By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 16th, 2019 @ 8:30pm
When Kentucky forward PJ Washington entered the postgame press conference following his team’s crushing 82-78 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers, his overall vibe was completely different from what we’re used to seeing following losses.
It wasn’t anger or disgust. It wasn’t bitter or gloomy.
While the rest of the Kentucky fanbase snarled and broke down the ins and outs of how the Cats lost their first SEC Tournament game in four years, the 6-foot-7 sophomore oozed confidence.
The reason? The SEC Tournament is not where the road ends. There’s a bigger goal in mind, as winning a conference title simply doesn’t compare to winning an NCAA championship.
According to Washington, he led a meeting with his teammates after the game, where he pushed that point home.
“I just told them to keep their heads up, keep fighting,” Washington said. “We still have a bigger tournament and it’s more important. We got to come out, be focused, be ready to play, whoever we play.”
In the locker room after the game, several Wildcats discussed what Washington said and what it meant for their confidence in the long run.
“PJ said it well after the game,” Kentucky forward Reid Travis said. “Just pick your head up. We’ve got a lot of basketball left to play. Credit his maturity and his leadership for saying that. Obviously we let one go that we should’ve gotten today, but we’ve still got another week of prep to really get ready. The things we really want to accomplish this season are right in front of us.”
Kentucky guard confirmed those comments, saying that the big focus is on the next weekend on. If they make the run they know they’re capable of, no one will care about who took home the SEC championship trophy.
“He just told us that we obviously have more games to play, keep our heads up,” Herro said. “The next tournament’s the big tournament. If we win that tournament, no one is going to say anything about this one.”
In 2012, the Wildcats fell in the SEC Tournament prior to making a championship run in the NCAA Tournament.
If sacrificing the opportunity to win a trophy this weekend means they can hoist one above their heads on April 8, Herro said he’d be perfectly fine with that.
“(Coach Cal) actually didn’t mention that,” he said. “But I would definitely be happy with that.”
While the team is thinking big picture, Travis wanted to make sure people still knew this was an incredibly difficult loss and they’re not completely over it.
“It’s still really tough,” he said. “I mean, every time we lace them up, especially with a rivalry game like that, we want to come away with a win. It’s still a tough one, but we’ll process it just like every other game.”
But if you ask PJ Washington, they’re going to be just fine when the games start to really count.
“We play next weekend,” he said. “We’re going to get it right.”
Kentucky’s SEC Tournament run fell short in Saturday’s semifinal as the Cats dropped another one to the Vols in the rivalry’s rubber match. Tennessee crawled out of a big deficit late in the game to pull off the big victory in front of rowdy audience in Nashville.
Some takeaways from the heartbreaker…
That was a wild game.
It’s hard to say a game is fun when it ends in a Kentucky loss, but that was a fun game to watch. Fans were treated to a war in an insane environment in Bridgestone Arena with Rocky Top and Go-Big-Blue chants bouncing back and forth throughout the entire game. Those two teams went at each other for 40 minutes and it’s too bad someone had to go home on the losing end. Lots of fun and good basketball in there.
UK blew it by giving up an eight-point lead late in the game.
The Cats had a 72-64 lead with just under three minutes to go (and a 95.7 percent chance of covering the spread), before Tennessee went on a run that included points on seven straight positions. If you’re going to be a championship team, you can’t be giving up a comfortable lead like that in such little time. Kentucky can only blame Kentucky for its collapse and the team is going home early because of it.
Here’s the main reason behind that collapse:
Kentucky really missed Reid Travis down the stretch.
The last two and a half minutes served as another example of Reid Travis’ importance to the team. Without him in the game, Williams grabbed a crucial offensive rebound that led to Lamonte Turner’s go-ahead three-pointer; the play before that, Williams snuck over to the corner to hit a go-ahead three-pointer of his own. Travis likely would’ve prevented both from happening, which would’ve kept six Tennessee points off the board in the final two minutes. He also would’ve taken some of the pressure off PJ Washington on those last couples of drives.
And for the record, it was a bogus fifth foul call that sent him to the bench. He didn’t even touch Williams on the play, yet still got the boot from the game. Kentucky fell apart defensively from there.
Tennessee is really good.
I know we’re supposed to hate Tennessee around here, and I do and always will, but let’s at least acknowledge how good that team is this year. As Kentucky was folding in the end, Tennessee hit big shot after big shot to crawl back and steal the game away from the Cats’ grasp. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone are great players and some other guys made some big plays and I can’t believe I’m saying nice things about the Vols right now but it’s all true. Tennessee is a legit national title contender and some teams are going to be very unlucky to meet them in the tournament.
Ok enough playing nice.
PJ Washington had the put-back to tie it back up but it just wouldn’t go in.
Washington was so close on his follow-up shot with only 13 seconds on the clock and Kentucky down two. Sometimes it just doesn’t fall though.
