By KSR on ©March 21st, 2019 @ 8:30am
Posted in Main
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Thanks to our partners for the great prize packages. Picks must be made by noon on March 21st. Enjoy and good luck!
By Maggie Davis on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 10:55pm
BBN, you can exhale. John Calipari isn’t going anywhere.
On Wednesday afternoon, rumors began circulating Coach Calipari showed “serious interest” in leaving UK to accept the UCLA head coaching job. Wednesday night, Calipari took to Twitter to respond to the speculation. He wrote:
“Before I go to bed, let me just say this: I’m coaching at the [University] of Kentucky. In my opinion, there is no better job in the world to coach basketball. My plan and my desire is to retire at Kentucky. I think the university feels the same as I do and we’ve talked openly about it.”
Whew. Rick Pitino, the Bruins’ job is all yours. In the mean time, the BBN should take Coach Cal’s advice:
Now let’s focus on this game tomorrow!
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 21, 2019
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 10:35pm
Go on and turn your television on right now. I assure you one of the major ESPN shows or other sports networks are talking about the Duke Blue Devils this very second. Whether it be one of Zion Williamson’s viral dunks, RJ Barrett refusing to pass the ball (again), or Coach Krzyzsfjhlksjdhfkas being compared to a Greek God in the college basketball world, the publicity is there, just like it has been since the season tipped off.
Now that March Madness is officially here, will the Blue Devils be able to live up to the hype in the East? Or will they fall Mercer-fully in one of the early rounds? Who else has a chance to come out of Washington D.C.?
Let’s take a look.
GAME TIMES/TV INFORMATION
First Four | Tuesday | Dayton, OH
No. 11 Belmont vs. No. 11 Temple (Belmont wins 81-70)
First Four | Wednesday | Dayton, OH
No. 16 NC Central vs. No. 16 North Dakota State | 6:40 p.m. ET | truTV
Thursday | Jacksonville, FL
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Yale | 12:30 p.m. ET | truTV
No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Belmont | 3:00 p.m. ET | truTV
Thursday | Des Moines, IA
No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota | 12:00 p.m. ET | CBS
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bradley | 2:30 p.m. ET | CBS
Thursday | San Jose, CA
No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Liberty | 7:15 p.m. ET | truTV
No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Saint Louis | 9:55 p.m. ET | truTV
Friday | Columbia, SC
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 North Dakota State | 7:00 p.m. ET | CBS
No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF | 9:30 p.m. ET | CBS
ONE THING TO KNOW ABOUT ALL SIXTEEN TEAMS IN THE REGION
1. Duke — RJ Barrett leads the team with 22.9 points per game, followed by Zion Williamson at 22.1 PPG. Cam Reddish is (allegedly) a three-point threat, Tre Jones is great at defense, and Marques Bolden still made the wrong college decision. The team still can’t shoot threes, which as we saw in 2010 with Kentucky, can be detrimental to teams in March.
16. North Dakota State — Only two players on the team, Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward, average more than ten points per game. They defeated NC Central tonight for the opportunity to get destroyed by Duke on Friday night.
8. VCU — The Rams finished with an impressive 25-7 record en route to an at-large bid in the A-10, their first in school history. Despite making the tournament in seven of the last eight years, they haven’t move on past the opening weekend since 2011. Shaka Smart ain’t walking through that door.
9. UCF — Tacko Fall vs. Zion Williamson in the Round of 32. The world needs it. Make it happen.
5. Mississippi State — With guard Quinndary Weatherspoon leading the way with 18.2 points per game on 51 percent shooting and 40 percent from three, Bulldogs finished with a record of 23-10 and the No. 6 spot in the SEC.
12. Liberty — Scottie James is the team’s leading scorer (13.1 PPG) and rebounder (8.8 RPG), followed by Caleb Homesley (12 PPG) and Lovell Cabbil Jr. (11.5 PPG) as double-digit scorers. Myo Baxter-Bell, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound meatball out of Cincinnati, OH, averages 4.9 points (50 percent shooting), 2.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists for the Flames. He might not be a huge star for Liberty, but I love him.
4. Virginia Tech — Led by head coach Buzz Williams, this is Virginia Tech’s highest NCAA Tournament seed ever. They finished the regular season with a record of 24-8 and a ranking of No. 16 overall. Four players on the team average 13 or more points overall.
13. Saint Louis — Former Kentucky guard Travis Ford, who played under Rick Pitino from 1991-1994, has been the head coach at Saint Louis since 2016. The Madisonville native has also coached at Campbellsville, Eastern Kentucky, UMass, and Oklahoma State since graduating from UK. The Billikens won the A-10 Tournament to punch their ticket to the big dance.
6. Maryland — Maryland finished with a record of 22-10 to earn an at-large bid out of the Big Ten. As a side note, do you know Dragan Bender of the Phoenix Suns? His older brother, Ivan, is a redshirt senior for the Terrapins. In case you were curious.
11. Belmont — Led by legendary head coach Rick Byrd, who has accumulated 712 wins at Belmont and 804 overall, the Bruins are considered one of the major sleeper teams out of the East. Three-point specialist Dylan Windler shoots 42.5 percent from deep and averages 20.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game.
3. LSU — The scandal-filled LSU Tigers have taken over the bad boy role in the college basketball world. With head coach Will Wade being caught on FBI wiretap discussing a payment for a player, almost certainly guard Javonte Smart, the Tigers are putting their middle fingers in the air by allowing Smart to play the remainder of the season. It is the school’s first tournament appearance since 2015.
14. Yale — The team’s leading scorer (17.6 PPG) and assister (3.5 APG) also has the coolest name, Miye Oni. Four players on their roster average over ten points per game.
7. Louisville — Led by rookie head coach Chris Mack, the Cardinals put together a solid 20-13 season to get back into the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year. Forward Jordan Nwora is the team’s leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, followed by Dwayne Sutton at 10.2 PPG and Christian Cunningham at 9.8 PPG. After starting the year 17-6 and finding themselves ranked in the top 25 for a brief period of time, Louisville ended the season losing seven of the team’s final ten games. Also, hookers.
10. Minnesota — Led by Richard Pitino (not the hooker one), the Golden Gophers are making just their second tournament appearance in six years and third of their last nine. Guard Amir Coffey is the team’s leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, followed by forward Jordan Murphy (14.8 PPG) and Daniel Oturu (10.8 PPG). Guard Isaiah Washington is also known for inventing the viral “Jelly” layup move.
2. Michigan State — Once again under head coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans are rolling at the perfect time, but it might have come at a cost. After finishing the season on a five-game winning streak, including a victory in the Big Ten title game over Michigan, MSU actually jumped Kentucky for a chance to be Duke’s two seed. They also somehow lost to Indiana twice this season and Louisville once, so maybe they deserved it.
15. Bradley — The Bradley Braves, who are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 13 years, made headlines following their decision to restrict media access to veteran reporter Dave Reynolds for being too negative in his coverage of the team. In non-controversial news, they have six players from foreign countries (Australia, Canada, Cameroon, England, Netherlands, and South Sudan).
BETTING ODDS TO WIN THE REGION
|North Dakota State||+20000|
No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Maryland is absolutely the game to watch out for. Last night, the Bruins defeated the Temple Owls with ease, and star forward Dylan Windler only managed five points on 2-7 shooting and 1-5 from three. Last time he finished in single digits? He followed it up with a 33-point outing the very next game.
With losses to teams such as Seton Hall, Illinois, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska, Maryland is no stranger to disappointing finishes this season.
Windler will come back hot and knock off the Terrapins for the upset.
PICK TO WIN IT
Michigan State is a genuine threat and teams like LSU and Virginia Tech can certainly make a push, but the Blue Devils don’t really have any significant mismatches in their road to the Final Four. As mentioned earlier, they’ve proven to be vulnerable if they go cold from the outside, but it’d be silly to bet against Duke to come out of the region.
More than anything, the Blue Devils coming out of the East allows for a rematch with Kentucky in the national championship game. I can see the “they opened the season, now they’re going to close it” headlines already.
By Brent Wainscott on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 10:30pm
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#10 Coach Cal
41st?!?! They ranked me as the 41st in the field? They couldn’t have seen me play. I was small, but I was slow! LOL! pic.twitter.com/WbwSrMQ8ef
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 20, 2019
#9 Sarabeth Taite
#SBTuesday is in honor of @MarchMadness starting this week… also in honor of my Kentucky boy’s most stressful time of year ? @Colby_Shaw #OldKentuckyHome #MarchMadness #BBN @KYSportsRadio @ShannonTheDude @DrewFranklinKSR @RyanLemond @mrstylerKSR @UKAthletics pic.twitter.com/SQ6O3PRLam
— Sarahbeth Taite (@SarahbethTaite) March 19, 2019
#BBN better cop the album!
