Kentucky grinds out an impressive win over Louisville

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s performance against Louisville on Saturday afternoon was undeniable.

He had 24 points on the night, 18 of them coming in the first half as Kentucky built a 15 point lead. He also added 19 rebounds, with 10 of those coming in the second half as Kentucky forced Louisville into miss after miss, pulling away from the Cardinals to win 69-62. If it wasn’t for two Russ Smith threes in the final 10 seconds, that final score would have looked quite a bit less respectable.

At this point, there really is no argument that MKG is the best player on Kentucky. He may not have the most upside, but there is nothing that he can’t do on a basketball court. He defends, he attacks the glass, he can penetrate to score or to pass and he can hit a three. There is only one player (Jared Sullinger) I would consider taking over him if I was starting a college basketball team right now, and MKG couldn’t have possibly made that more obvious than he did today.

But Kidd-Gilchrist may not have even been the most important player for Kentucky in this game.

Especially down the stretch.

That honor would go to Anthony Davis.

Think about this for a second: Kentucky shot 29% from the floor against Louisville. They were 3-16 from three and turned the ball over 20 times. Darius Miller, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb combined to shoot 4-23 from the floor and contributed 16 turnovers, 13 fouls and eight assists as a group. And Terrence Jones, once again, failed to get the memo that Kentucky had a basketball game today.

And Kentucky won without much of a challenge from the Cards down the stretch.

The credit for that goes to Davis.

He was an absolute game-changer in the second half. Davis finished with six blocks on the game, five of which came in the final 20 minutes. His presence on the floor had as much to do with Louisville’s 9-35 shooting (25.7%) in the second half as the other four defenders on the floor combined. Anytime the Cards had the ball in the paint, they were looking for Davis. They missed layup after layup simply because they were trying to avoid getting their shot blocked. As a result, Kentucky was able to play just that much tighter and more aggressively on the perimeter, making Louisville’s life just that much more difficult offensively.

That shot-blocking alone wasn’t what won the game for the Cardinals. It was the Wildcat’s ability to clear the offensive glass when Louisville missed all of those shots. Kentucky outrebounded Louisville 57-31. Since we all know rebounding margin is a dead statistic, Kentucky grabbed 78.8% (37 of 47) of the available defensive rebounds, which was almost as impressive as the 48.7% (20 of 41) of available offensive rebounds they collected.

Louisville is one of the top 25 teams in the country on the offensive glass, and Kentucky completed took that aspect of their game away.

That is the most impressive part of this win for Kentucky. In a game that devolved into a foul-ridden, offensively-challenged slug-fest, Kentucky pulled out a win over a heated-rival by being able to muck it up on the glass.

That was a question mark that some (me!) had about the Wildcats earlier this season.

This performance went a long way towards quelling those concerns.

What We Learned

Kentucky:

– Terrence Jones was once again a no-show on the offensive end of the floor for the Wildcats, but he did have an impact on this game. The sophomore forward, who came off the bench but started the second half, finished with 11 rebounds in 30 minutes. As we laid out above, UK’s rebounding was the most important aspect of the win. Kentucky doesn’t necessarily need Jones to be a big-time scorer. They have offensive weapons on their roster and have proven that they can beat quality teams without him providing 15-20 points. Where he can make a difference is in the paint. He’s the only player on Kentucky with the strength to be a physical presence inside.

– It cannot be understated how poorly Kentucky’s back court played on the offensive end of the floor. I don’t think its crazy to say that today’s performance was the worst that you will see out of Miller, Teague and Lamb individually all season long. And Kentucky still won fairly easily.

– Kyle Wiltjer just doesn’t fit with this Kentucky team. I think that, eventually, he can play a similar role to what Erik Murphy is doing for Florida. But with the makeup of this roster, he just doesn’t fit. He’s not a shot blocker, he’s not a defender, he’s not going to get rebounds. He’s a face-up four who is ideal playing for a team that has a dominant low-post scoring threat and needs someone to help spread the floor, not on a team that has Anthony Davis on the block and thrives on dribble penetration off the perimeter.

– Anthony Davis shot 12-13 from the free throw line. He was shooting 58.7% coming in.

Louisville:

– Rick Pitino routinely does as good of a coaching job as anyone in the country. From a personnel perspective, Louisville has no business competing with Kentucky on their home floor. Yet the Cardinals were able to erase a 15 point first half deficit to tie the game midway through the second half. Their ability to hit threes, force turnovers and get points in transition means they are rarely going to be out of a game.

