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EJ Montgomery working out for the Spurs

EJ Montgomery working out for the Spurs

With one week until the NBA Draft underclassmen withdrawal deadline, EJ Montgomery is still exploring his options. According to his Instagram story, the rising sophomore is in San Antonio to work out for the Spurs this afternoon:

The Spurs have the No. 19, No. 29, and No. 49 picks in next month’s draft. Last season, EJ averaged 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while totaling 38 total blocks, 16 steals and 15 assists. He’s not currently projected to be picked in any major mock drafts, but, as we’ve seen in the past, some teams will make promises to second round prospects.

Thankfully, we’ll know for sure in a week and nine hours.


Big Board for the 2019 NBA Draft

After following the SEC and the rest of college basketball all season, here is my top 30 prospects for the 2019 NBA Draft. The first 14 prospects on this list, who deserve to be headed for the lottery, have more in-depth breakdowns while prospects 15-30 receive shorter descriptions. And yes, this is just one man’s opinion who watched way too much college basketball last season.

1. Zion Williamson, Forward, Duke

I’m all in on Mr. Williamson. Yes, we all know he is a hulking behemoth who can jump put of a gym. However, he is so much more than that. Combining that athleticism with his endless motor and defensive potential easily makes him the best overall prospect since Anthony Davis in 2012.

As far as weaknesses, his mechanics on his jump shot are still funky and he doesn’t get much lift underneath him when he shoots. He also needs to add a few more offensive moves to his game besides that Julius Randle spin move (which is very effective). But these are still nitpicks. Williamson actually shot better than his other talented teammates last season and his current offensive moves are borderline unguardable. Who knows just how good Zion will be, but he is a once in every decade type of talent. He is the prize of this draft.

2. Ja Morant, Point Guard, Murray State

I think there is a clear second-best player in this draft, and that title belongs to the best college player from the state of Kentucky last season. Morant is an uber-athletic point guard and an elite playmaker. “Skinny John Wall” is actually a relatively close comparison. He is in the mold of De’Aaron Fox from a body-build perspective, but I think his game is closer to that of a healthy Wall due to Morant’s flashiness.

While that is certainly high praise, Morant is not the generational prospect that Williamson is. His weaknesses are much more apparent. Morant needs to refine his jump shot as well, but more importantly, he is just straight-up bad on defense. This will make him a liability against the several great point guards in the league today. Overall, despite those critiques I do think his complete offensive game makes him a guaranteed non-bust at the next level. If he can learn behind Mike Conley Jr. in Memphis, I think he will end up being an all-star in the NBA.

3. Jarrett Culver, Shooting Guard, Texas Tech

Many say this is a three-player draft. I just don’t see it that way. After Zion and Ja, I think there is a large drop off. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t any good players after them, but I just don’t see any sure-fire all-stars. Many scouts have Duke’s R.J. Barrett here and for good reason. However, I think the more complete player is Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver.

Culver is easily the better shooter, arguably the better playmaker, has a better personality on the court, and is the better defender. While I’m not sure just how high his “ceiling” really is, I think his bust potential is smaller than any other player on this board. Culver also carried the Red Raiders all the way to the championship even while being the guy every team concentrated on. His role will be dependent on the team that is smart enough to pick him, but Culver is going to be good at whatever is asked of him at the next level.

4. R.J. Barrett, Forward, Duke

Before the college basketball season started, I had Barrett as the best player in this draft. I still really like his overall talent level despite him falling to No. 4 on this list. I actually think his greatest attribute is his play-making ability. Barrett brought the ball up the court many times for Duke and made some outstanding passes for his teammates. He has the ability to make those around him better.

However, there are two big questions facing him. The first being his three-point shooting. For a guy that shoots a lot of 3’s, he is not very good at it at all which is a problem in a league that has made a shift to that style of play. But the biggest problem I have with Barrett is his inclination to play hero-ball at the end of games. Barrett can become an all-star in this league. However, if he doesn’t fix his shot and that over-alpha mentality then he could be someone that no one likes to play with.

