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Video: Terrence Jones talks about his off day at UNC

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

Before Tuesday’s practice, UK freshman Terrence Jones talked to the media  about his 3-of-17 showing in last Saturday’s loss at North Carolina.

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Kentucky Basketball: What Went Wrong in Chapel Hill

Kentucky
Content provided by A Sea Of Blue.

Kentucky coach John Calipari's Excedrin headache.

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Gerry Broome – AP

Kentucky coach John Calipari’s Excedrin headache.

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The Kentucky Wildcats 75-73 road loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday, while certainly not the end of the big blue world, has surprisingly been treated as a Gardner-Webb/VMI-like loss by many of the UK faithful.  Realizing the passion of Kentucky fans is one aspect of the program that makes it great, sometimes though, that passion blinds and skews ones thoughts on losses (as well as wins), and can have the unpleasant side effect of misdirected blame.

While pointing an accusatory finger at the officials (who, by the way, missed calls for both teams, with a few being egregious), John Calipari (why didn’t he recruit another big man?), and the NCAA (it’s their fault Enes Kanter received a salary) for the two-point defeat seemed a popular notion on the Internet and talk radio immediately following the hotly contested contest.  From my seat, though, accountability for the loss falls most directly onto the (playable) roster of each team.  More pointedly, to the size and talent of the men who make up the two rosters, as well as the breadth and depth of said roster. 

The phrase “bad match-up” has been bandied about often in the world of college basketball, most often during NCAA tournament time.  But, the dreaded “bad match-up” rose up and bit the ‘Cats Saturday, even if it was only a nip.  And it was a (bad) match-up the Big Blue Nation should have seen coming.

Follow me after the jump for my A to D reasons for UK’s loss to the Heels.

A) Talented size matters:

North Carolina, which boast two generously talented big men in 7-0 Tyler Zeller and 6-10 John Henson, came into the game with a decided edge in the paint (this, UK fans knew, or at should have known), but the Grand Canyon-deep & wide disparity wasn’t evident until after the game began.  And then, within minutes, UK fans should have thought, “This is gonna be worse than I thought.”  Making matters even more unpalatable, the combination of a hyped Tar Heel squad, and a hyped Tar Heel crowd, widened the already considerable gap in paint talent to an alarming degree.  The result, UNC scored 34 points in the paint to UK’s woeful 14.

But the discrepancies, unfortunately, do not stop there: UK missed 38 shots in the game … UK grabbed eight offensive rebounds, which is only 19.0% of their misses (that’s putrid, folks).  For comparisons sake — The next lowest percentage of misses snagged by the ‘Cats this year is 33.3% in the UConn loss.  The ‘Cats did do a credible job of rebounding Carolina’s misses, though, limiting the Heels to only nine offensive rebounds on 34 missed shots.  But, the ugly side of the coin tells us the ‘Cats allowed the Heels to better capitalize on the few offensive rebounds they were able to grab, by outscoring UK 11-5 in second chance points.

The bottom line: UNC’s Zeller and Henson combined to make 13-23 shots, score 40 points, grab 23 rebounds, and block eight shots (6-8 Harrison Barnes was magnificent in the first half, making 4-5 shots, 3-4 three-pointers, and scoring 12 points): UK’s Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson, and Eloy Vargas made 5-21 shots, scored 13 points, corralled 15 rebounds, and blocked one shot.  A mismatch of thunderous proportions.

B) Terrence Jones played like the freshman he is:

Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones, the ‘Cats best big man, simply had a bad game.  It was apparent after Jones missed his first few shots (he eventually missed his first five tries) that he looked uncomfortable being guarded by the 6-10 Henson.  Unable to get clean looks, Jones began pressing and was noticeably bothered by the bigger, nearly as quick Carolina forward.

The result, a 3-17 (0-3 trey tries) shooting performance, good for only nine points for the 20.7 points per game scorer.  And on a day when rebounding was at a premium for the ‘Cats, Jones grabbed only six in 28 minutes of play (he averages 10+ boards per game).

Does Jones deserved to be berated for his less-than-stellar outing?  Of course not.  He is, after all, a freshman, playing in his first true road game, in front of his first hostile crowd (unless one counts the UDub idiots in Maui), against a more experienced, bigger player in Henson.  Jones will learn from his experience, and probably become a better player because of it.

C) The benches: 

This one is easy — UK played six players at least 10 minutes; UNC played eight players at least 10 minutes.  UNC played one player more than 30 minutes, UK played four players more than 30 minutes.

This will be a concern for UK all season (against deep opponents), unless someone (Jon Hood?) earns meaningful playing time in practice.

D) The slowdown:

With 10 minutes remaining in the game, and UK clinging to a four point lead (60-56), the ’Cats began to milk the clock on each possession.  Calipari did this to limit UNC’s offensive possessions, because the ‘Cats were quickly being handicapped with serious foul trouble — At the time, Jones, Harrellson, Brandon Knight, Eloy Vargas, DeAndre Liggins all had three fouls.

