University of Kentucky's Teague lays it up under pressure from Vanderbilt University's Ezeli and Johnson during the second half of play in their NCAA basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington

SEC title game preview: Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt

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Theoretically, Vanderbilt would seem to be in a perfect position to knock off Kentucky in the SEC Tournament finals.

The Commodores gave the Wildcats two good games during the regular season. In Memorial Gymnasium, Vandy erased a 13 point halftime deficit to tie the score in the second half before UK pulled away and won by six. At Rupp, the ‘Dores actually had the lead at the break and never let Kentucky pull away from good, eventually losing by just nine.

The reason why is that Vandy matches up fairly well with Kentucky. They are a veteran group with a big, strong center in Festus Ezeli to put a body on Anthony Davis, an athlete the caliber of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Jeff Taylor and arguably the nation’s best shooter in John Jenkins. The fact that Vandy knows they can play with Kentucky surely will help as well.

Kentucky hasn’t looked dominant in the SEC Tournament, either. After struggling in a win over LSU in the quarterfinal round, Kentucky got pushed to the brink by a Florida team that can get hot and hang with anyone.

The key to beating Kentucky this season is catching them on a night when they aren’t playing their best basketball, and they haven’t been in New Orleans. The good news, however, is that it looks like Terrence Jones had decided that he wants to be the Terrence Jones that just oozes with potential. In both the LSU and Florida games, he was the guy that sparked the run that changed the game. When he comes to play, he makes the Wildcats a completely different team.

Win or lose, Kentucky is going to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. That is about as much of a fact as we have heading into Selection Sunday. The more intriguing question, however, is whether the Wildcats “need to lose”.

The thinking goes like this: when you are dealing with a group of talented youngsters that are sneaking by against teams they should beat the group can get complacent. Bad habits develop, intensity wanes and that is precisely how favorites lose in the NCAA Tournament. A loss would provide a wake-up call, but I don’t buy it.

The last thing a team wants to do is head into the tournament believing they are beatable, and that is precisely what a loss would do. Personally, I would be more worried about the fact that this group of youngsters might get blinded by the bright lights of their first (and only?) NCAA Tournament.

But the bottom line is that if Kentucky is playing their best basketball, they are not going to lose.

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

POSTERIZED: Jaylen Brown throws down hard in transition

Albert Almanza, Jaylen Brown, Jalin Barnes
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Jaylen Brown is a top five player in the Class of 2015 and a kid projected as a top ten pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.


Because he does things like this:

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Denzel Valentine, the nation’s best player?

Denzel Valentine
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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(This will be updated throughout the day.)

GAME OF THE DAY: Syracuse 74, No. 25 Texas A&M 67

The Orange got 20 points from Michael Gbinije and 15 points and five assists from Trevor Cooney as they won the Battle 4 Atlantis title on Friday afternoon. We wrote on this game earlier. Are the Orange for real this year?


Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: 32 points, nine boards, six assists

No. 3 Michigan State beat Boise State 77-67 in the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy out in California, but the result of that game is less important than the result of Valentine’s night. A night after notching his second triple-double of the season, Valentine took over another way on Friday, hitting five straight threes in the span of about five minutes to put the Spartans up double-figures in a game they were struggling to take control of.

In three games against high-major competition, Valentine is now averaging 30.0 points, 10.7 boards and 9.3 assists. He has been, unequivocally, the best player in college basketball this season.

No. 10 Gonzaga 73, No. 17 UConn 70: Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis made some big plays down the stretch as the Bulldogs held on to win a game they led by as much as 21 in the second half. Kyle Wiltjer scored a team-best 17 points for Gonzaga, which finished third at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Rob Dauster wrote more about the Bulldogs and their second-half performance here.

Alabama 64, No. 20 Wichita State 60: While the Shockers’ losses to USC and Alabama don’t help them from an NCAA tournament standpoint, the bigger issue is the team’s health.

No. 17 Notre Dame 68, Iowa 62: The Fighting Irish blew a 15-point second half lead, but the comeback gassed the Hawkeyes, as Notre Dame was able to pull away down the stretch. V.J. Beachem led the way with 16 points.


Quincy Ford, Northeastern: Not only did he score 24 points in the upset win over No. 15 Miami, but he hit the game-winning jumper, too. Video here.

Cat Barber, N.C. State: Barber notched a career-high 37 points to go along with eight assists as the Wolfpack fought off a scrappy Winthrop team, 87-79. He wasn’t the best scorer on the floor, though …

Jimmy Gavin, Winthrop: Gavin finished with 38 points. Off the bench. The most incredible part? He was 5-foot-4, 90 pounds as a sophomore due to Crohn’s Disease.

John Egbunu, Florida: Egbunu finished with 17 points, 11 boards and four blocks as the Gators knocked off FGCU, 70-50. Dorian Finney-Smith added 23 points for Florida.


Wichita State’s bigs: Five of them (Anton Grady, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Bush Wakumota, Eric Hamilton) finished a combined 3-for-21 from the floor with 14 points and 14 fouls. Wakumota shot one of the worst threes you’ll ever see with Wichita State down 62-60 with 10 seconds left.

Grady suffered a scary neck injury late in the game, but early reports sound positive.


  • Jamal Murray went for 21 points and three assists without a turnover at No. 1 Kentucky rolled over South Florida. The big question: How bad is Tyler Ulis’ elbow injury?
  • Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart both had 13 points as No. 8 Villanova knocked off Georgia Tech to win the Preseason NIT, 69-52.
  • No. 23 Xavier raced out of the gates against USC and led by as much as 32, going on to win 87-77 in Orlando. Trevon Bluiett led four Musketeers in double figures with 16 points and James Farr added 12 to go along with nine rebounds off the bench.
  • Troy Caupain had 17 points and Octavious Ellis added 12 points and nine boards (seven offensive) as No. 24 Cincinnati outlasted Nebraska, 65-61, at the Barclays Center.


  • Stanford finished third at the Preseason NIT with a 69-66 win over Arkansas, closing the game on a stunning 21-1 run. Rosco Allen scored eight of his career-high 25 points during that run, and Marcus Allen’s goal-tended layup with 2.6 seconds remaining gave the Cardinal the lead for good.
  • Taurean Waller-Prince had 25 points to lead Baylor to a win over Arkansas State.
  • Joey King’s 18 points paced five players in double-figures for Minnesota as they knocked off Omaha, 93-90.
  • Caris LeVert had 19 points and Derrick Walton added 13 points and seven assists as the Wolverines beat Texas in the fifth-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis.