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ESPN thinks Kentucky is safe from upset in NCAA tourney

ESPN thinks Kentucky is safe from upset in NCAA tourney

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The last month of basketball didn’t go as planned at Kentucky, but at least one national college basketball analyst believes the Wildcats are fine and there was never a need to worry about the future.

“There probably was never any need to panic,” writes ESPN’s Peter Keating. “A flu bug had hit half of Kentucky’s roster, and anyone could lose to Kansas and Florida.”

Today, Keating named Kentucky one of five “upset-proof” teams heading into March, determined by his “Giant” ratings.

“These are the Goliaths who are safer than they look, both from traditional and standard analytical viewpoints. In other words, these are the Giants who can make chalk pay,” Keating explains.

UK has a 95,3 Giant Rating, meaning an estimated 95.3 percent chance of beating an average NCAA tournament “Killer.”

Keating explains:

Particularly from a Giant Killers perspective, Calipari’s crew is still primed for a deep NCAA tournament run. Four Wildcats regulars are shooting better than 55 percent from inside, and with few turnovers and top-30 offensive rebounding, Kentucky is scoring 119.6 adjusted points per possession, the seventh-highest rate in the country. They allow opponents to shoot just 32 percent on 3s (ranking 43rd). And they play very fast, averaging 74.1 possessions per game, 13th-most in the NCAA. So they just run away from the kinds of teams they are likely to see early in the tournament. On their way to attempting 71 field goals, amassing 21 offensive rebounds and forcing 19 turnovers against Valparaiso in December, the Wildcats led 23-4 after 10 minutes of play. That’s what Kentucky can do to a Killer. [ESPN]

West Virginia and North Carolina rank No. 1 and 2 in Keating’s upset-proof teams; Kentucky is the fifth safest from a surprising defeat, per the Giant Ratings.


Malik Monk chasing Meeks and Murray in the record books

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It is time we address the fact that Malik Monk is on a record-setting pace from beyond the arc.

Through 26 games this season, Monk has 83 made three-point field goals which is already the eighth most in a single season at the University of Kentucky. With five more, he will pass Brandon Knight for second best in a freshman season.

Rank Player Season Games Three-Pointers
1 Jodie Meeks 2008-09 36 117
2 Jamal Murray 2015-16 36 113
3 Travis Ford 1992-93 34 101
4 Derrick Miller 1989-90 28 99
5 Tony Delk 1993-94 34 95
6 Tony Delk 1995-96 36 93
7 Brandon Knight 2010-11 38 87
8 Malik Monk 2016-17 26 83
9 Patrick Sparks 2004-05 34 82
9 James Young 2013-14 40 82

At his current pace of 3.2 three-balls per game, Monk will finish the regular season in a tie with Derrick Miller for fourth with 99 on the year. Then he will have the SEC and NCAA tournaments to hit 18 threes to reach Meeks’ record of 117 made in the 2008-09 season. Let’s assume Kentucky plays three SEC tourney games and at least another three in NCAA, he is well on his way to setting the new all-time mark if he continues on the path he is on.

Go Monk.


Tennessee set out to stop Willis; Tennessee failed

Tennessee set out to stop Willis; Tennessee failed

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According to Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, stopping Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel was the key to the game last night. Those two contributed absolutely nothing from the four-spot in the first game in Knoxville, so Barnes tried to force them into nonexistence again, in hopes of finding a similar result in the end.

That plan did not work.

Because Willis balled.

Read the full quote from Barnes’ postgame press conference:

We felt it was really important in our gameplan not to let Willis or Gabriel get going and they did what we thought early. They came out, I think Gabriel shot it two of the first three possessions and then Willis came in and got it going and gave us some separation and our gameplan was not to let that happen. We were willing to let the other players pretty much do what they had done. Adebayo, Fox, Monk do what they do. We just didn’t want that fourth guy to really step in there. I think John (Calipari) with his team has worked hard to get that guy going. They got it going tonight. I think from your vantage they got done what they wanted to get done with him.”