Now, one can debate the effectiveness of such a ploy (I don’t like it), but a strong argument can be made that without slowing down the pace, UK would have lost more players, sooner, to the bench due to disqualification (Jones, Harrellson, and Knight all eventually fouled out).  But, the numbers tell us UK was ineffective offensively during the slowdown stretch, scoring only 7-points (and making zero shots from the floor) between 9:55 and :55 of the second half, after scoring 63 points the first 30:03 of the game.

The upside of the loss (if there is such a thing) is the fact that UK had all of the above aspects of the game working against them, and still only lost by two-points, on the road, against a quality opponent.  And one of the primary reasons for UK staying in the lead, or close to the lead (for the entirety of the game), was the play of Doron Lamb.  Lamb looked to be doing his best Tony Delk impersonation for most of the contest, making trifectas (3-4), driving to the hole, making free throws (7-8), and valuing the basketball (one turnover in 32 minutes).  Without Lamb’s 24 points, the game would have been over long before the final horn.

Another positive to come out of the game was the play of Josh Harrellson.  In 21 minutes of play, Harrellson scored four points (2-2 from the floor), and grabbed seven rebounds (four big offensive boards).  Not overly impressive numbers taken alone (save the offensive rebounding number), but Harrellson displayed an aggressiveness not often seen out of the Missouri native, perhaps because he knew Zeller and Henson provided UK with a very real challenge … a challenge he was largely responsible for answering.  Whatever the reason, if Harrellson continues to play with a (blue) chip on his shoulder, it can only mean good things for the ‘Cats as they go forward.

Also deserving of kudos is DeAndre Liggins for his four assists and zero turnovers, as well as a season-high six rebounds.  Darius Miller also crashed the boards, nabbing seven rebounds, his most since UK’s season opener.

Lastly, and thankfully, the ‘Cats do not have to fret over facing a team loaded with such talented size again this year … until tourney time, and hopefully by then, UK will have figured out a way to stop the opponents talented bigs from having career games.  Perhaps a call should be placed to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, for a 2-3 zone may hold the answer.

Thanks for reading, and Go ‘Cats!


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Some UK-UNC post-game notes from Saturday

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

(H-L photo/Mark Cornelison)

Some UK-North Carolina notes from yesterday:

  • Terrence Jones did not have a field goal in the second half.
  • Jones missed the front end of two bonus situations, both in the first half.
  • DeAndre Liggins did not score in the second half.
  • Darius Miller scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half
  • After scoring 13 points in first half, Brandon Knight score just two in second half.
  • Doron Lamb score 11 in first half, 13 in the second half.
  • Lamb scored 24 points, but his last field goal was at 9:56 of the second half. He scored just four points in final 7:43.
  • Brandon Knight’s only points in 2H came with 12.3 seconds left.
  • UNC’s Harrison Barnes did not score after the 4:30 mark of first half. Scored 8 of his 12 points in a 138-second span between 10:40 and 8:22 of the second half.
  • Tyler Zeller was 10-of-10 from the foul line in final 4:19.
  • Zeller scored 18 points in the second half.

  • UNC’s John Henson did not have a field goal in the second half. He scored just one point in the second half, missing four of five free throws. He did not take a free throw in the final 3:03. Roy Williams did do a good job of keeping him out of harm’s way as far as free throw line was concerned.
  • UK had four players foul out in the game. Looking back, I found that UK had three players foul out at Florida on 1-19-08. Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson and Perry Stevenson all fouled out.
  • UK had two players foul out vs. Connecticut on 12-9-09 last season in New York. Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton both fouled out; Orton in just three minutes of action.
  • UK had two players foul out at Vandy on 1-30-10 — Orton in 7 minutes, and Patterson in 30.
  • Kentucky had three foul out vs. West Virginia in the Elite 8 — Liggins, Miller and John Wall.
  • In the past few years, no UK player has taken as many as 17 shots, and made a few as three. Ramel Bradley was 4-of-17 vs. Georgia on 3-5-08. Joe Crawford was 4-of-17 vs. Vanderbilt on 1-20-07. Terrence Jones went 3-of-17 vs. North Carolina.
  • Darius Miller played a season-high 34 minutes.
  • Liggins still has just one offensive rebound in six games, covering 194 minutes.
  • Lamb has made 12 of 21 shots, including five of eight 3s in last two games.
  • Knight had six turnovers on Saturday. He has 24 assists and 33 turnovers so far.

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Kentucky Basketball: Picking Through The Wreckage Of The UNC Game

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"Defend somebody, will ya?"

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“Defend somebody, will ya?”