Tyler Herro’s turnover was a big moment in the game.
Herro made a costly mistake one second into a possession that really helped Tennessee’s comeback. He traveled right in front of the Tennessee bench and the Vols capitalized by converting an and-1 (on the phantom foul that sent Reid Travis out) to cut the lead to only three. If Herro doesn’t travel there, UK likely runs a lot of time off the clock while up six. But it is what it is.
Herro had a pretty good game otherwise, although I wish he had gotten the ball a little more than he did.
Ashton Hagans tied the school record for assists in an SEC Tournament game.
If you’re like me and believe Kentucky needs Ashton Hagans to play great in the tournament, Saturday’s game was comforting. Hagans opened the game with a three-pointer and finished it with 12 assists, matching the school record in an SEC Tournament game. He could’ve been a little better defensively down the stretch, but he was also assigned the task of guarding Jordan Bone, maybe the best point guard in the conference, so let’s not be too critical of his defense. Offensively, Hagans did a pretty good job running the show.
Blue got in.
Kentucky outnumbered Tennessee fans with about 65 percent (my guess) of the crowd. Those folks saying Tennessee would outshine Big Blue Nation were completely wrong as UK fans did what UK fans do during the conference tournament. Way to go, BBN. Way to go.
Okay, let’s talk about the officiating.
You didn’t think I’d go on without mentioning it, did you? Sadly, the officiating stole the show from a great college basketball game. It was absolutely terrible on both sides, so bad that at one point John Calipari and Rick Barnes just looked at each other with a shrug and a smile. I thought for sure Cal was going to get ejected (early on it seemed like he was trying to) as Doug Shows was trending on Twitter for his outrageous performance. Shows and his colleagues had a really bad afternoon, and he even had a fan ejected for letting him know about it. It was brutally bad.
On that note, let’s try to put it all behind us and get ready for an NCAA Tournament run.
By Nick Roush on ©March 16th, 2019 @ 5:37pm
In a fight between two heavyweights, Tennessee landed the final blow.
Trailing by one, Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining. P.J. Washington got two looks at the rim on the following possession, but the ball couldn’t get over the rim.
Lamonte Turner was 0-3 from three in this game before this shot …
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 16, 2019
Keldon Johnson gave the Cats a 72-64 lead on an And One at the 2:58 mark. Over the final three minutes Tennessee went on a 18-6 run to end Kentucky’s chances of winning a fifth straight SEC Tournament.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 16th, 2019 @ 12:00pm
We knew an Immanuel Quickley breakout game was coming, and in the second half vs. Alabama, the backup freshman guard roared. Quickley scored 12 points, including a career-high three three-pointers in the final five minutes. Quickley has been improving steadily over the last month, and in the locker room, grinned when asked how it felt to help his team get the win.
“It felt real good. The team played well. I think we started to get into a groove, how we want to play in March, so it felt real good.”
Any player you’ll talk to will say that Quickley’s been putting in long hours in the gym; last night’s performance showed it’s clearly paying off.
“I feel really good. Getting real comfortable with the system offensively and defensively. My defense is getting better so it’s helping me on offense. I just really feel like I’m playing good.”
Quickley, who plays drums in the band at his church back in Baltimore, also gave thanks to the man upstairs for helping him stay focused.
“Staying in the gym. Long nights, early mornings. Thank God always, staying in church. Always getting to bible study. Things like that I attribute to playing well.”
Keldon Johnson said Quickley’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s competing at practice every day. He’s knocking down shots and he’s in the lab all the time. We know he can give us that.”
Fellow sniper Tyler Herro agreed.
“It’s good to see other guys make shots. Immanuel’s been making a lot of threes now.”
Speaking of Tyler, after he and Immanuel hit back-to-back threes to push Kentucky’s lead to 18 in the final minute, it felt like the roof was going to come off Bridgestone Arena.
“It was great,” Quickley said. “We’ve still got the best fans in the world, BBN. We could hear a lot of Kentucky fans after we made those threes and throughout the game when everybody was making plays. We really appreciate the fans.”
We appreciate you, IQ.
The highly awaited rubber match has arrived and this afternoon’s game at Bridgestone Arena could be the biggest game in SEC Tournament history. All that is one the line is a potential No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee now sits at 28-4 and is a lock to be at least a No. 2 seed at worst when the selection committee releasing their field of 68 tomorrow evening. Behind seasoned head coach Rick Barnes, the Vols have a load of experience and are a dangerously efficient offensive while they play very well together on defense. Tennessee has the SEC player of the year in the post and one of the nation’s best point guards running the show.
Two heavyweights will be going at it downtown Nashville and today will absolutely have an Elite Eight/Final Four feel. This is March.