“Our key was to not let their fourth shoot the ball and make good shots. I don’t think you’re going to stop Monk from getting his on a night in and night out basis because he’s going to shoot the ball and he’s going to make some tough shots. One thing we did, we go back to our game at Knoxville, he and Gabriel were nonfactors and we talked about it all week. That’s what we can’t allow happen and we let it happen. Give them credit. I think John always has a great pulse on his team and you can tell that he’s tried to get those going because it does make them a different team because now you’ve got stretch these guys a little bit but they made shots and got going. I thought we gave them some room to breathe. We had some ridiculous turnovers and they converted those. We were just awful. We didn’t deserve a win tonight because we didn’t do the things we talked about from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint.”

As we’ve said all year, if the Cats get anything from Willis or Gabriel at the four, they are going to be tough to beat.


Kentucky is No. 3 seed in East Region in new USA Today projections

Kentucky is No. 3 seed in East Region in new USA Today projections

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Who up, New York!

That is where we will be going should two things happen: the Cats win their first two games in the NCAA Tournament and these new projections from USA Today hold true.

In the new USA Today Bracketology, Kentucky is the No. 3 seed in the East Region. That title comes with two first weekend games in Indianapolis and then a potential trip to the Big Apple for the second weekend of Madness. (Sign me up for that.)

Joining Kentucky in the East Region, you will find (1) Villanova, (2) Florida State, (4) West Virginia and (5) Notre Dame. Those are some of the last teams we want to see in March, but nobody said hanging a ninth banner would be easy.

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Me right now:

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Wednesday’s Top 10: More from Kentucky’s rout of Tennessee

Wednesday’s Top 10: More from Kentucky’s rout of Tennessee

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Kentucky got its revenge against Tennessee last night in Rupp Arena with the blowout win fans have been craving for a month. You can say it was the Cats’ best performance since the South Carolina game when they beats the Cocks by 16, or some of you may even want to go further back to the 100-58 win against Texas A&M on January 3.

Either way, it was the dominant shellacking (that’s a word, right?) Big Blue Nation needed to see to feel confident about the team as March approaches. It took us back to some of those games we saw before Christmas, when the Cats were firing on all cylinders and had us chugging the Kool-Aid.

More from the game to start your Wednesday morning on the internet…

 

1. Malik Monk played a complete game.

We know he can score in bunches, but last night we saw the rare all-around good performance from Monk.

The career-high eight rebounds are all the talk in day-after conversations in offices around Kentucky right now, considering he had only eight rebounds in the previous five games. Monk said he was on a mission to hit the boards against Tennessee because he had been feeling the heat from his coach, who threatened to bench him for his lack of effort in that aspect of the game, and he was out to prove he can crash the glass as well as anyone. Monk admitted in his postgame interview that he had been guilty of trying to run out on fast breaks rather than fighting for boards, and that the staff had shown him tape of him missing opportunities to snatch the ball off missed shots.

And then, lost in the excitement of his rebounding, there is Monk’s defense and shot selection. Sure, the rebounding is great, but he improved in those areas too, at least for a night. It was a really complete game for the best scorer in college basketball and those 7-to-1 odds for AP Player of the Year could change if he continues to do more for Kentucky.

2. Calipari thought De’Aaron Fox was “unbelievable.”

Here are some of Coach Cal’s comments on the others guys…

Derek Willis: “Derek Willis was ridiculous and he spaced the court… I thought Derek played really confident today.”

Isaiah Briscoe: “Isaiah, six assists and no turns and–or six assists, one turn.”

Malik Monk: “He did good. He played better, he played within himself. He had a couple shots, the first shot he had was a better shot than the second and we’re working through it.”

Bam Adebayo: “I thought Bam was playing, he got tired. When he gets tired he stands behind people. We just got to see it and get him out and then get him back in.”

