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.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”