Nuts and Bolts
Rick Barnes has been a head coach for a very long time, but success in conference tournaments has mostly escaped him. In a significant upset, Barnes led his 1994 Providence squad to the Big East title but he hasn’t brought home another trophy since. Barnes was unable to get Clemson to the ACC title game and then he left small town South Carolina for Austin, Texas. Barnes took the Longhorns to six Big XII title games and never recorded a victory. Last year he led the Vols to the SEC title before falling to Kentucky.
Barnes has done a lot in his career and has 689 career wins, but the next step is sealing the deal in a conference tournament. This year he has the best team of his career and we’ll see if it’s the squad that can get him back to the Final Four.
Today will be the 228th meeting between the two SEC programs with Kentucky owning a 155-72 lead. In the SEC Tournament, this will be the 17th meeting between the two programs with UK owning a 12-4 edge. UK is 2-0 in the Cal era against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. Since taking the job in Knoxville, Rick Barnes has had a ton of success against Kentucky. Barnes is 5-4 against Kentucky and will look to beat the Wildcats for two times in consecutive seasons. No one in the SEC has done that in the Cal era.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 1-point favorite with a total of 141.5. That’s a projected final score around 71-70. On the season, UK is 16-15-1 against the spread while Tennessee is 16-14-1. The under has been on fire in UK games going 10-2 in the last 12 games.
Jordan Bone received All-SEC honors this week and they were well deserved for the junior point guard. The Nashville native will be playing at home and he’s been a Kentucky killer in this year’s meetings.
In the two meetings this season, Bone is shooting 8-for-9 from three-point range and has nine assists with just three turnovers. The 6-foot-3 guard has scored at least 19 points in each meeting and absolutely shredded UK in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Bone is dishing out 6.2 assists per game and is just two dimes shy of 200 for the season. He’s putting up over 13 points per game on a 47 percent shooting clip. He has great speed and can push the pace at any time, but does a great job getting the Vols in the right place at the right time. He’s a huge reason why this team ranks third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Next to Bone is redshirt junior Lamonte Turner and he is Tennessee’s best perimeter defender. Expect him to spend time checking both Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro, but on the offensive end he may be Tennessee’s biggest weakness. The 6-foot-2 combo guard is shooting just 29 percent from three-point range and is no threat to score from two. Don’t be surprised if you see UK sag off to help against Grant Williams.
Off the bench, Jordan Bowden is one of this team’s best scorers and in the last couple he’s broken out of a recent shooting slump. The junior has hit seven threes in the last four games and scored in double-digits in the last three games. When he is locked in on offense this team is nearly impossible to guard.
For the second season in a row, Grant Williams brought home SEC player of the year honors and it was well deserved. The All-American is putting up 19.2 points and 7.6 rebounds on the season on a 56.4 percent shooting clip. The big from Charlotte is playing over 30 minutes per game and is efficient from all over he floor. He’s been damn near unstoppable in the high post.
Williams has shot 232 free throws on the season and is shooting over 83 percent when he gets there. He does a great job playing under control and fighting his way through contact. He’s a great college basketball player and will have his jersey retired in Knoxville.
Williams get all of the accolades, but Admiral Schofield is nearly as important. The senior forward has attempted 432 shots on the season and this is nearly 80 more than the SEC player of the year. The Vols hunt for shots for their senior and he has the athleticism to rise up and throw it down.
Against Kentucky, Schofield is shooting just 32.2 percent this year and is an ice cold 1-for-12 from three. Keldon Johnson has done a great job containing one of the SEC’s best scorers and if he stays cold against Kentucky it gives the Wildcats a major edge.
Next to Williams in the post is senior Kyle Alexander and the 6-foot-11 senior brings offensive rebounding and rim protection to the lineup. However, the Canadian struggles to play against power and with Reid Travis in the lineup it could force Rick Barnes to play Admiral Schofield at the four. This is not what Tennessee wants to do.
Off the bench, Barnes rolls with sophomores John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, and Derrick Walker. None bring much offense, but they are all solid defenders and good rebounders. They play limited minutes and bring energy when they are on the floor.
Keys to Victory
- In his first game back yesterday, Reid Travis looked very good against Alabama. The senior showed no limitations playing with a knee brace and seemed to be in shape. That’s a great sign for Kentucky because it allows the Stanford grad transfer to bang with Grant Williams. If Travis stays on the floor, it frees up PJ Washington on both ends and could force Tennessee to play a ton of Admiral Schofield at the four. That’s a win for Kentucky.
- Jordan Bone has had his way with Ashton Hagans in the last two meetings and he’s been the biggest issue Kentucky has had to deal with. Down in Knoxville, Hagans played one of his worst games of the season. Kentucky needs him to step up to the challenge today. If Hagans is aggressive on offense and plays within himself on defense that will give UK a great chance to play Tennessee to at least a draw at point. Do that and UK will feel very good about their chances.
