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Basketball Season Coverage

ESPN’s latest profile on Jamal Murray: “From Ontario to the NBA”

(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jamal Murray had quite the hot hand during his time as a Wildcat, and now he’s emerging as one of the NBA’s young stars. The 21-year-old point guard for the Denver Nuggets is averaging 18.8 points and 4.9 assists per game, but it’s his constant dedication to perfecting his shot that makes him stand out among dozens of talented players.

In a profile by ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Murray’s intense diligence and consistently-competitive nature are on full display. While his appearances (sometimes up to three in one day) inside Denver’s practice facility are impressive, it’s nothing compared to how he grew up playing the game in Canada:

“Try shooting 3-pointers outside, in the snow, with a bitter Ontario wind ripping through you, after you’ve just held a deep-knee squat for 12 minutes, a cup of piping hot tea carefully balanced on your thigh to make sure you do not waver — all this executed under the watchful eye of your father, a martial arts enthusiast and basketball junkie who has been honing your skills since you were an infant.”

In addition to his physical fitness, Murray also devotes time to improving his mental state. Meditation has become part of his routine over the last several years, and he’s not to be interrupted during this time, “not even during a recruiting visit in 2015 from Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, who approached Murray one day as he finished his workout, only to be instructed by [Murray’s father] to wait while Jamal sat cross-legged, eyes blissfully shut, in a corner of the gym,” according to the profile.

The article also talks about Murray’s upbringing in Canada, his relationship with Coach Calipari and his highest (and lowest) stretches throughout his time in the league. It’s a great read that gives readers a fascinating look into the player – and man – Jamal Murray is becoming.

Check out the entire profile on ESPN.

Sagarin, KenPom predictions for the rest of the season

Kentucky is currently 15-3 overall, 5-1 in conference play. What will that record look like at the end of the regular season?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a time machine, but I do have access to the Sagarin and KenPom ratings, both which include predictions for the rest of the season. Obviously, the chances these numbers turn out to be right isn’t great, but it’s a rainy day, so let’s have some fun and look ahead.

Sagarin Predictor: 27-4, 16-2 in conference play

Kentucky’s current Sagarin Predictor rating is 89.14, ninth best in the country. The home advantage is 3.1. Using those numbers and the numbers of Kentucky’s opponents, the Sagarin Predictor has the Cats finishing the regular season 27-4, the only loss being at Tennessee.

Sat, Jan 26 HOME Kentucky 92.24 Kansas 89.61
Tue, Jan 29 AWAY Kentucky 89.14 Vanderbilt 82.31
Sat, Feb 2 AWAY Kentucky 89.14 Florida 88.82
Tue, Feb 5 HOME Kentucky 92.24 South Carolina 78.24
Sat, Feb 9 AWAY Kentucky 89.14 Mississippi State 88.25
Tue, Feb 12 HOME Kentucky 92.24 LSU 85.66
Sat, Feb 16 HOME Kentucky 92.24 Tennessee 91.03
Tue, Feb 19 AWAY Kentucky 89.14 Missouri 82.18
Sat, Feb 23 HOME Kentucky 92.24 Auburn 88.38
Tue, Feb 26 HOME Kentucky 92.24 Arkansas 81.24
Sat, Mar 2 AWAY Kentucky 89.14 Tennessee 94.13
Tue, Mar 5 AWAY Kentucky 89.14 Ole Miss 86.33
Sat, Mar 9 HOME Kentucky 92.24 Florida 85.72

That’s pretty much a dream scenario and one I’d pay good money to see happen. Unfortunately, there is no way to put a point value on “Everybody’s Super Bowl,” so you have to think the Cats have more slip ups than on the road vs. the current No. 1 team in the country.

KenPom: 23-8, 13-5 in conference play

The Cats are currently No. 8 in the KenPom ratings. KenPom also predicts future games and team’s final records, but the formula for the final records is based off cumulative probabilities, so in some cases — like this one — the numbers don’t match. I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand that, but KenPom’s projected record for Kentucky is 23-8, 13-5 in conference play. That would have them finishing third in the SEC, which could mean the late game Friday night at the SEC Tournament, depending on tiebreakers (gag):

Team Overall Conference Projected
Tennessee 16-1 5-0 15-3
LSU 14-3 4-0 13-5
Kentucky 15-3 5-1 13-5
South Carolina 10-8 5-1 9-9
Mississippi 14-4 4-2 11-7
Florida 11-7 3-3 10-8
Alabama 12-6 3-3 9-9
Auburn 13-5 2-3 10-8
Mississippi St. 14-4 2-3 9-9
Missouri 10-6 1-3 6-12
Arkansas 10-7 1-4 7-11
Georgia 9-8 1-4 5-13
Texas A&M 7-10 1-5 5-13
Vanderbilt 9-8 0-5 3-15

KenPom’s individual game projections are much rosier, showing Kentucky only losing two more times, at Florida and at Tennessee (the far right column is percentage chance to win):

Sat, Jan 26 HOME Kentucky 74 Kansas 69 65%
Tue, Jan 29 AWAY Kentucky 75 Vanderbilt 66 78%
Sat, Feb 2 AWAY Kentucky 64 Florida 65 50%
Tue, Feb 5 HOME Kentucky 82 South Carolina 66 92%
Sat, Feb 9 AWAY Kentucky 72 Mississippi St. 71 51%
Tue, Feb 12 HOME Kentucky 78 LSU 71 74%
Sat, Feb 16 HOME Kentucky 75 Tennessee 74 51%
Tue, Feb 19 AWAY Kentucky 69 Missouri 63 71%
Sat, Feb 23 HOME Kentucky 76 Auburn 71 68%
Tue, Feb 26 HOME Kentucky 79 Arkansas 66 88%
Sat, Mar 2 AWAY Kentucky 71 Tennessee 77 27%
Tue, Mar 5 AWAY Kentucky 73 Ole Miss 71 57%
Sat, Mar 9 HOME Kentucky 68 Florida 61 73%

Personally, I see two or three more losses for the Cats. One will undoubtedly come vs. Tennessee, probably at Thompson-Boling, and another at Mississippi State or Ole Miss. Add in a loss to Kansas on Saturday night or a random off night somewhere along the way and that feels about right; however, with the way this team’s building momentum right now, you never know.

How do you think Kentucky will finish the season? Pick their final record below:

10 Notes from a 21-point win over No. 22 Mississippi State

10 Notes from a 21-point win over No. 22 Mississippi State

Coming off a big win at Auburn, Kentucky could easily have looked past tonight’s game vs. Mississippi State. Yes, the Bulldogs are ranked, but with No. 9 Kansas and College Gameday coming to town on Saturday, would anyone have been shocked if the Cats had slipped up? For a few tense moments in the second half, it looked like that might happen, but thankfully, Kentucky put its foot back on the gas and cruised past Mississippi State 76-55 for their fifth straight win. Let’s talk about it.

PJ Washington took over

A lot of guys played well tonight, but we have to start with PJ Washington. PJ hasn’t been the most consistent Cat this season but put the exclamation point on a string of good games with 21 points off 9-15 from the floor, 3-5 from the three-point line, six rebounds, and a career-high four blocks in 28 minutes. After a massive dunk about five minutes into the second half, PJ picked up two fouls and had to go to the bench, but when he came back in, scored eight quick points and blocked two shots to help put the Cats ahead by a comfortable margin. As Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said, when PJ’s playing like that, he’s hard to beat.

“[PJ Washington] looked like an All-SEC player to me,” Howland said. “What makes him so special is that he’s versatile…He can score in every way possible.”

PJ’s potential is one reason Calipari refuses to accept his lapses.

“PJ played. Four blocks, 21 points, and 6 rebounds, but I still think he played without that motor in parts of the game, and that’s what was making me angry. Come on, man. Battle. But that’s how good I think he is.”