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This morning, I got up with a hangover.  Not a hangover from an excess of adult beverages, mind you, but a hangover from a game that the Kentucky Wildcats should have won.  Lounging around the house for a few hours massaging my badly bruised fandom seemed like the best recovery method other than a Bloody Mary, which I rejected on “not on vacation” grounds.  Ultimately, watching Charlie’s Angels (the movie) again was my cure, which was worth suffering through the weak storyline, predictable dialogue and lame humor if only to watch Cameron Diaz dance in her delicates, and Drew Barrymore roll down a big hill in the altogether.

With that now in the rear view, it seems time to put the nose to the proverbial grindstone and employ time-tested forensic techniques in order to determine exactly what went wrong in the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.  I know, I know, we have gone over many of the more obvious problems in the game thread and postmortem, and rehashing those is not really productive.  Instead, it should behoove us to compare our perceptions against statistics to see how accurate they were.

So the first thing we will be doing is examining the Four Factors to Winning, and see what those tell us, after the jump.

The Four Factors look like this:

Now, I confess to being a bit surprised when I saw this.  For all the world, I thought we got killed on the offensive glass, but that simply was not so.  Yes, the Tar Heels did beat us on the offensive boards, but it was not the utter domination first impression suggested.  19%-23% is simply not a drubbing in any sense of the word.

Why did it look so bad?  Probably because there were a few more OR’s available to the Tar Heels, and it just felt like Kentucky was not getting the job done.  Another problem was that when UK did get an OR, they did not convert it, and the Tar Heels did.  The Heels more than doubled UK’s production in second-chance points, 11-5, despite only a 4% advantage in the OR% statistic.  In other words, they were much more efficient with their OR’s than UK.

No, the real culprit for this loss is pretty easy to see.  UNC more than doubled UK’s free throw rate percent, which means the number of free throws attempted per field goal attempt.  North Carolina shot more than half a free throw for every field goal attempt, or converted into a better number, shot a free throw slightly more than once for every two shots they took. Kentucky shot free throws only once for every three shots they put up.  Right there lies the roots of Kentucky’s defeat.  It was only as close as it was because Carolina was so ordinary in FT%, although they did shoot much better than they have been of late.

Another problem that Kentucky had was how well the Tar Heels took care of the basketball.  UNC had been turning the ball over at over 22% per game.  For instance, against the Vanderbilt Commodores, they turned the ball over on almost one possession in three.  Against Kentucky, their TO% was less than half that.

This is a continuing problem for Kentucky.  The ‘Cats simply are not forcing enough turnovers in games, and that speaks volumes about their defense.  Good teams, like the Duke Bllue Devils and the Ohio State Buckeyes are forcing around 25% or more turnovers versus their opponents.  If UK had forced Carolina into those kind of turnovers, they would have likely won the game based on their points off turnover production.  Smaller teams like Kentucky should be able to turn over bigger teams at a higher rate than this.

In the final analysis, the story of this game is a simple one.  Kentucky did not play defense well enough to win, and Carolina got to the line an excessive amount.  The offensive rebounding of UNC was a comparatively minor contributing factor.  Failure to turn over the vulnerable UNC ballhandlers was, in my opinion, a bigger factor than the OR% difference.  Fouls, ultimately, were what lost the game, both in terms of fouls to our big people and FTR%.

This is a good shooting, good ballhalding Kentucky team, but it has a long way to go defensively.  Depending on DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller for good defense on the primary scorers is fine, and it usually works, but the larger problem for this team is that they simply don’t get after it on defense enough.  Until they do, these kind of losses will keep cropping up.


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So The National Media Wants A Story? Look No Further than Festus Ezeli

Vanderbilt
Content provided by Vanderbilt Sports Line.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the Commodores have not gotten a whole lot of national media love. The ESPN analysts consider us to be a solid underdog team, as does Jeff Goodman at foxsports.com. We can’t really get a peep out of Gary Parrish at CBS, but he didn’t give us any love until we beat Tennessee on the road last year either. They’ll praise Cal and the Wildcats until the cows come home and the little guy as well, but we are not on the national radar yet.