- If Tennessee has a weakness on defense it’s on the offensive glass. In the first meeting, Kentucky collected 12 offensive rebounds on their way to an impressive 1.26 point per possession. The Vols play solid team defense so anytime you can create extra shot it could play a huge benefit.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 16th, 2019 @ 12:00am
After months of a back-and-forth recruitment, 2019 five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. ended up turning down the hometown Indiana Hoosiers and committing to John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Live from his old middle school, St. Paul’s Lutheran School, Brooks Jr. made the announcement in front of his closest friends and family members. And it’s a decision he says he’s extremely happy with.
Before we get into what this decision means for Kentucky, let’s first take a look at how this thing played out.
How did we get to this point?
Though his final list consisted of four teams, there is no debate that this decision came down to two schools: Kentucky and Indiana.
As mentioned in Pilgrim’s Insider Notes on Tuesday, Michigan State felt they were out of the running this past weekend, and North Carolina has been feeling that way for several weeks now. The Kentucky and Indiana coaching staffs, however, each felt fairly confident in their chances. UK felt John Calipari’s “Kentucky isn’t for everyone” pitch resonated well with Brooks, while Archie Miller took over the recruitment on Indiana’s side of things and felt his team’s “hometown hero” pitch would win out in the end.
To put it simply, if Indiana wasn’t struggling so badly this season and the Romeo Langford experiment worked out better, it absolutely would have worked. Brooks has wanted to play at Indiana for a long time, and that was going to be the choice. It’s not a secret.
With how well Kentucky has turned things around and developed this team for March, combined with Indiana likely missing the NCAA Tournament and their fanbase acting like the sky is falling, it was just the perfect storm for the Wildcats to come in and pull off the upset.
Before the big announcement, I wrote a quick post with some last-minute thoughts on Brooks, and I ended it with a note that I was feeling really confident about Kentucky’s chances this evening. You can check it out here:
Over the last three weeks or so (basically ever since Kentucky’s victory over Tennessee at Rupp Arena with Brooks Jr. in attendance), I had been hearing from multiple angles that the Cats maintained a slight lead over the hometown Hoosiers.
After some silence to start the week, I (finally) heard a fairly significant bit of information from a strong source that Kentucky was the choice. That being said, that didn’t come until early today, which leads me to believe a final decision wasn’t made until yesterday at some point. John Calipari flew up to Fort Wayne, IN on Tuesday and Archie Miller visited on Wednesday, and from what I know, Brooks left both meetings without a decision. From there, he sat down with his family one last time and felt that his basketball future was simply better off at Kentucky.
This evening, he made it official with a quick and easy announcement in favor of the Wildcats (seriously, it was like 30 seconds long).
Now, onto what it means for Kentucky going forward.
Kentucky got a star
Ranked anywhere from No. 17 overall (247 Sports) to No. 38 (ESPN), the 6-foot-8, 190-pound forward is one of the most versatile prospects in the class of 2019, making it no surprise that John “Mr. Positionless” Calipari was dying to get him in Lexington.
With the ability to grab a rebound, run the break, and finish on his own or distribute to one of his teammates, he’s proven throughout his high school career that he’s absolutely phenomenal in transition. He can knock down jumpers at a solid rate, but he’s going to make his money on the run.
In terms of player comparisons, I would say he’s a mix between Jarred Vanderbilt and Kevin Knox. He’s long, strong, active, maintains a high motor, and has a tremendous basketball IQ. If there are 37 better basketball players in the nation, you’ll have to tell me who they are. I won’t believe you, regardless.
Seriously, just watch his highlights and tell me this kid isn’t going to be a star:
The 2019 recruiting class is coming together
Kentucky has had commitments and/or signatures from five-star guard Tyrese Maxey, five-star forward Kahlil Whitney, and four-star forward Dontaie Allen.
Beyond those three, the Wildcats had yet to secure a commitment in the frontcourt before today, and the elite options were running dry. James Wiseman, Vernon Carey Jr., and Isaiah Stewart, among others, all opted for other programs, leaving the Wildcats extremely limited to close things out.
With Brooks now on board, things just got a whole lot easier for the Kentucky coaching staff moving forward. He’s not a true power forward (he’s actually more of a three than a four), but he has the ability to thrive at either position.
Now, Kentucky will likely need to sign just one more big man prospect to close out their 2019 recruiting class.
The UK coaching staff must be selective moving forward
With Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery likely returning next season and Brooks now on board, there’s really only one more spot to fill in the Kentucky frontcourt.
Between 2019 five-star prospects Jaden McDaniels and Matthew Hurt, potential 2020 reclassification candidates in Isaiah Todd and N’Faly Dante, and any potential graduate transfers we don’t even know about right now, the Kentucky coaching staff will have to be careful with how they spend their time on the recruiting trail.
Spread the love too much, and it might not be enough to separate themselves from the other contenders. Put all their eggs in one basket, and there’s a risk of missing out on that prospect, where it might be too late to make up ground elsewhere.
Obviously it’s a great position to be in to need just one more piece instead of several to close out a recruiting class, but the point still remains.
