John Calipari went on “The Dan Patrick Show” this morning and talked for 20 minutes about his plan to fix college basketball. We’re not sure whether the interview was live or pre-recorded, but it did not include an update on Jarred Vanderbilt’s injury, nor did it include much talk about this year’s team, other than their decision to do the Facebook all-access show. Mostly, it was all of the same old stuff Cal’s been saying about how to reform the system, but because I love you, I listened anyways.
Here are the highlights.
Calipari was asked about Penny Hardaway
Last night, a report came out that Memphis is strongly considering replacing Tubby Smith with Penny Hardaway, who currently coaches top UK target James Wiseman at Memphis East. While Patrick did not mention Wiseman by name, he did ask Cal about Hardaway, which led to Cal saying a lot of nice things about the four-time NBA All-Star.
“Penny is just a great guy,” Cal said. “Terrific. Does a great job with the kids. He’s a Memphis icon.”
If Penny ends up at Memphis, it’s not just going to be Wiseman he and Cal fight over in years to come. Let’s just hope Wiseman loves Kentucky more than he does the idea of following his head coach to his first college job.
“I always say I’m overrated as a recruiter.”
Inevitably, Patrick asked Cal which recruits have gotten away over the years. Cal didn’t name names, but gave his usual reminder that he doesn’t always get the players he wants.
“I miss on many more than we get. I always say I’m overrated as a recruiter.”
The negative nellies will have a field day with that one.
The Facebook show’s about to get real
Cal spent some time promoting “Inside the Madness,” Kentucky’s Facebook all-access show, which he admits he didn’t want to do at first because “I don’t do all-access shows, I just don’t.” That made me laugh out loud because Kentucky did two prior to this one, but whatever. Regardless, up until now, the show has been a pleasant peek behind the curtain of the youngest team in college basketball history, with the most recent episode showing the Cats’ romp over Louisville. Calipari teased that it’s about to get real as the episodes get into Kentucky’s struggles in SEC play.
“Now, all of a sudden, we’re on a four-game losing streak and they’re saying can we put this mic on you? I said, how abut I put the mic around your neck and choke you? But we went through it and I treated it like they weren’t there. It’s transparent. You get to know these kids.”
“Everyone thinks that these kids don’t belong on a college campus. That is so wrong.”
Calipari spent most of the interview detailing his plan to fix college basketball, which we’ve heard time and time again. Cal doesn’t think it’s a good idea to let kids go straight to the G-League because it would devalue high school education and the system would abandon those that don’t make it. Tony Korhheiser and Michael Wilbon discussed Cal’s comments about that on PTI this week, which must have struck a nerve because Cal was FIRED UP.
“Wilbon and Kornheiser are going back and forth about my statement of don’t devalue education and Tony says, that shouldn’t come from Cal. Wait a minute, why? I like Tony. I really like Tony. Are you telling me that my kids don’t belong on a campus so we shouldn’t talk about it? Are you’re talking about kids, well, they left, that devalues education. No, it doesn’t. One, they all have lifetime scholarships, Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, now John Wall, Brandon Knight have already started coming back to finish degrees.”
Cue the lifetime scholarship and APR talk. You know how that goes.
“I’m exactly who should talk about the academics. This stuff where these kids don’t go in the second term, that’s a bunch of crap.”
“You think they trust some white guy walking in and giving them money?”
Calipari went on a lengthy rant about how the Players Association should be the ones giving prospects loans so their families don’t have to take them from shoe companies, etc. Listening to it, it’s hard not to think of some of the players and families that have come through the program in recent years like Eric Bledsoe and Bam Adebayo.
“When you open up their refrigerator and there’s a can of corn in there and someone’s offering them money they’re going to take it but they don’t want to take it. They’d rather do their own thing with their family. You know why? No one’s ever done anything for them. You think they trust some white guy walking in and giving them money? They don’t trust that. They know what this is.”
Stop suggesting the baseball rule
In the past, Calipari has advocated a move to the baseball rule, but has backed off that recently, arguing that it wouldn’t work for basketball because there are multiple classifications in minor league baseball (A, AA, AAA), meaning you can last for a long time in the system. That wouldn’t work for basketball.
Calipari’s plan to reform the system
If the one-and-done rule goes away and kids are allowed to go to the pros straight out of high school, Calipari proposes:
1. A combine for high school juniors: “Do a combine for juniors. Take 100 of them. Tell the ones that need to go to college, you need to go to school. You 15 or 12, you need to go directly to the NBA. Let them know.”
