’ll get going,” he said in his postgame press conference Wednesday night. “I’ve had teams in this kind of mode that we’re in, but the league was different, that we could go get a league game somewhere.”
He said more of the same in his Friday afternoon press conference when he repeated that sentiment, saying, “I really believe if we can win one, this thing starts changing for us, but you have to win one. There’s nobody going to give us anything.”
Cal’s point guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, is of the same belief. He said, “One win could put you on a roll just like how one loss could put you on a losing skid. I think once we get that one win we’ll be good and we’ll see what worked and I think this time we’ll continue it and we’ll go on a winning streak.”
Jarred Vanderbilt added more of the same before Friday’s practice, telling reporters, “I feel like right now we’re kind of in a slump, but I feel like that one win would just change the whole atmosphere and it would hopefully start a spark and a streak for us.”
Before we see if one win can flip the script, as Cal says it will, Kentucky will need to get that one win. And if Kentucky is going to get that one win, it needs to be Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena against Alabama. Lose that one and it may be too late.
By Drew Franklin on ©February 16th, 2018 @ 3:08pm
It’s hard to believe a team with four consecutive losses is a team that is really starting to get it, but that’s what Jarred Vanderbilt sees in his Kentucky Wildcats.
Vanderbilt met with the media prior to Friday’s practice and he told reporters, “We’re just still being positive. I feel like we’re still making strides, so I feel like we’re in a good spot right now. Once we get it all together and get clicking, we’ll be a really good team.”
“People are starting to get it,” he explained. “People are starting to find their roles and find the ways they can impact the team. Even defensively I feel like we’re getting better; offensively, I feel like we’re progressing and trying to get there. So I feel like we’ve made strides even though we’ve lost these games in a row.”
When asked what he sees in his own progression, Vanderbilt replied, “Me personally, I feel like I’m starting to find my role a little bit. Basically, just trying to do everything — not even worried about offense — just trying to do the little stuff to help the team get better.”
Make what you will of Vanderbilt’s comments about Kentucky improving in four losses, but we can all agree it’s refreshing to hear the players have a positive attitude during this rough skid. It would be easy for a team to be down on themselves in a time like this, but it sounds like Vanderbilt and his teammates are still confident this thing will get turned around.
Better late than never, right?
By Drew Franklin on ©February 16th, 2018 @ 1:53pm
With five games left on Kentucky’s regular season schedule, it’s time we gather around the table and take a look at the likelihood the Cats win each of those games. We’ve done this a couple of times in recent weeks (once here on Jan 23 and then again here on Jan 31), so we’re due for an update on the win probabilities.
If you’re in a hurry and need the shortened version, I’ll go ahead and tell you Kentucky would be favored in three of the remaining five games. Those are of course the three homes games, all of which are must-wins as the season winds down.
Here’s the game by game breakdown and how each percentage chance has changed since we last did this, before the four-game losing skid began.
Kentucky has to go 3-2 or better in these games to feel good about dancing in March.
1.) @ Florida
Sat, Mar 3
Florida remains the toughest game on the schedule, although the win probability has grown each time we’ve looked at the numbers, due to Florida’s own struggles. The Gators have lost three of their last four SEC home games.
Win Probability (Jan 23): 27.0%
Win Probability (Jan 31): 31.7%
Updated Win Probability: 32.2%
2.) @ Arkansas
Tue, Feb 20
Arkansas will be a tough task when the Cats travel there next Tuesday. The Razorbacks have won six of eight games and are a spot ahead of Kentucky in the current SEC standings.
Win Probability (Jan 23): 35.4%
Win Probability (Jan 31): 40.6%
Updated Win Probability: 35.0%
3.) vs. Alabama
Sat, Feb 17
Tomorrow’s contest against Alabama is the toughest of the three games in Rupp Arena. Alabama enters with some impressive wins this past week with a 28-point victory over Tennessee and a 15-point victory against LSU. ‘Bama also has an 18-point win at Florida and handed first-place Auburn one of its two losses.
Win Probability (Jan 23): 72.2%
Win Probability (Jan 31): 75.1 %
Updated Win Probability: 67.8%
4.) vs. Missouri
Sat, Feb 24
The Cats will get a shot at redemption against Missouri, which won the first meeting, when the Tigers come to town a week from tomorrow. We’ll have a much clearer picture of Kentucky’s future by the time this game rolls around after seeing whatever happens against Alabama and Arkansas.
Win Probability (Jan 23): 69.5%
Win Probability (Jan 31): 75.9%
Updated Win Probability: 69.2%
5.) vs. Ole Miss
Wed, Feb 28
If Kentucky can’t beat Ole Miss at home in the final game of the regular season, there won’t be much to be excited about it in the postseason, which will probably be in the NIT if that were to happen. It’s the easiest game on the schedule by far.
Win Probability (Jan 23): 82.0%
Win Probability (Jan 31): 83.4%
Updated Win Probability: 86.3%
(Win Probability determined by College Basketball Power Index)