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Is Nick Richards’ return more important than EJ Montgomery’s?

While all eyes and ears have been focused on EJ Montgomery and his ongoing decision between a sophomore season and a chance at the NBA, another question mark is being partially overlooked. Nick Richards is facing the same decision as his teammate, and while his potential may not be as high as Montgomery’s, is Richards’ decision more important for Kentucky’s future?

At least one person thinks so. National basketball analyst Corey Evans, of Rivals.com, claims Nick Richards’ decision will have a larger impact on UK’s success next season than EJ Montgomery’s. Off the bat, Evans is clear he believes Montgomery is a more skilled basketball player. On the other hand, Richards brings something more unique to the Cats’ roster – his height.

As it stands now, Richards (who’s 6-foot-11) is the only player listed above 6-foot-8. His ability to block shots and protect the rim is something we’ve seen glimpses of, and we know the potential is there, based on his wingspan and some of the more-impressive blocks we’ve seen throughout the past two seasons. Has he blocked as much as fans would like or as the coaching staff may have expected? Probably not. But he did finish the season with 47 total blocks (1.3 rejections per game), more than any other player on the roster. He was followed by PJ Washington’s 43 and Montgomery’s 38.

While EJ Montgomery and Nate Sestina will play more-similar styles, Richards’ is the only guy on Kentucky’s current roster who has this particular skill set. Here’s how Evans puts it:

“For Kentucky’s sake, though, Richards is a big body that can rebound and alter shots, assets that not many on its current roster can claim to do, which would be the perfect complement to the wealth of perimeter firepower set to enroll.”

Evans goes on to point out Richards’ age – he’ll be 22 years old by the time next year’s Draft rolls back around. Even though he’d be junior Nick Richards, he’d already be the age of most graduating seniors.

For me personally, Montgomery’s potential and build still puts him highest on my priority list of returners. Aaron Torres even calls him the most important stay-or-go prospect in the Draft. And yet, Corey Evans makes an excellent point in singling-out Richards’ individual assets that are unfamiliar to the rest of Kentucky’s roster.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. is listed at 6-foot-10, and his presence in the front court could have a massive impact on the Cats’ success next season. But much like Richards and Montgomery, his future is still viewed as a question mark, and there seems to be growing suspicion he’ll try his hand at the NBA Draft.

There’s also a distinction to be made between a sophomore Montgomery, a junior Nick Richards and a grad transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., as Kentucky has seen what a few years of experience can do for the locker room and down the stretch of the season. None of these guys are the same as Reid Travis, but it’s reasonable to compare their levels of experience, especially under the spotlight that comes with UK Basketball.

The NCAA’s deadline for players to withdraw from this year’s NBA Draft and retain their college eligibility is 11:59 p.m. this Wednesday.

[Rivals]


Lexington, KY considered eighth-best college basketball city, No. 33 in basketball overall

Lexington, KY considered eighth-best college basketball city, No. 33 in basketball overall

Kentucky has always been considered a basketball state, and according to a recent study by WalletHub.com, we have the numbers to back it up.

WalletHub, a financial help resource, put together a list of all of the best (and worst) basketball cities in America. According to the website’s description, the study put together an equation that factored in attendance, fan engagement, stadium accessibility, and ticket costs, among 21 total key metrics.

Out of 290 total cities, Lexington, KY was rated as the eighth-best college basketball location and No. 33 in basketball (professional or college) overall.

Here is the entire list of top 25 college basketball cities in America:

  1. Durham, NC
  2. Los Angeles, CA
  3. Lawrence, KS
  4. Philadelphia, PA
  5. East Lansing, MI
  6. Storrs, CT
  7. Chapel Hill, NC
  8. Lexington, KY
  9. Fayette, MS
  10. Loretto, PA
  11. New York, NY
  12. Morgantown, WV
  13. Kingston, RI
  14. College Park, MD
  15. Washington, DC
  16. Ann Arbor, MI
  17. Bloomington, IN
  18. West Point, NY
  19. Boston, MA
  20. Charlottesville, VA
  21. Cincinnati, OH
  22. Fayetteville, AR
  23. Lewiston, NY
  24. South Bend, IN
  25. Buies Creek, NC

Beyond Lexington, six other cities in Kentucky made the list, but they might not be in the order you expected. Surprisingly, not only is Louisville not the No. 2 basketball location in the state, they’re not even in the top three.