2. Let the Players Association give out loans: “You decide to go to college, let the Players Association give these family loans so they can travel with their teams. If they choose to move to a town where their son is going to play, they can take a loan to do it instead of having families move to towns, how the heck did they get there? Let that be legal.”
3. Treat college players like Olympians: “These kids own their rights, their name, their likeness, their autograph. If they want to sign autographs for money, let them do it, it’s theirs. If the school wants to control it, fine. If you want to put it in a fund, fine.”
If none of the that happens…
1. Encourage more families to get disability insurance: Calipari said there’s already a system for the top prospects to get loans through disability insurance with Lloyds of London, but it’s not used enough.
2. Treat college players like Olympians: Again, this should be an easy fix.
3. Get rid of summer basketball or “Make it legal”: It’s no secret that a lot of the third-party nonsense happens on the AAU circuit. Calipari said either get rid of summer basketball or make dealing with agents legal.
“We shouldn’t have summer basketball. For me, I’d rather be with my own players and own family. Second thing, If the coach cannot control it, make it legal. Because if I have no control over it and you’re gonna say I’m responsible for it? Make it legal.”
Above all, do what’s right for the kids, not what’s right for the NBA
“I’m not here to say I want one-and-done. I’m here to tell you what’s best for these kids. Going right out of high school for 15 [prospects]. Do we upset this whole system for 15, 12, 8 kids? Seven kids, 9 kids, 12 kids? Even if it’s 20 kids?”
“We’re talking about African American young people. What are we doing for them? How do we make sure they’re making the right decision for themselves, which is going to affect them the rest of their life?”
By Nick Roush on ©March 07th, 2018 @ 10:53am
This morning we discovered Jarred Vanderbilt suffered an injury during yesterday’s practice. The specifics are still unclear. All we know is that he will miss practice today and is considered day-to-day during the SEC Tournament.
Injuries are nothing new to Vanderbilt. The 6’9″ forward suffered two foot injuries prior to his arrival in Lexington. The most recent foot injury prevented him from playing until mid-February.
There’s no indication that what happened at yesterday’s practice is another foot injury. John Calipari does not have a planned media engagement until tomorrow, so it’s unlikely that we will receive any clarity on the matter until then. All we can do is speculate.
If Vanderbilt is withheld from SEC Tournament play and his status remains questionable for the NCAA Tournament, here’s what’s at stake for Kentucky.
An SEC Tourney Run is Unlikely
Kentucky will only have two days to prepare for Missouri/Vanderbilt/Georgia without Vanderbilt. An optimist would say that Kentucky played the entire first half of the season without him and could easily adjust. Neither of Kentucky’s potential first round opponents have dominant a frontcourt, so Kentucky could find a way to win a few games.
However, it’s much easier to be a pessimist. Kentucky won every game when Vanderbilt scored in double figures. He’s the team’s best rebounder and when foul trouble took him off the court at Florida, the Cats looked lost. Without a deep bench, it’s hard to imagine three wins in three days from this UK team without Jarred Vanderbilt.
A talking point that has dominated the first half of conference play is Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament bid following the return of Bonzie Colson. Nobody knows if the Selection Committee will consider injuries in their decision, but if they know Vanderbilt is out, a lower seed for Kentucky is possible.
NCAA Tournament is Up in the Air
If the injury is a little ankle sprain, a week is long enough for Vanderbilt to make a full recovery and contribute in the NCAA Tournament. If it’s another foot injury, his season is likely finished.
Without Vanderbilt in a Kentucky uniform, three players must step up — Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Hamidou Diallo.
Before Vanderbilt took the court for the first time, Diallo averaged 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and scored in double figures in 12 of 17 games. In the 14 games since, Diallo has reached double figures only three times. To make a run without Vanderbilt, Kentucky needs Diallo to return to form. In the paint, Richards and Killeya-Jones have followed a similar downward trajectory. That cannot continue without Vanderbilt on the court.
NBA Draft Ramifications
Another injury could do one of two things:
1. Vanderbilt’s draft stock plummets, he decides he must cash in before he suffers another injury.
2. Vanderbilt’s draft stock plummets, he decides to return to UK to return to the top of draft boards.
There’s no denying this will affect his decision to stay for another year or go to the NBA, but exactly how is just a guessing game at this point.
We’ve Seen This Before
A ragtag group of resurgent Wildcats lost their second-leading rebounder in the 2014 Sweet 16. When Willie Cauley-Stein was lost for the season, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee played their best basketball and helped Kentucky get to the National Title. Even if Vanderbilt’s season is finished, there’s no reason Richards and Killeya-Jones can’t do the same in 2018.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 06th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Back on August 28, John Calipari sat down with the media to preview the season. Six months, 21 wins, and 10 losses later, do any of his comments about this squad still ring true? I went to the preseason roundtable transcript to find out.