Kentucky is going to play differently next season
Several months ago, I was told the Kentucky coaching staff was looking to go back to Calipari’s dribble drive offense and focus on playing at a consistently fast pace, and Brooks’ addition only confirms that.
As mentioned earlier, the newest Wildcat thrives in that style of play, giving Kentucky a lot to work with next season. They can go small with Brooks at the four,
Add a player like McDaniels or Hurt, and the Cats would have one of the most athletic and offensively-skilled teams Calipari has had at Kentucky. They’d be able to shoot from every position on the floor, dominate on fast breaks, toss alley-oops, block shots, and convert on steals.
If things close out how the staff is hoping, the idea of feeding the ball inside and letting the star frontcourt players go to work would be a thing of the past. This group would thrive on setting up easy inside shots and lobs, finding open shooters on the perimeter, and slashing to the basket.
Needless to say, Brooks’ addition was massive for Kentucky on multiple levels. No matter what happens with expected and toss-up NBA Draft decisions, the Cats now have a roster capable of making a run next season.
Add one more elite piece? Goodness gracious.
When Reid Travis rose from the bench at the 17:19 mark of the first half to check in, the Kentucky fans in Bridgestone Arena joined him. After watching the Cats play without Reid for five games following his knee injury, the Big Blue Nation gave the fifth-year senior a standing ovation.
Reid Travis gets a standing ovation when he checks in pic.twitter.com/CQgFWVictm
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) March 15, 2019
Reid said the moment was another reminder that his decision to come to Kentucky for his final year of eligibility was the right one.
“It was cool,” Reid said of the standing ovation. “I loved it. The fans here are the best in the country. BBN, just showing a lot of love. When they give you a reward, it’s special. A lot of appreciation. It’s a lot of love from them.”
It’s well deserved. With Reid back in, Kentucky looked like itself again, punishing teams inside and out. PJ Washington, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery were able to keep the middle from collapsing for the most part while Reid’s knee healed, but the Cats desperately missed his presence on the boards. Reid didn’t score in the first half, but made an impact with three blocks and a boatload of hustle. In the second half, he played 16 minutes, scoring eight points and pulling down six rebounds.
“We’re back as a complete team,” Ashton Hagans said of having Reid back in the lineup. “It actually makes all of our jobs easier. He’s down there in a dogfight all night, fighting in the paint, beating a guy up for us, so as he’s down there, we know that we can guard our man on the outside on the perimeter and that just helps us a lot.”
“It opens up everything,” Keldon Johnson agreed. “He’s just another presence down low that we have and he can do it all. He can block shots, he can make shots, he can make tough plays, tough rebounds. Just all around, he brings that toughness and grit to our team.”
“It was definitely great,” PJ Washington agreed. “He brought a lot of toughness to us and he blocked a lot of shots and rebounded the ball really well. A lot of putbacks. It’s just great to have a leader like that on the floor and someone who’s really physical.”
“Reid means everything to this team,” Immanuel Quickley said. “He’s a veteran. He’s more mature than everybody here, including some of the coaches. He’s just like a big brother for us. We can talk to him about things on and off the court. He really feels like family.”
When Reid drew his fourth foul with just over five minutes left, it looked like he was heading to the bench for good; however, he checked back in just over a minute later, ready to help his team close out the final seconds. For Reid, it’s all about savoring his time left as a Wildcat.
“It was great to be out there. Once it’s taken away from you for a little bit, you get a new appreciation for it. I just wanted to come out and have fun.”
And all the blue in the building? Even though the season is wrapping up, the BBN never ceases to amaze him.
“It blows me away. Just coming out to warm ups and I think I said, ‘It’s a home game.’ And you just hear, when we score, the roof coming off the building. It’s ridiculous that they travel but you kind of expect it at this point, but I’m still surprised even though that I know it’s going to be all blue in the arena.”
By Nick Roush on ©March 15th, 2019 @ 9:05pm
For the fourth straight season, Kentucky has ended Alabama’s run in the SEC Tournament. The Cats cruised to a 73-55 victory over the Crimson Tide in the SEC Tourney quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena.
The game got off to an incredibly sloppy start. Tied at nine after six minutes of slop, Kentucky went on an 11-0 run to take a commanding lead. From that point on Kentucky’s lead never shrank to less than six.
In his first game since February 19, Reid Travis was scoreless in only seven minutes of action in the first half. To help him kick off the rust, Coach Cal started Travis in the second half. The senior forward immediately responded, scoring the Cats’ first bucket of the half. He finished with eight points in 21 minutes of action.
Tyler Herro led Kentucky in scoring with 20 points. P.J. Washington recorded his eighth double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Immanuel Quickley hit all three of his three-point attempts to finish with 12 points.
Kentucky will play the winner of Tennessee-Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament semifinals at approximately 3:15 Saturday afternoon on ESPN.
