Blogger Spotlight: Kentucky’s ridiculous talent and eyebrows

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Kentucky fans crave information about their Wildcats. Whether it’s TV, radio, print, online, there’s a 24/7 news cycle regarding John Calipari’s team, whether it’s Lexington, the state or beyond.

That’s where Kentucky Sports Radio comes in.

The incredibly popular website does a little bit of everything when it comes to Kentucky hoops. Video, radio and an onslaught of posts fills with news snippets, short analysis and plenty of snark. Maybe that’s why one of its main personalities, Matt Jones, has become so damn popular. (Seriously? 33,000 Twitter followers?)

Matt doesn’t write as often as some of the other KSR stalwarts such as Thomas Beisner or Drew Franklin, but that’s partly because Jones is busy wrapping up his law career (he was prepping for his final case while we talked) and focuses on the radio and TV.

But hey, the guy knows his Kentucky hoops. He’s understandably amped about this season, as is Big Blue Nation.

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Q: For a 10-point win over No. 12 Kansas on Tuesday night, that game sure felt like a blowout.

A: I actually thought both of those games were like that. Duke [beat Michigan State] by five and should’ve won by 20. Kentucky fans wanted a coming out party. They remember two years ago when John Wall had his coming out party against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden . They didn’t get one of those, but they kinda had one with Anthony Davis.

More than anything, they’d been looking forward to this team for 16 months probably. Ever since Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague committed.

Q: Then compare this season’s team to John Calipari’s first two teams. They’re just as talented, perhaps more so, but is there more excitement and higher expectations?

A: There certainly have been higher expectations. People ask me all time: “Are you disappointed if they don’t win the title?” That depends. They could lose to North Carolina and I think people would understand. But .. the West Virginia loss two years ago still stinks heavy on people.

Part of that is that team, though. In my time being as a fan, there was not a more exciting team than that one.

Q: Why is that?

A: A couple of things came together for that. But, let me say this.

Kentucky has the most connected fan base in the country. But I would go even farther than that. It might be the most Internet-connected fan base in sports. The amount of fans on twitter, on blogs, I don’t think there’s another team like it. I mean, I have 33,000 Twitter followers. John Clay has like 10,000. I have not found another beat reporter from another team, and only a couple pro teams that has more followers. Nobody craves that information like Kentucky fans. They’re just wired in as anyplace in America.

And now that they can be obsessive about everything, it amplifies it even more.

Q: But what was it about that team that people loved so much? Was it because that was the team that ended the slide? Or was it more because that team was so damn good?

A: Look, there’s never gonna be anyone more popular than John Wall in Kentucky.

For a long time, Jamal Mashburn was revered like that. People saw him as the reason the team got good after probation. But they love Wall because for the first time Kentucky had the coolest player in college basketball.

They’re had good players, but not the coolest, Rex Chapman was close. I mean, Tony Delk is not cool. He was a great player, but that doesn’t make you cool. Kentucky’s never had a guy like Wall. We were the stuffy team of white guys with short shorts. But Wall tapped into this craving for cool.

Q: Bigger surprise: Anthony Davis leads the team in scoring or Darius Miller averaging fewer points than Kyle Wiltjer?

A: The latter. By the end of the year that won’t be the case, but the would be the bigger surprise. Most people figured this is the year Miller averaged 12 or 13 points a game and he may still. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Davis doesn’t surprise me at all.

Davis will score huge amounts of points against bad teams when he just overmatches everyone down low because he’s such a freak physically.

source: APQ: OK then, let’s talk about the unibrow. Is that just Davis’ brilliant method of fooling people into thinking he’s a goof?

A: I can’t understand why he keeps it. He’s an interesting kid and he’s really funny and has a sarcastic sense of humor. Everyone says he’s the funniest guy on the team. But I can’t understand it.

He clearly knows that he has a unibrow. When he first came on campus, he shaved it. Now it’s grown back. I’ve been calling him unibrow for a while and people were like “That’s so mean,” but I always said “If you think it’s bad now, wait until he has first game on national TV.” And that’s what happened last night. I tweeted “BrowDown” and it took off.

But he obviously doesn’t care. Maybe it’s becoming his thing. BrowDown may take off.

Q: This is the new “Jorts” for nicknames, right? People will love it.

A: [DeMarcus] Cousins did that by taking the nickname Boogie and messing with those buddy holly glasses. Fans love that.

Q: And besides, he’s unreal. He was swatting shots like mad against Kansas and just overmatched everyone. I felt bad for Thomas Robinson.

A: I don’t know how you score on him. I’ll be interested to see whichever guy Carolina puts on him. I’ve never seen a player like him before. He’s like Kevin Durant if you gave him three more inches on his wingspan.

Q: Davis is amazing. But is it wrong I like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist more? He plays hard, there’s no ego on him and he’s clearly talented.

A: I think Kentucky fans favor him too. [Speaking to a group of about 300 people] I asked “Who’s your favorite player?” by applause. He was first. First by a lot. I think he’s the fan favorite.

Q: How fast is Marquis Teague? Faster than John Wall?

A: He’s faster than Wall, but Wall’s faster with the ball. Wall had the unbelievable ability to dribble the ball and not break stride. He’d run the same 100 time and not break his stride. But Teague is really fast. He’s also the key. How he plays dictates everything. Like last night – in the second half he plays well and they run Kansas off the court.

In fact, this whole team is fast. When they get a rebound or steal, they don’t have to find a guard. You know that half a second when you grab a rebound or a steal and look for a guard? They don’t do that.

They just take off.

Q: Has this season been a slight shock for Terrence Jones? Or is the late-night mess more to blame for that?

A: I’d wanna see another three or four games. It might be a sample size thing. [Against Kansas] he did not play great, but that might be the best guy he’s gonna face all year. Robinson’s tough.

But they cannot beat North Carolina unless he plays really well. Last year in both games he didn’t play well. He was bad in Chapel Hill and he wasn’t great in the NCAA tournament. To me, I wanna see how he plays against them.

Q: That game’s about two weeks away. Is “jacked” a strong enough term for that game? I can’t imagine what Lexington will be like.

A: That game will be ridiculous. There are like 13 guys between the two teams that’ll play in the NBA. I can’t remember a ranked season game had that kind of talent. So yeah, Lexington’s stoked about. I think it’ll be a great thing for college basketball.

But what I’m most excited for is that big environment.

When it’s a big game, is Rupp Arena is the best environment in college basketball. That never happens in the SEC. The one time it happens is when Florida’s good, but that hasn’t happened in years. When Joakim Noah was there, people got pumped about it.

I just I wish [Kentucky-Carolina] wasn’t at noon. If it was primetime it’d be great for the sport.

Q: Got a prediction?

A: I actually think Carolina’s gonna win.

What’s you’ll see if that Kentucky is not yet mature enough to beat Carolina. They are against everybody else. But I don’t think they’re there yet.

You can find more of Matt’s work at Kentucky Sports Radio and follow him on Twitter @KySportsRadio.

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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?

Top 100 Players Countdown

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Starting on Monday morning and continuing throughout the week, we will be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball on the College Basketball Talk twitter account.

Check back to this page – or to the CBT twitter account – throughout the week to get caught up on the rankings.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview