It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and KSR is celebrating by previewing each region of the NCAA Tournament in the most ridiculous manner possible. Let’s start with the East Region.
|6:50 PM||(1) Villanova||(16) LIU Brooklyn/Radford||TNT|
|9:20 PM||(8) Virginia Tech||(9) Alabama||TNT|
|9:27 PM||(3) Texas Tech||(14) Stephen F. Austin||TruTV|
|9:57 PM||(6) Florida||(11) St. Bonaventure/UCLA||TruTV|
|12:40 PM||(2) Purdue||(15) CS Fullerton||TruTV|
|1:30 PM||(4) Wichita State||(13) Marshall||TNT|
|3:10 PM||(7) Arkansas||(10) Butler||TruTV|
|4:00 PM||(5) West Virginia||(12) Murray State||TNT|
Sexton is the reason Alabama’s in the tournament after a phenomenal showing in St. Louis. He was worn out by the time the Crimson Tide played Kentucky, but his game-winner vs. Texas A&M and 31-point showing vs. Auburn impressed the hell out of me. He’s a star and if he stays hot, will lead Alabama to some upsets.
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Villanova’s junior guard is up for all the national player of the year awards, and for good reason. He’s the main reason Villanova’s offense ranks No. 1 in KenPom’s efficiency ratings. He’s even stronger when paired with wing Mikal Bridges, making for one of the best backcourts in the country.
Carsen Edwards, Purdue
Caleb Swanigan may be gone, but sophomore guard Carsen Edwards is the Boilermakers’ new star. Edwards looks like a football player, but is fast and hits 41.2% of his threes. He’s been especially hot in the past month.
Best Mascot: Butler Bulldog
Sadly, live mascots are not permitted in the first, second, or regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament, which is a crying shame because Butler’s Blue is just about the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. He and Arkansas’ live razorback Tusk even have a little Twitter trash talk going on:
— TUSK Arkansas Mascot (@Tusk_UA) March 11, 2018
— Butler Blue III (@ButlerBlue3) March 13, 2018
Runner up: the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack
He would fit right in in my neighborhood.
(9) Alabama over (8) Virginia Tech
This is one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Virginia Tech beat North Carolina, Virginia, Clemson, and Duke this year, but they don’t have Collin Sexton. As I said earlier, if Sexton gets hot, Bama gets the win, and I think will upset Villanova to go to the Sweet 16.
(10) Butler over (7) Arkansas
I wasn’t terribly impressed by Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. Yes, they beat Florida, but they only beat South Carolina by five the day before and got pummeled by Tennessee in the semis. Besides, I’m not going to take any team that got swept by LSU seriously. Butler is actually favored by 1.5 points right now in Vegas, so this isn’t really even an upset. Sorry, Mike Anderson.
Longshot: (14) Stephen F. Austin over (3) Texas Tech
Texas Tech star Keenan Evans has battled turf toe in recent weeks, and although he played well in the Big 12 Tournament, if he’s not 100%, Stephen F. Austin could bust another bracket.
- Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Villanova
- Ty Outlaw, Virginia Tech
- Brion Sanchious, Murray State
- Gorjok Gak, Florida
- Sasha Stefanovic, Purdue
Dark Horse: (9) Alabama
Players like Collin Sexton are made for March. I have the Crimson Tide upsetting No. 1 Villanova. From there, can they handle Press Virginia?
Ugliest Uniform: Stephen F. Austin
Anything is better than UK’s checkerboard, but these feel a little too simple to me. I realize “Stephen F. Austin” is a lot to spell out, but the “SFA” being so close in size to the numbers throws me off.
Pick: (5) West Virginia
No, this is not just an excuse to use my “Huggy Bear as Norm” photoshop again. If West Virginia can get past Wichita State to the Sweet 16, I like their chances against Villanova or Alabama. That press can make even the best offense panic in March.
Besides, Kentucky and West Virginia are destined to play each other in the NCAA Tournament, and the only way that can happen is in the national championship, right?
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 12th, 2018 @ 11:20pm
Kentucky just received their first commitment of the class of 2019 in five-star forward DJ Jeffries.
ESPN lists Jeffries as the No. 17 prospect in 2019 and 247 Sports considers him the 26th-best recruit in the class.
He chose the Wildcats over Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, and Kansas, among others.
Here’s the announcement:
— Djjeffries™ (@lildjj0) March 13, 2018
Jeffries, a Mississippi native, led his Olive Branch High School to the state championship just last week, where he scored 20 points and pulled down five rebounds in his MVP efforts.
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound junior averaged 21 points per contest this past season in 24 games, where his ability to switch between small forward and power forward positions frustrated opposing defenses from start to finish.
He has been seen as an incredibly raw prospect in his freshman and sophomore high school seasons, but took a major step up this past year on both ends of the floor. His athleticism has always been impressive, but it is now controlled and efficient. His jump shot is more refined and falling at a relatively consistent rate, he is able to defend three to four positions, and his motor is relentless.
The most impressive aspect of Jeffries’ game, however, is his raw strength and developing power. He’s only listed at 200 lbs. right now, but his frame to put on weight is very intriguing. Just looking at him, you think of a guy like Alex Poythress, who came to Kentucky at 215 lbs. with raw muscle and his body matured into a grown man as his college career progressed. Jeffries still has a year to develop his size and overall game, and he could easily enter his freshman year at UK as a 215-220 lbs. wing/forward combo freak of nature athlete.
ESPN currently has him listed as the No. 17 prospect in the class of 2019, but he will almost certainly shoot up the rankings if he continues to develop at the pace he is as a senior.
If he plays as a senior…
There are actually rumors, albeit quiet, Jeffries could eventually make a move to the 2018 recruiting class, depending on his academic status and if he can get a few things in order before the deadline this summer.
John Calipari has visited and watched his newest five-star commitment play three times in the last three months, including twice in the last month alone. He reportedly pushed for a commitment in his most recent visit last Tuesday. Jeffries, coached by Penny Hardaway on the AAU circuit, is extremely close with 2019 No. 1 prospect James Wiseman and loves the idea of playing with him in college. They already play together for Hardaway’s ‘Team Penny’ on the EYBL circuit.
The Kentucky coaching staff has obviously been pushing for a commitment from Wiseman, as well, but the talk of the hour has been surrounding a potential reclassification to the class of 2018. He has denied it on multiple occasions, but whispers are growing louder that we could see that potential jump this summer.
According to Memphis reporter Clayton Collier, Jeffries’ family also said he will not reclassify and remain in the class of 2019.
2019 Star recruit DJ Jeffries (@lildjj0), who will announce his college decision tonight at 7pm CT, will NOT reclassify, he will remain Class of 2019, per family
— Clayton Collier (@Local24Clayton) March 12, 2018
Like we’ve discussed on the site in the past, announcing a reclassification now would make a recruit ineligible from competing in the AAU championships this summer. Both Jeffries and Wiseman play for Team Penny, and they have a massive shot at winning the Peach Jam this summer. They would have nothing to gain by announcing a reclassification at this point. It’s entirely possible both players stay in 2019, but any denials made right now should be taken with a grain of salt.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, did John Calipari push for a commitment from Jeffries to secure a commitment from Wiseman? Or did it have to do with the rumors of Penny Hardaway replacing Tubby Smith as head coach at Memphis, and Coach Cal wants to secure his commitment before his AAU coach got a shot? Have Jeffries and Wiseman discussed playing together in college, and want to make it happen a year sooner?
At this point, who knows? What we do know, however, is that DJ Jeffries is a stud, and Kentucky fans are going to enjoy having him. (Whenever that may be.)
Earlier today, Jeffries’ father told Memphis-based radio show Jason & John that his son has “always been a fan of Calipari” and that Kentucky is a “pro factory.”
“It’s a pro factory, man. If you’re talking about going to the NBA, you got to take a strong look at Kentucky,” said Jeffries’ father, Corey.
You can read the rest of his father’s quotes here:
Mrs. Tyler Thompson also wrote a piece on all the things you need to know about Jeffries, including his relationship with Wiseman/Penny below:
Here is Jeffries’ most recent highlight tape:
Welcome home, DJ!
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 12th, 2018 @ 4:00pm
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As many of you know, I’m a proud Davidson College alum, so when the brackets came out and I saw that my Cats were playing my other Cats, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. While I don’t follow Davidson Basketball nearly as closely as I do Kentucky Basketball, I do know a thing or two about the red and black Wildcats. Here’s what you need to know going into Thursday night’s game.
1. Bob McKillop is a coaching legend
Everyone thinks Steph Curry is Davidson basketball, but Bob McKillop, in his 29th season coaching the Wildcats, is one of the best in the sport. Not only did he get the steal of the century in Curry, he led Davidson to eleven SoCon regular season titles and seven SoCon tournament titles before the Cats moved to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2014. He was named SoCon Coach of the Year eight times and took home the A10 Coach of the Year award after leading Davidson to the A10 regular season title in 2015. If not for Kentucky’s 38-1 run that season, he probably would have been named National Coach of the Year.
Simply put, McKillop is a damn good coach and chose to stay at Davidson despite better offers. He will be in the Hall of Fame one day.
2. They’re one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country
The only way Davidson will beat Kentucky is by shooting the lights out and they are capable of it. Davidson gets 42% of their points from threes, with NINE players averaging over 37% from beyond the arc, four 40% or better. They rank 10th in the country in made threes per game (10.7), 23rd in field-goal percentage (48.6%) and 26th in three-point percentage (39.3%). As Calipari put it earlier today, they’re exactly the kind of team that can hurt Kentucky.