Dominique Hawkins: “He is a fierce competitor, he’s tough as nails, he will come up with — any 50/50 ball, he’s getting — and offensively he’s gotten better each year. So, yes, he’s like old reliable. You know you can go to him, he can play point guard, he can play off guard, if you want him to guard a big man he’ll go rebound… How about ball pressure? If we’re not pressuring, you put him in. He’s going to be energy. He’s going to be on the ball.”

Mychal Mulder: “Mychal we’re still trying to figure out. Now I started Mychal playing some four today. I hate to tell you, he did pretty good. He did pretty good at four. Like he fought the post, he went in and rebounded. So we’re trying to figure that situation out.”

3. Ball movement!

How pretty was the passing last night? On several occasions they made the extra pass around the perimeter to find a wide-open shooter or driving lane, which resulted in better shot selection and, in turn, a much better offense in the halfcourt.

UK’s assist-to-turn ratio looks pretty damn good, too: 17 assists, seven turnovers. And a couple of those turnovers came late in the blowout when cars were already leaving the parking lot.

Great night offensively by the team as a whole.

4. Butch Jones was in attendance.

Butch Jones

Tennessee’s head football coach made the trip up from Knoxville to see the Volunteers take an L. But that’s okay because they’re champions in life, as Jones likes to say.

5. See more photos from KSR.

Click here to see our entire gallery on Facebook:

Click below to follow KSR’s new Instagram page:

Probably not but nice sign.

A post shared by KSR Photos (@ksr_photos) on

We have another big announcement coming soon from our photos project.

6. De’Aaron Fox explained that new hairdo.

Fox told Mike Pratt on the Wildcat Wrap-Up, “My hair has a process of doing — trying to get it spiky like how I have it. And sometimes I’m just lazy, so I washed it, and my hair is really long so I just put it in a bun and kept moving.”

He doesn’t know if he’ll keep the look or not, but his mom told him to “do something with it.”

7. Did Malik Monk shoot an arrow?

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I think he did, Big Blue Nation. I think he did.

8. Florida scored 114 points on Auburn.

Not a lot of defense played down in Auburn last night where the Gators beat the Tigers, 114-95. That only supports Bruce Pearl’s belief that Florida is the only real NCAA Tournament contender in the Southeastern Conference, although Kentucky did a good job of proving it is still a threat.

9. Taveion Hollingsworth broke Lexington scoring record.

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Taveion Hollingsworth is your new all-time leading scorer in Lexington boys’ high school basketball history. The Western Kentucky commit scored 42 points in a heartbreaking, last-second loss to West Jessamine last night. He now has 2,422 career points, 14 better than the previous record of 2,408, set by Mike Allen at Bryan Station in 1989.

10. How in the world did LeBron James pull off this no-look, nutmeg assist?


RECAP: Kentucky gets its groove back, routs Tennessee 83-58

RECAP: Kentucky gets its groove back, routs Tennessee 83-58

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Well, that’s more like it. Kentucky gave its fans the best kind of Valentine’s Day gift tonight with a thorough 83-58 beatdown of Tennessee. It was never really close; the Cats turned in their best 40 minutes of basketball in a month, dominating the Vols from start to finish. Malik Monk led the way with 20 points and eight (!!) rebounds, followed by Derek Willis with 16 points and De’Aaron Fox with 13.

Between ball movement, three-point shooting, rebounding, and, yes, defense, there’s a lot to be happy about, so let’s break it down.

Malik Monk had eight rebounds

The most shocking stat of the night? Malik Monk — the same player who went two straight games without a board — pulled down a career-high eight rebounds tonight, equalling his total from the past five games combined. For weeks, John Calipari has lamented about his top scorer’s effort on the boards, and tonight, Monk proved that his hops on offense translate to rebounding as well.

“He did good. He did good,” Calipari said, consulting the stat sheet. “He did good. He did good. He played better, he played within himself.”