#8 Dontaie Allen
Coach is a bucket ? https://t.co/eWLBuYAgEn
— Dontaie A11en (@dontaieallen11) March 20, 2019
From one bucket to another.
#7 Tyler Warfel
— Tyler Warfel (@tylerwarfel) March 21, 2019
Looks like the celebration of Purim is going well.
#6 Karen Miller
Ready for the Madness! pic.twitter.com/yljLfL34Af
— Karen Miller (@Kanbonlyone) March 21, 2019
Will you decorate my house?
#5 Brandon Henry
You know it’s March when the “Cal is leaving for ______” stories come out. ????? #BBN
— Brandon Henry (@BrandonH120) March 21, 2019
A tradition, unlike anyother.. ho hum.
— KySweetheart17 (@KySweetheart_17) March 20, 2019
I have no words and need no further context.
#3 David Scott
— David Scott (@Finna_Go_HAM) March 20, 2019
Blue. Gets. In.
#2 Josh Mullen
— Josh Mullen (@Z8_Showy) March 21, 2019
Whoever did this edit needs a lot of money.
#1 KY Clips
— KY Clips™? (@KY_Clips) March 21, 2019
*Narrator’s voice* It was a great story.
Follow me on twitter and tag me in one of your tweets for a chance to make KSR’s top 10 tweets: @BrentW_KSR
By Maggie Davis on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 10:00pm
It’s March, which means anything could happen. I know it, you know it and John Calipari knows it. Now, it’s his job to make sure his team knows it. How does he do that? The Kentucky Basketball twitter account just gave us a sneak peak into today’s practice (plus a piece of Cal’s motivational speech of the day).
In the video, Calipari reminds the players every team in the NCAA Tournament has an opportunity to advance. They can’t let their guard down in games, which means they can’t let their guard down in practice.
“All the flattery is out the door now,” Calipari says. “Now, you’ve gotta go perform. Get yourself ready.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 20, 2019
The video appears to have been taken during today’s practice in Jacksonville, and PJ Washington does not make an appearance. However, Calipari still expects him to play.
By Maggie Davis on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 9:00pm
When Jared Casey flipped his commitment from the University of Oregon to the University of Kentucky, he instantly became one of the biggest names in the Cats’ incoming recruiting class. Plus, he’s from right here in the Bluegrass State (Louisville, no less) and has relatively-high national rankings, meaning he’s only continued to move up that list.
Casey was ranked as a four-star prospect by all of the major recruiting services, and Rivals lists him as the No. 15 outside linebacker in America. He finished his senior season at Ballard with 70 tackles, 15.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks and one forced fumble in 11 games. There’s no rest for the weary – instead of enjoying his last semester of high school, Casey became one of nine players who enrolled at UK in the spring to start working out and practicing alongside his teammates.
Maybe you knew all of that already. Now, you can learn a little more about the incoming freshman, thanks to our friends in the UK Athletics media department.
In his intro video, Casey reveals who serves as his biggest influence (on and off the field), why he chose to enroll at UK a semester early and what made playing for Kentucky the best choice for him.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 20, 2019
This is my favorite line from Casey:
“I think it’s a big opportunity to play in my home state, to play in the best league in America and come in early and contribute.”
Sounds like a heck of a plan. Get on board, BBN, because Jared Casey means business.
By Maggie Davis on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 8:30pm
Tonight, Matt Jones and Hey Kentucky interview America’s sweetheart, also known as Abilene Christian University’s head coach, Joe Golding.
He’ll talk about his team’s reaction to making the NCAA Tournament for the first time, what makes John Calipari such a great coach and his game plan for beating Kentucky (hint: it starts with keeping PJ Washington in a boot).
Matt and Ryan host the rest of the show in front of UK’s open practice, and some of the players even come to photobomb! They’ll also talk about Matt Bevin, chicken pox and the Thriller parade (what else could you want?!).
Click HERE for the full episode.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 7:30pm
The bracket leak was a bit of a surprise but Kentucky’s seeding was anything but. The UK Hoops squad has been slotted as a six-seed in the Greensboro region with a first-round matchup against the Princeton Tigers. So what do we know about the Ivy League champs? Absolutely nothing! But that’s about to change right now. Let’s talk a look at who the Tigers are and what their matchup against Kentucky might look like.