How hot can Davidson get? They’ve made 20+ threes in two games this season, 26 vs. Charleston Southern and 20 vs. St. Joe’s. They’ve averaged ten threes in their last four games, including wins over Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, both NCAA Tournament teams. Kentucky’s perimeter defense has been freakishly good this season, but we saw what happened when Florida got hot a week ago. Kentucky must use their length to clamp down on the arc and prevent Davidson from building momentum.
3. They’re one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country
What Davidson has in three-point shooting, they lack in rebounding. The black and red Cats rank 341st out of the 351 teams in college basketball in offensive rebounds with only 6.9 per game. Meanwhile, Kentucky ranks 46th with 12.1 offensive boards per game.
Davidson actually has some size on their roster, with five players 6’8″ or taller, but they have no match for Kentucky’s length and athleticism. If Kentucky can keep Davidson quiet from three and own the boards, they’ll be fine.
4. Peyton Aldridge is their best player
Aldridge is no Steph Curry (who is?), but he is Davidson’s best player this season. At 6’8″ 225 lbs., Aldridge leads the Cats in scoring (21.6 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg), and blocks (0.6 bpg), and is a mismatch for most teams due to his ability to score inside and out. He’s made 76 threes on 39.4% this season, including eight in an overtime loss to St. Bonaventure last month.
Fun fact you’ll probably hear a lot on the broadcast: Aldridge also played quarterback in high school and was briefly recruited by Nick Saban.
5. Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson are good too
While Aldridge is the straw that stirs Davidson’s drink, freshman Kellan Grady isn’t far behind. The A10 Rookie of the Year averages 18 points per game off 50.8% from the field, 37.7% from three-point. He had 17 points in Davidson’s win over Rhode Island yesterday, including the game-winning shot with just over a minute left. He ain’t scared.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson is also a player to keep an eye on. The 6’4″ sophomore guard from Grindavik, Iceland is third on the team in scoring with 13 points per game along with 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists. He may not get the buzz that Aldridge or Grady do, but he’s dangerous.
6. They play slow
Davidson ranks 18th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offense (117.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and 335th in tempo, so get ready for some slow ball. In addition to milking the shot clock, they have the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country right now (1.76) and rank third in turnover margin with only 9.6 turnovers per game.
Bob McKillop usually plays man-to-man, but in December, switched to a 2-3 zone that’s transformed his team’s play. Most of Davidson’s bad losses came early in the season before they made that switch.
7. They lost to North Carolina by ten in December
The North Carolina/Davidson game is always a big one and in December, the Wildcats lost to the #13 Heels by ten points. A few weeks later, they lost at #16 Virginia by 20, the first of three straight losses that forced McKillop to switch to a zone defense.
8. They haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since Steph left
Everyone remembers Davidson’s run to the Elite Eight in 2008 when they lost to eventual national champion Kansas. They’ve been back to the tournament three times since (2012, 2013, 2015), but haven’t made it out of the first round.
9. They might be the All-Name Team
Thanks to an influx of international players, Davidson’s roster requires a pronunciation guide. From Icelandic guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson to Serbian forward Dusan Kovacevic, Nigerian forward Nathan Ekwu, Finnish forward Oskar Michelsen, New Yorker Cal Freundlich, and good ole Charlotte boy Rusty Reigel, the Wildcats should be in the running for the tournament’s All-Name Team.
10. They’re a lovable bunch of nerds
Do you know how much I wish Davidson were playing Duke or UNC this week instead of Kentucky? I would get you all on the Davidson bandwagon. We’re a small school but a proud one, lesser known but tougher than most Ivy League counterparts. A strict honor code allows for the freedom to work hard and play hard, making for a lovable bunch of nerds who aren’t afraid to let the freak flag fly. Case in point: this ridiculous music video featuring Steph Curry that, it if were anybody else, could be used as blackmail.
In closing, I can promise you this: if you didn’t have to cheer against Davidson Thursday, you’d be cheering for them, which is why it’s really going to suck for this here blogger.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 12th, 2018 @ 11:19am
Kentucky will likely be without Jarred Vanderbilt when the Cats begin their NCAA tournament run in Boise later this week.
On Monday’s SEC teleconference, John Calipari said he doubts Vanderbilt will play against Davidson or in the second round if they advance.
“My guess would be hard this weekend,” Calipari said. “He wants to play, but I don’t see it right now, being able to put him in there and feel comfortable about it.”
Kentucky was fine without Vanderbilt in three SEC tournament wins, but can they keep it going without their best rebounder? It looks like they’ll have to, and then we’ll revisit this conversation about Atlanta if they survive Boise.
The road to the Final Four is never easy. Kentucky’s 2018 NCAA Tournament draw is difficult, familiar territory for John Calipari.