“None of the guys are where they need to be on a consistent basis.” — Amended to be TRUE
Almost everyone on this team has shown flashes of the player Kentucky needs them to be, but none are that on a consistent basis. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander comes the closest, but has a tendency to turn it over when he puts too much pressure on himself to score, i.e., whenever Kentucky struggles. In the last two games, Shai’s turned it over nine times, something that must be cleaned up going into postseason play.
We’ve learned the hard way that Kentucky can’t handle an off-night from Kevin Knox and that PJ Washington isn’t the consistent beast that Calipari wants him to be. Right now, stringing together six wins seems impossible, so how about just three this weekend?
“Wenyen’s playing way better, thank God.” — TRUE
One thing you can’t fault Wenyen Gabriel for is effort. Over the summer, Gabriel dedicated himself to improving his strength and conditioning, which has allowed him to be the energy guy Kentucky needs. In his second year, Wenyen has thrived in a supporting role, infusing the team with some much-needed hustle on the boards, and, when he’s hot, a presence on the outside.
“Quade is a better shooter than I thought.” — Amended to be TRUE
Quade Green may not be Tyler Ulis 2.0, but it was never fair to expect him to be. An eye injury and back problems forced Green to hand over point guard duties to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but by playing off the ball, he’s filled this team’s biggest void: shooter. Quade has become clutch from the outside, hitting 55% (11-20) from behind the arc over the past five games. Needless to say, he must carry that over to the postseason.
“Shai can run the point.” — TRUE
By far the most pleasant surprise of the regular season is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. When nothing else is working for Kentucky, you know Shai’s going to put his head down, drive the lane, and, most of the time, score. By doing that, he’s saved the Cats from themselves on more than one occasion. Shai took over at point when Quade Green had to miss time due to injury and still starts at the one, allowing Green to come off the ball and score. As Caliapri has preached throughout conference play, Shai’s the team’s best player because he works the hardest, which may turn him into a lottery pick.
“Quade will lead, but you need Hami.” — TBD
If Shai’s been the biggest surprise, Hami’s been the biggest disappointment, which pains me to type. Kentucky has managed to win big games without him, but there’s no denying that life would get a little easier if the ball would just start going in the hole more often for Hami, who was 0-7 from the floor vs. Florida. For Kentucky to make any kind of run this postseason, Hami has to break out of his slump for good.
“We’ve got a great group of kids.” — TRUE
This team’s on-the-court performance has been disappointing so far, but thanks to the Facebook all-access show, it’s easy to see they’re great kids off it.
“I think you have a couple alpha dogs.” — FALSE
Leadership was one of the biggest concerns coming into this season and it remains that going into the postseason. Calipari singled out PJ Washington, Hamidou Diallo, and Quade Green as this group’s “alpha dogs” before the year started, but none of them have lived up to that moniker on a consistent basis.
“Jarred Vanderbilt — they’re like WOW.” — TRUE
It took a little longer because of his foot injury, but Jarred Vanderbilt definitely wowed us when he debuted at South Carolina — even if it was a “Wow, he’s rusty, but finally, someone playing with energy!”. With the rust off, Vanderbilt has finally hit his stride, averaging 9.5 points and 11 rebounds in Kentucky’s recent four-game winning streak. Foul trouble limited him vs. Florida, but Vanderbilt’s impact on this team is undeniable, particularly on the boards.
“There’s no reason for P.J. to be a bad free throw shooter.” — Painfully TRUE
PJ Washington struggled with his free throws in Egypt this summer, shooting only 40%, and even though he’s improved that to 62%, man, it would be nice to see him hit both of them on a consistent basis.
“This could be a team that should play zone.” — TRUE
Kentucky actually played a lot of zone early in the season, but just as you knew he would, Calipari has mostly gone back to man-to-man; however, this team is playing zone on 18.7% of its defensive possessions, by far the most of any Calipari team at Kentucky. For reference, the next closest is the 2013-14 squad, which played zone 5.3% of the time. While Calipari may not use the zone as much as he did early on, even he can’t deny how effective it can be with this group’s length. Count me among those that would like to see it even more this month.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 06th, 2018 @ 10:00pm
Everyone’s focused on the current Kentucky Wildcats’ postseason run, but before the madness begins, let’s take a moment to check in on the future Cats, who are wrapping up their high school careers.