*Attached to each statistic is the team’s national rank out of 351 teams*
Overall record: 22-9 (12-2 in Ivy League): 11-seed
Points per game: 70.7 (73rd)
Opponents points per game: 63.1 (126th)
Scoring margin per 100 possessions: +11.0 (68th)
Simple RPI: 57.1 percent (50th)
Strength of schedule according to MasseyRating: 42.57 (98th)
Key Wins: Quinnipiac +12 (26-6), Penn – twice (22-6)
Key Losses: George Washington -15 (10-20), Seton Hall -4 (15-15), Penn St. -8 (12-17)
- Just by looking at the resume, Kentucky has a clear advantage over this team. Princeton’s lack of impressive wins does them no favors. Their 2-1 record this season against Penn is the team’s biggest accomplishment (and make no mistake, it is impressive) and an early season win over Quinnipiac – also an 11-seed in the NCAA tournament – show they are capable of taking down good teams.
- But those key losses are bad. After beating Rider in the season opener, Princeton went on to lose seven straight games, three of them coming against the teams mentioned not far above. But I should also note that Bella Alarie – who we’ll talk about more in a minute – didn’t play a game this season until Dec. 8 against Quinnipiac. She’s basically the entire team. Just by looking at Princeton’s record, which sits at 22-9, we can decipher that they eventually turned things around. A 1-7 start ended with a 21-2 run; the two losses coming against Penn and in overtime against Yale. They’ve won 12 in a row since the Yale loss, dominating mostly mediocre Ivy League teams struggling to straddle .500 records.
- The Tigers strength of schedule (98th) doesn’t frighten the Cats at all (who sit at 44th in the same ranking) and they give up a considerable amount of points for a team that played so many subpar opponents.
- The name you need to know more than other is Bella Alarie. You might recall Jack’s recent piece about Alarie and her insane ability to score the ball. She’s put up 45 against Columbia, 38 and 31 against Yale, 41 against Dartmouth, and 33 against Penn. 12 times this season has she posted at least 20 points in a game. She also did not go one game this year without scoring at least 10 points. She leads her Princeton squad in all four categories of points at 23.0 per game (7th in the nation), rebounds with 10.4, assists with 3.3, and blocks at 2.9 (5th in nation). At 6-foot-4, she’s converted on over 52 percent of her shots this season and can step out beyond the perimeter if she needs to (13-40 from three on the season – 32.5 percent). She ranks in the 90th percentile or higher in so many categories, according to Her Hoop Stats, that it doesn’t even make sense to list them all.
- But it’s not all about Alarie. Sure, she is 100 percent the team’s best player and has dominated the stat sheet since conference play began, but the Tigers go deeper than just one incredible player. Gabrielle Rush and Carlie Littlefield are the two dynamic guards for Princeton that will give the Cats fits. They combine to average 26 points per game and both average at least 1.5 steals per game. They can bomb threes with the best of them. Rush, specifically, will do everything in her power to take upwards of 10 threes in this matchup. She’s already attempted at least 10 threes in a game eight different times this season. She shoots right at eight triples per game, connecting on a hair under 35 percent of them. Over two-thirds of her shot attempts this season have been from deep. Littlefield isn’t the same type of sharpshooter – although she’s made 36.2 percent of her threes on 3.9 attempts per game – but is much more adept at getting to the rim. She gets to the charity stripe over four times per game while connecting on over 75 percent of her freebies.
- Outside of Alarie, Rush, and Littlefield, Princeton doesn’t offer much that should scare the Wildcats. Shutting down Alarie would end this game pretty quickly, even if the other two can get hot from deep.
- The statistics show that Princeton is a solid defensive team, although the numbers are heavily inflated by the pure presence of Alarie. She’s an elite scorer, rebounder, passer, and shot blocker who rarely makes mistakes. Just by being on the floor, Princeton goes from a team that lost seven-straight to winning 12 in a row shortly after. She’s going to take 20 shots in this game and will likely make more than half of them. Despite playing in only 22 games this season, she still ranks second in the country in most overall made field goals. It’s going to be the difficulty of the shots Kentucky forces that will decide the game.
- The most notable aspect of this game will be the rebounding war. If you haven’t heard by now, Kentucky is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country – ranking 340 out of 351 in defensive rebounds per game. They are slightly above average on the offensive glass, which can be credited to crafty guards crashing after misses and consistently high energy. But on the other end, their lack of big bodies betrays them. The Cats don’t have anyone who can size up with Alarie on the glass and the Tigers other rebounding expert, Taylor Baur, has been making a living on the glass since January. Baur’s 17.2 rebounding rate ranks above the 90th percentile among all players. Princeton is a middling team in terms of rebounding and are far superior on the defensive end than the offensive end, but the size of Alarie and Baur could make it difficult for Kentucky to sneak in for unexpected boards.