Following the likeliest route to a ninth National Championship, Kentucky will first face Mrs. Tyler Thompson’s beloved alma mater, Davidson. If Kentucky can get by the
fighting Steph Curry’s Wildcats, up next is Arizona. The Pac-12 Tournament Champions are led by DeAndre Ayton, an athletic seven-footer widely regarded as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Waiting in the Sweet 16 is the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, the Virginia Cavaliers. If Kentucky makes it that far, a rematch with Tennessee or possibly Cincinnati awaits.
It’s ridiculous that two Power Five conference champions can meet in the second round. It’s even more gut-wrenching when UK’s potential opponent has won eight of their last nine games and is arguably the hottest team in the country.
The challenges Virginia potentially presents are many. The Cavaliers always have one of the best defenses in the country. What makes this team different is their athletes. Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Devon Hall and DeAndre Hunter are no joke. They only lost twice in the league that put nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. There’s a reason why the Wahoos believe this is the year Tony Bennett finally gets the Cavaliers to the Final Four.
The task is daunting, but it’s one Calipari has conquered before as Kentucky’s head coach.
Nobody expected John Calipari’s second Kentucky team to make a run to the Final Four, especially after seeing the Cats’ draw.
Kentucky did not have it easy against the Ivy League Champs in the opening round. Brandon Knight’s buzzer-beating layup carried Kentucky to a 59-57 win over Princeton. A familiar foe was next, the West Virginia Mountaineers. Eliminated in the Elite Eight by Bob Huggins’ team just a year before, a victory was far from a sure thing. Luckily, Kentucky got revenge with an eight-point win.
Waiting for Kentucky in the Sweet 16 was the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Ohio State. Kentucky’s role players answered the call. DeAndre Liggins had 15 points and shut down the Buckeyes’ elite scoring swingman, William Buford. Josh Harrellson did not get pushed around inside by Jared Sullinger.
Most importantly, when Kentucky needed a hero, Brandon Knight was prepared to make March magic.
The Cats drew the second-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. The favorite to win the National Championship the following year, some how, some way, Kentucky had enough left in the tank to conquer the 2011
East Region bracket of death.
If you think Arizona is a tough second round opponent, talk to the 2014 Kentucky Wildcats. After a rocky regular season, they had to go through an undefeated Wichita State team to advance to the second weekend of the tournament.
Wichita State did not have a DeAndre Ayton in their frontcourt, but the No. 1 overall seed did have three excellent scorers – Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. None of them presented a particularly difficult mismatch, but all three rarely missed. The only way for Kentucky to win was to keep up, and that’s exactly what they did.
After surviving in St. Louis, the Cats met Louisville down the road in Indianapolis. The defending National Champions (well, not anymore) had only lost once in two months. Even though Kentucky won the regular season match-up at Rupp Arena, the Cards had Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, senior firepower with Final Four experience. How do you combat experienced offensive firepower? With a little March magic, courtesy of Aaron Harrison.
It did not get any easier for Kentucky after the Sweet 16, but thanks to Harrison’s grande huevos, Kentucky beat the defending National Runner-Ups in the Elite Eight and an All-American laden Wisconsin team in the Final Four.
It took a lot of magic, but Coach Cal survived the bracket of death to reach the National Championship game.
There was one bracket of death John Calipari could not conquer. This year’s South Region feels a lot like the 2016 East Region.
This year Kentucky will travel to an obscure location, Boise, as a five-seed, while the team they just beat in the SEC Tournament Championship received a higher seed. In 2016, Kentucky traveled to an obscure location, Des Moines, as a four-seed, while the team they defeated in the SEC Tournament Championship received a higher seed.
In 2016, Kentucky did not have a problem with Stony Brook in the opening round. If they could survive through Des Moines, arguably the most talented team in the country was next, North Carolina. The Tar Heels were not the No. 1 overall seed, but they were good enough to come within a buzzer-beater from a National Championship. However, Kentucky did not survive to the second weekend, thanks to Indiana.
Tom Crean’s team won the Big Ten Regular season title behind Yogi Berra, Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. The key to the high-scoring Hoosiers’ success vs. Kentucky was simple: feed Bryant.
Kentucky had no answer for the Indiana big man. A complete mismatch in the post against Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress, Bryant could not be stopped. The only two shots he missed were three-pointers. He finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds and a 73-67 win.
Folks, Thomas Bryant is no DeAndre Ayton. The Wildcats’ seven-footer can do just about anything on the court, and right now he’s playing his best basketball. This season he’s averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, but he’s scored a career-high 32 points in each of his last two games.
Ayton isn’t the only Arizona player that will be a problem. Alonzo Trier (18.4 ppg) and Rawle Alkins (13.4 ppg) are efficient scorers that have helped the Wildcats become the No. 3 shooting team in the country (50.3 percent).
John Calipari has fought through difficult draws to the Final Four with teams that clicked at the right time. This year’s team is rolling, but they also need a little March magic from an unexpected hero to make a deep run in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 11th, 2018 @ 6:24pm
Your Kentucky Wildcats got hosed. Again.
Listed as a five-seed, the Cats will take on Davidson on Thursday in Boise.
Virginia is the No. 1 seed in the South region and Arizona is the No. 4 seed.
Here’s the bracket:
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 11th, 2018 @ 5:30pm
For the fourth straight year, your Kentucky Wildcats are SEC Tournament Champions.
In the back and forth matchup, the Cats did just enough to hang on against the Volunteers to win 77-72.
SEC Tournament MOP Shai Gilgeous Alexander led Kentucky with 29 points on 10-17 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals. When the team needed a bucket, SGA almost always came in the clutch this afternoon.
Kevin Knox was second on the team with 18 points on 7-17 from the field and seven rebounds, including three big three-pointers on the day.
Wenyen Gabriel also put on a show, scoring 12 points on 4-6 shooting (2-4 from three), six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. He started the day 1-1 from three, bringing his record 3-point streak up to eight-consecutive makes.
For the first 15 minutes of the game, the Kentucky Wildcats put on a show in St. Louis, leading Tennessee by 17 points with 4:31 left in the half. The Cats shot nearly 50-percent from both the field and from beyond the arc. Their defense also stepped up in a massive way, forcing the Vols to shoot just 9-32 from the field and 4-13 in the first half.
Unfortunately for the Cats, Admiral Schofield happened.
After scoring 13 straight points and 17 total in the first half, Schofield single-handedly willed the Volunteers back in the game, cutting the Kentucky lead to just five points at the half. In fact, it was a 13-3 run for Schofield by himself, absolutely dominating the Cats both inside and outside to end the half.
To kick off the second, the Vols continued the run they made late in the first to take a three-point lead, a ridiculous 20-point turnover from the Cats’ 17-point lead.
In most instances this season, Kentucky would allow momentum to get the best of them and allow the Volunteers to take over the rest of the way. In fact, in their first meeting in Knoxville earlier this year, the Cats held a nine-point lead in the first half, only to lose the game by 11.
Unfortunately for the Vols, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander happened.
Kentucky’s talented guard responded with a pretty floater and then an and-one bucket in transition to regain the Wildcat lead once again.
From there, the Cats pushed the lead back up to nine following two big buckets from Kevin Knox, one Quade Green layup, and three clutch free throws.
Once again, however, Tennessee fought back. They hit three three-pointers, a layup, and a free throw make pushed the Vols back out in front by a score of 57-55 with 8:08 remaining in the game.
PJ Washington responded with four consecutive makes from the free throw line to take the lead back (yes, you read that right), only to be tied back up on two Lamonte Turner free throws for Tennessee.
Tennessee’s Jordan Bowen drilled a jumper to push the Vols back in front, only to see Wenyen Gabriel hit an easy layup at the rim to regain the lead at 64-62.
From there, the Wildcats never looked back, holding onto the lead until they took home the SEC Championship Trophy.
Kentucky held Tennessee to just 37% shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc. The Cats shot 50% from the field and 44% from three.
Quade Green found his scoring stroke again, scoring 10 points on 3-5 shooting and two assists. In his first two SEC Tournament games, he scored just two points on a combined 1-9 shooting from the field.
Hamidou Diallo and Nick Richards combined for just one point in 30 total minutes. Sacha Killeya-Jones also scored just two points on a ridiculous putback dunk, though his impact was seen on the glass and on defense, grabbing three rebounds and swatting away two shots in 20 minutes.
For the second game in a row against Tennessee, PJ Washington failed to make a field goal attempt, going 0-2 on the day. He finished with five points (all free throws) and five rebounds for the Cats.
Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield injured his nose late in the second half, allowing the Cats to regain some momentum. He returned with a few minutes left in the game, but it wasn’t enough to make much of an impact. He led the Volunteers with 22 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, and a block.
According to Cat Scratches’ Corey Price, this is the first time in school history that Kentucky won an SEC Tournament title after experiencing a four-game losing streak during the regular season. The only other time Kentucky won following a three-game losing streak was all the way back in the 1938-39 season.
Price also says this is the most regular-season losses (10) for an SEC Tournament title team in school history with 10, as the previous record-holder (2001) only had nine losses.
The most important statistic of all?
SEC Tournament Titles:
The rest of the SEC combined: 27
Numbers never lie.
At one point this season, it looked like Kentucky was headed to the NIT.
Now, national analysts are talking about the Wildcats as a sneaky contender for the National Championship.
It’s almost like we should stop counting out John Calipari in March.
By Nick Roush on ©March 11th, 2018 @ 3:12pm
For the 32nd time, the Kentucky Wildcats are SEC Tournament Champs.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the star, finishing with a team-high 29 points, but Sacha Killeya-Jones saved the day. His put-back dunk with 3:36 to play gave the Cats a four-point lead and enough momentum to carry Kentucky to a 77-72 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers.
For a while it looked like Kentucky was going to run away with the game. The Cats led by as many as 17 in the first half, until Admiral Schofield took over. He scored the Vols’ final 13 points of the half to close UK’s lead to five.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair, but the Cats persevered through front-court foul trouble to avenge two regular season losses to Tennessee and win a fourth consecutive SEC Tournament Title.
Kentucky is on to the championship game here in St. Louis after putting an end to Alabama’s run in the SEC Tournament. The Cats beat the Fighting Collin Sextons to advance to the ‘ship and I have a few things to say about it in today’s edition of the postgame takeaways.
Wenyen Gabriel was awesome.
Whatever device you’re reading this on — phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, WebTV, homing pigeon — put it down for a moment and give Wenyen Gabriel your best round of applause. Gabriel was outstanding today as Kentucky’s leading scorer with 23 points, matching his career high in that category. He went 7-for-7 from three-point land and set a new school record for threes made in the SEC tournament. After the game, John Vincent Calipari said, “Wenyen was unbelievable today.”
Collin Sexton finally cooled off.
After averaging 29 points per game in Alabama’s first two here in St. Louis, Kentucky held him to 21 (that’s good, right?) and sent him home from the tournament. Sexton’s the type of guy who can beat you all by himself, and though he still got plenty of points, it wasn’t nearly enough to keep the Crimson Tide’s dreams alive.
Point guard by committee.
Big shout-out to Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had eight points apiece in the win. Assists were a problem in Kentucky’s struggles last month, so it’s encouraging to see each of the two point guards share the rock for a combined 16 assists in the game. They were aware of who was hot (Wenyen) and got them the ball. Solid point guard play from the UK backcourt.
Kentucky was HOT.
The Cats shot 64 percent from the field and 66.7 from outside in the game. That is stupid hot. Did you see this shot chart from the second half?
PJ Washington is the man.
Once again, Washington played extremely well when Kentucky needed help carrying the load inside. We do a lot of talking about Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as UK’s two best players, but Washington’s name should be in that conversation with the way he has played lately.
Point of concern: Rebounding
For all of the good we saw in the win, we also saw the Cats give up 13 offensive rebounds. That’s way too many, and a little concerning because they gave up 16 to Georgia on Friday. Let’s get that under control.
Kentucky looks really good right now.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start making some outlandish predictions, so I’ll just say I like my team right now. The Cats are looking good going into the title game and even better if they can get Jarred Vanderbilt back before next week. It won’t be easy, but maybe this team has some magic in it?
Wenyen Gabriel’s record-setting performance from behind the arc was no fluke; the sophomore has been putting in extra time in the gym before and after practice, tirelessly working towards being the shooter this Kentucky team needs.
“It’s been a buildup. I’ve been getting up shots in the gym. Just seeing the ball go through and knowing this is the end of the season right now going into March, it’s a different level of focus.”
Wenyen’s perfect 7-7 mark from the outside is an SEC Tournament record and his seven threes were just one shy of the SEC Tournament record for made threes set by Stefan Moody back in 2016.
“If I knew that, I might have shot one more,” Wenyen quipped. “I was just trying to break my own record of making three in a row.”
Wenyen Gabriel set a new SEC tourney record by hitting 7 threes (7-7) in Kentucky’s win pic.twitter.com/iqFELp8PIp
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 10, 2018
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green said the locker room went wild when Wenyen walked in after doing interviews.
“We were screaming, jumping on him, slapping him in the head, just rewarding him for a great game,” Shai said.
“We’re very excited because he’s been working hard on his jump shot,” Quade said. “He’s going downhill with his jump shot. We were just real happy when he came into the locker room.”
Shai said knowing all the hard work Wenyen’s been putting in lately made today’s historic performance especially sweet.
“It was really special to watch. I’m so happy for him. He works really hard before and after practice. Seeing something like that for your teammate is really special. I expected for Wenyen it would come sooner or later and it came today at a perfect time. I’m really happy for him.”
So was the crowd, which erupted in a “Go Big Blue” chant after Wenyen’s seventh three. Wenyen returned the gesture, throwing his arms up and calling for the crowd to get even louder.
“That moment was great. It just shows how much appreciation they’ve got for us, all the support. You could feel the energy in the crowd, almost like it was a home game out there. I was trying to get them riled up to help us push through that game.”
How does it feel to go 7-7 from the three-point line in a tournament game? Like being a kid again.
“It feels like you’re at the park back at home just playing basketball. You feel free and you’re letting it fly like nobody’s with you.”
Wenyen already carved out his role on the team by doing all the little things; today, he stepped into a starring role with a performance that will go down in the Kentucky history books. He said he hasn’t had time to check his phone yet, but the first thing he’ll do is text his mother and brothers back home in Manchester.
“I don’t know if I could get much hotter,” Wenyen said of his day. “I couldn’t miss.”
By Nick Roush on ©March 10th, 2018 @ 3:04pm
Kentucky is one step closer to an SEC Title.
Wenyen Gabriel was absolutely unbelievable from behind the three-point line. The sophomore forward set a new UK SEC Tournament record by knocking down a career-high seven three-pointers. He made all seven attempts and finished with 23 points to lead UK past Alabama 86-63 in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
Just like Kentucky’s SEC Tournament opener, the Cats made a huge run right before halftime to create a comfortable lead. Alabama made just one field goal in the final seven minutes of the first half to give UK a 10-point lead at the half.
Alabama was able to find some offense in the second half from John Petty and Collin Sexton. Every time the Crimson Tide made a run, Gabriel had a response. Kentucky never let the momentum get too far away and was able to hold on for a fun victory.
There are so many things to love about today’s game. The Cats moved the ball and played unselfish, finishing with 20 assists. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 19 points and 8 assists, PJ Washington was a beast, Sacha Killeya-Jones came out of his shell and Kentucky did it all without significant contributions from Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo or Jarred Vanderbilt. Everything is coming together at the right time.
Kentucky will play for a fourth straight SEC Tournament Title tomorrow at 1:00 ET on ESPN against the winner of Tennessee-Arkansas.
Your University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team survived and advanced with a win over Georgia on Friday in a very solid performance given the circumstances. The Cats were without Jarred Vanderbilt, who we labeled as the difference-maker only a few weeks ago, but they played well in his absence and sent the Bulldogs home with a 62-49 defeat in St. Louis. Let’s talk about it with some takeaways from the win…
PJ Washington shined when Kentucky needed him most.
With Jarred Vanderbilt out and two centers who have underachieved, Kentucky needed a big game from PJ Washington, and he answered the bell. Washington had a game-high 18 points plus seven rebounds in 35 minutes of action against a bruising Georgia frontcourt. He was also great defensively in a near-perfect game in his first SEC tournament, with a lot of eyes looking to see what he would do.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was also great.
Washington earned our imaginary Player of the Game award, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also received votes in a close second-place finish in the race. Gilgeous-Alexander was a stud on both ends and fell one assist shy of a double-double with 15 points and nine assists. He now has the fourth-most assists by a freshman in the programs’ history, and you can go ahead and get ready to hear his name being whispered a little bit more on the national scene. It was a great first start to his first college basketball postseason, which I think will be his only college basketball postseason, especially if he continues to play like he did against Georgia.
Kentucky might’ve played its best defense of the season.
The Cats held Georgia to under 50 points in the win, which is easily the lowest point total by an opponent this season. Georgia isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse, but it was still very impressive to watch UK hold them to 49 in the game, and at a time when the Dawgs were playing their best basketball coming into the game.
Yante Maten couldn’t do Yante Maten things.
Adding to the praise of the defense, we should note that Georgia’s best player made only two shots in the entire game. Yante Maten, who came in with averages of 19.6 and 8.7 rebounds per game, was held to only nine points and four rebounds. Kentucky successfully stopped the one Georgia player who could beat them.
Nick Richards can’t do it.
Nick Richards, bless his heart, just can’t contribute, despite John Calipari still starting him every game. He played only six minutes in the game and scored as many points as you and me, while grabbing only two rebounds and allowing many more to someone in red. Richards will be good one day and it’s great to have him in UK blue; that day, however, is unlikely to come this season. He has regressed and Cal cannot continue to play him when he isn’t contributing anything.
Hamidou Diallo is smiling again.
Diallo hit his only three-point attempt and finished with seven points. Decent game for him, but the smile and confidence appear to be back, and that’s what really matters. Maybe he’ll break all the way out of the funk and start getting buckets again?
Kevin Knox rebounded.
Knox had nine rebounds, the most for him since the LSU game over two months ago. Someone needed to step up on the boards with Vanderbilt out, and Knox took on a big part of that load.
He also passed to a teammate on a fast break!
Kentucky will get red hot Alabama in the semifinals.
Auburn got sent home early in an embarrassing loss to Alabama, therefore Kentucky will get the Fighting Collin Sextons in Saturday’s first semifinal game, not the top-seeded Tigers. Sexton has been incredible through two games in St. Louis. The freshman point guard averaged 29 points per game in two upset wins, and he’s hot from outside with a 9-for-14 clip from three-point range. It’ll be a huge test for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the UK backcourt to contain him. If they can’t, he may keep Alabama’s SEC tournament dream alive another day.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 09th, 2018 @ 7:30pm
You know how I know Kevin Knox is ready for March? When he dives on the ground for a loose ball with Yante Maten. Knox, not exactly known for his toughness, actually dove for two loose balls today vs. Georgia, which is exactly the type of hustle Kentucky needs to survive without Jarred Vanderbilt.
“That was surprising,” Washington said of seeing Knox dive on the ground. “[John Calipari] asked us to do more because Jarred [Vanderbilt] was out. It was good to see Kevin get some rebounds, hustle after loose balls.”