5. Brandon Clarke, Power Forward, Gonzaga

I have zero idea why more scouts do not have this guy higher on their boards. Clarke was easily the most underrated player in college basketball this season. Not only did he average 17 ppg and 8.6 rpg, but he also was fifth in the entire sport in blocks per game (3.8). He is an incredibly explosive athlete who is already an elite-level defender because of his timing in blocking shots.

The only thing holding him back from being higher on my board is that his midrange jumper needs more work for a guy that is just 6’8. Its “alright” right now, but it needs more consistency in order to make him a good offensive player at the next level. Worst-case scenario I see him being a Kenneth Faried-type at the in the league due to his high motor and competitiveness, but he has the potential to be much, much better than that.

6. Nassir Little, Forward, North Carolina

From here on out, I think there is another big drop off as far as guaranteed “good picks.” I’m confident that the top 5 players here will be good NBA players, but after that….oh boy. Good luck finding a quality starter. That’s just how the draft is this year.

This leads me to put Little here at No. 6. This is pretty controversial as some scouts truly hate him and won’t touch him with a ten-foot pole. The reason is that at times for UNC he seemed genuinely uninterested in playing hard when it didn’t matter. This is a huge red flag. However, when he is engaged like he was in the NCAA Tournament, Little is easily the best one-on-one defender in this draft. I see him right now as Jaylen Brown but with a weaker jump shot. Not the most attractive sentence, but at such a young age with an NBA ready body, Little is worth the risk. Either he turns into Stanley Johnson, or his offensive game improves and he turns into a poor man’s Kawhi Leonard. In this draft, that makes him my sixth best prospect. Always. Gamble. On. Defense.

7. Darius Garland, Point Guard, Vanderbilt

The first SEC player to make an appearance on this list just so happens to have played only five games of collegiate basketball due to injury. Like I said, its not a very deep draft. However, I do really like what very little I saw from Garland. At the point guard position, I think he is far and away the best shooter in this draft. His release is incredibly quick and natural. His handle is elite, and while he is a shoot-first PG he is still a good passer.

Those positives came against extremely weak competition, however. Garland’s frail frame also makes him a potential defensive liability. Also, we don’t know how good of a finisher he is at the rim. Basically, all that we for sure know about Garland is that he can shoot. That’s not enough for me to move him up higher on this list, but in a make-or-miss league it’s definitely a good attribute to have.

(more…)


If Jaden McDaniels is Truly Torn, Let’s Give Him His Space

(Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

We’re now officially towards the back-end of May, and yet we somehow don’t appear to be any closer to the end of the recruitment… that just won’t end. I’m of course talking about Jaden McDaniels, the five-star forward from Seattle, who has seemingly been trying to decide between Washington and Kentucky since the Obama administration. Yet despite summer school starting in just a week or two, he doesn’t appear to be any closer to actually making his college decision.

Or is he? Who knows.

Frankly, it feels like he could commit a minute after this article publishes. Or a month from now. No one seems to have any idea. McDaniels doesn’t do interviews, doesn’t seek attention on social media and doesn’t truly seem in any rush to make a decision.

If anything, he is the opposite of what college basketball recruiting is in 2019. He doesn’t seek the spotlight. He actively avoids it.

Never was that more apparent than this weekend, when we actually got some interesting information about McDaniels recruitment. Information that came from the most unlikely source: His older brother Jalen.

San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels was at the NBA Draft Combine this weekend, where he was stopped by the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton and asked about his younger brother.

There, Tipton asked if the elder McDaniels had any idea when his brother would decide. I mean, his older brother would have to know, right?

Maybe not.

“Whew, man, I’m wondering the same thing, honestly,” Jalen said. “I mean, honestly. I feel like it should be coming soon, though.”

“To be honest, I don’t know what’s holding it up,” Jalen said. “I know it’s between two schools. He’s just trying to make the right decision.”

