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Basketball Season Coverage

Kentucky’s opponents in the ratings: December 3

With wins over Monmouth and UNC Greenbsoro, Kentucky improved to 7-1 and moved up a spot in both the AP and Coaches Polls. The Cats’ position in the KenPom, Sagarin, NET, and BPI ratings also improved from last Monday, in some cases dramatically:

  • AP Poll: 9 (Previous: 10)
  • Coaches Poll: 8 (Previous: 9)
  • Ken Pomeroy Ratings: 16 (Previous: 19)
  • Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 25 (Previous: 48)
  • NET Rankings: 23 (Previous: 61)
  • ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI): 15 (Previous: 23)

What about their opponents? As we will every Monday through the season, here’s a look at where Kentucky’s foes rank in college basketball polls and metrics:

TeamResultAP PollCoaches PollKenPomSagarinNETESPN BPI
Duke Loss, 118-84331142
Southern IllinoisWin, 71-59NRNR9611010590
North DakotaWin, 96-58NRNR275295302258
VMIWin, 92-82NRNR317331307256
WinthropWin, 87-74NRNR162161169166
Tennessee StateWin, 77-62NRNR281253333250
MonmouthWin, 90-44NRNR286324345297
UNC GreensboroWin, 78-61NRNR69736058
Seton HallDec. 8NRNR58598665
UtahDec. 15NRNR114127159155
North CarolinaDec. 22141278184
LouisvilleDec. 29NRNR48273841
AlabamaJan. 5NRNR597011246
Texas A&MJan. 8NRNR78109149116
VanderbiltJan. 12, Jan. 29NRNR71676676
GeorgiaJan. 15NRNR121112125113
AuburnJan. 19, Feb. 23898477
Mississippi StateJan. 22, Feb. 9222523333231
KansasJan. 262229146
FloridaFeb. 2, March 9NRNR24316520
South CarolinaFeb. 5NRNR8511517478
LSUFeb. 12NRNR50545359
TennesseeFeb. 16, March 2771315128
MissouriFeb. 19NRNR979710677
ArkansasFeb. 26NRNR514236111
Ole MissMarch 5NRNR666071112


— According to the KenPom and Sagarin ratings, Seton Hall will be the toughest team Kentucky’s played since Duke. The Pirates lost to Louisville by five at home on Saturday, but like UNC Greensboro, have a hot-shooting guard in Myles Powell, who averages 24 points off 46% from the floor and 36% from three. Louisville beat Seton Hall by limiting Powell to 6-19, 2-12 from beyond the arc. Ashton Hagans, here’s your next assignment.

— Speaking of the Cards, they’re up to No. 27 in the Sagarin ratings and received votes in the AP Poll. December 29 doesn’t look nearly as easy as it did before the season began.

— After debuting to mixed reviews last week, the NCAA’s NET Rankings are starting to make a little more sense. Kentucky is up to No. 23 from No. 61 last Monday. There are still some outliers (Arizona State and Buffalo in the top 15?) but hopefully as the sample size grows, the rankings will continue to stabilize.

WATCH: Former Kentucky players celebrate Joe B. Hall’s 90th birthday

Legendary Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday, and the University of Kentucky wanted to do their part to join in on the fun.

During the Wildcats’ 78-61 victory over UNC-Greensboro yesterday afternoon, Coach Hall received a tribute video from several former Kentucky stars wishing him a very happy 90th birthday.

Take a look at the video featuring appearances from Sam Bowie, Jack “Goose” Givens, Kenny Payne, and John Calipari:

And what’s a birthday celebration without cake?

The UK cheerleaders presented Hall with a specialized Kentucky basketball cake, #JoeBBy90 inscription and all:

Here’s the presentation:

Happy 90th Birthday, Coach Hall!

T.J.’s TAKES: UK beats an NCAA Tournament team by 15+

Well, that was a fun two hours. It wasn’t the prettiest game but UK’s late push closed out UNC Greensboro 78-61.