Quickley and Johnson named Naismith All-Americans
Today, Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson earned Naismith Trophy High School All-American honors from the Atlanta Tipoff Club. Johnson was named to the five-man All-American Second Team while Quickley earned honorable mention.
Quickley’s high school career ended on Saturday when John Carroll lost to St. Frances in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal. Quickely had 18 points and finished his senior year averaging 20 points, six rebounds and six assists per game, not bad considering he battled injuries throughout.
Johnson and Oak Hill will play in the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals
Right after the McDonald’s All-American Game on March 28, Johnson will travel to New York to join Oak Hill Academy in the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals, which will be aired on the ESPN family of networks. He’s averaging 22.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.
Tyler Herro and Whitnall continue their playoff run Thursday night
Herro eclipsed the 2,000-career point mark Friday night in Whitnall’s win over New Berlin Eisenhower. Thursday night, they’ll take on Pewaukee in the WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal. Since returning from a calf injury in January, Herro has scored fewer than 30 points in a game only once, when he put up 21 vs. Shorewood on his Senior Night, which was — of course — when I came to interview him for our Next Man Up series.
Read our Next Man Up series!
After Drew’s trip to Oak Hill last week, all three parts are online for your reading pleasure:
- Next Man Up: Getting to know Immanuel Quickley
- Next Man Up: Tyler Herro Fueled by All-Star Snub
- Next Man Up: UK’s Keldon Johnson aims to be Oak Hill’s next big star
Watch this video feature on Tyler Herro
For more on how Herro deals with being called a “snake” by Wisconsin fans, check out this feature from TMJ-4 in Milwaukee:
What about EJ Montgomery?
There don’t appear to be any updates on the EJ Montgomery front. The five-star big man still plans to take more visits, including five official visits, before deciding this spring.
Last week, Ashton Hagans and Montgomery faced off in the Georgia State Elite 8, highlights of which you can see below. Hagans had 31 points and Mongtomery 30, with Hagans’ Newton winning 87-81.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 06th, 2018 @ 9:15am
New details have emerged regarding Bam Adebayo’s alleged encounter(s) with a sports agent while Adebayo was still an amateur, and they include a receipt from everyone’s favorite chain fondue restaurant, The Melting Pot.
In a new report from Yahoo! released overnight, we learn Adebayo is alleged to have had dinner with Stephen Pina, an agent from ASM Sports; and Eric Peartree, the shady figure who once played the role of guardian and mentor in Adebayo’s life, prior to Adebayo’s move to Kentucky. The dinner occurred at The Melting Pot’s Charlottesville, Va. location, following a day at the NBA Players Association’s Top 100 Camp back in the summer before Adebayo’s senior season of high school.
According to the dinner receipt presented in the report, each of the three men had the “summer catch” for $21.99 a plate, one side of the crab snow claws for the table, and one cranberry juice. Their bill came to $89.68, on which they left an $18.00 tip to bring it to $107.68, which is well beneath the NCAA’s “payback” threshold of $200.
Yahoo!’s reporters on the story — Pat Forde (of course), Pete Thamel (of course) and Dan Wetzel — then acknowledge the dinner is “insignificant,” although it is part of a bigger problem for amateurism:
The significance of this meeting is how seemingly insignificant it was. It was dinner; a good dinner, but not some glitzy wining and dining. There is no evidence of bags of cash or new cars or anything you might see in a movie. There is no suggestion Pina was steering Adebayo to any school (he was uncommitted at the time but later attended the University of Kentucky for the 2016-17 season before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Miami Heat). Adebayo never even signed with ASM.
It reaffirms, however, the challenge for college sports leaders who are finally confronting the issue of how a young player’s free-market value runs counter to the NCAA’s standards of amateurism.
Bam Adebayo denies the meeting.
It’s also important to note that Adebayo dropped Eric Peartree from his life prior to college.
All things considered, Kentucky fans shouldn’t have any concerns about this being connected to the school in any way. If anything, we should be impressed that three people got out of The Melting Pot for under $100 before tip.
By Nick Roush on ©March 05th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
1. Josh Paschal Moves Inside
Josh Paschal started his Kentucky career as an outside linebacker. Dubbed the “jack,” Paschal was forced to play behind Denzil Ware. To get the talented freshman more reps, Mark Stoops and Matt House created a third down pass-rushing package that put Paschal’s hand in the dirt as a defensive end. The majority of his 4.5 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2017 came from the defensive end position out of a three-point stance.
This year Kentucky will make Paschal’s move to defensive end permanent. Stoops said Paschal initiated the conversation to move inside to one of UK’s three interior defensive line positions.
“He said, ‘Coach, I believe that I could help the team and we’re better off if I move inside.’
“I said,'”Well, then let’s get eatin.'”
Stoops’ joke got a few laughs, but he meant it quite literally. Paschal had to really watch what he ate to stay near 260 pounds. Stoops believes he can get up to 280 or 290 and still be explosive at the line of scrimmage. Right now Paschal is “a couple biscuits from 270.”
What makes this move so important? Kentucky had a glut of outside linebackers and a bad defensive line. This move solves both problems and puts the best athletes on the field.
“We haven’t had a difference-maker inside in some time and I definitely feel he has that kind of ability,” Stoops said. “He’s a guy that’s hard not to play. He needs to be on the field playing for us. He’s definitely one of our best 11. Just because we have some depth at outside backer, you don’t want him sitting there on the sidelines next to me.”
Out of the defensive end position, Paschal made one of the biggest hits of the year at Southern Miss.
2. QB Battle will take Time
The biggest storyline of the spring season probably will not bear any news for quite some time. The head coach likes what he’s seen so far from Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson, but he has not seen much. He can judge arm talent in a couple practices, but he can’t simulate how they’ll respond when a play breaks down. If that’s not a good enough reason to be patient throughout the process, just look at the NFL.
“There’s some NFL guys that are unbelievably talented, right. They have hundreds of personnel people. They could work guys out. They could come talk to them. They can work them out as many times as they want, and they pick guys and it’s boom or bust. Some guys slip to the fifth, sixth, seventh round and become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady. Or some guys are picked No. 1 and don’t work out.
“So obviously they don’t have it figured out. I think with us to act like we can just watch one or two or even a spring practice and think we have it figured out…I don’t know if we have the ability to do that.”
Stoops doesn’t know who will play quarterback, but he believes play at the position will improve (no offense, Stephen).
“I feel confident that we’re going to improve at that position. As much as we love Stephen and what he’s done for us, I think we’re going to improve.”
3. Secondary Coaches Search for a Title
When Stoops added Brad White to the coaching staff as an outside linebackers coach, it forced Dean Hood to the secondary. In what capacity, Stoops is still unsure.
“It’s very evident to me, already, that that will help. There’s a lot to the secondary,” Stoops said. “It will help having both of those guys there.”
As of now, Stoops wants both coaches in the same meeting room. He’ll sort out the specific responsibilities at the conclusion of the spring season.
4. Early, Unpadded Practices are Stupid
NCAA rules mandate that teams slowly integrate pads into practice. Teams get two days in helmets, then two days in helmets and shoulder pads before they can wear full equipment.
It’s intended to ease players into action, when in reality it leaves players vulnerable to collisions that result in emergency room trips. The first practices are always filled with sloppy excitement. Adding equipment can do nothing but benefit player safety. It might not have kept Justin Rigg out of the hospital, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
5. Freddie Called It
In The Depth Chart Podcast’s spring season preview, Freddie Maggard predicted that Yusuf Corker’s name would be mentioned early and often. On the first day of practice Stoops said the redshirt freshman corner caught the coach’s eye.
“I think we’ve got to get use Yusuf involved a little bit. I think Yusuf really caught our eye in the offseason. He really, you know, as far as measurables has been very impressive. He’s very strong. He’s very fast. He’s moving better and changing directions better. So I think you have to bring Yusuf along in some way.”
See everything Mark Stoops had to say at this morning’s news conference after the jump.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 05th, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Despite impressing on the big stage in the Champions Classic back in November, at home against Louisville, and again at home versus Florida, sophomore big man Sacha Killeya-Jones has had minimal opportunities to thrive for the Cats. To make matters worse, the Kentucky frontcourt has been incredibly inconsistent, specifically from freshman starting center Nick Richards. The opportunity for playing time has been there, but for some reason, Killeya-Jones has been unable to take advantage.
During today’s SEC head coach teleconference, John Calipari was asked about the decline in Killeya-Jones’ minutes as the season has progressed. Cal’s response: he’s just behind the pack.
“He’s got guys in front of him that are doing pretty good and deserve minutes too,” Calipari said, mentioning Richards, Vanderbilt, Washington, and Gabriel as guys consistently out-performing Killeya-Jones.
At first glance, Vanderbilt, Washington, and Gabriel are obvious. They’ve each had their moments in conference play and have produced in major ways in one form or another. But Richards? Come on, now.
When taking a closer look at the numbers, however, the freshman center comes out on top by a fairly significant margin.