My goodness. In a world where it’s easier to get information out of Fort Knox than it is the McDaniels camp, doesn’t this interview tell you everything you need to know about Jaden McDaniels recruitment? If McDaniels own brother has no idea where he is going, is it possible that maybe, just maybe, Jaden himself has no idea either?

The answer is probably a “yes.” And if Jaden really does have no idea where he wants to go to college then let me say this: He deserves respect from all of us (especially folks like me in the media) while making his decision.

Now look, before we go any further, I already know what some of you are thinking: “Aaron, do you really believe that Jaden McDaniels own brother has no idea where he is going to college?” It of course possible that the elder McDaniels does know and doesn’t want to give away the suspense. It’s also certainly possible that, considering that Jalen McDaniels has been at San Diego State the last three years, that he just isn’t all that close to his brother’s decision-making process any more. That certainly seems plausible.

At the same time, if you just read his comments, do you really believe that the elder McDaniels is part of some big conspiracy and trying to shield his brother? Or do the comments read like an older brother who genuinely has no idea what his baby bro is thinking (and yes, I just dropped a casual, Johnny Drama “Baby Bro” in this article).

To me it’s the latter.

And when you think about it, doesn’t it kind of make sense that Jaden McDaniels might be genuinely confused as this point? After all, as much as we professionalize all these big-time basketball players and assume that they’ve got it all figured out (since they’ll be in the NBA within a year), the reality is that they’re still 17, 18 and 19-years-old. For most of them, this is the first truly big decision that they will make in their lives. That’s especially the case for Jaden McDaniels. He isn’t a kid who has been the focus of a big-time recruitment since he was a sophomore in high school, but was relatively unknown until about a year ago. He also isn’t some kid who spent a year or two at Oak Hill Academy or Montverde adjusting to life away from home. This is all, quite literally, new to him.

So, you think that this might be overwhelming for him?

Seriously, think about everything he’s choosing between right now: The place he has called home his whole life, or a school that’s 3,000 miles away. Playing in front of friends and family for the next year, or on the biggest stage in college basketball. Playing for a solid Pac-12 program where expectations will be somewhat low, or on a team that will very likely start the season ranked in everyone’s Top 5 and be expected to compete for a national title. Being the hometown hero? Or playing for his “dream school.”

When you think about it like that… man is that a lot on the shoulders of an 18-year-old kid.

Maybe I’m overthinking things, but to me, this doesn’t seem like the type of kid to simply use social media to build drama between two fan-bases. He doesn’t seem to be waiting on anything honestly, other than for his heart to tell him where to go to college.

To me, this just seems like an 18-year-old kid who is truly torn on his college decision.

If his brother has no idea where he’s going, it probably means no one does including Jaden McDaniels.

So let’s all give him the respect he deserves as he tries to figure things out.


USA Today Sports

Head-to-head recruiting: Coach Cal vs. Coach K

USA Today Sports

When the college basketball season ends (and sometimes before), the recruiting season begins, and it’s no secret that John Calipari is a master recruiter (despite how much he may downplay it). Since 2011, Kentucky has been the only school with a consensus top-5 recruiting class among 247SportsScout, and ESPN. Furthermore, the Wildcats have had a consensus top-2 class every year except for 2019 (though they could rise in the rankings if Jaden McDaniels goes against predictions and chooses the Cats).

While Coach Cal’s recruiting prowess has paid dividends, it’s placed a target on his back, and other schools have elevated their game in the recruiting arena. Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway has put together the No. 1 recruiting class so far this cycle, but the most consistent competition comes from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

From 2014 to 2018, the Wildcats and the Blue Devils have shared the top-2 spots in recruiting, and the latter has owned the consensus No. 1 class the past two years. Last year, Duke boasted the first class in the modern era with the No. 1, 2 and 3 ranked players on their roster.

A variety of factors go into the players a coach chooses to recruit and the schools a player is interested in joining. Coach Cal and Coach K have different play styles which call for different skill sets and, as such, they often recruit different players. However, players inevitably come along who are so talented that both coaches compete for them. These head-to-head battles are where things get extra competitive – and interesting.

