spt-110325-kentucky-nlo.standard

Kentucky’s upperclassmen have carried the Cats, but the freshmen make them dangerous

1 Comment

Under the leadership of John Calipari, Kentucky has become known has one-and-done central.

Last season, they sent four players to the first round of the NBA Draft that had been on campus for just the one year. This season, two more (possibly three, if Doron Lamb decides to make the jump) will be headed out the door. And with a recruiting class featuring three of the top 10 recruits and four of the top 25, Coach Cal may end up playing babysitter for 10 one-and-done players in the span of three seasons, and that doesn’t even count Enes Kanter.

But if Kentucky’s run to the Elite Eight, thanks to an exciting 62-60 win over Ohio State on Friday night, proved anything, it’s that freshmen alone cannot carry a team.

It was the play of the upperclassmen that allowed the Wildcats to advance.

Josh Harrellson was sensational against Jared Sullinger on the block. He finished with 17 points, 10 boards (five offensive), and three blocks, and while he certainly didn’t outplay Sullinger (who had 21 points and 16 boards, eight offensive), he was able to make Ohio State’s star freshman work. He forced him into tough shots down the stretch and used his size to prevent Sullinger from consistently getting position.

DeAndre Liggins, who is known as a defensive stopper, became a go-to player down the stretch, finishing with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with six boards, three assists, and three blocks. Darius Miller added seven points, four boards, four assists, two steals, and two blocks and, in combination with Liggins, shut down William Buford for the night.

Those three freshmen?

They finished with a combined 23 points on 8-of-25 shooting. Brandon Knight had six turnovers. Terrence Jones was just 1-for-7 from inside the arc, had no offensive rebounds, and didn’t get to the free-throw line. Lamb had six points on two threes in the span of about a minute, but beyond that, his only addition to the box score was a block and two fouls.

And Kentucky <span style=”font-style:italic;”>still</span> beat the team most believed to be the best in the country.

That’s saying something.

It’s saying that Kentucky is a very, very dangerous basketball team.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Not to beat a dead horse, but they just knocked off the best basketball team in the country when their two first-team all-conference players each shot 3-of-10 from the field. They’ve made it all the way to the Elite Eight with Jones struggling. In the three tournament games, Jones is averaging 10.0 ppg and 6.7 rpg. He’s shooting 10-of-23 from the field, has just three offensive rebounds, and has gotten to the foul line all of 10 times. Lamb hasn’t been much better, averaging 6.3 ppg and shooting just 7-of-17 from the floor.

What happens when they wake up?

Knight has been inconsistent — he had two points against Princeton, 30 against West Virginia, and nine against Ohio State — but he has been terrific in the clutch. He has hit game-winners to beat both Princeton and Ohio State (despite having off-nights) and made six free throws down the stretch to hold off a West Virginia comeback.

Kentucky matched up very well with Ohio State. They don’t match up quite as well with North Carolina, which the Wildcats face on Sunday in the East regional final.

But with the way the upperclassmen have been playing over the past month, if Jones, Knight, and Lamb all show up, a bad matchup may not matter.

All of a sudden, Kentucky looks like it may actually be a title contender.

And if I were to tell you that it was due, in very large part, to the play of Harrellson, Liggins, and Miller, who would have believed me in February?

Michigan’s Spike Albrecht to finish his career at rival Big Ten program

Michigan guard Spike Albrecht (2) makes a layup between Northern Michigan forward Brett Branstrom, top left, and center Vejas Grazulis (52) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Michigan won 70-44. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Leave a comment

Spike Albrecht’s career isn’t over, as the former Michigan point guard and graduate transfer has committed to play his final season for Big Ten rival Purdue.

“I’ll be playing my 5th year for Purdue University,” Albrecht tweeted on Tuesday morning. “Boiler Up.”

Albrecht’s career has been fascinating to follow. A very lightly recruited high schooler, Albrecht picked Michigan over Appalachian State, playing very limited minutes behind National Player of the Year Trey Burke before popping off for 17 points in the first half of the national title game that season (and launching the greatest heat check in the history of heat checks). He would play a bigger role as a sophomore before averaging 7.5 points and 3.9 assists in 32 minutes as a junior in 2014-15.

But as a senior, Albrecht cut his season short after just a couple of games due to a degenerative issue in his hips. He had surgery on both hips prior to last season and initially announced that his career was over. That changed, but Michigan’s scholarship situation didn’t: They had already recruited someone to take his scholarship after his graduation, so Albrecht was forced to transfer.

Purdue is a good fit for him. He’ll provide veteran leadership on a team with just one other senior on the roster — redshirt junior Basil Smotherman — and he’ll help anchor the point guard spot currently held by junior P.J. Thompson.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
Leave a comment

With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
Leave a comment

After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
Leave a comment

With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.