Unlike last year where I lobbied vehemently that this team get some national recognition, I am fine with us not getting the love at this point in the season. We’re going to have a lot of coverage leading into a true measuring-stick game against Missouri on the road, and as I will argue later, I believe this team is ahead of where it was last year. That being said, there is one story that is not being recognized by the national media enough, and that is the outstanding development of Festus Ezeli.
In observing the national landscape, people are quick to point out how Kemba Walker has put UCONN on his shoulders and developed into a national player of the year candidate. I completely agree that Kemba Walker is a total stud, but he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, so it’s hard to say that he was all that unheralded. I also agree that Derrick Williams of Arizona is a great story, as a three star recruit who has become the unquestionable anchor of Arizona’s front court. But while they give the love to Williams for his 27 point performance in a loss against a talented Kansas squad, how can the National Media ignore the performance of Festus Ezeli over the past 6 games?
This was a guy who had barely played organized basketball before he came to Vandy, the very definition of a development project, and as I will point out in the coming weeks, he is the very reason that, despite Ogilvy’s offensive prowess, we do not miss the Big Aussie all that much. I took Kevin Stallings to task for starting Ezeli at the outset, where I was not impressed in his performance against a large Nebraska front court, and I will gladly stick my foot in my mouth at this point. Since that game, Ezeli has averaged, AVERAGED, 15 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks per game, to say nothing about his 15 and 9 against UNC, or his most recent 24 and 10 against Belmont. Without question, he has filled the void that Ogilvy left, and while Ogilvy may have been able to get to the free throw line and shoot with more consistency, Festus is a superior defender. He still fouls a tad bit too much, but that part of his game is also vastly improved.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that he has performed at least as well as ANY big man in the SEC at this point, if not better. Georgia’s Trey Thompkins has played well since returning from injury, but he is averaging 16 points and 8 boards against competition that is not comparable. There’s been lots of talk about the veteran posts on Florida’s squad, as well as the heralded freshman Patric Young, and yet NONE of them are averaging in double-digits in either points or rebounds. Kentucky doesn’t really have a true big man, and the closest player, Terrence Jones, plays a vastly different style of ball, though statistically he’s performed at a similar level. If you compare his performance against UNC to Ezeli’s performance against UNC, however, his 9 points and 6 boards is not as impressive as Ezeli’s 15 points and 9 boards.
And then there’s Brian Williams of Tennessee, who everyone suddenly thought was a solid player for some reason after the NCAA Tournament. Williams hasn’t even been close to Ezeli’s performance on offense or defense at this point. Freshman Tobias Harris has been fantastic, but he is also more of a Terrence Jones type player who does things a little differently from Festus. Marshawn Powell is not statistically close.
The point is, Festus, at this point in the season, is RIGHT up there as the best big man in the SEC, and as I’ll explain more in depth this coming week, the Commodores are better because of it.
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Video: UK assistant Orlando Antigua after UNC game

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

With John Caliapri leaving quickly for his mother’s memorial service, assistant coach Orlando Antigua also took questions from the media.

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Kentucky Basketball: Kentucky (10) @ North Carolina — Pregame

Kentucky
Content provided by A Sea Of Blue.

Doron Lamb's steady production could be the difference in today's game versus the North Carolina Tar Heels

Andy Lyons – Getty Images

Doron Lamb’s steady production could be the difference in today’s game versus the North Carolina Tar Heels

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You know, I can’t describe how excited I am about this game.  I’m a giddy schoolboy every single year (well, at least for the last two) when the Kentucky Wildcats suit up against the North Carolina Tar Heels and prepare to do battle on the hardwood.

I usually populate my pre-game commentary with statistics, and charts, and graphs.  Not today.  Not this one.  For one, everybody knows who plays for the Tar Heels.  No matter what we may think about them as fans, they, like us, are basketball royalty.  The ‘Cats versus the Heels — two of the most storied basketball programs in all of America getting together to test each other’s mettle and forge memories that will last a generation.

This is not just another basketball game.  This is a clash of Titans, of planets, of galaxies.  This is the good stuff that every college basketball fan worth his or her salt lives to see.  Every game of this series has been memorable for something, and this one is almost guaranteed to be no exception.

Kentucky and North Carolina have met previously 32 times, with the Wildcats prevailing in 11, and the Tar Heels winning 21.  It is also a little-known fact that UNC and UK once played in the same conference, the Southern Conference back in the 1920′s.  That conference was a huge, 33-team mega-conference that eventually broke up into the ACC and the SEC, as well as others.  All this knowledge, and more, can be found at Jon Scott’s outstanding Kentucky basketball history site, to which every UK fan should have a bookmark or committed to memory.

This year’s Tar Heels are sporting some of the finest young talent in the league, but they have struggled a bit so far, particularly on the road.  The Heels are 4-3 and so far have played a substantially easier schedule than 5-1 Kentucky.  With that said, all of their losses have been to very good basketball teams — the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and the Illinois Fighting Illini.  Two UNC losses were in Puerto Rico on a neutral floor, and the other was on the road in Champaign, Il.  For a full statistical preview of the game, check out Statsheet.com.

The Tar Heels’ main struggles have been with offensive efficiency.  The Heels are averaging only 1.04 points/possession (compare with UK’s 1.16).  Defensively, UNC has allowed virtually the same number of points as Kentucky, 0.94 PPP, so the struggle for the Heels has been all about offense.

The biggest reason for UNC’s offensive struggles have been high turnover % (22%) and poor free throw shooting (sounds like another team I know).  Their 3-point FG% is decent at over 36%, but UK’s is absolutely stellar at 41%.  Also, the Tar Heels force even fewer turnovers from opponents than Kentucky, if you can imagine that.