These decisions, the ones made by the most sought after players in a class, often come down to Kentucky, Duke and a handful of other schools. It may be worthwhile then to examine those cases and see how Cal and K stack up as “closers” when they’re vying for the same prospect. These are the athletes (and their ESPN rankings) since 2014 who were considering both UK and Duke at the time they made their final decision:

2019

Matthew Hurt (No. 11)—Duke

2018

R.J. Barrett (No. 1)—Duke

Zion Williamson (No. 2)—Duke

Cam Reddish (No. 3)—Duke

E.J. Montgomery (No. 14)—Kentucky

2017

Kevin Knox (No. 10)—Kentucky

2016

Harry Giles (No. 1)—Duke

Jayson Tatum (No. 3)—Duke

Wenyen Gabriel (No. 14)—Kentucky

Marques Bolden (No. 16)—Duke

2015

Brandon Ingram (No. 3)—Duke

Luke Kennard (No. 24)—Duke

2014

Karl Anthony-Towns (No. 9)—Kentucky


So, since 2014, the score is 9-4 in favor of Krzyzewski. Of course, there were players considering both schools who eventually dropped one and went to the other (i.e. Trey Lyles), but when it comes down to arguably the two most prestigious programs in college basketball history, Duke seems to be winning out on the recruiting trail, at least right now.

This is not to say Calipari & Co. has not done extremely well on said trail. Like previously mentioned, the Wildcats have had a consensus top-2 class every year until 2019, and things could still change in that department. Regardless, it hurts just a little bit more when the Cats miss out on top talent to none other than Coach K and his Blue Devils, right?


Is John Calipari subtweeting Reid Travis’ father?

John Calipari is back from his European vacation, just in time to make a trip to… Wisconsin? Coach Cal tweeted he was headed to one of Kentucky’s least favorite states (no offense, Tyler Herro), but he also mentioned some interesting conversations he’s recently had with a few Kentucky parents. In fact, he specifically referenced conversations with Herro’s dad as well as comments made by PJ Washington’s dad.

This could be totally harmless… Or, could it be Calipari’s sneaky rebuttal to Reid Travis’ father’s comments that went public last week? Let us remind you:

In a feature by the Herald Leader published last Tuesday, Nate Reid expressed some “uncertainties” regarding Kentucky and his son’s potential draft stock, saying he thought his family would have “a little more of an understanding of when he’d fall in the draft” after his son’s decision to spend his final season in Lexington.

“He probably had more of a leadership role as far as helping younger players develop. Maybe his abilities got somehow shifted a little bit for the sake of helping younger players develop and understand the process,” Nate told Jerry Tipton. “He kind of took that role and kind of got away from what he wanted to do when he came there.”

Now, Calipari has taken to Twitter to post about his positive interactions with two other fathers. Coincidence?

In a series of tweets, Calipari said:

“Tyler Herro’s father, Chris, heard I was going to be in Wisconsin and gave me a call today. We had a great conversation about [what] our program meant to them. After that call and what I read from Paul Washington Sr., I’m reminded of how proud I am of this program and this university.

We want everyone to leave Kentucky with the feeling that it was more than what they thought it would be. The words from those two parents make me happier than I can explain. I’m so proud of what we do here.”

As for the aforementioned comments from Paul Washington Sr., Calipari is referencing Kyle Tucker’s latest work for The Athletic, where Washington Sr. gives UK and Calipari a glowing review. Here are a few of his comments:

“[PJ] is more well-rounded from being at Kentucky. Experiencing all that at the college level will definitely help him in the NBA — he’ll be balanced and able to contribute right away… I think he learned all that at Kentucky.”

“They have so many All-Americans, I didn’t expect them to be able to get to each one and figure out how they tick and motivate them and get the most out of them, but Cal and [assistant Kenny Payne] did.”

“From a parent’s standpoint, the quicker you learn how to be there for your kid and help develop them mentally while leaving the other stuff alone, the better off you’re going to be when they get to the NBA… If LaVar Ball couldn’t do it, what makes you think you can?”