Killeya-Jones’ PER-40 statistics are 10 PPG, nine RPG, and 1.6 blocks per contest, to go with a true shooting percentage of roughly 60%. He also maintains a 115 overall offensive rating per 100 possessions, and a 103 defensive rating PER-100. (In incredibly simple terms, the higher the offensive rating and lower the defensive rating, the better. It boils down to overall points produced compared to the number of possessions a player has individually. You want to score more points per possession on offense, and allow fewer points on defense.)
For Richards, he’s averaging 14.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks PER-40 minutes, along with a TS% of 65%. His offensive rating sits at roughly 128, while his defensive rating is sitting pretty at 99 on the year, both better than the sophomore forward. If you’re looking at just advanced numbers, you’d expect Richards to be a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor.
But sometimes, the eye test can be the best indicator of overall success.
Killeya-Jones understands the game of basketball much better, but doesn’t have the physical intangibles Richards provides. That’s been determined from the start.
Richards provides high-energy and the potential for highlight plays. But if the vast majority of opportunities result in muffed passes and missed opportunities, how long are we willing to wait for that “potential” to come to fruition. Killeya-Jones is seen as the more “polished” prospect on offense when given more minutes, with the ability to rely on him to score in the post and from mid-range. For whatever reason, SKJ’s leash is much shorter than Richards’, and any mistakes made almost immediately results in (more) time on the bench. Has this been a key reason for Killeya-Jones being unable to find his groove in the latter half of this season? It’s certainly a possibility.
Richards has only broken the double-digit point barrier three times since conference play began, and has laid a fat goose egg in four SEC contests. In fact, the five-star center has managed five points or less in 17 games this season, despite starting in 31 of them. He has seen a steady minute reduction as the season has gone on, but he has always gotten the call at opening tip. Where you’d expect Killeya-Jones to be given an opportunity in Richards’ decline, he has played in just 33 total minutes over the last six contests.
Nonetheless, they both struggle with foul trouble, they both get lost on defensive assignments, and they both miss gimmes at the rim, with some of Richards’ misses coming in the most mind-boggling ways imaginable.
As the regular season officially comes to a close and with the SEC tournament gearing up this week, the question Calipari needs to address is just what to do with the starting lineup/main rotation, specifically in the frontcourt. Do you continue to hope for the best with Richards? Do you give Killeya-Jones a chance to start or allow him major minutes this late in the game?
The simplest answer may be to avoid the situation entirely and go with your most trusted group of players. I would have liked to see Killeya-Jones with a longer leash earlier in conference play to see if any sort of rhythm or chemistry could be established, but time for (major) experimentation has passed. You have to take your best rotation and roll with it.
Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, and PJ Washington. That’s your go-to lineup. That’s the core group you need to start and finish games with. That’s the group Kentucky needs to live and die with in the NCAA tournament.
Gabriel has been solid, and likely needs to be the first man off the bench. His energy and ability to hit outside shots will prove to be incredibly valuable when the offense inevitably slows up at one point or another in the tournament. Hamidou Diallo has been far too inconsistent, but he has no other option than to take a step up during postseason play. The backcourt has a bit less flexibility than the frontcourt, so he’ll have to provide relief for Green and SGA. We can only hope he thrives under the lights in the tournament, similar to his performances earlier in the year against Kansas, West Virginia, and Louisville.
Unless something miraculous happens in St. Louis this weekend, then comes Richards and/or Killeya-Jones for brief stints to provide rest and/or foul trouble relief. Build chemistry with the main guys, and work the two big men in as the game progresses, not the other way around. Trying to force a square peg in a round hole this late in the year is just begging for stress with the season on the line.
The Cats built major momentum during their four-game losing streak, and a lot of it came from that core rotation. The team reverted to hero/iso ball against Florida on Saturday, but the blueprint is still there for sustained success and an impressive run in the tournament.
The Oscars are officially here, where the year’s best movies will be celebrated and honored on the big stage.
With football season over, postseason play starting in basketball, and several other fall sports coming to a close, it’s time to present the season victories for Kentucky athletics.
And the award goes to…
Winner: Kentucky vs. Tennessee (Football)
The Wildcat football team certainly had “prettier” wins (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Missouri), but their victory over the Tennessee Volunteers had everything you look for in the Best Picture.
The perfect antagonist, the poor start from the protagonist, the crushing injury, the resilient comeback story, and the gut-wrenching finale.
With the clock winding down, we saw Stephen Johnson’s epic go-ahead Superman touchdown dive with 33 seconds remaining, followed by the double-reverse touchdown throw to Benny Snell for the two-point conversion.