It’s official: 2019 five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. is a Kentucky Wildcat.
Forward | 6-8 | 185 lbs.
Fort Wayne, IN | North Side
AAU: Spiece Indy Heat
|ESPN||No. 38 | 9 PF||Top247||No. 13 | 4 SF|
|Rivals||No. 27 | 5 SF||247 Comp.||No. 23 | 6 SF|
In an announcement made at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Fort Wayne, IN and live on CBS Sports HQ, Brooks committed to Kentucky over Indiana, North Carolina, and Michigan State.
Brooks, a 6-foot-8 forward playing for La Lumiere in Indiana, is considered a consensus top-40 prospect in the nation, with his highest rating behind No. 13 overall (247).
Brooks joins Kentucky signees Tyrese Maxey and Dontaie Allen, along with forward commit Kahlil Whitney, in UK’s 2019 recruiting class.
With the latest edition, UK’s recruiting class moves up to No. 2 in 247 Sports’ team rankings with an overall score of 68.76, putting them right behind Arizona (69.48) and in front of Villanova (68.34).
Watch your newest Wildcat go to work:
Welcome home, Mr. Brooks.
When the seeds were locked in last Saturday night you just knew this was going to happen. For the fourth year in a row, Kentucky and Alabama will be meeting in the SEC Tournament.
Avery Johnson is undefeated in this format against every other conference team outside of Kentucky. Tonight he’ll look to end the streak. For the 19th time ever these two programs will meet in the postseason with Kentucky looking to collect their 17th win. No team has played UK more in the postseason.
Nuts and Bolts
Avery Johnson is approaching the end of his fourth season as the head basketball coach at the University of Alabama and the Crimson Tide have made the postseason each year. The problem has been that it’s been in the NIT more than the NCAAs.
Johnson has compiled a 75-60 record in Tuscaloosa and currently the Tide find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble once again. For the third time in four years, Alabama needs to beat Kentucky in Nashville to punch their at-large ticket.
Under Johnson, the Tide have never had a top 50 KenPom finish and have only recorded one winning season in the SEC. Overall, Bama has gone 8-10 three times in league play and has constantly limped to the finish of the regular season despite reeling in two top 25 recruiting classes. Under Johnson, Alabama’s defenses have been consistently strong but they have struggled on the offensive end of the floor.
In his first three years, Bama had three sub-100 adjusted offensive efficiency finishes. This year’s squad has been the best, but they currently sit at 100. Despite having an NBA point guard and numerous other blue-chip prospects, the Tide have struggled to consistently put the ball in the hoop. They have been a poor free throw shooting team and are very sloppy with the basketball.
Personnel wise, there aren’t many teams in the country that can lineup athletically with the Crimson Tide. Alabama is long and athletic at each position and at times they can make you hold your breath with some of the athletic plays they can make in open space. Kentucky won’t outrun Alabama. They will have to lean on execution and smart basketball to lead them to a win.
Overall, this will be the 151st meeting between the two programs with Kentucky owning a 112-38 lead. Bama and UK have met a ton in the postseason and the Tide currently rank second in the SEC with seven SEC Tournament titles. Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Avery Johnson is just 1-7 against UK. Since taking over in Lexington, John Calipari is 14-3 against Alabama. This will be the sixth time that Cal has faced off against Alabama in the SEC Tournament. This will be the fourth meeting in Bridgestone Arena.
On the perimeter, Alabama has two intriguing pro prospects in Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty. The two underclassmen have rode a roller coaster all season, but when they are on Alabama can play at a top 20 level.
With the departure of Collin Sexton to the NBA following a Round of 32 exit last season, there were some huge shoes to fill at the point guard position. To find an answer, Avery Johnson hit the recruiting trail and reeled in a high ceiling point guard.
Lewis Jr. reclassified, similar to Ashton Hagans, to get to college a season early. The young man won’t turn 18 years old until after the season is over. Alabama has asked a lot of him this year and mostly the diaper dandy has delivered.
The 6-foot-3 guard leads the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game and has poured in 52 three-pointers on a 36.6 percent shooting clip. Lewis Jr. leads the team in minutes, is dishing out 2.9 assists per outing, and has a very high ceiling as an isolation defender. He’s been rock solid in an up-and-down season. Unlike Sexton, he will be returning to campus for his sophomore year and will be a cornerstone of the program.
John Petty was a blue-chip recruit in the class of 2017 and schools all over the country wanted the services of this 6-foot-5 two-guard. After starting 29 games as a true freshman making 90 threes on a 37 percent shooting rate, expectations were high for Petty to turn into a super sophomore.
Overall, Petty has made progress as a basketball player but it has not been the jump many expected. This season the sophomore has taken a step back as a three-point specialist with only 55 makes on a 34.6 percent shooting rate. However, the other parts of his game have grown.
Petty has become a more efficient player from two-point range and has done a better job at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. He can be a bit streaky, but the sophomore can fill it up if he is on.