Overall, this game is a bit of a physical mismatch.  The Heels are bigger and taller than UK, and the last team we ran into with that particular characteristic handed us our butts on a silver platter.  On the other hand, this is a relatively low-octane version of North Carolina, with their pace clocking in at only 68.5 possessions/game, just slighly slower than Kentucky.  Over the last few years, UNC has been one of the highest-pace teams in America, so this team is a bit of a departure for Ol’ Roy, likely because of their relative lack of athleticism.

Of the two teams, there is really no doubt who needs it more. North Carolina has lost two games in a row, and they will be spoiling for a home victory, so the young Wildcats are in a very tough spot in this game.  The good news is, the Tar Heels are not significantly more experienced and absolutely no more talented than Kentucky, so despite their size advantage, this is overall a very good match up.  A quick look, position-wise:

Point guard:  Larry Drew II vs. Brandon Knight — Drew is talented player and a good scorer, similar to Knight in some respects.  The difference is that Knight is a much better ballhandler and is more talented overall.  Drew will have difficulty staying in front of Knight.

Kendall Marshall, Drew’s backup, is also a talented lead guard, although more of a pass-first player.  Despite coming off the bench, Marshall leads the team in assists per game.  Marshall is not as skilled as Knight, or Doron Lamb, for that matter.  Advantage — Wildcats

Off guard:  Dexter Strickland is an excellent penetrator and, much like Kentucky’s Doron Lamb, prefers to do his damage in the mid-range.  Strickland is quick off the bounce and can pass the ball well from the two spot.  The biggest problem with Strickland’s game so far has been turnovers, as he is averaging more turnovers (2.5) than assists (2.0).  Leslie McDonald is the backup to Strickland, and McDonald is an extremely dangerous 3-point shooter.

Matching up with him will be DeAndre Liggins, although it is likely that Liggins will be guarding Tar Heel freshman sensation Harrison Barnes.  Liggins is a dangerous penetrator on offense and a shut-down defender, and his 3-point shooting has significantly improved from last year.  Advantage — Wildcats.

Small forward:  Harrison Barnes is the small forward for the Tar heels, and he’s widely considered to be the #1 incoming freshman from the 2010 class.  Barnes can shoot the ball inside, penetrate off the dribble, pass, rebound and defend.  He has had a couple of poor shooting games this year, but don’t think for a minute that Barnes is anything other than a dangerous scorer inside and out.

Darius Miller is not as talented as Barnes, but he is more experienced and a good size matchup for the freshman.  However, Miller is likely (although not certainly) going to be guarding Dexter Strickland rather than Barnes.  Strickland will have the quickness advantage, and Miller will need to be on top of his game, defensively, to keep Strickland out of the paint.  Advantage — North Carolina

Power forward:  John Henson, the rail-thin power forward for the Tar Heels, will be an intriguing matchup for the Wildcats.  Henson is an inside player who uses his length and athleticism to get the job done inside, but he is not really bulky enough for the position.  Henson is very athletic and a great shot blocker, but he will be going up against Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, and that is a major problem for the Heels.

Jones can draw North Carolina’s leading rebounder away from the basket, forcing him to defend Jones off the dribble.  That is just not going to go well for the Heels, so they are probably going to have to use several defenders on Jones.  Either way, Jones presents a major challenge for UNC as they don’t have a player other than Barnes who is quick enough to guard Jones outside, and big enough to handle him inside.  Advantage — Wildcats

Center:  Tyler Zeller is the Tar Heel’s center, and he is a very good one.  Zeller is currently the leading scorer for North Carolina, and is a very capable low-post player who can also shoot the ball from the perimeter.  Zeller is long, tall, and experienced, and he presents the biggest challenge of the year on the interior for the Wildcats.

Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson and backup Eloy Vargas will have all they can handle on defense, and keeping Zeller off the offensive glass will be quite difficult given his skill level.  Advantage — North Carolina.

Bench-wise, UNC is deeper, Kentucky slightly more talented.  In a game like this, particularly at home, I think you have to give UNC the nod.  Justin Knox, Leslie McDonald, Justin Watts and Kendall Marshall represent a formidable backup group for the Tar Heels, all extremely talented players who would likely be starting elsewhere.  Advantage:  Tar Heels

This game should be very entertaining, and I look forward to it anxiously every year.  I love playing North Carolina not only because of their rich basketball history, but since John Calipari came to Kentucky these two teams seem to match up very well every year.  It is a game every college basketball fan should mark on their calendar, and I can’t wait to toss it up.

For the North Carolina perspective on the game, check out the excellent SBNation UNC blog, Carolina March.


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UNC Preview on CoachCal.com

Kentucky
Content provided by A Sea Of Blue.

Head on over to CoachCal.com for my preview of the UK vs. UNC game. 


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Kentucky Basketball: Bouncing Back & Looking Forward

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The Kentucky Wildcats have bounce-back-ability.

