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January 22nd, 2019

Scouting Report: Mississippi State Bulldogs

(Photo: Spruce Derden, USA TODAY Sports)

Fresh off their biggest SEC road win of the Calipari era, UK will return home to take on another top 25 team tonight at Rupp Arena. After the ballyhooed hire of Ben Howland, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are finally seeing legitimate results in his fourth season.

With a roster that has a nice mix of upperclassmen to go with young talent, State has spent this entire season in the top 25. It would take a crazy turn of events for this team to not be dancing come March. Behind a senior wing and a tough as nails junior point guard, the Bulldogs have the potential to compete for an SEC championship.

Most people are ready for that huge clash against Kansas on Saturday, but the Cats have a tough challenge tonight. Mississippi State is a tough and skilled basketball team. They will not be intimidated by the stage and UK will have to play well to improve to 5-1 in SEC play.

Nuts and Bolts

After a four-year run at Pittsburgh that included two Big East titles, Ben Howland made the move west to run the program at UCLA. At the end of that tenure he was labeled a bust, but after the mediocre run by Steve Alford it’s hard to look down on Howland’s run in Westwood.

In Los Angeles, Howland recruited and developed multiple pros and led the Bruins to three straight Final Fours from 2006-2008. In 10 seasons, Howland led UCLA to 233 victories, three 30-win seasons, four Pac-12 titles, and seven NCAA Tournaments. After missing the tournament in two of his last four seasons, it was time for a change.

Howland sat out for two years before he jumped back into college coaching. After reeling in five-star recruit Malik Newman in his first recruiting haul, expectations were high. However, State got off to a very slow start. It took until year three before the Bulldogs made the postseason. That was last year when they recorded 25 victories and made it to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Semifinals. Now they’re destined to breakthrough for the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 2009.

The highs have been high and the lows have been low for this basketball program. Since 1996, Mississippi State has reached a Final Four, claimed an SEC regular season title, and won three SEC Tournaments. During that time they’ve also had six losing seasons. You can win big here, but it is very hard to keeping it humming in consecutive seasons.

Tonight will be the 107th meeting between the two programs with Kentucky owning an 88-18 series lead. Mississippi State is the only SEC team that is winless against John Calipari at Kentucky. The Wildcats have won 11 in a row against the Bulldogs. State’s last win occurred in February 2009 in Rupp Arena.

Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 6.5 point favorite with a total of 144.5. That’s a projected final score of 75.5-69. Both Kentucky and Mississippi State are 8-9 against the spread. The over is 5-2 in State’s last seven games. Kentucky is 2-3 against the spread as a single-digit favorite. Each defeat resulted in a straight up loss. The two covers occurred on the road by double-digits. This will be the first time Mississippi State has been a dog all season.

Backcourt Breakdown

History tells us that Ben Howland’s teams are more known for their hard nosed defense and less for their scoring punch. This team is nearly the opposite. The Dogs can put the ball in the hole and it all starts with a three-headed attack on the perimeter.

Malik Newman got all of the attention in Howland’s first class, but it’s now fair to say that Quinndary Weatherspoon has developed into the better college basketball player. The 6-foot-4 guard plays the three for the Bulldogs and was a second team All-SEC member as both a sophomore and a junior. He started the 100th game of his career in this past weekend’s win over Vanderbilt and he paces this squad.

The senior from the small town of Canton, Mississippi leads the team in minutes (32.9) and points (16.6). He’s second on the team in rebounds (5.8) and assists (2.9). He’s an above average three-point shooter, but what he does best is attack the basket. Weatherspoon is attempting just under five foul shots per game and there he is shooting over 80 percent. He’s a very good basketball player.

With any team with a really good offense, you have to have a point guard that drives the car. Mississippi State has exactly that in junior lefty Lamar Peters. The New Orleans native has been starting since his freshman season and he’s been outstanding this year.

The six-foot lead guard ranks fifth in the SEC in assists (99) and is shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc. He’s a solid defender and is pouring in over 13 points per games.

You need one more guard to have a true small ball lineup and that is where Nick Weatherspoon comes in. The younger brother of Quinddary has become a very quality player in his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-2 combo guard is Mississippi State’s most prolific three-point shooter (19 makes on a 46.3 percent clip) in addition to being very efficient from two-point range. He’s an excellent role player and is the future of this basketball program. Weatherspoon averages 10.3 points per outing and that means that all three of State’s starters in the backcourt average double-digits.