– Peyton Siva just doesn’t seem like he’s the kind of point guard that can run a team. He takes far too many bad jump shots early in a possession and tries far too often to use his athleticism to finish amongst the trees. Kemba Walker went through the same problems as a sophomore. Siva needs to learn a) to pick his spots as a shoot; b) hot to get the rest of his team involved when he is running the show; and c) how to consistently make runners and floaters in the 8-10 foot range. Until that happens, he is always going to be a guy where announcers use the words “could” and “should” to describe.

– Russ Smith is best suited for his role coming off the bench with the makeup of this Louisville team, just like Dion Waiters is being used ideally as the sixth man for Syracuse. Smith is not a point guard, but he’s also not a shooting guard in the way that Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are. Smith is a guy that always makes things happen, whether it is forcing a turnover, hitting three or four shots in a row or missing three or four in a row. He’s far too inconsistent from possession to possession to start, but he’s got the kind of lightening-in-a-bottle scorer that allows him to change the flow of a game when he enters.

That change of pace, particularly when it is coming against the reserves of Louisville’s opponents, is why Smith always seems to have such a big impact when he gets into the game. I am riding shotgun in the Russ Smith bandwagon, but I firmly believe he is the most effective as this group’s sixth-man.

– Louisville needs Wayne Blackshear to get healthy and be effective immediately. They simply do not have enough scoring punch on their perimeter. That said, I’m not sure how much impact a freshman that gets inserted into the rotation in January or February will have.

– Louisville is a borderline top 10 right now. At best. And I would have told you the same thing before this week.

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

Miami picks up Florida Gulf Coast transfer

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The transfer train continues to run to Miami this spring.

The U picked up their third commitment from a transfer Thursday when Zach Johnson, formerly of Florida Gulf Coast, pledged to coach Jim Larranaga and the ‘Canes.

“I would like to thank my FGCU family for everything during my time there. The relationships I have built will never be forgotten,” Johnson wrote on social media. “With that being said I am proud and happy to announce that I will be attending the University of Miami for my grad year.”

Johnson joins Kameron McGusty (Oklahoma) and Anthony Mack (Wyoming) as players from other programs joining Miami. Unlike the other two, who will sit out under NCAA transfer rules, Johnson will be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 16.1 points on 46.9 percent shooting overall and 39.2 percent from distance. He averaged career highs in scoring, rebounds, 3-point percentage and steals during his junior campaign with the Eagles.

Johnson will help ease the transition for the Hurricanes with Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker gone to the pros, Dewan Huell testing the waters and Ja’Quan Newton gone to graduation.

Big Ten releases matchups for new 20-game league slate

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The Big Ten’s 14-team structure has made for some unwieldy scheduling with unbalanced schedules and long-time rivalries relegated to a single matchup in some seasons.

The conference’s move to a 20-game league schedule is being made in part to alleviate those issues. Teams will play seven opponents home-and-away and the remaining six in one-off meetings – half on the road and half at home.

“The new schedules ensure that all three of the Big Ten’s in-state rivals – Illinois/Northwestern, Indiana/Purdue, and Michigan/Michigan State-will play twice on an annual basis,” Big Ten assistant commissioner Kerry Kenny said in a statement. “Additionally, there will be regional rotations in both the east and in the west. Rather than protecting a single opponent on a yearly basis for the remaining eight teams, annual rotations involving the four eastern teams (Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers) and the four western teams (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin) have been strategically developed to optimize travel, academic and recovery impacts while encouraging increased competition among institutions that are near each other geographically.

“Increasing the frequency of conference competition allows the Big Ten to compete across a larger footprint, while respecting history and balancing the needs of our students, coaches and fans.”

The Big Ten released the scheduling matrix Thursday (see below) while the full schedule will be released at a later date.