To put the icing on the cake, we saw one final punch from the villain, with the Jarrett Guarantano hail mary completion coming just two yards short of the end zone.
The Cats knocked out the vile orange creatures from Knoxville, and the world was better for it.
Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Benny Snell (Football)
Johnson was the team’s quarterback, but the bulk of the load went to star running back Benny Snell.
And he embraced it flawlessly, filled with heart and passion for the game.
In the lead role this season, Snell earned AP first-team All-SEC honors, led the SEC in rushing touchdowns (18) and total rushing yards (1318).
For team records, the sophomore back broke nearly all of them, setting the school record for most rushing yards by a sophomore, total rushing touchdowns (31), rushing touchdowns in a season (18), and most points in a season (110.)
Oh, and we get him for another season.
Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Maci Morris (Women’s Basketball)
The women’s basketball season certainly didn’t go as planned, but junior guard Maci Morris took over as the team’s star and ran with it.
In the regular season, Morris averaged 17.2 points per game, good for seventh in the SEC. She shot 47% (69 of 147) from beyond the arc and 83.7% at the free throw line, and also managed 3.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.2 steals a game. In her game against South Carolina, she scored 35 points, just the third player in Kentucky history to reach that mark in an SEC game.
She also dealt with a nagging knee injury, but still led the team in scoring 19 teams during the regular season.
Morris came in her freshman year as a local fan-favorite from Bell County, and has slowly become one of the most impressive shooters in the SEC.
The Cats needed a go-to player, and they found one.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Basketball)
To start the year, point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was expected to be a solid role player off the Kentucky bench. There were whispers that he was impressing in preseason practices, but no one truly thought he would be a star contributor this season.
Heading into postseason play, the freshman guard has been the team’s most consistent player, averaging 13 points, five assists, and four rebounds per contest, single-handedly willing his team to victory on several occasions.
Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo were expected to be the dominant one-two punch at the guard position this season, but Gilgeous-Alexander was able to overtake each of them by the start of conference play.
His shooting has been impressive, his length on defense has bothered opposing offenses, and his relentless work ethic has been admirable, to say the least.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Winner: Sydney McLaughlin (Track and Field)
McLaughlin turned heads in the Summer Olympics in 2016, and surprised the Big Blue Nation by signing with Kentucky out of high school.
Ever since she got here, she has been an absolute rockstar, breaking national and world records for the Cats. The Track and Field team has been one of the best in the SEC, both men and women, but McLaughlin has taken the girls to a whole new level.
Just last month, McLaughlin won the women’s 400-meter event with a final time of 50.52 seconds, good for first in SEC history, second in NCAA history, and is also considered the junior record.
She dominates in both relays and single events, and will almost certainly be the face of the Olympics in 2020.
And she’s a Wildcat.
Animated Feature Film
Winner: Kentucky Volleyball
If there is one team on campus that got fans fired up this year, it’s Craig Skinner’s bunch.
The best volleyball team in school history made an epic run to the Elite Eight this season, broke attendance records time and time again, and even took down No. 1 Florida back in October.
They finished the year with a school-record 29 victories, including a 14-game winning streak in the middle of the season and a 17-1 record in conference play.
Fans couldn’t help but gravitate toward this dominant squad, and momentum around the program will certainly continue going into next year.
Winner: Nick Mingione (Baseball)
When Nick Mingione arrived in Lexington back in June of 2016, a rebuild was expected for the baseball program. He set a goal to head to Omaha in his debut season, but many fans scoffed at the idea of any major postseason run this early.
Just one year into his head coaching career, Mingione was only two games away from the College World Series, as the Cats made it to the school’s first-ever Super Regional.
Last March, he helped break ground on a state-of-the-art $49 million baseball stadium set to open this fall.
This season, the baseball team is off to an incredible start, kicking off the year with an 11-1 record as a consensus top-10 team in the nation. The high hopes for a College World Series Mingione hoped for last season are well in reach, if not likely at this point.
Thanks to Mingione, Kentucky now has an elite baseball program set to dominate for years to come.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 03rd, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Kentucky’s Saturday loss at Florida wasn’t all that surprising. Florida always plays Kentucky well in Gainesville, plus the Gators had already beaten the Cats in Lexington earlier in the season, so expectations weren’t particularly high going into the game. But how Kentucky lost at Florida was very disappointing, considering how well the Cats looked the last two weeks.
Florida led for all but 57 seconds of the game, and by as many as 23 points in the second half. That’s a butt-kicking, and the butts were kicked at a time when John Calipari’s team needed to close its regular season on a high note. A good Kentucky team should never be down 23 to any team, even on its worst day. It certainly shouldn’t happen when things were looking up for the squad on the final Saturday before the postseason.