Could Calipari be “subtweeting” Nate Travis? Is this simply some sort of recruiting pitch? Or, could it be actually genuine and Coach Cal just wanted to share a piece of his inner monologue with the BBN? 

There’s no way of knowing for sure – if only we could get inside Calipari’s head! – but nothing Cal does ever strikes me as random.


Big Blue History

Former Kentucky head coach, Basil Hayden, born on this date in 1899

Big Blue History

If you’re like me and love a good piece of Kentucky trivia then the name Basil Hayden may ring a bell for you. The Paris, Kentucky native was born on this date in 1899 and has some facts about him that live in Kentucky history.

For one, the 5’11 Hayden was the first All-American in the history of the Kentucky basketball program. During the 1920-21 season, he scored 136 points over 14 games to help put himself into the history books forever.

Hayden did not stop there as he was named the head coach of the Cats in 1926, but lasted only one season after posting an abysmal 3-13 record. In fact, it wouldn’t be until the 1988-89 season that there would be a team in Lexington with another losing record.

While on campus, Hayden also was a member of the Kentucky Track and Field team where he specialized in the javelin throw and played for the Tennis team.

The former multi-sport athlete passed away in 2003 at the age of 103. In his obituary published by the Herald-Leader, it quotes a newspaper article from the 1921 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association Championship that said, “Hayden, the blond Apollo, the Kentucky thoroughbred, if ever one stepped on the turf, has been a thorn in the side of Kentucky’s antagonists all during the tournament.”

Hayden will live in Kentucky legacy as his name currently does hang in the rafters at Rupp Arena. Since he didn’t play with a number, he is one of only a handful of names that stand alone.

For more from Hayden’s obituary, which is extremely well written and contains multiple stories, and more statistics from him, you can click here to visit our friends at Big Blue History who has his player page up.

In fact, if the picture at the top of the linked page looks familiar, Hayden serves as Big Blue History’s profile picture on Twitter.


Ten Years Ago Today… The Wall was built in Kentucky

Photo by Quinn Foster | UK Athletics

John Calipari has had a multitude of massive recruits commit to play basketball in Lexington. Guys like: Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, the list goes on and on.

The most important commitment of all happened on this date 10 years ago today, when a lanky point guard from North Carolina left the blue bloods in his backyard to play for first year head coach John Calipari. Five-Star point guard John Wall announced his intentions to play basketball at Kentucky on this date ten years ago. Wall would be joined by players like DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton.

The Wall commitment was the spark that the new Kentucky head coach needed to help sell the vision that he had in Lexington. While his actual announcement was anticlimactic, once he reached Lexington it was anything but that.

Just about five months after this moment, Wall delivered one of the most underrated moments in Kentucky Basketball history. While it was as simple as him dancing while being introduced, it means so much more than that now.

For one, it was the first time a Kentucky fan got goosebumps during a moment in quite some time. Why? It just had a feeling that this was the start of something special and was no longer “just a dream.” The dancing by Wall also made the program fun again. When the camera zooms in through the smoke and Wall is shown, it is almost a metaphor for the dark cloud of the Gillispie era being lifted and a new era being born.

After Wall made his pick, Matt Jones wrote on this site the following paragraph with his thoughts on the commitment:

“I like to play devil’s advocate and attempt to look at things rationally and against the normal view held by others. Not this time. We are about to head on a historic run in which Kentucky WILL dominate basketball once again. Read that last sentence…process it and get it down into your pores. The era of Kentucky going to the NIT and making our head hurt is over….the Cats are back and for the next ten years, we will be Top 5 every year for the decade. Period.”

Other than the odd 2013 year, this has proven to come true. The Wall commitment changed not only just Kentucky Basketball, but also college basketball as a whole, because the Cats were back.

Today, we celebrate a big moment in the rebirth of Kentucky Basketball. If it wasn’t for John Wall pledging his commitment for the Cats on this date ten years ago, it is hard to say that the rebuild would have gone as quick as it did.