Off the bench, Mississippi State uses combo guard Tyson Carter to fill in at each spot. The 6-foot-4 hometown kid from Starkville is playing over 20 minutes per game and has been one of the most productive bench players in the SEC. Carter is putting up just under 10 points per game and has been this squad’s most efficient offensive player in a somewhat small sample size.

Frontcourt Breakdown

The Dogs may be small in the backcourt, but they are very long at the four and five. In the post, the Bulldogs have experience and rim protection, but they also have a guy that can step away from the bucket.

Aric Holman is a 6-foot-10 senior from Owensboro, Kentucky who will be having a homecoming of sorts tonight at Rupp Arena. The stretch big has had an excellent career in Starkville. This season he is having a career year.

The lengthy forward is averaging over 12 points per game and is shooting 44 percent from three. He’s recording over eight boards per game and leads the team with 38 blocks. This squad is ran by its perimeter players, but Holman is a very integral piece.

Next to him in the starting lineup is sophomore Abdul Ado and the 6-foot-11 big from Nigeria is your more traditional five. Ado will get all of his buckets in the paint and he’s an effective free throw shooter when fouled. He’s a solid shot blocker and is a piece that fits very well in Mississippi State’s scheme.

Off the bench, Ben Howland has the luxury of a five-star freshman at his disposal. Reggie Perry was a huge recruiting win for the Bulldogs and Mississippi State is being able to bring him along slowly. The 6-foot-10 and 245-pound rookie is playing nearly 20 minutes per game and is this team’s best rebounder. With this option off of the bench, State has the length to give UK’s frontcourt a ton of problems.

If Mississippi State wants to play big, they can put freshman Robert Woodard II in the lineup. The 6-foot-7 freshman is another solid young piece for Ben Howland and he’s been productive in limited minutes on the wing. The four-star prospect hasn’t been really good at anything particular yet, but he is a player with a lot of potential.

Keys to Victory

  • Mississippi State has done a great job at roster construction and the Bulldogs can play a lot of different ways. They can get big, go small, and play a mix of both at the same time. With a skilled big like Aric Holman, UK will find its defense in a bind. One of UK’s bigs is going to have to consistently play away from the basket. Kentucky is going to see a heavy dose of ball screen actions and how they defend it could determine the game. Reid Travis has struggled with this all season. Add that in with the size State’s frontline presents and this could be a game for E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards.
  • With the personnel Mississippi State has in the frontcourt, it’s going to be important for UK to take advantage of its strengths on the perimeter. After scoring just six points in the win over Auburn, UK will need Ashton Hagans to take on more of a scoring role tonight. Mississippi State doesn’t have a guard physical enough to stay with Hagans and he should do a lot of damage when he’s playing downhill. His drives to the basket should result in some easy lay-ups and good looks for teammates. Getting Mississippi State’s shot blockers constantly moving will be key. This is what Hagans can provide with the dribble drive.
  • Feels like we mention it every game, but it will once again be important tonight. As a team, Mississippi State is shooting over 38 percent from behind the arc. This ranks 26th in the country. Due to the stretch ability of Aric Holman, this will be a unique challenge for UK to take on. Every guard Mississippi State plays can shoot and the multi-dimensional ability of Holman will put UK in a bind. The Wildcats must be ready to close out on shooters.
  • Basketball is a team sport and I believe that a lot of time individual matchups are way overstated. They’re good talking points, but rarely does an isolation contest between two players win a game. However, that could be different tonight. It’s hard to imagine UK winning without Keldon Johnson playing well. Going against one of the best wings in the SEC, Johnson needs to build off his 20-point outing in the win over Auburn.

 


BBNBA: With Anthony Davis sidelined, Julius Randle leads Pelicans to victory

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Recap:

  • In case you missed it over the weekend, Anthony Davis sustained a finger injury that is going to keep him out of action for a week or two. In the meantime, Julius Randle gets a chance to lead the Pelicans, and last night he took advantage of the opportunity. Randle scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out 5 assists, and had 2 steals. The big-lefty did rack up seven turnovers, as the ball was in his hands much more often than normal to create on his own, but New Orleans was able to knock off the Grizzlies, 105-85.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks continue to tear up through the first half of the season, sitting atop the standings in the Eastern Conference. Last night, they earned a 10-point victory over the Dallas Mavericks, despite rookie phenom Luka Doncic recording his first career triple-double. Former Cat Eric Bledsoe was the second-leading scorer for Milwaukee last night, finishing with 21 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals.
  • Klay Thompson started off hot in last night’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers, making his first 10 three point attempts, which is an NBA record. The game was in hand for almost the entirety of the second half, but DeMarcus Cousins did get to start and play in his second game of the season. From watching the game, you could tell that Cousins definitely has some rust to shake off, on top of getting his conditioning back to top level. Big Cuz left a lot of jump shots just short, which tells me that he was running out of gas with the frantic pace the Warriors were playing at throughout the game. Regardless, Boogie had 8 points on 2-9 shooting, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Stats:

PlayerResult PointsFG (3FG)Reb.Ast.StealsBlocksTOs+/-Mins.
Julius Randle105-85 win over Grizzlies206-9 (0-1)125207+1027
Darius Miller105-85 win over Grizzlies31-4 (1-4)10022+1528
Eric Bledsoe116-106 win over Mavericks218-16 (1-7)45202+1933
DeMarcus Cousins130-111 win over Lakers82-9 (0-2)95001+2421
De'Aaron Fox123-94 loss to Nets94-14 (1-2)36103-1629
Willie Cauley-Stein123-94 loss to Nets126-8 (0-0)62000-2027
Bam Adebayo107-99 loss to Celtics134-6 (0-0)72123+028
Patrick Patterson127-109 win over Knicks21-2 (0-1)00000+59
Nerlens Noel127-109 win over Knicks63-5 (0-0)80202+020
Hamidou Diallo127-109 win over Knicks31-2 (0-0)31001-117
Kevin Knox127-109 loss to Thunder83-8 (2-3)42010-2227
Enes Kanter127-109 loss to Thunder115-11 (0-1)31000+019
Isaiah Briscoe122-103 win over Hawks21-5 (0-0)23000+1220

 

Highlights:

Schedule:

  • Sacramento Kings (De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere) at Toronto Raptors, 7pm ET
  • Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder (Nerlens Noel, Patrick Patterson, Hamidou Diallo), 8pm ET on NBATV
  • Los Angeles Clippers (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) at Dallas Mavericks, 8:30pm ET
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (Karl-Anthony Towns) at Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker), 9pm ET

@BrettBibbinsKSR


BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Toughest 3-Game Stretch of the Calipari Era?

Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky faces a very important week of games this week with visits from Mississippi State and Kansas on the schedule.  After last weekend’s win over Auburn, it seems the Cats are close to righting the ship and their NCAA Tournament resume has started to build.  But UK needs a few more marquee wins to really try and lock down a 2-seed and this week provides a great opportunity.

It also will mark a rare occurrence for UK fans.  This will mark the first time in 13 years that UK will play three consecutive regular season games against ranked opponents.  Since 1992, it has only happened SIX times, and only in 2 of those instances did UK finish undefeated in that stretch:

1994 (1-2)
#11 UMASS (Win), #3 Arkansas (Loss), at #14 Syracuse (Loss)

2000 (2-1)
#16 Utah (Win), #22 Maryland (Win), #8 Arizona (Loss)

2001 (2-2)
#25 Notre Dame (Win), #4 Tennessee (Win), at #21 Ole Miss (Loss), at #18 Alabama (Loss)

2003 (3-0)
#10 Notre Dame (Win), #24 Auburn (Win), at #15 Alabama (Win)

2004 (3-0)
#9 North Carolina (Win), #20 Vanderbilt (Win), at #20 Mississippi State (Win)

2006 (1-2)
at #21 LSU (Loss), at #11 Tennessee (Win), #17 Florida (Loss)

UK is faced with a unique situation this week.  Not only a chance to face three straight high level opponents but the chance to beat them all.  Most UK teams have not been able to.  The ones who were?  Two #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  Just sayin.


KSR Show Thread 1/22: Get Ready for Mississippi State

A day after celebrating the win over Auburn, the Kentucky Sports Radio crew is prepared to get you ready for the game against Mississippi State.  I’m sure there won’t be any Starkville jokes made. Zero.

Join in on the fun by calling (502) 571-1080 or send a text to the KSR Texting Machine at (859) 300-3264.

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TODAY ONLY: Free UK hat!

The KSR Shop and Kentucky Branded are having a special one day offer. Do you like FREE UK gear?! Well, head to ShopKSR.com, spend at least $40, and you will receive a FREE UK hat!

Go pick out a KSR sweatshirt, long sleeve tee, UK apparel, and more. Receive that FREE UK hat while supplies last. Offer ends at midnight!