Four “he did good”s from Calipari?? You did good, Malik.

I want to write that ball movement a love song

The improved rebounding was great, the hustle was spectacular, the defense — which I’ll write about in a second — was like a cool drink on a hot summer day; however, what made me happiest tonight was the ball movement. For the first time in a month, the Cats zipped the ball around the court like a team actually playing with a plan instead of a bunch of individuals hurdling themselves at the basket. One of the most impressive sequences came in the first half, when the Cats played the best kind of hot potato to set up Dominique Hawkins for a three:

This possession was also great:

“It’s what we’ve been working on,” Cal said of the ball movement afterwards. “It’s how we need to play and we were playing that way early. We got away from it, and it makes us look like a different team.”

Yes, it does.

Derek Willis was on fire

At one point in the first half, it seemed like Derek Willis couldn’t miss. The senior finished with 16 points, including four threes, and if you ask Rick Barnes, his play was a big of what went right for the Cats tonight.

“Our key was not to let their four shoot the ball, make no shots,” Barnes said of Willis, who had four points in Kentucky’s loss in Knoxville last month. “But one thing we did, you go back to our game in Knoxville, he and Gabriel were non-factors. We talked about it all week. That’s what we can’t allow happen and we let it happen. Give them credit. I think John has a great pulse on his team. You can tell that he’s tried to get those guys going because it does make them a different team.”

“Derek Willis was ridiculous and he spaced the court,” Cal said. “I thought Derek played really confident today.”

Clearly, Willis heard Cal’s “play with confidence or you’ll sit” ultimatum from yesterday’s press conference. If Kentucky can consistently get production from either Derek or Wenyen at the four, they’ll be fine.

Defense! There was defense!

Kentucky held Tennessee to a season-low 58 points, the Cats’ second straight game holding an opponent to 60 or under. Defense has been an obvious focus of the reboot, and tonight, it showed. Tennessee was only 18-53 for 35% tonight, including a paltry 19% from three. The Vols committed 13 turnovers to only 7 assists, a stat that looks particularly awful when you compare it to the Cats’ 17 assists and 7 turnovers, their best assist-to-turnover ratio in what feels like forever.

“I thought our defense was as good as it’s been since the beginning of the year,” Cal said. “I thought we crowded the lane a little bit, I thought we helped, we rotated. I was really happy about the rebounds.”

As he should be. Kentucky outrebounded Tennessee 43-35 tonight. Bam Adebayo had 12 boards, his first double-digit rebounding effort since the UCLA game back in early December. Shoutout to Dominique Hawkins, who not only had 10 points and four rebounds, but played with enough energy and hustle that Cal played him six minutes longer than Isaiah Briscoe.

De’Aaron Fox might have to keep the man bun

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Fox had some in the BBN clutching at their pearls before the game when he came out of the locker room sporting a man bun (or, as we dubbed it on the live blog, a foxtail). Like Willie Cauley-Stein before him, Fox played well enough that not only are people okay with the man bun, they want him to keep it as to not mess with the mojo. After a rough month which included an ankle injury and an illness, Fox finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers before fouling out.

“I thought De’Aaron Fox was as good as he’s been in two months,” Calipari said on his radio show.

During his interview with Mike Pratt, Fox said his phone was blowing up with texts from friends telling him to keep his hairstyle, but that his mother wasn’t a big fan. Fox, who clearly has learned something about the BBN, left the final decision to the crowd at Rupp, who cheered for him to keep the foxtail.

Sorry, mamma. Mojo comes first.

So, are we back?

A 25-point win sure feels good, but before you start trolling fans of other teams about the Cats being back, let’s pump the brakes just a bit. As Rick Barnes put it, his team was “gosh awful” tonight, but seeing Kentucky keep their foot on the gas throughout for a solid beatdown was definitely promising.