For more from May 19, 2009, you can click here to see what Matt, TJ Beisner and more had to say about one of the most important days in the John Calipari era.

@GormleyKSR


PJ Washington reflects on his sophomore season at NBA Combine

PJ Washington did something this afternoon he’s become very familiar with thanks to his two seasons at Kentucky – fielding questions from the media. The NBA prospect met with reporters Friday afternoon during the Combine, giving him ample opportunity to reflect on the two seasons he spent in a Kentucky uniform.

The main point of conversation, of course, was his decision to return to school this time last year. In the one-and-done era, Washington’s choice to remain in Lexington for a sophomore season dramatically altered UK’s success in 2019 – and his own career. Although it wasn’t necessarily an easy decision, it was a simple one.

I feel I grew in every aspect,” he said of his sophomore year. “That was the main [reason] to go back. To better myself and better my game.”

He took the feedback he got from NBA coaches and teams following his freshman year and learned from it. He drastically improved his offensive abilities, specifically his contributions from behind the three-point line.

“When I came back, I just made a commitment to myself that I was going to try to get better each and every day,” Washington said. “Work on some of the things that they told me to work on. I feel I did a great job of that… I feel I pretty much earned myself to be here.”

Washington also revealed he interviewed with 13 NBA teams, which he compared to the repetition of media opportunities and job interviews. Despite the repetition, one team stood out as one of his favorites: the San Antonio Spurs.

While Washington (as well as Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro) are at the Combine, a pair of former teammates has a similar decision to make. EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have not made formal announcements regarding their plans for next season, past their initial announcements stating they would be “testing the waters.”

While it’s generally believed Richards will return for a junior season, Montgomery’s future is considered a bit more uncertain. Although he did not receive an invite to this year’s NBA Combine or G-League Elite Camp, he could technically still decide to leave his name in the draft. And even though Montgomery’s decision could be compared to the one Washington made last year, Washington says it’s not his place to offer up any advice: “their decision is for them, and my decision was for me.”

“I haven’t really talked to them,” Washington added. “I feel like the best thing for them is to just talk to the people around them the most. And talk to Coach [Calipari] as well. I feel Coach has done a great job with all of us. He wouldn’t lie to them.”


@MaggieDavisKSR


Jaden McDaniels’ brother weighs in on the ongoing recruitment

Photo via Endless Motor

Jaden McDaniels is still quiet as a mouse regarding his will-he or won’t-he commitment that’s down to Kentucky and Washington, but his brother, Jalen, is breaking his silence. In a new report from Jerry Tipton and the Herald Leader, Jalen weighed in on his brother’s pending decision. Unfortunately, he seems as confused as the rest of us.

When will a decision be made?

“Whew, man, I’m wondering the same thing, honestly,” Jalen said Thursday. “I mean, honestly. I feel like it should be coming soon, though.”

He’s also not sure why it’s taking this long.

“To be honest, I don’t know what’s holding it up,” Jalen said. “I know it’s between two schools. He’s just trying to make the right decision.”

Although there is definitely some McDaniels recruiting fatigue, it’s certainly not caused by Jaden McDaniels himself. The five-star prospect has remained silent throughout this entire process, leaving some with questions regarding his ability to handle the spotlight that comes with playing basketball at Kentucky. His brother isn’t convinced that would be an issue.

“He’s a low-key guy. He doesn’t get caught up in that. Like, the attention doesn’t mean a lot to him,” Jalen says. “He knows it comes with it, but something that he doesn’t get caught up in it. So I feel he’d do fine.”

[Herald Leader]


It is never too early to think about March – Lunardi’s Early Bracketology is here

It is never too early to think about March – Lunardi’s Early Bracketology is here

I know it’s really early still, but this one is very interesting.

ESPN’s Bracketology guru, Joe Lunardi, posted an update to his Early Bracketology yesterday, and he has some interesting matchups in Kentucky’s road to number nine. 