[KSR Shop]


January 21st, 2019

KSR’s Top 10 Tweets of the Day presented by Liquor Barn

Kentucky-proud and locally-owned, Liquor Barn has been serving Big Blue Nation for over 30 years! Liquor Barn and Party Mart are where Kentuckians go to celebrate life. With more than 4,000 Spirits, 5,000 wines, 3,000 Beers, and 700 Kentucky Proud items, we are your celebration destination! Visit any Liquor Barn store to discover all our Kentucky Proud products, find exclusive bourbons, and chat with our certified bourbon and wine experts. 

Download the new Liquor Barn app to order for pick-up or delivery, save your favorites, and get exclusive deals. Use code BBN18 for one month of  *FREE delivery!

Visit LiquorBarn.com to shop now, download the app, or see what’s happening in your local store. GO CATS!

*Delivery available in Bowling Green, Danville, Elizabethtown, Louisville and Lexington areas. Promotion covers delivery fees only. Minimum order for delivery is $20. Complimentary delivery on all orders of $75 or more. Must be delivered to an address. Must be 21+ to download the app and accept a delivery. Valid photo ID required.

#10 Baseball Mom

Seeing this just has me more amped to see the Bat Cats play next month…and to see warm weather.

#9 Brett Swift

It’s simple math.

#8 Pat Horton

This is true. Eat it, everyone else.

#7 Braden

We’re living in a simulation.

#6 Jeremy Tackett

I expect to see this kid under center for the five-time college football champion Kentucky Wildcats.

#5 Danny Tewes

WHY YOU GOTTA DO ‘EM LIKE THAT ERIC????

#4 Mason Miles

The best recruiting pitch of them all. Who wouldn’t want to live/play here?

#3 John Robic’s Hair

I found this very relatable. Still amazing content though.

#2 Patrick Daniels

YOU HEARD THE MAN.

#1 Johnny Versace

*Jim Ross voice* What?? It can’t be…that…that’s gotta be Johnny Versace!!!

Follow and/or tag me on Twitter and you might see one of your tweets make KSR’s top ten tweets: @BrentW_KSR


Why Tomorrow’s Mississippi State Game is the Most Important of Kentucky’s Season

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

The rollercoaster that is the 2018-2019 Kentucky Wildcats season took another wild spin this weekend, when the Wildcats picked up a massive road win at Auburn on Saturday night.

The victory was everything that any Kentucky fan could have hoped for when the season began. Ashton Hagans was the fiery (and at times, potty-mouthed) leader that this team needs. Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson made clutch shot after clutch shot, and PJ Washington did all the little things needed down low to help the team win. Most importantly, Kentucky was a team that showed no fear. Auburn didn’t get back in the game because of some Kentucky meltdown, but instead because they are a big-time team that made big-time plays. But to Kentucky’s credit, every time the Tigers threw a punch, the Wildcats took it on the chin. Then they threw their own counterpunch until they knocked Auburn out for good and emerged with a massive victory.

Ultimately that was a gutty performance, and one that showed just how far this team has come. It also showed that when this club is locked in, there really aren’t any teams in college basketball they should fear. Kentucky already has a resume that includes wins at Auburn, at Louisville and against UNC on a neutral court, and by the way, that early win against UNC-Greensboro is better than most realize (Greensboro is currently sitting at 17-3 overall this season and in second place in their league standings). And with games this week against two more ranked foes, Mississippi State and Kansas, it isn’t inconceivable that the Wildcats could look up at this time next week and have just about the best resume in all of college basketball. Seriously, wins against Mississippi State and Kansas to go along with at Auburn, at Louisville and North Carolina would give the Wildcats just about the best resume in college hoops.

Of course to get that resume, they need to win both of those games.

And that my friends, brings me to the point of this article: To me, the Mississippi State game tomorrow night at Rupp Arena might just go down as the most important regular season game the Wildcats play all season long. That game will show us “who” this team. And what their ceiling truly is.

Now before we go further, I already know what some of you are thinking: “Torres, you so crazy!” Mississippi State isn’t even close to the biggest game on Kentucky’s schedule. The Wildcats have already played Duke, UNC and Louisville. They still have Kansas and two games left with Tennessee. How in the world is Mississippi State more important than those?

Well, the answer is simple really. No, Mississippi State isn’t Duke, UNC or Louisville. They certainly aren’t Tennessee or Kansas either. But what they are, is a good, veteran team that isn’t afraid to come into Rupp Arena and won’t be afraid of the “Kentucky” across the front of the Wildcats jerseys. The Bulldogs are a veteran, battle-tested team, with a senior point guard and four starters who are juniors or seniors. More importantly, at just 2-2 in the SEC with a gauntlet of games ahead, they absolutely have to win this game.