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The Kentucky Wildcats have bounce-back-ability.

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Bouncing Back

Young teams.  One never knows the psychological strength of a team, especially a young team, until they have been tested, and sometimes beaten.  Although this UK team is full of high school All-Americas, indicating it should be a team full of confident young men, the accumulation of talent John Calipari has put together had not lost at the collegiate level until the thorough, Maui-style dismantling courtesy of Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies.

And by using the word “dismantling,” I’m being kind, because UK was beaten every which way but loose by the Huskies.  Which is an experience most of UK’s current crop of freshman consider a foreign concept.  Add in the fact that at this point, the players are in search of leadership within their ranks, and the very real possibility of a precipitous drop in confidence and performance could have effected the way the team prepared for, and played against the Boston U Terriers.

Furthermore, with Calipari complaining loudly about what he perceives as selfish play of the team in Hawaii, fans were left to wonder if the youthful ‘Cats would respond to – a) a bad loss, and b) their coach rightfully berating them for their selfishness and lack of interior defense – with a solid performance against a team they should soundly beat.

What we learned Tuesday night is that these ‘Cats, like last year’s team, is capable of the big-time bounce back.  It’s not that they beat BU that was so impressive (on the contrary, it was expected), it’s how they beat BU — 59.3% field goal shooting (32-54); 62.5% long-range shooting (10-16); 21 assists on 32 made baskets (an assist on 67% of made baskets); and a 30-14 advantage in points in the paint.  Defensively, the ‘Cats held the Terriers to only 28.5% from the field, and eight assists.  Compare those numbers to the UConn game — 36.7% field goal shooting (22-60); 8-22 three-point shooting (36.4%); nine assists on 22 made baskets (an assist on 45% of made baskets); and a 42-24 points in the paint annihilation.  Against UConn, defending was obviously optional; the Huskies shot 57.7% from the floor (30-52), and 58.3% from beyond the arc (7-12), and lived in the lane all night … shooting layups.

Brandon Knight, who struggled (and looked noticeably uncomfortable) with turnovers and running the offense in Maui, bounced back in a major way against Boston U, scoring 23 points on 8-12 shooting (4-6 3′s), grabbing six rebounds, dishing out six assists, and committing four turnovers in 34 minutes of play.  Knight, like John Wall and Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose before him, is learning the dribble-drive as he goes, so naturally there will be peaks and valleys along the way (both Rose and Evans struggled early in their freshman seasons).  But, it was nice (and confidence-building) to see the Fort Lauderdale freshman respond to such an incredibly sub-par game, with his best effort yet as a ‘Cat.

Now, we should all realize BU is not UConn, but, Tuesday night all but the most cynical Kentucky fans clearly saw a team more cohesive, more in-tune to each other’s place on the floor, and actually interested in playing some sort of interior defense.  And UK’s big men (not named Terrence), in addition to their improved defense, responded with perhaps their most complete offensive game of the year: In 40 combined minutes, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas scored 16 points, on 6-9 field goals, corralled 15 rebounds (six offensive), and committed only one turnover.  

All positive signs.  But, not as positive as this loudly blinking neon sign: Over the last two games, as a team, UK is shooting 72.7% from the free throw line (32-44).  A considerable improvement over the less-than-sixty-percent-from-the-charity-stripe they were averaging entering the UConn game.

So, with all signs pointing in a positive direction, let’s take a quick look at the block of three games awaiting the ‘Cats over the next two weeks.

Looking Forward

North Carolina Tar Heels: At Chapel Hill, Saturday @ 12:30 EST on CBS — Roy Williams’ Tar Heels have struggled so far this year.  With a 4-3 record, and losses to Minnesota, Vanderbilt, and #21 Illinois (an ugly, ugly defeat), UNC is searching for an identity.  The No. 1 high school player in the nation last year, 6-8 forward Harrison Barnes, has performed, well, like a freshman.  He’s averaging a respectable 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, but his shooting and ball handling have been in a word, streaky.  Tyler Zeller (7-0 forward/center), UNC’s big man in the middle, has played solidly, leading the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game, to go along with 7.3 rebounds per contest.  Zeller possesses and array of moves around the basket, and will be a tough man to handle for UK’s Harrellson and Vargas.  Six-ten forward John Henson is averaging 11.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game. 

Henson and Zeller will be the first two opposing players of their size to legitimately challenge UK’s trio of bigs (note to Harrellson and Vargas – The UNC game will be an opportune time to make everyone forget the UConn fiasco).  And that battle might very well determine the winner of this “Clash of the Titans.”

Notre Dame Fighting Irish: At Freedom Hall, December 8 @ 9:30 EST on ESPN– The Irish, sittin’ fat and happy at 8-0, own wins over Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin.  Led by 6-3 guard (and brother of Tyler), Ben Hansbrough (15.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists per game) Mike Brey’s team so far has bounced back in their own right, playing for the first time in four years without All-America Luke Harangody, who took his 21.3 points and 9.1 rebounds to the NBA. 