Here are the rankings of Kentucky cities based solely on their status as a prime college basketball location:

  • No. 37 Murray, KY
  • No. 40 Highland Heights, KY
  • No. 44 Louisville, KY
  • No. 96 Morehead, KY
  • No. 119 Bowling Green, KY
  • No. 174 Richmond, KY

And the rankings of those same cities in terms of both college and professional basketball combined:

  • No. 57 Murray, KY
  • No. 60 Highland Heights, KY
  • No. 64 Louisville, KY
  • No. 112 Morehead, KY
  • No. 132 Bowling Green, KY
  • No. 184 Richmond, KY

Murray AND Highland Heights ahead of Louisville? Ouch.

What do you guys think of the lists?

(WalletHub.com)


Kentucky’s run defense will set the tone in 2019

Kentucky’s run defense will set the tone in 2019

For the first time since his arrival last season, Mark Stoops fielded a top notch defense. The Wildcats were paced by a bunch of seniors including All-American edge Josh Allen who became the best individual defender in the country. Thanks to these efforts, the Wildcats finished 15th in defensive efficiency per S&P+, ranked 37th in the country in yards per play allowed, and ranked second in the SEC in scoring defense. Kentucky did all of this with just 20 takeaways forced (ranked 57th nationally). That’s really impressive.

Gone are Allen and all of UK’s secondary starters to the NFL. So it’s clear where first year coordinator Brad White is having to rebuild heading into 2019. Leaving the spring session, Kentucky still has major concerns at corner in addition to finding a consistent option to play the edge opposite of Boogie Watson (Florida State transfer Xavier Peters could help in this regard). However, UK looks to be very strong in the belly of the defense. You usually would rather have that opposed to the opposite.

It starts in the middle of the unit with your Mike linebacker and Kentucky has a good one in Kash Daniel. The former blue-chip recruit finally lived up to his recruiting hype last season in his first time starting. The Paintsville native posted 84 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss in 12 starts. Very solid numbers for any linebacker in their first year starting.

Where Daniel really shined was defending the run. He has some kinks to work out when asked to play in space, but he was excellent when playing downhill. The inside linebacker flashed some really solid instincts shown by his ability to consistently get home on run blitzes and having great timing when shooting gaps. His 9.5 run stuffs (tackles at or behind line of scrimmage on rushes) ranks fourth among all inside linebackers returning to the SEC in 2019. He’s a quality starter and will be a key cog in UK’s run defense.

During the draft season the story of Josh Allen and his development within the Kentucky football program became national news. The former high school receiver went from two-star to top 10 pick after just four years in Lexington. Following the historic year, he collected every individual award you could nab and will go down as one of the greatest to ever wear the blue and white. It will be hard to top his story, but the one of Calvin Taylor, Jr. has put together will be pretty close.

The Georgia native was an unranked recruit out of high school and a late addition to the class of 2015. Recruiting services pegged the 6-foot-9 prospect as an offensive tackle, but the UK staff liked what they saw from Taylor on the defensive side of the football. After two years of development, he finally cracked the rotation in 2017.

That year as a bench piece, Taylor ranked second among all defensive linemen with 22 stops before breaking through as a redshirt junior. This past fall he posted 26 tackles, but became much more effective with his six tackles for loss. But where Taylor really made an impact was in the running game.

The upperclassmen who has played both defensive tackle and defensive end in UK’s 3-4 scheme and recorded 9.5 run stuffs which tied for second on the defense. Obviously, Josh Allen left some big holes after posting 24 run stuffs, but Taylor feels like a guy who be due for a big time senior season. Keep up the development and the versatile defensive lineman who will be a very intriguing 2020 NFL Draft prospect.

Despite recording over 90 tackles and 19 sacks on a very good Cordova High School team in the Memphis area his senior year, Quinton Bohanna was marked a low three-star prospect by the recruiting services. Despite the ranking, Bohanna quickly became one of the most valuable players out of the class of 2017. The nose guard was a full-time starter by the end of his true freshman season and seemed poised for a breakout sophomore year. Unfortunately, an ankle injury suffered against Florida limited him this past season.

Despite the issues, Bohanna flashed during his sophomore season and recorded four tackles for loss to go with 4.5 run stuffs. He will need to prove he can stay healthy and play for a larger sample size, but he has the frame (now over 360 pounds) and ability to make a prominent  impact.

Quinton Bohanna, Kash Daniel, and Calvin Taylor, Jr. are set to be key cogs in Kentucky’s defense this fall. New defensive coordinator Brad White needs each to play at a high level. However, they are not the only answers this defense will have. Chris Oats and Joshua Paschal were both blue-chip recruits entering their sophomore season. They could be due for a big leap. T.J. Carter, Phil Hoskins, and Kordell Looney are three defensive linemen who have all played a lot of snaps. Davonte Robinson has all of the tools to become UK’s next draft pick out of the secondary.