“It was good,” Cal said of the win. “[Tennessee] did whatever they wanted last time. I think you see us different defensively. I think you see us different in transition defense. I think you see the difference offensively. Some of the rebooting you’re seeing. And that’s part of the what we did.”

Tonight, you saw Kentucky get back to a lot of things they do best. In addition to sharing the ball, the Cats burned the Vols in transition, with 18 fast break points to Tennessee’s zero. Cal attributed a lot of Kentucky’s reboot to sharper focus in practice, with Tony Barbee handling the defense and Kenny Payne the offense. Regardless of the reason, one thing is for certain: for the first time in a month, Kentucky basketball was fun to watch.

“Today was — it’s kind of growing up,” Cal said. “It’s being a man. It’s all the stuff that we got to teach. But this is only the beginning of what we started 10 days ago.”

Keep it up.


Full Transcript of Calipari’s Postgame Press Conference

Full Transcript of Calipari’s Postgame Press Conference

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JOHN CALIPARI: That’s what we have been working on. We were playing that way early, we got away from it, so it makes us look like a different team.

Q. Could you talk about Malik’s overall stat line and especially the 8 rebounds?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, he did good. He did good. I didn’t look at the whole stat line. I know — or where is it here? I can’t see. He did good. He did good. He played better, he played within himself. He had a couple shots, the first shot he had was a better shot than the second and we’re working through it. This is still a work in progress. I’m going to say it again, it took us three weeks to get to where we were. If you look at our stats the last five games, we were atrocious. I think now it gave me an idea of what I needed to do with them and, basically, I told them, I’m going to be brutal in practice and I’m backing up off the game. I want Tony talking defense and I want Kenny talking offense. If they have anything they want to do in practice, for the defense, Tony and the offense, Kenny, we’re doing it. And if a guy’s not playing confident, Kenny’s keeping an eye on it and taking him out.

Q. What’s the change when he gets rebounds like that?
JOHN CALIPARI: He went after it, he was committed to it.

Q. Is it a sign of progress that there were a couple times Tennessee started to chip away at that lead and you guys had answers for it both times?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, I like what — the start of the game, Derek Willis was ridiculous and he spaced the court. Now, you may say, you guys took 25 threes, it’s how they play. It’s how South Carolina plays. Those teams, when you drive, collapse. And you’re going to have to make some jumpers. Now, they can be 2s, 15-footer, elbow jumpers, Isaac made a short one, or maybe threes, if you’re feeling it. And so we, I thought we did a good job. The threes we took were the threes we should have taken. And we passed up shots to give a guy a shot. And it’s great to see. 17 assists and only 7 turns and one of them was Dom at the end of the game.

Q. Is this as close to a complete game as you’ve had in a long time, do you think?
JOHN CALIPARI: It was good. A team we, that beat us and beat us good, we could say it was a 2-point game. It wasn’t a 2-point game, it was a 10 point game that we tried to fight to get back in. They did whatever they wanted last time. I think you see us different defensively. I think you see us different in transition defense. I think you see the difference offensively. Some of the rebooting you’re seeing. And that’s part of the what we did. The other side of it is, a friend of mine calls and says it looks like you’re more intense than your team. That you want it worse than they want it. Well, I said that I’m not doing that. No. No. I’ll coach them in practice and in the game, their energy and their effort and enthusiasm, that’s on them.

Now, as I back up, I said, now you got to be responsible for your play. So if you play poorly, I can’t take responsibility anymore. Someone got to come out there and say, this is on me, I didn’t play well. And I said, I’ve taught you that by me doing it. Now, I’m backing up, you do it. If you didn’t play, you come out there and you tell them, I was awful today, I hurt us.

So, today was — it’s kind of growing up. It’s being a man. It’s all the stuff that we got to teach. But this is only the beginning of what we started what was it? 10 days ago? I worked yesterday and I will work again up 18, how do we play? Can I tell you, they didn’t know. I said, well, what would you do here? And so what we did was we went three segments. Three. Up 18, four minutes on the clock, how are we going to play? This is what your mindset is. This is how you get to 25.

