Mondays aren’t always the most exciting day of the week, but this week it means that college basketball is officially BACK! Kentucky hasn’t played since Saturday, March 7th when they overcame an 18-point deficit with less than 12 minutes to play to beat the Florida Gators down in Gainesville. That may seem like a lifetime ago, but now we have more basketball to look forward to for the first time since the postseason was cancelled.
Right now, my head is absolutely spinning. Tennessee just joined Ole Miss and Florida on the list of SEC teams that have had to pause team activities due to the Coronavirus. Rick Barnes tested positive himself. Baylor has officially left the Empire Class at Mohegan Sun meaning that Arizona State is back in. On the bright side, Coach Calipari announced this afternoon that there are currently no Coronavirus issues with the Bluegrass Showcase. We knew today would be a big day around the sport of college basketball due to the testing schedule, but we better all buckle up for a wild ride until tip-off on Wednesday. Hopefully half of what I talk about in this article will still be relevant by the time you read it!
Each week, ‘This Week in Kentucky Basketball” will give a quick-hitter on the opponents that UK will be facing along with any major storylines surrounding the team, while also giving a look around the SEC with updated records and standings and taking a broader look at the best games across the country as well. Just think of it as your college basketball primer for the week. Let’s dive right in!
Kentucky Storyline of the Week
Keion Brooks is OUT
Coach Calipari said this morning that the team would likely be without Brooks for this week’s games. He has been battling a lower leg injury and had been limited in offseason workouts and practices for quite some time. However, after seeing him participate at Pro Day and Big Blue Madness there was some growing optimism that he would be ready to go this week.
That is obviously not the case now as Coach Calipari said he could potentially be out for all three games. This will open the door even wider for Isaiah Jackson to get a lot of run early and often this season after garnering a ton of hype in the last month.
Morehead State (Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time SEC Network)
Led by former Kentucky Men’s Basketball staffer Preston Spradlin, the Eagles of Morehead State went 13-19 last season including a 7-11 record in the OVC. Despite losing their two leading scorers it is actually expected for Morehead to take a step forward this season.
A pair of Freshman in big man Tyzhaun Claude and guard Ta’lon Cooper were the Eagles’ two most efficient players last season and should take a big step forward given larger roles. Both Claude and Cooper are guys that could be in the rotation for some SEC teams. The return of Devon Cooper, who missed last season with a medical redshirt after starting all 33 games as a Sophomore, will provide additional experience as well. James Baker is another returning starter who averaged 9.1 points per game last season.
Morehead State will also have a handful of impact transfers who should help raise the talent level right away. There will be a much more thorough breakdown on Wednesday when I release the Scouting Report, but just know that this team will be better than their 13-19 record of last season shows.
Detroit Mercy (Friday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time SEC Network)
From the perspective of a Kentucky fan this game is all about John Calipari versus Brad Calipari. However, the most exciting storyline of this matchup will be how the Wildcats can guard Antoine Davis. The son of Head Coach Mike Davis, Antoine has been one of the leading scores in the country through his two season in Detroit averaging 26.1 points per game as a Freshman and 24.3 a game last year. Davis is making 3.88 3-pointers per game for his career.
Coach Mike Davis attempted to revamp the roster around his son after the Titans went just 8-23, including a 6-12 mark in the Horizon League. Detroit will feature five transfers that all could see minutes on Friday evening. We will know more about what their rotation will look like after getting a chance to see them play against Richmond on Wednesday evening.
Richmond (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time ESPN)
When looking at the Bluegrass Showcase this will be the marquee game. Kentucky will go up against one of the most, if not the most, veteran teams in the country. Richmond’s expected starting five includes 439 games played and 328 starts, and that isn’t including Nick Sherod who suffered a season-ending right knee injury. The Spiders will run a traditional Princeton offense and that style of play is especially effective with guys that have run it consistently in the past. This team features three All-A10 performers from a year ago and Richmond went 24-7 last year including a 14-4 mark in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Richmond only lost one rotation player from last season outside of the injured Nick Sherod so you can learn a lot from watching this team on film from a year ago. Point Guard Jacob Gilyard is one of the best defenders in the country and will go down towards the top of the NCAA record book in steals. Big man Grant Golden is incredibly versatile and has scored nearly 1500 points in his career already. Guard Blake Francis is the leading returning scorer after pouring in 17.7 per game last season. He is an elite shooter that must be accounted for at all times.
The Spiders are for real and this will be a legitimate test for Kentucky to begin the season. It is probably a good thing the Wildcats will have a couple of games under their belt, but this is definitely a game to circle on your calendar for the week to sit down and watch. How UK performs against Richmond will be a great litmus test for how far along they are early in the season.
Around the Southeastern Conference
Ole Miss, Florida, and just as of about an hour ago #12 Tennessee have had to shut things down due to Coronavirus concerns, but there are still seven SEC teams set to tip their respective seasons off on Wednesday. Tennessee will announce their plans regarding the MTE they were scheduled to play in with VCU and Charlotte at some point tomorrow according to Jon Rothstein.
On Friday, #1 Gonzaga will play Auburn at 11:00 a.m. on Fox. Earlier today it was announced that star Freshman Point Guard Sharife Cooper may be forgoing his season at Auburn to explore other options including playing professionally overseas. Yesterday, Coach Bruce Pearl and company announced that they would be self-imposing a one year postseason ban.
There are currently scheduled to be 20 games played between Wednesday and Sunday featuring SEC teams not counting the games already postponed/cancelled by Ole Miss and Florida. It is likely that a couple of Tennessee games will be postponed/cancelled by this time tomorrow. As we all know, this season is ever-changing so it will be interesting to see how many of those 20 games actually end up being played.
National Games to Watch
If you are a hardcore fan and just need basketball in your system you can turn on San Francisco vs. Towson at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. However, if you want to go ahead and wait for some more marquee matchups we’ve got you covered.
At 4:00 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2 you can get your first look at Preseason First Team All-American and projected top NBA Draft pick Cade Cunningham as Oklahoma State plays UT Arlington. Louisville will host Evansville at the same time as well.
Memphis and their plethora of talented transfers and incoming new talent will tip-off at 4:30 on ESPN against St. Mary’s. ESPN continues their coverage at 7:00 p.m. with #3 Villanova versus Boston College, but their nightcap between Baylor and Arizona State has been cancelled after Arizona State decided not to play due to concerns over Baylor’s Head Coach Scott Drew testing positive for Coronavirus.
Arizona State is withdrawing from the Empire Classic due to medical concerns involving Baylor, per source. Sun Devils were slated to open with Bears. Still a chance ASU plays at Mohegan Sun with different matchups.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) November 23, 2020
Fast forward to Saturday and you can get looks at #9 Duke against Coppin State and #13 Michigan State against future UK opponent Notre Dame. Duke was scheduled to play Wednesday evening against Gardner-Webb but that game was cancelled due to a positive Coronavirus case among the Gardner-Webb team.
On Sunday after the Kentucky game on ESPN, #17 Houston and #14 Texas Tech will face off at 5:00 p.m. on the Worldwide Leader.
When looking at the tip-off tournaments to follow make sure you check out the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic out in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and all of “Bubbleville” taking place at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Both of those events will dominate the airwaves on ESPN and ESPN2 throughout the week and weekend.
It should be a great opening week of basketball. Enjoy!