“It surprised me a little bit but Kevin’s going to do the things we need to win,” Shai said. “Especially with Jarred being out, we need all those hustle plays. He grabbed a lot of rebounds today and did a good job.”
“I know it’s March,” Knox said of his extra hustle. “It’s time to step it up. Jarred brings really good energy and he went down. We have guys that need to step up and give good energy, get rebounds, so I saw the ball on the ground, I’m going to dive on it. It’s win or go home now. You’ve gotta put your body on the court and give it all you got. That’s how I’m going to keep playing from now on.”
Knox vowed to bring that extra hustle to each game.
“It’s in me, and I got the ball too. I made sure I got it when I dove on the ground, I’ll fall for it. That’s what Coach likes to see, those plays that show toughness and show that you can fight and do anything for your team. I’m going to keep it up. I’m going to do anything for my teammates and put my body on the ground.”
What type of team is Kentucky when Kevin is making those plays?
“It makes us a lot different,” Washington said. “He’s one of the best players in the country when he does stuff like that. In order for us to win, he has to do stuff like that now and we’re confident in him that he’ll be able to do that the next couple of games.”
When told his teammates were surprised he went after a loose ball, Knox grinned.
“They always get on me about that, diving on the ground and stuff like that, but I’m going to show them this month it’s in me.”
By Nick Roush on ©March 09th, 2018 @ 5:27pm
Playing without Jarred Vanderbilt, a late first half run ignited Kentucky to a 62-49 win over Georgia, Kentucky’s fourth SEC Tournament victory over the Bulldawgs in the last five years.
It wasn’t always easy for the Cats. Georgia hung around until about four minutes left in the first half after Kentucky’s sluggish offensive start. Yante Maten knocked down a pair of free throws to give Georgia a 23-22 lead. The Dawgs did not make a shot for the next seven minutes, sparking an 11-0 UK run.
Georgia could not recover because the Cats successfully contained the AP SEC Player of the Year. Using a group effort with smothering double teams, Maten was limited to just nine points on 2-of-10 shooting.
P.J. Washington stepped up in Vanderbilt’s absence to lead Kentucky in scoring with 18 points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander knocked down his first five shots en route to a 15-point performance, while Kevin Knox added 15 more.
Many questioned if Kentucky could adjust without Vanderbilt. Today’s game showed this team is prepared to do whatever is necessary to extend the season. Now all they have to do is stop fouling three-point shooters.
Kentucky advances to play Collin Sexton and Alabama in the SEC Tournament semifinal tomorrow at 1:00 ET on ESPN.
By Nick Roush on ©March 09th, 2018 @ 12:00pm
This afternoon Kentucky will play an SEC Tournament game in St. Louis for the first time, but The Gateway to the West has hosted the Wildcats in the postseason on numerous occasions.
Kentucky was won seven of their eight NCAA Tournament games in St. Louis. The lone loss kept the Cats out of the 1999 Final Four. Every other trip to the Midwest has created lasting memories for Kentucky fans across the Big Blue Nation.
1978 — The Goose was Golden
The timing of Kentucky’s return to St. Louis is excellent. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Kentucky’s 1978 National Championship, a 94-88 victory over Duke in the Checkerdome. Rick Robey had an excellent 20-point, 11-rebound double-double, but Jack Givens stole the show. The No. 3 all-time soccer in UK history made 18-of-27 shots to score 41 points on college basketball’s biggest stage.
See more highlights form Givens’ historic night here.
2002 — Prince’s Givens Impression
Twenty-four years after Givens’ fantastic performance, Tubby Smith’s team traveled to St. Louis for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Facing Tubby’s former team in the second round, Tulsa, Tayshaun Prince played the best game of his career. The lengthy lefty knocked down 6-of-8 threes to finish with a familiar total, 41 points.
In the Sweet 16 Kentucky fell to Maryland, who would go on to win National Title.
2014 — Cats Shock Wichita State
Kentucky’s last appearance in St. Louis is one of the greatest NCAA Tournament upsets many readers have ever witnessed. The eighth-seeded Wildcats drew undefeated Wichita State in the second round. After an up-and-down regular season, most just hoped UK could keep it close. They did one even better.
Ron Baker scored 20 points and Cleanthony Early was unstoppable. The Wichita State swingman only missed five shots en route to a 31-point performance. The only answer for Early was the Harrisons’ offense. The Twins combined for 39 points, but Aaron had to wait another week to become a heartbreaker.
A back-and-forth affair until the final minute, James Young was the unlikely hero. His three from the top of the key put the Cats up two with just over a minute to play. Kentucky fans held their breath until Fred VanVleet’s game-winning three-point attempt clanked the back of the rim to end Wichita State’s undefeated season.
Kentucky will have a chance to create more amazing St. Louis memories starting today against Georgia at approximately 3:30.