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Kentucky is the most vulnerable against physical teams

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UNCASVILLE, CT – Every team in the SEC should send a thank you note and an edible arrangement to Old Dominion after their 62-52 loss to Kentucky in the final of Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament.

The Monarchs just wrote the blueprint for how to beat Kentucky this season. Its simple, really: make it ugly.

“Old Dominion did a great job,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “We know that this is how people are going to play us. They’ll hold the ball and be physical with us. They were very physical with us, especially in the post. I don’t know if one of many teams has missed as many one-footers as we missed. They were on your body and we weren’t going to get a free look that way.”

We’ve been saying it since October — the player that Kentucky is going to miss the most from last season’s Final Four team isn’t Brandon Knight or Deandre Liggins, its Josh Harrellson. For all the talent that the Wildcats have in their front court with Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer, the one thing they lack is a big, physical post presence. They don’t have that guy that will battle for position and make it difficult for an opposing team’s center to score on the block.

I don’t think its a stretch to say that Harrellson would make the Wildcats unquestionably the best team in the country.

“They got the ball wherever they wanted to in the post,” Calipari said. “It was too physical for Anthony Davis. It was so physical that he couldn’t even grab the ball. He must learn to bend over and play that way or every game he plays is going to be like this. Kyle was fighting and trying to get to some balls, but he had some baskets scored on him too.”

“We got behind the post and we fouled, because we didn’t get position as they were fighting harder than we were fighting.”

To be fair, Old Dominion just matches up well with Kentucky. The Monarchs are a team full of veterans that are well-coached and disciplined defensively. The guys on that team know what is going to be asked on them on every possession, and they simply execute. They are also very, very physical. Throw in the fact that this is the second noon-tip in a row for a young Kentucky team that is on the tail-end of a week-long road trip — remember, they never went back to Lexington after their game on Tuesday at the Champion’s Classic in New York City — and it was a perfect storm.

It only made sense that the Monarchs were going to give Kentucky problems.

And it also makes it easy to identify who is the most likely to knock off the Wildcats in the SEC. Alabama has a couple of tough, veteran bigs and they play a physical style of defense. They should give Kentucky problems. After seeing Mississippi State two nights in a row this week, I think the Bulldogs can also give Kentucky a fight. But is Vanderbilt really going to change the way they play, particularly if Festus Ezeli is still injured or not back to 100%, just for a game against the Wildcats?

More than anything, this is an indicator of who Kentucky will struggle with.

But its also a perfect teaching point for Calipari. Watching this tape, it won’t be difficult for him to clearly lay out for his team exactly where they are going to struggle this season and what they need to improve on. Teaching point aren’t easy to come by when you’re running Kansas out of Madison Square Garden or outscoring Penn State 47-15 in a half. Nearly losing to Old Dominion, however, will get this group’s attention.

“We’re either going to evolve or we’re not going to be as good as everybody thinks,” Calipari said. “Because what its going to be is mush-mouth basketball right now until we prove we can play.”

“But I think I have a good enough team with good enough guys, they’ll figure it out.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.