Helping out Hansbrough is 6-8 forward Tim Abromaitis, who’s averaging 15.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game — The big man can also serve it up; Abromaitis is averaging 2.9 assists per contest.  The other Irish forward is 6-8 Tyrone Nash.  Nash, hotly recruited out of high school, is averaging 12.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game — That’s 6.1 assists per game Brey is getting out of his two starting forwards. 

This game is looking tougher now, than when the schedule was first released.  But, Freedom Hall has historically been very good to the ‘Cats.

Indiana Hoosiers: At Rupp Arena, December 11th @ 5:15 EST on ESPN – Tom Crean’s third year in Bloomington is (at least) starting out much better than his first two efforts.  Being saddled with a lack of scholarship players his first year, and last season losing point Maurice Creek before the start of Big 10 play, hamstrung the former Marquette head man’s ability to re-establish the Hoosiers as one of the nations elite squads.  But a quick 6-1 start to the 2010-2011 season has hoop’s hopes and expectations on the rise at IU. 

Led by superb sophomore, 6-9 forward Christian Watford (17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds per game), the Hoosiers are finally showing signs of life.  Also playing well during the early going is 6-5 guard Verdell Jones (a junior, which makes him the old man of the group), who is putting up 14.2 points per game.  And last year’s casualty of war, Maurice Creek, has rebounded from his season-ending injury to average 11.3 points per contest this season.  Another sophomore, Jordan Hulls, is playing exceptionally well at the present, averaging 9.3 points and 3.3 assists per game. 

Although the Hoosiers have yet to beat anybody of note (with the possible exception of Evansville, who earlier in the year bested Butler), they are winning by an (impressive) average margin of 21.8 points – IU’s lone loss of the year was to Boston College. 

Even though the Hoosiers seem to be much better than last year, UK should have their way with them, especially with the game being played in what will be a comfortably hostile Rupp Arena. 

Kentucky’s next three games are one of the reasons it’s great to be a UK fan.  Great rivalries, great coaches, great players.  A large time should be had by all … well, by the good guys at least.

Thanks for reading and Go ‘Cats!


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Duke-Michigan State on tap for tonight; Heels helpless

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

Daily Randoms for Wednesday:

ON TAP – Big game tonight is Michigan State-Duke in Cameron Indoor. It’s at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN, as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Big 10 has a 4-2 lead after first two nights. Ohio State whipped Florida State. Northwestern thumped Georgia Tech. (Remember when we thought Paul Hewitt was a good coach?) Michigan beat Clemson. And Illinois knocked off North Carolina. (More on that one later.)

Anyway, State-Duke will be extremely interesting. Might be the two teams that play for the title in Houston once April rolls around. I think Duke is the better team, and like the Devils tonight. Will be interested to see how freshman point guard Kyrie Irving handles the Spartans’ pressure.

As Rick Bozich points out, Coach K needs just two more wins to pull even with Coach Rupp.

NOT MUCH ON TAP AT UK TODAY. The Calipari/players press conferences previewing Saturday’s game with North Carolina are probably in the works for Thursday. So is UK’s appeal on the Enes Kanter matter. The ruling could come down as early as this weekend.  The appeal itself will take about an hour, and will be done by phone on UK’s campus. Most are not optimistic about Kanter’s chances, but we shall see.

Meanwhile, Indiana lost on trying to get its foreign transfer eligible, as well.

SEC HOOPS TONIGHT — Florida is at Central Florida, where Billy Donovan goes against his old assistant, Donnie Jones. Oklahoma is at Arkansas. Delaware State is at South Carolina. South Alabama is at Alabama. And Western Kentucky is at Vanderbilt. ESPN3.com has the Florida, Vanderbilt and Arkansas games.

HELPLESS HEELS — TiVoed the Tar Heels-Illini game from last night and watched it this morning. I’ve seen North Carolina three times on TV, and Roy Williams’ club has lost all three. Lost to Minnesota and Vanderbilt in San Juan, then last night to Bruce Weber’s club. North Carolina didn’t look much better last night. This might be the worst passing team ol’ Roy has ever had. UNC turned it over 18 times. The guard tandem of Drew and Strickland didn’t score a point in the first half. And you can see the pressure getting to Harrison Barnes. The freshman didn’t make a field goal in the second half.

Tyler Zeller is the one player who could give UK problems. The 7-footer started strong, scoring UNC’s first four points and six of its first 12. But he picked up his third foul with 9:02 left in first half — Williams gambled by leaving him in and lost — with Illinois up just 16-14. Zeller ended up playing just 20 minutes, had 10 points and four rebounds. If he can stay on the floor, and if John Henson contributes like he did last night (16 points), Carolina could cause Kentucky some problems in the paint.