- But here are a few bright signs for Kentucky. Princeton isn’t a great three-point shooting team, something that has plagued the Cats several times this season. The Tigers don’t get to the free-throw line that often, despite posting an impressively high percentage (which Kentucky needs to be careful of, as they send opponents to the line more than most teams). Princeton also allows a concerning amount of shots to go up. They rank among the bottom 150 teams (out of 351) in overall field goals attempted/made. They’ve given up 210 three-pointers this season, 297th worst in the country. Maci Morris just yelped in excitement after reading that stat.
- Here’s what I expect from Princeton. Bella Alarie is going to go off. I don’t think there is any way around that at this point. She is a matchup nightmare for anyone on Kentucky’s roster. Rhyne Howard might find herself guarding the junior the most with Morris, Tatyana Wyatt, and KeKe McKinney giving it their best effort, as well. Princeton is probably going to block a lot of shots. They won’t make many mistakes if they can break a deadly full-court press from the Wildcats. They’ll produce a balanced scoring attack. Rush and Littlefield have to play at the top of their game.
- But Kentucky is going to win, and here’s why.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Kentucky goes nine players deep with a solidified rotation heading into the postseason. The three-headed scoring monster of Howard, Morris, and Taylor Murray is unlike anything Princeton has seen this season. Alarie might be the most talented player on the floor, but Kentucky boasts the next best three.
- The outside shot is going to be vital for Kentucky’s success. As I ran through before, Princeton is not great at defending the three and the Cats trot out four players who shoot over 35 percent from deep. I wouldn’t expect another dreadful 0-16 shooting “exhibition” from downtown as we saw in the SEC Tournament.
- Murray giving both Littlefield and Rush hell in the full-court press will dictate the pace. The two Princeton guards combine to average 4.1 turnovers per game. Murray by herself averages 3.3 steals per game and is infatuated with aggressive ball handlers who think they can outsmart her with either speed or strength. She should have an absolute field day with picking apart the Tigers in the backcourt.
- Once Princeton crosses half court and can get Alarie involved is where they can beat the Cats. It’s hard to mess up when the majority of the Tigers offense is feeding Alarie. Keeping the ball out of her hands at all times will be huge. Expect double teams, maybe even triple teams, coming her way.
- A real test will be Howard, Wyatt, and McKinney battling with the Princeton bigs on the offensive glass. All three Wildcats are above-average rebounders on the offensive glass and a big reason the team earns a good amount of second-chance points.
- My prediction is Kentucky pulls away from Princeton late in the game. There might be some rust coming out of the gate after not playing in over two weeks and the Cats have been notorious for some slow starts in conference play. But the pure talent that Kentucky puts on the court puts them above the Tigers. The bench mob for the Wildcats should dominate the weaker and less-experienced second unit of Princeton. Alarie might go off for 25 points, but if no one else tops 10 then it’s a wrap for the Ivy League champions. Maci Morris needs to come out shooting with no fear. She’s really struggled from the field the last six games (15-61 overall – 24.5 percent) and is averaging under 10 points in those outings. If she can watch that first triple splash right through the net in the opening minute, that might be all she needs to get in a groove. We know what Murray brings with her defensive intensity and rim-driving. We know that Howard is going to get her shots up. A more involved offensive attack featuring McKinney and Wyatt along with a good shooting day from Morris will be the X-factors. A matchup in the second round against the winner of NC State-Maine is on the way.
By Aaron Torres on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 7:00pm
Besides rooting for your own team, the best part of the NCAA Tournament is the upsets. At the end of the day, and at the end of the tournament, it’s basically all we remember besides the national champion. In six months or five years, no one (outside of each team’s fans) will remember if Syracuse made the Sweet 16 or Texas Tech the Elite Eight. But we always remember the Loyola of Chicago’s and Nevada’s and George Mason’s.
Therefore, with the brackets now a couple days old, it’s time to talk upsets. Everyone wants to know which lower seeded teams could pull of a surprise win or two – which is exactly why I’m here today.
To be clear, I’m not saying all these teams will pull an upset, just that they are capable of it.
Here are five double-digit seeds that could win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.
Midwest Region: No. 12 New Mexico State vs. No. 5 Auburn (Thursday, 1:30 p.m. ET)
The Aggies have one of the wildest stories in all of college basketball this season. After making the NCAA Tournament last year (where they lost to Clemson in the first round), New Mexico State lost basically their entire team – 10 players in total. Head coach Chris Jans brought in a bunch of guys, but by the time the season started he still really had no idea who was good and who wasn’t. No one had separated themselves in practice, no one had emerged as a star. Nothing.