Here are five takeaways from Kentucky’s win.

1. The Win:

I know some fans will continue to panic and a lot of you all think UK stinks, but today was fun. It was good basketball between two tournament teams. The tempo was fun, the officiating was terrible and the atmosphere was the best we’ve seen at Rupp Arena all season.

Credit the fans at Rupp on Saturday. The opponent wasn’t a sexy name. It was an early start. It wasn’t a sellout crowd and the weather may have kept some folks away. But the 21,000+ fans that were there made a difference. Also, five-star forward Matthew Hurt said he wanted to see a good atmosphere and he saw a great environment tonight. Well done, UK fans.

As for the game itself, it was more of the same with different details. UK played a mix of average, bad and mediocre for about 32 minutes, but the final eight minutes I thought UK was mostly great. That team, the team that finished the game on a 14-2 run, is the group that can make the Final Four and beat just about anyone in the country.

2. Reid Travis:

You gotta be happy for the grad-transfer big. He came to UK to play in front of crowds like today and in his first “true” Rupp Arena experience he had his best game as a Wildcat. He finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

It’s not fun to imagine this team without Travis, so let’s not and instead focus on what he did well today. He’s obviously not going to play above the rim, but I have to imagine his opponents are black-and-blue after trying to guard him for the duration of the game. He outworks defenders and is completely relentless. UNCG had plenty of talent, but they didn’t have the muscle to handle Travis.

Reid Travis is like a sweat-stained t-shirt. He doesn’t go away. It may not always be pretty, but he’s always there and at any moment he’s going to get noticed. Persistent.

3. Keldon Johnson:

Something you all need to remember is that Johnson has a flavor for the extreme. He has a little MKG to him so when he goes down with an injury it doesn’t matter if someone stepped on his toe or it’s something major,  it’s going to appear he’s in a great deal of pain. So, I wouldn’t expect any long lasting injuries from Johnson.

He clearly has the highest ceiling on this team and it’s already evident that the Cats are reliant on his energy and ability to create offensively. Things slowed down a bit when he went to the locker room.

13 points was below average, but no concerns offensively from Johnson. However, I was blown away by the 11 rebounds. A lot of those were clutch boards in traffic, too.

I said it last week but he can be the type of guy to lead UK to four, five or six wins in March.

4. Some negatives:

All-in-all it was a nice win for Kentucky, but things are only going to get tougher moving forward and the Cats will have to be cleaner. Here are a few negatives:

  1. PJ Washington: He just has to be better. Kenny Payne called him out yesterday and it was a bummer he didn’t respond. Nothing wrong with nine points and eight rebounds, but we continue to ask why we only see dominant PJ for short stretches. At this point Travis and Montgomery are better frontcourt options until PJ can become more consistent.
  2. Turnovers: Still too many and this team is still too careless with the ball. 17 turnovers which led to 12 UNCG points (could have been a lot more). Washington had four and Herro had three. I still think the game is still going a little too fast for the freshmen, but not idea what’s up with PJ turning it over so much.
  3. Free Throws: 17-24 isn’t atrocious, but UK had been better this season. I don’t think you see Herro miss two in a game again anytime soon, so I’m not overly concerned, but it seemed like for a portion of this game free throws would matter so it can/should be better.
  4. Defense: More of the same for the majority of the game. UK was lost at times switching and late closing out on the perimeter.

5. Moving forward:

Things get tougher but I think UNCG was a great introduction into this tougher stretch. UK won’t be able to blowout teams playing average basketball for 40 minutes. There has to be great stretches from UK and moving forward there will need to be great stretches longer than 5-8 minutes.

Seton Hall had the lead the majority of the game against UofL before falling late. Utah isn’t great but they will be pumped to play at Rupp Arena. Then it’s UNC in Chicago and that will be a defensive nightmare for the Cats with how things stand right now. Then it’s the Louisville game at the KFC Yum! Center, where I’d guess the Cards would be the favorite as of today.

Things are going to be tough and Kentucky has to be better. But a positive spin is that UK played average/below average for 32 minutes and despite only playing well for eight minutes they beat an NCAA Tournament team by 17 points.

More of that team and the Cats will be in business.

WATCH: Tyler Herro, Reid Travis, and Keldon Johnson talk following UNCG victory

WATCH: Tyler Herro, Reid Travis, and Keldon Johnson talk following UNCG victory

Kentucky pulled off their first true quality win of the season against UNC-Greensboro, winning by a final score of 78-61.

After the game, Kentucky guard Tyler Herro, forward Reid Travis, and wing Keldon Johnson each talked to the media about their team’s performance on Saturday afternoon.

Tyler Herro talked about the crowd rallying the team, how happy he was with Kentucky’s play against a tournament team, and Ashton Hagans’ impact on the defensive end of the floor:

Reid Travis talked about playing a season-high 37 minutes, Hagans’ impact on defense, and playing a team as talented as UNCG.

And finally, Keldon Johnson talked about his ankle injury, whether or not he plays up his injuries, and how his team managed to slow down UNCG’s Francis Alonso.

Go Cats.

Ashton Hagans may have taken over Kentucky’s top point guard spot

Five points (1-3 shooting), two rebounds, three assists, three steals, and a block. Solid numbers, but certainly nothing that blows you away on first glance.

Watching Kentucky’s 78-61 victory over UNC-Greensboro, however, it became obvious freshman point guard Ashton Hagans took a major step forward. In fact, it might have been a performance that solidified his spot as the team’s lead point guard.

Whether it be poking balls loose, diving on the floor, jumping the passing lanes, or being a pest on the ball, Hagans dominated on the defensive end of the floor. It was the exact kind of performance we were told we might see before he even arrived in Lexington.

Back in April before Hagans committed, Kentucky guard Tyler Herro told KSR the Covington, GA native was a defensive superstar and whoever signed him would be “lucky.”

“The way he picks up 94 feet, full-court defense. He gets downhill a lot, as a point guard, he gets downhill. Comes off in transition, makes the right play. To have him as a point guard, whoever gets him, they’re lucky,” said Herro.

Keldon Johnson agreed.

“I’d say he’s definitely a dog, picks up 94 feet, steps up on defense,” he said.

We’ve seen spurts of elite play out of Hagans on the defensive end of the floor, but it’s been inconsistent at best. To make matters worse, the Kentucky freshman has struggled immensely on offense, making it hard to keep him on the floor for long stretches of time.

Over the last two games, however, we’ve seen an uptick in production on both ends of the floor. He finished with a career-high seven points on Wednesday against Monmouth, and then followed it up with an absolutely phenomenal defensive performance against UNC-Greensboro star guard Francis Alonso.

Guarded by a combination of Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro, Alonso finished the first half shooting 5-6 from the field for 19 points. From there, Hagans allowed Alonso to shoot just 1-6 for three points the rest of the way. In fact, the star Spartan guard finished with more turnovers in the second half (two) than total baskets.

“It’s not even what he did offensively,” head coach John Calipari said after the game. “We put him on No. 10. We said we can let the kid get 60, or we can put Ashton on him.”

Kentucky forward Reid Travis said the Wildcats knew Francis Alonso was a talented scorer going into the game, and it’s a relief to have a player on his team that can slow down a hot hand.

“(Alonso) is a talented scorer, he’s a good player, and we knew that going into the game,” he said. “He can score in a lot of different ways, but it’s nice to have a guy like Ashton that can take it on himself. We knew that when (Alonso) got going, we could put Ashton on him and have success. He really took a lot of pride in stopping him and shutting him down. He knew that was going to help us win the game.”

And that’s not even to discredit the progression the Wildcat freshman has made offensively as of late, either.

Last game, Hagans drilled an open three-pointer in the corner, his first make from deep of the season. There was zero hesitation, the form was smooth, and he looked comfortable taking it. For a player with shooting concerns coming in, it was absolutely a step in the right direction.