The secondary and edge rush is a concern that will not be solved until the real football is played. It is vital that the belly of the defense steps up their game during this transition time. It’s clear that they have the personnel to take advantage. Stop the run and you’ll a great shot at success no matter who you’ll play in the SEC.

 


2019 five-star forward Jaden McDaniels commits to Washington

2019 five-star forward Jaden McDaniels commits to Washington

2019 five-star forward Jaden McDaniels has made his decision.

As expected, the 6-foot-10 prospect out of Federal Way, WA has decided to stay home and play for the Washington Huskies.

He made the following post on Twitter this evening:

McDaniels, a consensus top-15 prospect, chose Washington over Kentucky, San Diego State, Texas, and UCLA.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen multiple momentum shifts in this recruitment. Washington was seen as the favorite for the majority of his senior season, but recently, Kentucky took over as the (temporary) favorite.

In the end, though, the draw of staying at home to play in front of friends and family every night won out. Instead of playing in the spotlight several hundred miles away in Lexington, he’ll have the ability to distance himself from the pressure at Washington one more year before making the jump to the NBA.

We’ll have more on the decision and what it means for Kentucky moving forward in Pilgrim’s Insider Notes tomorrow afternoon.


Can Kentucky’s SEC East middle tier dominance continue?

Since the hiring of Eddie Gran and placing Stephen Johnson behind center, the Kentucky football program has been on a remarkable run. The Wildcats have won 24 games in this time, have been to three consecutive bowl games, and have four top 25 victories. All of a sudden the results are starting to show up for Mark Stoops and we’re starting to see the national media take notice. 

Fresh off their first double-digit win season in over four decades, the Wildcats now appear to be in a great position moving forward. UK has solid roster balance with proven depth at most spots. The coaching staff has a wave of momentum on the recruiting trail with eight home games looming for this upcoming season. It would be hard for things to be in much better shape for the program, but getting to this point has taken some consistent victories over division opponents.

It’s clear that UK still has a ton of ground to makeup to catch what Kirby Smart is cooking in Georgia. Even with the win in The Swamp to end the streak under their belts, the Wildcats are still behind Florida. Despite their struggles this decade, UK has only been able to claim two victories against Tennessee with zero coming away from Lexington. Where the Wildcats have made their hay is against the rest of the division.

Since 2016, Kentucky is an impressive 9-0 against Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. However, this process has not come easy. Kentucky has won six of these nine football games by one possession and seven of these nine squads have been bowl teams at the end of the season. This is an incredible run that has been filled with some very dramatic moments.

Kentucky is 13-11 in league play in the last three seasons with nine victories (69.2%) coming against their division foes they have so much in common with. For the Wildcats to get to bowl eligibility, the recipe has always been the same. Take care of business in the non-conference, pick up an upset or two, and beat your common conference opponents. The Wildcats have done this and more during this recent run.

Entering the 2019 season, however, the task will be tall to continue this dominance. Missouri is fresh off a top 15 S&P+ finish with Clemson grad transfer Kelly Bryant in CoMo ready to take over for second round pick Drew Lock. The Tigers will be on nearly every preseason top 25 poll and could very well be undefeated when they roll into The Kroge on October 26th. South Carolina returns fourth-year starter Jake Bentley at quarterback with a defense that should be the best of the Will Muschamp era in Columbia. Vanderbilt loses four-year starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur, but has three NFL talents in running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb, and tight end Jared Pinkney. Sooner or later that close game success could start to go the other way.

This run has been impressive, but Kentucky has to start winning consistently against the big three in the SEC East. After going winless against the trio of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in his first four years, Mark Stoops finally got on the board and recorded a win in each of the last two seasons. However, he’s currently 2-16 against the trio in his coaching career.

Kentucky’s program is in a very good place. The Wildcats are fresh off three a top 15 finish highlighted by a win in The Swamp and a Citrus Bowl trophy due to the New Year’s Day victory over Penn State. Kentucky just had the best NFL Draft in program history and it’s starting to feel like Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow are putting together a top 2o class for the 2020 recruiting hall. Now the next step is to start consistently collecting victories against the historic divisional blue bloods.

Kentucky has emerged as the best middle tier program in the SEC East by their ability to consistently win close football games against common foes. This has given them a chance to compete for a divisional crown into November and reach two bowl games in the Sunshine State. But for the program to take the next step, the Wildcats have to start consistently collecting wins versus the big three. The streaks against Florida and Tennessee have been snapped, but now the Wildcats must start collecting wins more consistently. Ending the nine-game losing streak against Georgia would help the cause. So would beating Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt every season.


Was Vince Marrow a fan of Bobby Petrino and the old football staff at Louisville? “No, not at all.”

Over the course of the Mark Stoops era at Kentucky, the coaching staff’s recruiting philosophy has changed quite a bit. At the beginning, they tried to sign any and all of the the top three and four-star prospects they could get their hands on, no matter where they came from.

As they’ve established themselves on the recruiting trail and wins are coming at a more consistent rate, the staff has been able to be a bit more selective with high-level prospects and their focus has shifted a bit.

Among many other areas of focus, keeping Kentucky’s top high school talents in-state has become one of the staff’s biggest priorities as of late.

After signing five in-state talents in 2019, they’ve already got two of the top 2020 prospects in the state committed to Kentucky in John Young and Beau Allen for 2020. And it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.

In an interview with KSR this morning, Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said that Mark Stoops told him specifically that he needed to recruit the state of Kentucky harder and keep them from going to other local schools.

“When Mark Stoops came to me last year, he was like, “We need your presence more in Kentucky.” We were losing a lot of the top guys, they were going other places.”

According to Marrow, that momentum shift happened back in 2016 when Kentucky defeated Louisville on the road with Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson leading the Cardinals.

Ever since, recruiting in-state talent has come easy for the UK coaching staff.

“I think when we beat Louisville two years ago with Lamar [Jackson] down there, it showed people we were on the right track,” he said. “But still, we had to really get down and recruit harder in Louisville. I think in the past, we were recruiting kids [from there], and they were using negative stuff against us. I’m not going to go into what they were saying, but once I went down there and cleaned that up, it improved.”

Marrow said that in the past, Louisville negatively recruited against Kentucky, which hurt them with some of the local talents. Now, he has found a way to combat that.

“Louisville, being a city school, they were getting a lot of inner-city kids,” he said. “I don’t know what they were telling them, but I tell them now, “Look, we had the first African-American players in this league. We have a very diverse culture.”‘

A big part of that, he says, was Bobby Petrino’s old coaching staff at Louisville and what he was feeding some of the in-state kids on the recruiting trail.

“And that was the old staff, not the new staff,” he said. “I don’t mind some of the guys on the new staff.”

To put it simply, he wasn’t a fan of Petrino and his assistants.

Not in the slightest.

“No, [I wasn’t a fan of the old staff at UofL],” Marrow said. “No. Not at all. Not at all.”

We couldn’t agree more, Vince.


Vince Marrow compares Xavier Peters to Josh Allen, says there is a “very strong possibility” he is eligible this season

Vince Marrow compares Xavier Peters to Josh Allen, says there is a “very strong possibility” he is eligible this season

On Wednesday, the Kentucky football team received a commitment from Florida State transfer and former four-star pass-rushing target Xavier Peters.

Just two days later, Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow came on KSR to discuss the newest Wildcat and what he’ll bring to the table during his time in Lexington.

To get things started, Marrow said that the transfer actually just became official earlier this morning, meaning this is the first time he was able to talk about Peters publicly.

“It actually just went legal about 10 minutes ago,” he said.

Out of high school, Peters was committed to Kentucky from July of 2017 through January of 2018, but then flipped his commitment to Florida State right before National Signing Day.

When asked about what changed from his original recruitment to now, Marrow said the newest Wildcat simply got caught up in the hype and didn’t follow through with where his heart truly was.

“I mean, when you get Deion Sanders to recruit him personally, that just tells you how (big of a prospect he is),” he said. “He received negative feedback from fans after his decommitment. He got caught up in it all, (Florida State) was just where he wanted to go. Reality set in that he wanted to be with his family, he missed his son.”

At the time of his announcement, we all knew it was a massive get and that he’d end up being a star for the Wildcats eventually. When he’d be eligible to play due to NCAA transfer rules, however, was the only question at hand.

According to Marrow, though, fans should expect to see Peters on the field this fall.

“There is a very, very strong possibility that he’ll be eligible this season,” he said. “He’ll be a freshman.”

And he didn’t even attempt to slow down the hype train, either. When asked about his potential impact at Kentucky, Marrow said he sees a lot of Josh Allen in his game.

“Oh, he’s going to get minutes this season,” he said. “He’s probably the closest thing to Josh Allen, at least physically, right now. Xavier has that ability. He has the potential (to be like Allen).”

Woah.