So he decided to play just about everybody on his roster, assuming it would sort itself out. But then a funny thing happened: Nobody really stood out, but the Aggies kept winning. So Jans stuck with it.
It led to where we are today, where the Aggies have fourteen different players – FOURTEEN – who average at least 10 minutes of playing time a game, with just one player averaging double-figures in scoring. It’s also what makes New Mexico State a logistical nightmare to prepare for: They have so many guys, that you never really know who can beat you on any given night. They also aren’t susceptible to foul trouble, and aren’t really susceptible to one bad game from one player costing them. If one guy has an off night, there are five ready to step into his place.
Add it all up, and New Mexico State is a team that won’t be worn down by Auburn’s fast-paced style and won’t be scared if the Tigers knock down a few threes – since New Mexico State plays nearly as fast, and shoots nearly as many three’s as Auburn. On the season, Auburn ranked fourth nationally in three-point shot attempts. New Mexico State, eighth.
New Mexico State has been to seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments, but has yet to pick up a win.
Is this the season it finally happens?
West Region: No. 12 Murray State vs. No. 5 Marquette (Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET)
Look, we all know the story of this game: It’s Marquette’s Markus Howard vs. Murray State’s Ja Morant. They’re arguably the two best guards in this tournament and are certainly the two highest scorers. Howard averaged 25 points per game this season, while Morant averaged 24.6. That, to go along with 10 assists per game, which led the nation.
That’s also why I like Murray State so much: They have the best player on the floor, and arguably, the best player in this tournament not named “Zion Williamson.” Morant has proven time and time again that even when teams have time to game-plan for him that he is still unstoppable. Remember, he had 36 points in the Ohio Valley Championship game against Belmont (an NCAA Tournament team), and also played arguably his two best games against the two Power 5 teams that Murray State played this season. Morant dropped a staggering 38 points against Alabama (to the point that he got a standing ovation from the crowd at Coleman Coliseum when the game ended), and had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists at Auburn as well.
? THE FUTURE IS HERE ?
? Ja Morant ? pic.twitter.com/bElGmCVZMg
— Max Frishberg (@MaxaMillion711) March 16, 2019
So if Morant can do that against Auburn and Alabama, why can’t he do that against Marquette? Especially when you consider that Marquette has been abysmal down the stretch, losing their last four regular season games and five of six overall.
Honestly, I’m not even sure this would be an “upset” at this point.
South Region: No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 6 Villanova (Thursday, 7:20 p.m. ET)
Saint Mary’s shocked the college basketball world when they upset Gonzaga to clinch the WCC automatic bid. In the process they sent Twitter into a frenzy, with America demanding to know how Gonzaga could possibly get a No. 1 seed after that game.
But while the story became about the Zags, what it overshadowed was that Saint Mary’s has been playing insanely well of late. Prior to that win, they had won nine of their previous 11 games, with the only losses coming to Gonzaga. Literally, against everyone other than Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s had won every game since late January. And they avenged that loss in big-time fashion, putting on the best defensive effort of the season against the Zags. Not bad, considering Gonzaga played North Carolina, Duke and Tennessee in the regular season.
On the flip side, I know it feels weird to bet against the defending national champions at Villanova, but just know this: In each of the last two seasons, the defending champion hasn’t gotten out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Last year North Carolina (the 2017 champ) lost to Texas A&M in the second round of the Big Dance, and in 2017, Villanova (which won the title the season before) lost in the second round to Wisconsin.
And when you add that in with the fact that Villanova lost four of its final six regular season games, and that Jay Wright has only gotten out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament twice in the last 10 NCAA Tournaments (incredibly, he went on to win the national title in each of those instances), this one feels like it’s way more probable than a lot of people realize.
South Region: No. 13 UC-Irvine vs. No. 4 Kansas State (Friday, 2:00 p.m. ET)
If you’ve been following me on Twitter (and if you haven’t, shame on you) you know that I think the world of UC-Irvine coach Russell Turner. “Man-crush” might be a bit strong. But I did have to restrain from sending him a card on his birthday.
Yes, I’m kidding. I think.
Honestly though, on the court the guy is just a stone-cold stud. He’s won 20 or more games in six of the last seven years, an insane run for a mid-major coach. He has also finished in first or second in his league each of the last five seasons. Usually a coach gets a bigger job before he can have that kind of sustained success.