According to Lunardi, the Cats would be a number one seed in the south region in next year’s tournament. To most people, that is not shocking for this team coming in. With big talent coming back plus the fresh talent coming in, Lunardi’s isn’t crazy to foresee the Cats as a No. 1 seed. Here’s a look at Lundardi’s placements in the Cats’ region.

via ESPN

There are three things I see that are very interesting to me from this (very early) bracket. 

Abilene Christian

First on the list is another possible matchup against Abilene Christian. Good news: the player who took Nick Richards’ feet out from under him was a senior. So, there is NOT a possibility of this happening again.

I am glad he did not get hurt -I was scared he did something to that shoulder. I had a front-row view of Richards’ nasty fall, as I was sitting in the band section. Richards was obviously in pain, and I’d never heard him scream like that before.

Texas Tech

In this scenario, the Cats might have to face off against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech. This is the same team that was the National Runner-Up and came pretty close to being the National Champion just a few months ago.

Now, it would be a different team. Next year, the Red Raiders will have lost seniors such as Norense Odiase, Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens. Also, the Red Raiders would be losing Jarrett Culver to the NBA draft, as he’s being projected as a top-10 pick.

This still would be an interesting matchup, with the addition to talent coming in such as Virginia Tech grad transfer Chris Clarke. Lastly, it will be a home game for the Red Raiders in Houston. Another draw that might put the four seed in a better location than the one seed.

Three Kentucky state schools in one bracket

Okay, now for the craziest one of them all. Lunardi has not one… not two… but three Kentucky-state schools in the South Region: Kentucky, Louisville and Western Kentucky.

First, I’m glad to see he expects the Hilltoppers to earn the bid.

However, I first laughed seeing this – Kentucky and Louisville? As the one and two seeds in the same region? This would probably never happen, but could you imagine that Elite Eight game?

For Louisville to get to H-Town, they would first have to see a possible matchup with Florida. This would be a rematch from the west regional final in 2012. I know… it is vacated but still, it’s something to think about.

Hey, I know it is early, but this is something to look at during this dead period of basketball. And beside, it’s never too early to think about March.

What do you think about the draw Joe Lunardi has given the Cats?

To see Lunardi’s full (early) bracketology, click here.


Penny Hardaway Has a Loaded Roster – But Can He Win With It?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In case you hadn’t heard, Memphis picked up a commitment from a five-star basketball player this afternoon.

That’s not to be confused with the other five-star they pulled in earlier this week. Or the top-rated grad transfer they secured last Saturday. Or the four-star guard they got last Friday.

That’s right, Memphis is on a recruiting run for the ages right now, one which – at least for now – has landed them the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Overall, the Tigers have commitments from two McDonald’s All-Americans (James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa), six Top 100 players (Wiseman, Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones, D.J. Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge) and one of the top grad transfers on the market (Rayjon Tucker, who averaged 20 points at Little Rock last season). Add them in with a couple returning players, and it’s indisputable that Memphis will have one of the 3-4 most talented rosters in the country next season. I fully expect them to start the year ranked in everyone’s preseason Top 10.

To Penny Hardaway’s credit, he has done what he said he would do when he was hired a year ago. He has convinced the top players across high school basketball to come to Memphis. To his credit he hasn’t relied solely on the players he coached in high school or AAU, but has brought in the best players from across the country, ranging from New York (Quinones, Achiuwa) to California (Ellis) and everywhere in between.

Now to the more interesting part of the equation: Penny Hardaway has signed one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country. But will he be able to win with it? That right there might be the single most fascinating question in all of college basketball heading into the 2019-2020 season.

Now to be clear, I’m not as “Anti-Penny” as many others out there. I do understand why he frustrates opposing fan-bases with his confidence (some would say “cockiness”) and bravado on the recruiting trail. Him taking unprovoked cheap shots at Rick Barnes last season certainly didn’t help things.

