State Farm Champions Classic - Duke v Kentucky

Kentucky isn’t great, yet, but they will be


ATLANTA – This wasn’t how the season was supposed to begin.

Coming off of a national title and with a roster made up of yet another ungodly recruiting class, this season was supposed to be proof that John Calipari had built the Kentucky program into a dynasty. They weren’t supposed to struggle against a borderline top 25 team in Maryland while watching Alex Len torch twin towers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. And they certainly weren’t supposed to get dropped by arch-nemesis Duke while allowing a beat up and out-of-shape Seth Curry got for 23 points.

But six days into the season, that’s precisely where we find ourselves after the Blue Devils hung on to win a scintillating, 75-68 slugfest in the nightcap of the Champions Classic.

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not a trait that’s in high supply in Big Blue Nation.

It is, however, a state of mind that Kentucky fans are going to have to come to grips with, because as of right now, this team is not a national title contender yet. I emphasize ‘right now’ and ‘yet’ for a reason, because they will get there. They will improve as the season progresses.

“We’re still trying to figure out our team,” Calipari said after the game. “It’s all new to this team. We’re trying to figure out how we’re playing. We don’t play hard enough yet. We don’t compete on every possession yet. We don’t go after every rebound yet. We don’t know how to finish off games yet. We haven’t really figured out totally how we’re going to play.”

This is one of Cal’s more interesting rosters simply because nothing about it is standard. When his best five players are on the floor, he has two seven-foot centers (Noel and Cauley-Stein) playing with a guy who is ideally suited to be a four (Alex Poythress) and a pair of guards (Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow) who aren’t exactly known for their shooting ability. If you factor Kyle Wiltjer into the mix, than you’re including a player whose athleticism and defensive ability doesn’t exactly make him a perfect fit with the rest of this group.

Perhaps the most important note that needs to be made about Tuesday night’s game is that Harrow didn’t play. “We need him,” Calipari said of Harrow. “It hurt us today. It’s obvious.” Kentucky’s point guard play consisted of former walk-on Jarrod Polson and out-of-position Goodwin and Julius Mays. And Goodwin actually looked pretty good in the role, resembling Tyreke Evans with his aggressiveness and athleticism. But it certainly wasn’t ideal; Duke made their run when Kentucky had about three or four horrendous offensive possessions in a row.

“We had about three spells of a minute and a half where we did something dumb on our end and, like what a good team is going to do, they capitalized,” Cal said. “There were probably two or three spells of a minute or a minute and a half that cost us the game.”

And it’s not just the players that need to figure out how to play together. Calipari needs to learn this group and what situations he can put them into.

“The only guy I needed to get in there more was Willie,” Cal said. “I didn’t know if I could put him back in there and he’d be ok, because he missed a shot and he missed a rebound and he fumbled a ball back-to-back. I don’t know him well enough yet. Do I take him out and put him back in or is he rattled? This isn’t the game to figure that out.”

Kentucky will get there eventually. They’ll make plenty of noise once the calender turns.

But until then, have patience.

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

Details of Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State contract released

Gregg Marshall (AP Photo)
Gregg Marshall (AP Photo)
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Back in the spring, back before Alabama had hired Avery Johnson and Texas had decided upon bringing in Shaka Smart, Gregg Marshall was the hottest name on the coaching carousel. He had turned Wichita State into a top 15 program, one that had reached a Final Four and won 35 straight games in the previous three seasons.

There was speculation that the Longhorns would make a run at him, but it was Alabama that tried first, reportedly offering Marshall a blank check, telling him to tell them what he was going to get paid.

Marshall turned it down, accepting a deal to remain at Wichita State that was reported to be worth $3.3 million annually for the next seven years.

This week, the Wichita Eagle obtained a copy of Marshall’s contract. The details:

  • Marshall will be getting paid $3 million annually until 2018, when that number jumps up to $3.5 million. He’s under contract through 2022.
  • He has performance bonuses that could reach more than $450,000.
  • Not that Marshall would ever be fired by Wichita State, but his buyout is massive: $15 million until he’s owed less than $15 million on his contract, at which point the Shockers would have to pay him the remainder of his salary.
  • But if Marshall decides to leave, he only has to pay the school $500,000.

So if you were wondering why Marshall decided not to leave Wichita, it’s because he’s making more than Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan and slightly less than Indiana head coach Tom Crean this season.

Arkansas returns to underdog role after offseason arrests

Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson (AP Photo)
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas coach Mike Anderson says he was “blindsided” by a tumultuous offseason for the Razorbacks, one that included the arrests of three players on allegations of using counterfeit money.

Still, entering his fifth season at Arkansas – his 22nd overall at the school, including 17 as an assistant – Anderson remains optimistic the program can build on last year’s second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference.

Led by SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis, the Razorbacks finished 27-9 last season and reached their NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.

The excitement-filled season was the culmination of four years of rebuilding for Anderson, though the school took a step back afterward following the early departures for the NBA of Portis and second-leading scorer Michael Qualls.

That was only the first step in a difficult offseason for the Razorbacks.

Starting point guard Anton Beard, forward Jacorey Williams and transfer Dustin Thomas were arrested by Fayetteville police in July, accused of using counterfeit $20 bills and exchanging counterfeit $50 bills for $100 bills.

Williams was dismissed in August, while Beard and Thomas have been suspended from the team and remain enrolled in school awaiting trial.

“I think if you’re in it long enough, you’re going to have some of those things take place,” Anderson said. “I was kind of blindsided by some of it, I’ll say that. … When it happens, I think the measure of, not only the person but the program, is how you deal with it. And I think we’re dealing with it in the right way.”

With Portis and Qualls’ departures, as well as the graduation of Ky Madden and Alandise Harris, Arkansas enters this season without four of its top five scorers from a year ago.

The lone returner in that mix is senior shooting guard Anthlon Bell, who averaged 7.9 points per game last season while shooting 35.1 percent on 3-pointers.

Bell’s outside ability is something the Razorbacks expect to use often this season without the interior scoring touch of Portis, and because the revamped roster features several top shooters – including Texas Tech transfer Dusty Hannahs and heralded freshman guard Jimmy Whitt.

Anderson said they’re also likely to run more this season in order to try and manufacture easy offense through defensive pressure.

“We’re still going to play Hog basketball, 40 minutes of Hell,” Bell said.

Anderson wouldn’t comment in detail on the arrests of Beard or Thomas, but he did say he talks with the two while they’re on suspension. He also said they are continuing to work out on their own, with the hope of being reinstated after the legal process plays out.

In the meantime, Anderson is embracing a return to the underdog role after last season’s breakout – calling the reversal a “challenge” and insisting “We’re not going backward.”

“It’s unfortunate that we had some individuals that, No. 1, they (did) some things that hurt the team,” Anderson said. “But at the end of the day, let’s see how these other guys respond.”