Of course there’s a reason that he hasn’t gotten that big job yet: The Anteaters (yes, that’s UC-Irvine’s nickname) only made one NCAA Tournament during that stretch, where they lost to Louisville in the first round (they’re the team with Mamadou N’Diaye. Remember him?). And really, that is UC-Irvine’s problem: If you’re a mid-major, it’s hard to get noticed if you don’t make the NCAA Tournament and win games.
That’s also why I’m so bullish on them this season: This is a veteran team, with five senior starters, who have won a ton of games and aren’t afraid of anyone. And they’ve finally broken through in the NCAA Tournament, after years of knocking on the door but not quite getting there.
Two other reasons why I like this pick: One, Kansas State is less than 100 percent, as forward Dean Wade is still recovering from a foot injury. As it stands, it looks like he won’t play in this game.
And two, this game tips off at 11 a.m. local time in California. Kansas State probably already doesn’t want to be in San Jose, and certainly doesn’t care about the opponent. And now they have to play at 11 a.m.? I can’t imagine they’ll be too excited for that.
South Region: No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (Friday, 4:50 ET)
It’s funny because in a vacuum I really do like Wisconsin, and thought they were a team which could make a nice, solid run to the Sweet 16. Then I saw their draw. And I hate everything about it.
The bottom line is that Oregon is red-hot after taking home the Pac-12 title and winning eight straight games, and is the exact kind of team that will give Wisconsin problems. They are hyper-athletic, with NBA bodies and play lights out defense. Incredibly, they have opponents to just 54 points per game during that eight-game win streak, a number which actually skews high after going to overtime in the Pac-12 semifinals. Take that game out, and they’re allowing just 51 points per game over the same stretch.
Point being, Oregon is hot, playing its best ball of the season and is a stylistic nightmare for Wisconsin.
I’m not calling the upset 100 percent.
But it’s absolutely in play here.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 6:30pm
There isn’t a lot to say about Kentucky’s open practice Wednesday afternoon. It was fun for the fans who were there, but there isn’t much excitement to report to the fans back home. It was the usual pre-tournament open practice: the guys went through some very basic drills, waved to the fans and then exited the court one last time before tomorrow night’s game. But I’ll still share with you some general thoughts and observations from the area…
“It’s a dream come true” for the players.
“I think it’s a dream come true for all of us,” said Tyler Herro. “Obviously coming to Kentucky, the coaching staff and just being at Kentucky is going to be the biggest stage in college basketball. We’re just happy to be here. As a team I think we’re ready to go, and just ready to attack this tournament.”
Ashton Hagans added, “Just growing up watching this on TV and now getting the chance to play in this tournament, it’s a big confidence thing, and we’re just ready to come in and play.”
Keldon Johnson said the team is, “regrouped and refocused and locked in.”
Former Cat Stacey Poole brought his new high school team to UK’s practice.
Poole is now the head coach at North Florida Educational Institute in Jacksonville and he brought his entire team out to watch his old college team practice. Once Calipari saw Poole in the crowd, he left the court to catch up with his old player.
Poole was a member of Kentucky’s 2011 Final Four team and then began the 2011-12 season with the Cats before transferring midseason to Georgia Tech.
The Cats are VERY relaxed.
After spending 15 or so minutes in the locker room around the team, it’s clear this group is here to have fun and ready to get going. Keldon Johnson seemed the most loose because he was more worried about getting the mic for the all-access video than he was talking to reporters about his first tournament.
The tension between @JonnyDavid and Keldon Johnson continues to thicken.
— CoachCal.com (@CoachCalDotCom) March 20, 2019
Calipari is also very loose and having way too much.
If you want to feel good about the status of PJ Washington, look no further than how John Calipari is carrying himself this week. He is the swaggiest version of himself and the complete opposite of how he would be if he were overly concerned about his star player. Cal is having a blast down here and still defending himself about surviving in the wilderness in Alaska. Once he learned his players doubt he could make it on his own in the Alaskan frontier, Cal said, “They truly don’t know me. I probably would struggle wrestling a bear, but other than that, I could live off the grid.”
Abilene Christian’s coach is going to be hard to root against tomorrow night.
Did you see what he said about only owning two suits and leaving one at the airport and tearing a hole in the pants of the other? How can you not like that guy? Then he did an interview with Hey Kentucky that will be on the show and online later tonight and he was so excited to do it. He is exactly the way you would be if you were coaching a small school playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. All fun and living it up. I heard there morning practice was a blast too. Is it ok to like Abilene Christian?