This dunk said it all:

The defense was excellent

Kentucky held Mississippi State to 31.1 percent from the floor tonight, the third lowest field goal percentage by an opponent this season behind Monmouth (27.6) and Georgia (30.4). Coming into this game, the Bulldogs were hitting 48 percent from the floor and making nine threes a game; they were only 3-20 from beyond the arc tonight for 15 percent.

“Their defense caused us a lot of problems,” Howland said. “They got us playing fast and they got us to playing to where we were in a hurry rather than being in control offensively.”

Tyler Herro was a catalyst on offense

Herro followed up a clutch performance at Auburn with another big night, finishing with 18 points (5-10 FG), 5 rebounds, an assist and a steal. He was a perfect 3-3 from the three-point line and 5-5 from the free-throw line. When Kentucky’s offense stalled, more often than not, Herro was the one to get it going again, a promising sign from a player who continues to trend upwards.

Still too many lapses

After the win over Auburn, Calipari said he showed his team ten plays that gave Auburn a chance to win in the second half. The fact that Kentucky let Mississippi State cut the lead to two tonight and committed 16 turnovers is proof they’re still a work in progress.

“Those two or three plays, we’re making ourselves, they’re self-inflicted that let teams be in the games when we should be good enough to get away from teams,” Cal said. “It only takes one or two things to change the whole complexion of a game so we’re showing them, we’re talking about it.”

How about that three by EJ Montgomery?

Did EJ Montgomery listen to today’s show? The lanky freshmen reminded everyone that yes, he can shoot by making his first three of the season with 2:50 left in the game. The three was refreshing, but his block ten minutes earlier was much more important. With Kentucky’s lead down to three, Montgomery swatted Quinndary Weatherspoon’s shot, which Tyler Herro picked up and threaded to Nick Richards for a rim-rattling dunk.

“I keep telling him, he’s going to break through and everyone’s going to say, oh my gosh, who is that guy?” Calipari said of EJ after the game. “Did you see that block? It changed the game. If we had another big guy in and he acted like it’s not my man and didn’t block that shot, we could have lost the game. That changed the game.”

Did the KSR curse hit Nick Richards?

Nick Richards came into this game making 71.4 percent of his free throws, an impressive mark Matt just had to praise on the pregame show. Tonight, Nick only hit 4-8 from the charity stripe. That’s not a bad percentage for a big man, but is still proof the KSR curse lives on.

Keldon Johnson didn’t need a wakeup call

Ashton Hagans didn’t need to yell at Keldon Johnson tonight; after Mississippi State went up 4-0, Keldon scored seven of Kentucky’s first ten points, including two massive dunks. He went quiet in the second half, scoring only two points and grabbing two boards before fouling out with about six minutes left, but at that points, the Cats were up by 13. That foul on him was totally bogus, by the way.

Reid Travis owned the boards, but missed buckets

Kentucky won the rebounding battle 43-36 in large part thanks to Reid Travis, who had a team-high 12 boards. On the flip side, Reid was only 1-6 from the floor, a mark that Calipari said has to go up.

“I like the fact that Travis had 12 rebounds, but still, he’s missing some baskets he’s gotta make.”

Ashton’s steals streak came to an end

Unless UK sends out an updated box score crediting Ashton with another steal, his streak of games with three or more steals will end at seven. That being said, the freshman had a career-high nine assists and was once again a pest defensively.

“I thought Ashton, when you’re on the ball, playing like he plays, it bleeds into everybody else,” Cal said. “That’s why when we recruit point guards, if we have a guy, I tell them: How are we going to start our defense if he can’t stay in front of the ball? The stats don’t matter to me; can he do it. Last year, we had — Shea did it, and now Ashton does it.”

Tweak alert!

Get the tweak shirts back out because Calipari said he made a change on offense.

“We are still trying to mess with offense. I did a couple different things today that you guys don’t know basketball, so you wouldn’t know, but there was some things I did offensively that were different because I wanted to try some stuff. And I kind of liked one, and the other, I wasn’t so sure of.”

I think Cal listened to the pregame show and told EJ to go do his best Steph Curry impression. What’s your guess?