 

2018-19 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Opponents

ILLINOIS

Home: Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers

Away: Iowa, Maryland, Purdue

Home/Away: Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin

INDIANA

Home: Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin

Away: Maryland, Minnesota, Penn State

Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers

IOWA

Home: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan

Away: Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue

Home/Away: Indiana, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers, Wisconsin

MARYLAND

Home: Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern

Away: Iowa, Michigan State, Rutgers

Home/Away: Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin

MICHIGAN

Home: Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue

Away: Illinois, Iowa, Rutgers

Home/Away: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Wisconsin

MICHIGAN STATE

Home: Maryland, Minnesota, Northwestern

Away: Illinois, Penn State, Wisconsin

Home/Away: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers

MINNESOTA

Home: Indiana, Iowa, Penn State

Away: Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State

Home/Away: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin

NEBRASKA

Home: Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin

Away: Indiana, Michigan, Rutgers

Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue

NORTHWESTERN

Home: Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue

Away: Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska

Home/Away: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers, Wisconsin

OHIO STATE

Home: Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin

Away: Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska

Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers

PENN STATE

Home: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State

Away: Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State

Home/Away: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin

PURDUE

Home: Illinois, Iowa, Rutgers

Away: Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin

Home/Away: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State

RUTGERS

Home: Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska

Away: Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin

Home/Away: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State

WISCONSIN

Home: Michigan State, Purdue, Rutgers

Away: Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State

Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State

New Mexico’s Chris McNeal transferring

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Chris McNeal is heading to his fourth school in four years.

The New Mexico guard has asked for and received his release from the school to transfer, the Lobos announced Thursday.

“Chris has truly been a great person to have in our program,” head coach Paul Weir said in a statement. “We wish him nothing but the best in his future.”

McNeal began his career in 2015 at Western Kentucky, where he played one season and set the freshman assist record, before heading to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Ia., becoming a junior-college All-American on his way to New Mexico.

In his one season with the Lobos, McNeal started 19 games and averaged 9.5 points per game.He shot 37.2 percent from the floor and 31.5 percent from 3-point range. He had three games of at least 20 points, including 29 against Tennessee Tech in which he connected on 7 of 11 3-pointers.

New Mexico went 19-15 and finished third in the Mountain West.

McNeal will have one year remaining of eligibility and also has a redshirt year still available to him after his stop at Indian Hills.

Syracuse transfer Matthew Moyer headed to Vanderbilt

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Bryce Drew’s already sterling group of 2018 newcomers got even better Thursday.

Matthew Moyer, a former top-100 recruit, committed to transfer from Syracuse to Vanderbilt to add to an impressive haul of talent Drew has brought to Nashville.

“I am so blessed to announce that the next step in my academic and athletic journey is to Vanderbilt to play for Coach Drew!!” Moyer wrote on social media.

Moyer was a four-star recruit in 2016 and redshirted his first season with the Orange. Last year, his first on the court, he played just 16.8 minutes per game, averaging 3.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8 Ohio native chose Vanderbilt over the likes of Texas and Xavier.

While Moyer will be expected to sit out the upcoming season under transfer rules, he’ll still be part of a major transfer infusion for the Commodores. Drew already has two five-star recruits in top-15 prospects Simisola Shittu and Darius Garland, plus four-star recruit Aaron Nesmith, a top-60 prospect. They’re also still in the running for Romeo Langford, a top-10 player in 2018.

Vanderbilt took a significant dip last year in Drew’s second season after an NCAA tournament appearance in Year 1, but their work on the recruiting trail looks to be ensuring that’ll be a momentary drop in performance. Vanderbilt moved on from Kevin Stallings to Drew in large part because of languishing results, but Drew looks to be reinvigorating the program in the best way possible – with serious success on the recruiting trail that seems likely to be followed by wins on the floor.

Report: Pilot involved in last year’s Michigan crash went against protocol, saved lives doing so

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The pilot of the plane that was scheduled to carry the Michigan basketball team from Detroit to Washington D.C. for the 2017 Big Ten tournament broke protocol by aborting takeoff and, in the process, potentially saved the lives of everyone on board the plane.

Here’s what happened, according to a transcript of the cockpit recorder that was obtained by The Detroit News: The mechanism that an airplane uses to take-off is called an elevator, and one of the two elevators on the plane that the Michigan team was on was stuck in a position that would not have allowed the plane to get into the air the way it needed to.

By the time the pilot of the plane realized this, the plane was already past the speed that would have allowed them to abort the takeoff without damaging the plane. Generally speaking, when that happens, the protocol is to get into the air and then find a way to land safely. The pilot on this flight slammed on the brakes, reverse-thrusted the engines and hoped for the best.

What eventually happened was that the plane skidded to a stop off of the back-end of the runway, leaving the people on board with bumps, bruises, scratches and, in the case of Derrick Walton Jr., stitches in his leg.

The alternative?

Well, we don’t have to think about that.

Because the pilot of that plane, Mark Radloff, went against what he was taught to do.

I’d suggest you read the entire story here. It’s wild and frightening.