And to me, that’s why this game is so important for Kentucky, and why it will teach us so much about this team’s psyche and makeup: Will the Wildcats come out tough and hungry to pick up a win? Or coming off a massive road victory, will they come out with a sense of accomplishment and be too busy looking ahead to the weekend game against Kansas? Because I’ll tell you this: If Kentucky doesn’t come out focused tomorrow night, Mississippi State is good enough to pull off the upset.

That’s also why this game carries so much weight for the rest of the season. It isn’t about any one individual game, but instead, showing what the identity of this team is.

The bottom line is at this point, we already know Kentucky is a big game team. In their last three major games, against major teams, in major hostile environments, the Wildcats proved to be fearless. Wins at Louisville and Auburn are no joke, nor is a victory over North Carolina in Chicago. As we’ve learned, when the lights are bright, Kentucky comes out ready to go.

On the flip side, what we’ve also seen is that when it isn’t a major game and when the opponent isn’t quite so marquee, the Wildcats can also come out a little… meh. Remember, for all the excitement about the win at Auburn, this is also a team which fell behind 10-0 to Texas A&M before rallying back to win. This is the same team that fell behind to Vanderbilt as well. The Wildcats are also the same team that came out completely flat at Alabama and lost. Again, Mississippi State is not the kind of team you want to come out flat against, or fall behind by 10 or 12 points to. Do that and you will walk out of the arena with a loss.

And by the way, that doesn’t just go for Mississippi State, but just about everyone in the SEC. Sure, the focus right now is on Tennessee at the top of the standings. But make no mistake, there are plenty of others who will hand you a loss if you don’t come out ready to go, whether it’s LSU or Ole Miss, Florida, LSU, you name it. It also means that just as quickly as the good vibes of a win over Auburn or North Carolina can come, they can go with a two or a three game-losing streak. This Kentucky team is really good. But they aren’t invincible.

So who are the 2018-2019 Kentucky Wildcats?

A group who gets up for big games but can look past the lesser opponents?

Or a group full of dogs, who come out focused and ready to do whatever it takes to win every single time they take the court?

We’ll begin to find out on Tuesday night against Mississippi State.

(By the way, we spoke quite a bit about the Auburn game and what lies ahead for Kentucky on Monday’s Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Click here to download today’s episode, and go back and listen to Episode 104 when Mississippi State coach Ben Howland joined the show)


Johnny Versace Joins Hey Kentucky!

You’ve heard his voice on KSR.  Now see Johnny Versace on Hey Kentucky!

One of KSR’s most famous callers joined the program to help Matt and Drew play a game of
“Big Deal or No Deal.” The two talked about Ja Morant, Calipari vs. Barkley and much more.

Click here to see the rest of tonight’s episode of Hey Kentucky!


Four Things You Missed from Kentucky Wildcats at the Shrine Game

Shrine Game

While you were watching the Kentucky basketball team defeat Auburn, Derrick Baity and Bunchy Stallings were representing the University of Kentucky in the 94th East-West Shrine Game.  Here’s what you missed from the East’s 21-17 win.

1. Baity Balled

Playing in his hometown, the 6’2″ cornerback started for the East and recorded four tackles, the fifth most on his team.  Baity had to get involved against the run because they rarely threw the ball his way.  He made most of his highlights during the week of practice.

2. Bunchy one of the Best

Kentucky’s All-American did not start for the East, but that doesn’t mean he did not capture the attention of scouts in the stands.  One noted that offensive line play at the Shrine Game is typically rough, yet Stallings was still one of the four best at the game.

3. Meetings with NFL Personnel

The Shrine Game is an excellent preliminary NFL Draft tryout.  Scouts get a chance to reinforce what they’ve seen on film, while front office personnel can sit down for one-on-one interviews with players.

Ten NFL general managers were at Tropicana Field throughout the week.  Baity reportedly met with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota and Cincinnati, while Bunchy had discussions with the Bills and the Vikings.

Shrine Game

4. No C.J.

Kentucky’s 1,000-yard tight end did not finish the week in Tampa after suffering a minor injury in practice.  From what I understand, he would have played if it was a real game.  His absence should not hurt his draft stock.  In fact, it tells me that he’s in such good shape, he did not have to push it to play.

Shrine Game

Three more Cats — Darius West, Mike Edwards and Lonnie Johnson — arrived in Mobile, Alabama today to prepare for Saturday’s Senior Bowl.  We’ll keep you updated on their progress throughout the week.