Dazon Ingram is considered Bama’s third guard and he is the guy that runs the point whenever Lewis Jr. is on the pine. Ingram is a solid defender and a slasher on offense who is constantly diving to the basket looking for contact. Avery Johnson Jr. is the only other guard Bama uses in a very limited role.
Alabama’s best player in the paint is senior Donta Hall and the 6-foot-9 big may be college basketball’s best dunker outside of the guy named Zion that resides in Durham.
The Luverne, Alabama native has recorded 11 double-doubles this season and ranks first in the SEC in effective field goal percentage. Hall is a dominant defensive rebounder and by himself he should be able to eliminate a ton of second chance opportunities for UK. In SEC play, the big is shooting over 70 percent from the field. On the season, he is putting up a very respectable 10.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per outing. He’s going to be a tall task for UK to wrestle with in the paint.
On the wing, Alabama will use two players who each have a lot of potential. Herbert Jones is another blue-chip recruit on this roster and the sophomore is one of the best defensive players in the SEC. Jones is very, very limited on the offensive end and is an absolute liability at the free throw line (48.5 percent).
Jones brings the defense and Tevin Mack brings the offense. The Texas transfer is third on the team in shot attempts despite playing just over 2o minutes per game. Mack can get hot (21 points, four threes in SEC Tournament win over Ole Miss and 22 points, 6 made threes in upset win over Kentucky). However, he can also get very cold shown by his 10 single-digit point contributions in conference action. In some ways, he could be considered Alabama’s most dangerous player. When he’s putting the ball in the hole, Alabama suddenly looks a lot better on offense.
In a reserve role, Alabama leans on Riley Norris, Alex Reese, and Galin Smith. Norris brings experience and a stretch ability on offense with his shooting ability. Smith is a bruiser down low. Reese is a mix of the two.
Keys to Victory
- In recent weeks, we’ve seen Alabama lean on defense. It’s what Avery Johnson’s teams do best and they’re relying on that strength to help improve their NCAA Tournament resume. That means less minutes for John Petty and more non-offensive players on the floor. Therefore, Kentucky’s defense must be locked in. Get out on Tevin Mack, force Kira Lewis Jr. to hit tough twos, and own the defensive glass.
- Despite their length, Alabama has not been a successful rim protection team. When you are able to create drives and paint touches, buckets will be there for the taking in the paint. Drives for Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans will be there. Tyler Herro should be able to get off plenty of floaters. Kentucky must be precise in execution to get Reid Travis and PJ Washington paint touches. If they’re able to do that they will have a chance to have a very good night on the offensive end.
- Even though John Petty has just played 22 minutes or less in the last two games, the sophomore is still dangerous whenever he is on the floor. When he’s on, he will pull it from anywhere and can individually go on a 12-0 run in four of five possessions. Kentucky must be aware whenever Petty is on the floor.
- Reid Travis is making his return to the floor tonight, but we should all expect a minutes restriction for the senior. Therefore, UK is going to need productive minutes from EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. Bama does not have a ton of girth inside, but they do have length. Kentucky needs Richards and Montgomery to grab some rebounds, protect the rim, and make themselves useful on offense.
These two teams met in the SEC Tournament semifinals in St. Louis last season and Kentucky rode a career day from Wenyen Gabriel on their way to a blowout victory.
The stretch four sophomore poured in all seven of his three-point attempts on his way to 23 points in one of the UK’s best games of the season last year. The year before, De’Aaron Fox went for 28 points in a five-point victory. In 2016, both Jamal Murray and Alex Poythress scored 20-plus in a blowout win. Could we see another Wildcat step up and have a huge game against the Tide at the SEC Tournament?
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 15th, 2019 @ 8:59am
I’ve lived in Nashville for almost 13 years now and a while back, started making flowcharts to help Kentucky fans figure out which bars and restaurants to try while in town for the SEC Tournament. As Nashville has grown by leaps and bounds, keeping up with what’s new, what’s closed, and what’s still good has become increasingly difficult, but hopefully these will help you navigate around town and try something new.
**As a general disclaimer, yes, I realize there are tons of restaurants in Nashville, especially new ones, but these are my favorites. If yours isn’t on the list, don’t be offended. Just add it in the comments section.**
Where to Eat
Top 5: Butcher and Bee, Jeff Ruby’s, Two Ten Jack, Margot, and Five Points Pizza
Where to Drink
Top 5: Tootsie’s, Headquarters Beercade, The George Jones rooftop, Broadway Brewhouse, and Smith & Lentz
– The Friday morning KSR show will be at TIN ROOF BROADWAY. Other shows TBD, but this is where KSR fans will likely congregate throughout the weekend.
– Nashville still allows smoking in bars (21+), but fortunately, most bars downtown have opted to go smoke-free. I can’t wait for the day it’s like that everywhere.