BEST GAME OF THE NIGHT — The Tuesday night topper was surely Georgetown’s overtime victory over Missouri in Columbia. Final score was 111-102. And didn’t John Thompson III play for Pete Carrill at Princeton? That’s no Princeton offense.

MISSISSIPPI STATE HOOPS — Sure Rick Stansbury can’t wait to get Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost on the Bulldogs’ roster. State lost at home to Florida Atlantic 61-59 last night at The Hump. Stansbury’s team blew a 13-point lead.

BRUCE PEARL JAM — It has now come out that Alabama staff members helped pick the songs that greeted Cameron Newton when the embattled Auburn quarterback entered the Iron Bowl last Friday. One song was “Take the Money and Run,” another was “Son of a Preacher Man.” The part-time employee responsible for playing the song was fired.

My question: What songs would you play for Bruce Pearl when the embattled Tennessee coach returns from his SEC suspension for the first time and steps on the Rupp Arena floor in February?

My five:

  1. “White Liar” by Miranda Lambert
  2. “Liar” by the Sex Pistols.
  3. “Lyin’ Eyes” by The Eagles.
  4. “Tell the Truth,” by Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton)
  5. “Honesty,” by Billy Joel.

E-MAIL – From B.C.:

Your last two articles on UK football almost drew a flag for ‘piling on’! I can’t say I disagree with all the points. However, I feel Joker is getting too much of the blame. The truth is, there were a few plays in a few games that were the difference in this team being 6-6 or maybe being 9-3. Sure, Joker may have made some mistakes along the way in play calling, etc. but no more then any other coach. Joker didn’t fumble the ball or throw any interceptions.

I also strongly disagree with your assertation that this team doesn’t deserve to go to a bowl game, because they ’scheduled’ their way to it. First of all, six wins is the requirement to go to a bowl. They won six; they deserve to go. Secondly, UK’s schedule is no different than about 90% of all teams in major conferences. For those that have four non-conference games, they usually have one legit opponent, maybe one in-state rival from a lesser conference, and two other games that look like pretty sure wins. So, if UK doesn’t deserve to go bowling, there are probably about 10-15 other teams that don’t deserve it either.

I would contend that you didn’t address the single biggest mistake Joker made this year; handing the keys to Mike Hartline. I said that at the beginning of the year and I will stick to that. Obviously, we don’t win the South Carolina game without Hartline. However, I believe we win the other five games with Newton (and maybe Moss, though I have never really seen him play in a meaningful situation). Of the six losses, I believe we win at least two of them with Newton at QB. In the Ole Miss and Tennessee games, Hartline did much more to lose the game than anything he did to give us a chance to win. He was beat before the game ever started at Florida. He had a good second half against Auburn and Georgia, and was sort of neutral against Miss. State.

Basically, the ‘It’ that Joker talks about Cobb having is what Hartline lacks. For the most part, when we really needed a play or a drive, he did not deliver, not to mention the negative plays at inopportune times. Unlike great leaders, he didn’t elevate anyone’s play.

BIRTHDAY BOY — Joe B. Hall, who turned 82, was the Y for last night’s game, and heard the UK band play “Happy Birthday.” (Not the Beatles version.)

REDSFEST — I’ll be on my way to Chapel Hill, but if you’re looking for something to do out-of-town this weekend, there’s the Cincinnati Reds’ annual Redsfest at the Duke Energy Center downtown. There is all kind of activities, including interactive activities, plus interaction with Reds players. Have never been, but here it has become a huge success.

BENGALS CENSORS – Good column from Paul Daugherty about a fan wearing a “Fire Bratkowski” t-shirt being escorted from Paul Brown Stadium during a recent game. Security says fan was waving it people’s faces. The fan wearing the t-shirt, and witnesses, claim that wasn’t the case.

WEATHER — It’s snowing in Lexington this morning. Just so you know.

JOHN ROBIC — The UK assistant was summoned out of the dugout and before the media, pinch-hitting for John Calipari, who is dealing with the death of his mother. Robic was good. He gave good answers, didn’t avoid anything, and showed a sly sense of humor. We in the media are grateful for a deep coaching bench. Too bad Cal won’t let his assistants talk more. Come on, they can handle it.

Click here for a transcript of Robic’s comments last night.

MITCH BARNHART – The Wildcat Blue Nation blog thinks the UK athletics director has some explaining to do about his interest/non-interest in the Kansas job. Personally, I don’t think Mitch is going anywhere. In fact, he’s told me on a couple of instances that this would probably be his final job, that he would retire sooner than most think, and that he would do something with his faith once he got out of athletics.

KSTV — If you watched last night — I was at the game — how was it?

THANK YOUS — To Rupp Arena. The wireless was much better last night. And thank yous to those who joined in on the liveblog.

ALMOST FORGOT — ESPNU has an all-access with Tubby Smith and Minnesota basketball tonight at 6.

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