Today, however, the newest Wildcat guard pulled out a trick we saw quite often as a high schooler in Georgia. It was one that forced recruiting analysts to compare his speedy style of play to former Kentucky stars John Wall and De’Aaron Fox.

On one instance, Hagans got the ball in transition and took it coast-to-coast going three-on-two. The defenders sagged off onto the other Wildcats, leaving an open lane for Hagans to make a play. Instead of hesitating like we’ve seen throughout the season, the Kentucky point guard shifted gears, cutting through the lane and going up for a reverse and-one layup. The Rupp Arena crowd erupted for easily the loudest moment of the afternoon.

Calipari says Hagans played the situation perfectly and was proud of the progression out of his bright-eyed newcomer.

“Here’s his job: Catch that ball and look ahead. If somebody is ahead, throw it. If they’re not ahead or they’re guarded, that means the court is spaced. So I look (left), he’s guarded; I go the other way, he’s guarded, I’m shooting a lay-up. So you’re doing this on the run,” he said.

Travis said the defensive talent is obvious, but when he’s aggressive on offense, Hagans can be a truly special basketball player.

“He’s obviously disruptive on defense, and he can facilitate on offense,” he said. “But when he picks his spots and he gets in there, I mean, that finish was something you could see all the time. Really, if he has an aggressive mindset, he can get in there and make free throws and get and-ones. We’re all happy for him.”

The offense is coming along, but there’s no question Hagans’ defense is what’s quickly separating him as the most impactful point guard on the Kentucky roster. Quade Green has been solid shooting the ball, and Immanuel Quickley has been a solid facilitator, but they’re not forcing opponents to gameplan against them when they enter the game the way they have to with Hagans. He’s a much-needed energy boost when the team just needs a spark on both ends of the floor.

UNC-Greensboro head coach Wes Miller said Hagans will be able to put on a show defensively against “just about anybody.”

“His on-ball pressure in the backcourt is where it starts,” he said. “He makes it difficult to bring the ball up the court. … That was the main thing we talked about in scouting, the impact he has on the game defensively. I think he’ll be able to do that to just about anybody in the country this year.”

With defensive struggles elsewhere on the roster, it’s a breath of fresh air when Hagans steps on the floor. It’s so much of a breath of fresh air that John Calipari has officially decided the Kentucky guard will be in charge of guarding the opposing team’s best player going forward.

“He’s physical,” Calipari said. “He’s more athletic. He can stay in front of people. He gave (Alonso) one shot, if you remember, in front of their bench where he guarded him with his hands down and the kid made a three. Short of that, he guarded him, and I told the team after the game, so what’s just been proven is if another team gets going with an individual player, what are we going to do as a team? We’re putting Ashton on him.

LIVE: John Calipari recaps win over UNC-Greensboro

John Calipari is about to recap Kentucky’s 78-61 win over UNC Greensboro. Watch below courtesy of our friends at KyWildcatsTV:

Kentucky Overcomes First Half Deficit to Defeat UNC-Greensboro 78-61

Kentucky Overcomes First Half Deficit to Defeat UNC-Greensboro 78-61

Kentucky survived a hard-fought Saturday afternoon battle against UNC-Greensboro.

The Rupp Arena atmosphere did not intimidate the Spartans.  UNC-Greensboro sprinted out to an early 5-0 lead and kept the pressure on Kentucky.  At halftime the Cats trailed 40-37.

It took ten minutes of second half struggles before Ashton Hagans injected energy back into the Wildcats.  The freshman point guard’s And One in transition sparked a 15-4 run over the next seven minutes that ultimately decided the game.  The Cats closed the game on a 20-4 run.

Kentucky defeated the 2017 SoCon tournament champions 78-61.  Reid Travis led the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds.  Tyler Herro kept pace with 18 points and Keldon Johnson finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, even though he missed significant time in the first half after he rolled his ankle.