Couple of Action Network links for you:
Early this morning, my story on Kentucky’s path to the tournament went up on the Action Network. You can read it here and I’d really appreciate it if you did. I wrote it in the backseat of the KSUV on the way down last night.
The debut of our new show, “Two Guys, One Pick,” is also online now. You can find each one on Twitter via me (@DrewFranklinKSR) or Matt (@KySportsRadio) or the Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ). Here is an example of one that has already been released:
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) March 20, 2019
And with that, I’m off to see what Jacksonville has to offer. Tonight feels like a good night to celebrate some life things.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 6:00pm
With five freshmen on the roster and grad transfer Reid Travis making his NCAA Tournament debut in his only season at Kentucky, only the three sophomores — PJ Washington, Jemarl Baker and Nick Richards — have any NCAA Tournament experience whatsoever. I spoke to two of them, Baker and Richards, to hear what they had to say about the attitude around the team this week.
Baker, who will soon play in his first tournament game after sitting out last year with an injury, said he is excited to finally step out on the tournament floor in live game action.
“This is what you work for as a player,” he said. “You watch a lot of great players before you, just come in and do well in this opportunity. I’m just ready to go out there and play hard and have an impact on the game.”
As for the mindset of his teammates entering the tournament off a tough loss in Nashville, Baker said, “We’re good. We’ve been working real hard, got another opportunity to get out on the court and show what we can do. Now it’s win or go home, so we have to come ready and leave it all on the floor.”
Nick Richards also doesn’t see any hangover from the loss to Tennessee in the SEC semifinal game. He said it was the same process after that loss as it is in any loss.
“It’s always the same when we lose a game — Learn from the mistakes we did in the game and then move on to the next one.”
He too sees an eager team ready to get back on the court, and thinks the newcomers are ready to go.
“They know how to play, they’re competitors, they’re excited for situations like this.”
With uncertainty around the playing status of PJ Washington (although, Cal said he expects Washington will play), Richards may need to step up into a larger role in the frontcourt. If that is the case, Richards will be ready, just as he was when Reid Travis was sidelined late in the regular season.
“Coach has always prepared us for situations like this the whole entire year. He’s always telling us that whenever your time comes to step up and add more to the team, you’ll be prepared for that. It will come naturally.”
By Nick Roush on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 5:30pm
Brad White has been described by many as a tactician, but what exactly does that mean? KyWildcatsTV mic’d up UK’s new defensive coordinator at spring practice to paint a clearer picture.
Josh Allen credits White for teaching him “the little things.” Just how important are fundamentals for outside linebackers? White explains a few different things, like when you should chop your feet vs. sprint, and details the differences in ripping slightly higher vs. a low rip, “I’m cranking it up!”
It’s odd not seeing Josh Allen rushing the passer, but it’s encouraging to see Josh Paschal attack the backfield. One newcomer makes a few appearances: Jared Casey. The four-star linebacker from Louisville has good and bad moments. You’ll be pleased to see how White responds to the latter.
(???) @JoshAllen41_ continually praises @coachwhitefb for being a key component in his development as the best defensive player in country. So, we mic'd up Coach White so you could see for yourself. #BringIt pic.twitter.com/aM3PoCwoBp
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 20, 2019
White and the rest of the Kentucky football team will practice Thursday and Saturday morning to wrap up week two of spring ball.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 5:00pm
Immanuel Quickley earned some pre-tournament love from his head coach during John Calipari’s press conference from Jacksonville on Wednesday. Calipari said the freshman guard has improved significantly throughout the year, maybe more so than anybody on the entire team.
“He’s another one that lives in the gym,” said Cal, in raving about Quickley’s growth. “I’m trying to get him to slow his mind down. In this game we play, you can have your feet move real fast, but your feet can’t move faster than your mind move fast. And getting him to slow down his mind so that he can read stuff better, that’s been what we’ve worked on all season, and he’s getting better and better and better.
“From where he was defensively to where he is now, from where he is decision making and shot making and play making to where he is now, not close. I am so proud of him and so happy for him.”
Cal noted that being able to sub Quickley for Ashton Hagans and vice versa has worked out well for UK’s backcourt.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 20th, 2019 @ 4:20pm
Kentucky ended its open practice in Jacksonville today with a shoot-out from halfcourt, as is tradition at the conclusion of practices. UK assistant Joel Justus was the one to make the shot, draining his first attempt before any of the players got a try.
Justus also hit the halfcourt shot in Nashville the morning of the SEC semifinal game, so this is either a really bad omen or redemption. I say redemption.