At the same time, I never believed the notion that he was some AAU hotshot who was destined to be a failure as a college head coach. This is a guy who played basketball the highest level, and brought in a staff full of sharp, smart basketball minds, which includes a former NBA Coach of the Year in Sam Mitchell. That staff, including Penny, knows basketball.

On top of their X’s and O’s prowess, Penny also entered college basketball with an understanding of how the AAU and recruiting game work as well. Unlike other guys who came from the NBA (Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Avery Johnson) he wasn’t going to be overwhelmed by the recruiting aspect of coaching college basketball.

Again, I liked the Penny hire last year, and for the most part I thought he did pretty good in year 1 at Memphis. He inherited a mostly “bleh” roster and led them to a 22-14 overall record and a fifth-place finish in the AAC, where all four of the teams who finished ahead of him (Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and Temple) made the NCAA Tournament. His team got better as the season wore on, winning five of its final six regular season games and beat a couple teams that ended up making the NCAA Tournament.

For the most part I thought Penny actually overachieved in Year 1. And I thought his ability to get the most out of a below-average roster was a positive sign heading into Year 2 at the school.

Still, for as good as he was in Year 1, he is in store for something completely different heading into next season. Understand, there is a big difference between taking a rag-tag group of guys and getting them to overachieve like he did this season, as opposed to what he will face next season, with a roster full of big-time recruits, with NBA dreams and the expectations and egos that come along with it.

Ultimately that will be the story of the 2019-2020 Memphis Tigers: Can Penny keep everyone happy?

It will be fascinating to watch, and something that is impossible to know the answer to. Penny isn’t John Calipari or Coach K, and hasn’t been juggling talented rosters for decades at a time. Quite the opposite. He’s a coach who has never been on this stage, with this pressure and this level of expectations before. Even more, he is doing it with a lot of kids (and their families) who he has known for years, and who at times he coached in the high school or AAU levels. What will happen when he has to tell a kid (or a mom or dad) who he has known for a decade that they simply aren’t good enough? Or what happens when he has to tell a Top 50 recruit that he is headed to the bench?

These are the things that no one has an answer to right now.

And at the sake of using the rest of the article to break down Memphis’ depth chart, here are some of the issues I believe could pop up next year.

  • He has, at the very least four players who expect to use Memphis as a one-season springboard to the NBA next season. And honestly that number might be conservative. They are James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Rayjon Tucker and Boogie Ellis. Can he keep all four happy, especially the first three, if they aren’t the focal point of the offense?
  • Ellis committed to Memphis in large part to prove to the NBA that he can play point guard and run an offense. This despite the fact that he’s really more of a scoring/combo guard than he is a true point. Can he run an offense and keep others happy, while also getting his own offense?
  • D.J. Jeffries decommitted from Kentucky, because he wasn’t happy that they continued to recruit players at his position even after he committed. Well guess what? Achiuwa plays the same position, is a better player and will almost certainly start over him. How will that fly with Jeffries?
  • Tyler Harris (Memphis’ leading returning scorer) and Alex Lomax (a former Top 150 recruit) are both Memphis kids who played for Penny in high school. I’m guessing that both assumed they were headed for bigger roles next season. What happens when they get bumped down the depth chart by the newcomers? Especially since they are both from Memphis, with ties to Penny dating back to their AAU days? How will that fly with their families, and in the community?
  • How do Lester Quinones (a Top 50 recruit) and Rayjon Tucker (a grad transfer) co-exist, when they’re basically the same player? Tucker has declared for the draft and will could potentially stay in. But if he doesn’t, can they co-exist?

Add it up and you have a lot of kids, with a lot of expectations and it will be fascinating to see if Penny is able to keep them all happy.

In the end, maybe Hardaway really is that good of a coach, and maybe he figures out a way to maximize all those players and allows Memphis to reach its potential. Maybe Memphis will live up to that preseason Top 10 ranking and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

But the reality is that this is basketball. We just have too much of a track record (at all levels) that when you have one ball, and that many superstars, it’s hard to keep everybody happy.

Will it work? Won’t it?

This may be the single most fascinating question in college basketball entering the 2019-2020 season.