– If you’ve been to Nashville in the past few years, you know traffic is horrible. If you’re downtown, it’s best to walk, but if you’re staying outside the downtown area or just feel like venturing out (which you definitely should), I recommend using Uber or Lyft. Both are cheaper and more pleasant than cabs, and well worth not worrying about or paying for parking (which can cost a fortune). If you’re driving, use the Waze app to navigate traffic and construction.
Is it your first time using Lyft? Help a sister out and use the code “TYLER380” for a FREE ride up to $20. Same thing for Uber, promo code nrdp8.
– Electric scooters are all the rage in Nashville right now, with at least five different companies (Lime, Bird, Jump, Lyft, Spin) offering them across the city. They’re EVERYWHERE downtown, and while very fun, not the safest thing in the world. The number of accidents are skyrocketing and people rarely wear helmets, so if you do choose to ride one, have your wits about you. Also, ride on the street, not the sidewalk, for goodness’ sake.
– The Nashville MTA Green Line bus provides FREE transportation around downtown Nashville and the Gulch, so keep an eye out for it. (It’s green.) You can also rent bikes via the B-Cycle stations around town or try JOY RIDE, the free golf cart shuttle service (to order a shuttle, call 615-285-9835).
– The Sunkist Soda SEC FanFare has moved from Broadway to the Walk of Fame Park across from Bridgestone Arena and behind the Hilton. The event is free to the public and features food, drinks, interactives, live entertainment and much more. It will be open Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. through 7 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
– Finally, if you’re going to the games, be aware of the SEC’s CLEAR BAG policy:
Most of all, prepare to have a lot of fun. See you soon!
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 14th, 2019 @ 11:10pm
On January 9, the Kentucky Wildcats went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama and came away with a crushing loss. They came back at the end and had a chance to win at the buzzer, but the Cats couldn’t convert.
Fast forward two months, and Kentucky now has the opportunity for revenge in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday evening. With the Crimson Tide upsetting the Ole Miss Rebels in the second round tonight, they will now move on to take on the Cats.
And if you ask Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans, that’s exactly how they wanted it.
“Oh, you know we all want Alabama to win,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “(Our loss back in January) was a tough one, so we want to come back and be prepared for that one. It hurt us, you know?”
With the Crimson Tide moving on from their victory this evening, they quickly caught wind of Hagans’ comments and responded accordingly.
For Alabama guard John Petty, he said his team welcomes Hagans’ challenge with open arms.
“I mean, challenge accepted,” he said. “We’re always going to accept a challenge once it’s been given, so we’re going to have to come out and play our best basketball and keep all their great players under control.”
As for junior guard Tevin Mack, who scorched the Cats for 22 points and six 3-pointers in their previous matchup, he made it obvious that he would be using Hagans’ words as motivation tomorrow night.
“Oh forreal? That’s cool,” he said with a smirk. “That’s all I’ve gotta say about it. That’s cool.”
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson wouldn’t engage in any player banter, but did say that he was happy that a player of Hagans’ caliber was wanting to take on his team.
“Well you know I’m not going to get into a verbal sparring match with the players, I’m too old for that,” he said. “But Hagans is a terrific player, a co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year, causes havoc… I’m glad that he wanted to play us.”
Petty, who finished with six points and two blocks last time around, said he understands that this matchup will be a tough one for his Alabama team. Kentucky is a completely different team from two months ago, after all.
“We know it’s going to be a great game, highly-anticipated, guys are going to come out remembering what happened in Tuscaloosa,” he said. “We’re going to have to be physical and ready. … We know they’re a totally different team than when we played them last time.”
Sitting at 18-14 on the year, Alabama’s NCAA Tournament hopes likely ride on how they fare this week. With a win over Kentucky tomorrow, Mack believes his team has a great shot at making the big dance.
“That’d be huge,” he said. “I bet that’d be huge for our chances. I bet it’d secure (a bid) for us, so we really need to think about that tomorrow.”
Kentucky has knocked Alabama out of the SEC Tournament in three consecutive years.
Can they break their hearts and make it four tomorrow?
By Drew Franklin on ©March 14th, 2019 @ 10:03pm
Reid Travis will play in Kentucky’s Friday quarterfinal against Alabama. John Calipari confirmed Travis’ availability during a late-night press conference from Nashville.
When asked if Travis will play in three- to four-minute bursts, as Calipari predicted earlier in the week, Cal told reporters, “I don’t know. We’ll see. He is further along than I thought.”
Further along than he thought?
That’s great news on the eve of the Cats’ postseason.
Kentucky’s quarterfinal opponent has been set.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Wildcats will take on No. 10 Alabama at 6:00 p.m. CT (7 ET).
The Crimson Tide knocked out No. 7 Ole Miss tonight in the first game of session three by a final score of 62-57.
In Kentucky’s last matchup with Alabama on January 5, the Tide edged out the Cats 77-75.