So we’re going to keep working and we got to get better at our zone defense and offense, because I think teams coming up are going to play us some zone. They’re going to pack it in. But when you shoot the way we shot from the three, it’s hard to say, okay, we’ll pack it in on them.

(more…)


Calipari said we are seeing some of the rebooting

Calipari said we are seeing some of the rebooting

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In his postgame press conference, which can be seen below, John Calipari attributed some of Tuesday night’s win over Tennessee to the reboot.

Cal said, “I think you see us different defensively. I think you see us different in transition defense. I think you see the difference offensively. Some of the rebooting you’re seeing. And that’s part of what we did.”

Another big part of what they did was focus on how to maintain big leads, because we all know that has been an issue recently.

“This is only the beginning of what we started, what was it? 10 days ago? I worked yesterday and I will work again up 18, how do we play? Can I tell you — they didn’t know.”

“I said, ‘Well, what would you do here?’ And so what we did was we went three segments. Three. Up 18, four minutes on the clock, how are we going to play? This is what your mindset is. This is how you get to 25.”

Adding to the list of teaching lessons in practice, Cal noted that they will keep working on zone offense and defense going forward, because they’ll see a lot of it.


Highlights from the win

Highlights from the win

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It’s always a fun time when Kentucky’s offense is rolling like it was Tuesday night. So have some fun by reliving that outstanding performance by watching these highlights from KY Wildcats TV.


Dominique “Old Reliable” Hawkins

Dominique “Old Reliable” Hawkins

Dominique Hawkins

Dominique Hawkins reached a season-high eight points with three rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes tonight against the Vols. And his on-ball defense was the best on the floor, per usual.

To quote John Calipari after the game, “He’s like old reliable.”

“He’s tough as nails. You know you can go to him, he can play point guard, he can play off guard, if you want him to guard a big man he’ll go rebound.”


Cats now 20-0 when Isaac Humphries scores

Cats now 20-0 when Isaac Humphries scores

Isaac Humphries

You can throw out Malik Monk’s 20-piece, Kentucky’s offense as a whole, the much-improved defense, the ball security, ball movement and everything else that went right in tonight’s win, because it all came down to one play: Isaac Humphries’ bucket in the second half. That was the difference maker.

How so, you ask?

Because when Isaac Humphries scores, Kentucky is undefeated.

Humphries’ two-point performance against Tennessee gave UK its 20th win in 20 games when he contributes to the scoreboard. In games he doesn’t, Kentucky is 1-5 with the one win coming against Michigan State in the Garden.

Tonight’s game-winner was a short jumper with 15:56 to go in the game. You could’ve shut it off once that one dropped.


LIVE: John Calipari’s postgame comments

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Kentucky finally got the big home win it has been craving and now you can hear what John Calipari has to say about it.

Tune in to the live stream below for all of his postgame comments following the win:


Monk, Willis shoot Tennessee out of Rupp Arena

Monk, Willis shoot Tennessee out of Rupp Arena

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Revenge is a dish best served to Tennessee and the Wildcats gave the Volunteers a big helping of it Tuesday night in the regular season rematch.

Malik Monk led all scorers with 20 points and, get this, a career-high eight rebounds. Monk was helped out by Derek Willis’ 16 points and a combined 25 from De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.

Kentucky won big, 83-58.

 

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At The Half: Kentucky 47, Tennessee 32

At The Half: Kentucky 47, Tennessee 32

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It’s a three-point frenzy in Rupp Arena as Kentucky’s 10 three-pointers made in the first half gives it a 47-32 lead over the visiting Volunteers.

Malik Monk and Derek Willis have four treys apiece. Monk already has 16 points and FOUR REBOUNDS!

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UK vs. Tennessee LIVE BLOG

Live Blog UK vs. Tennessee LIVE BLOG