It was even more disappointing that Florida didn’t play a great second half, yet Kentucky still couldn’t do anything when the door swung wide open for a potential comeback. The Gators went eight minutes without a made basket in the second half, but you wouldn’t know it if you only saw the final score.
So where did things go wrong for the Cats? It’d be easier to list what went right, but we’ll try. For starters, the one obvious advantage going into the game was Kentucky’s rebounding, but Florida hung right with them on the glass. Then there’s the free throw woes; Kentucky hit only 13 of its 22 attempts for a 59 percent clip from the stripe. It’s hard to win any game shooting 59 percent from the line.
Three-point shooting was also bad, not counting Quade Green’s perfect 3-for-3 afternoon from outside. Hamidou Diallo had three horrible misses in three tries (I couldn’t help but laugh when he posed as he air-balled one) while Kevin Knox hit only one of his five attempts. Collectively, UK went 6-of-18, with Green hitting half of the team’s made threes.
It didn’t help that some players had pretty bad individual performances with little to no contributions whatsoever. Diallo and Nick Richards — bless their hearts — are the two players who fall into this category. Diallo was 0-for-7 from the field with several wide open looks, and Richards continued his ongoing struggles. Wenyen Gabriel should also fall into the category, although he did sink a three-pointer, so there’s that, I guess. Calipari was very critical of him in the postgame interview.
Moving on down the line, Kevin Knox was okay but needed to do more, which has been the consistent theme in UK’s losses this season. Fair or not (and it’s probably not), he’s the one guy who has to bring it every time out. If he struggles, the team struggles. Today was no different.
Lastly, the backcourt of Green and Gilgeous-Alexander made some plays and combined for 28 of UK’s points; however, Gilgeous-Alexander’s five turnovers took away from his team-high 17 points.
With all that said, this is a game we should throw out as a bad performance and move on. It shouldn’t reflect poorly on the progress this team has made and the potential of making a run in the weeks ahead. Kentucky reminded me of the Kentucky team during the four-game losing skid, back when the offense was out of sync and certain individuals just couldn’t do anything right. The assist column also resembles those sadder times; Kentucky had only six on Saturday.
We should call it what it was: a bad game.
Until we know Kentucky’s seed in the SEC tournament, we’ll have to put the conversation about UK’s chances and path to the trophy on hold. But if Kentucky can earn the double-bye and the No. 4 seed (which would mean Missouri beat Arkansas in the 6 pm game), I like Kentucky’s chances as much as anyone’s in St. Louis.
The obvious and strong counterargument to that is Kentucky went 0-for-5 against the top three seeds in the regular season, but the addition of Vanderbilt and the backcourt of Green and Gilgeous-Alexander has the team playing its best basketball these past few weeks; Gainesville not included. On a neutral court with Big Blue Nation dominating the Scottrade Center crowd, Kentucky can beat any of those three teams. Not to mention, Auburn is down one of its key players for the rest of the year, and there’s an old saying that you can’t beat a team three times in one season. Tennessee and Florida would have to do that, should they meet the Cats again in the tournament.
Of course, we also have to acknowledge the worst case scenario, too. Say Arkansas beats Missouri and Kentucky falls to the No. 5 seed, it’s hard to imagine UK’s young and inconsistent team winning four straight games in four days. Even worse: the 12/13 seed could send Kentucky home on Thursday if Kentucky plays poorly and has one of those five-minute scoring droughts from the past, which always resulted in a loss.
We have plenty of time to dissect the tournament in the days ahead, but it’s lining up to be an exciting event with the best basketball its had in years. For Kentucky, the postseason is full of unknowns, but the Cats can do something special if they play their best basketball, which we’ve already seen in small glimpses. As much as we want to debate the team’s tournament ceiling right now, we won’t truly know anything until we see which team shows up when the ball is tipped in the first game — hopefully on Friday.
By Nick Roush on ©March 03rd, 2018 @ 8:07pm
The Tigers held off the Arkansas Razorbacks with a 77-67 win to give Kentucky the four-seed and a double-bye in the SEC Tournament. Kentucky’s first game will tip-off at approximately 3:00 ET on March 9th in St. Louis. John Calipari’s Wildcats have never played an SEC Tournament game on a Thursday.
The SEC Tournament bracket will be finalized later tonight when the winner of Ole Miss-Vanderbilt clinches the 13-seed and becomes UK’s potential quarterfinal opponent.