The most disappointing team in the country: UCLA or Memphis?

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The craziest part about the beginning of the college hoops season is the number of teams that are already being labeled disappointments.

Baylor is back to their old tricks, failing to live up to the talent they have on the roster. That’s what happens when you barely beat a team that lost to Bryant or try two two-pointers in the final ten seconds of a game you’re losing by three at home. (Should I mention the latter came against Charleston?) UNLV was thought to be a potential Final Four contender, and they lost on their home court to an Oregon team that is still unproven. NC State, a title contender according to some pundits, got drubbed by Oklahoma State — who nearly got beaten by UC-Davis in their home opener — before hanging on against a rebuilding UNC-Asheville team. West Virginia, St. Mary’s and Drexel can all be lumped in there as well.

But without a doubt, the two most disappointing teams in the country are UCLA and Memphis.

If you didn’t stay up late last night to watch it, the Bruins, who were ranked No. 11 in the country last week, lost at home. To Cal Poly. (Yes, they’re a real team.) After blowing an 18 point lead with 12 minutes left, losing when Norman Powell fouled a Cal Poly player with the scored tied and 14 seconds left because he thought they were down. After losing to Georgetown, barely holding on to beat Georgia and getting taken to overtime (at home) by UC-Irvine.

And frankly, I’m not so sure that UCLA’s problems are fixable. Ben Howland is a defensive-minded coach. That’s how he took the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours. Those teams never finished worse that third in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency ratings. We all remember how critics of Howland used to say he’d never be able to land recruits because his star players don’t get a chance to shine offensively, right?

Well, this group simply is never going to be good on that end of the floor, and it’s not simply a matter of ability; they have guys that are athletic enough to be good defenders, but do they pride themselves in being able to get stops? It hasn’t looked like it yet, and it certainly didn’t look like it as Cal Poly scored 37 points in the last 12 minutes on Sunday night. A zone won’t work, either, as this group isn’t active on the defensive end of the floor.

My advice? Accept it. Embrace the fact that you’re not going to be beating anyone 62-58 this season and instead try to break the century mark every time out. Use Kyle Anderson at the four, rotate the three wings (Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Norman Powell) and Larry Drew II as the three players joining him on the perimeter and let the Wears take turns manning the paint. Run the floor, score as much as possible, and hope that it’s enough.

At the very least, the Bruins will be having fun and into the game. That’s more than can be said for last night.

The issues that Memphis has seem to be more systemic than anything.

Is there an issue for Pastner when it comes to recruiting local kids? Is that why, after turning his team around for the stretch run last season, he team has regressed back to playing timid, mistake-prone basketball? Is that why his team looks like a group of freshmen that lack confidence and understanding?

The bigger question: is that Pastner’s fault? Local columnist Geoff Calkins believes so:

This isn’t about X’s and O’s, either, though plenty would criticize Pastner for his. This is about Pastner’s ability to lead and reach and inspire a team.

[…]

But all good coaches have one thing in common: They get their players to play hard and together and well.

Pastner does not. Or has not, with any consistency. And don’t blame the players, either. Pastner recruited every one of them. It is his team, from the first man to the last. There is nobody to hold responsible but the coach.

I disagree with Calkins here.

I watched quite a bit of Memphis from the Battle 4 Atlantis, and I don’t think their issue is effort. I legitimately believe that the kids on that team, for the most part, played hard. Yes, Joe Jackson sulked when he didn’t play well, but I think that sulking is more of a lack of confidence and frustration issue — understandable — than it is an indictment of Pastner. And to be fair, they lost to a very good VCU team and to Minnesota when a kid from Memphis that got passed over by Memphis went for 41 points.

Neithe of those losses equate to blowing an 18 point lead at home to Cal Poly.

My take: the Tiger’s problems stem from a) poor decision-making, which manifests as silly turnovers and forced shots; b) problems with their preparedness, as I’m not convinced the Tigers really knew what they were getting into against VCU’s pressure; and c) offensive and defensive execution.

Those issues, however, are more problematic than an inability to motivate.

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

SMU’s Jarrey Foster out of the season with a knee injury

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SMU will be without junior forward Jarrey Foster for the rest of the season, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-6 Foster is the second leading scorer and leading rebounder for the Mustangs as he partially tore the ACL in his left knee driving to the basket in a win over Wichita State.

Foster was putting up 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as he’s a huge part of why SMU is 14-6 and in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. Only playing five minutes in the win over the Shockers, Foster didn’t play in the SMU win over Tulane over the weekend.

According to Adam Grosbard of the Dallas Morning News, freshman forward Everett Ray will also miss the rest of the season as he suffered a broken foot in warmups before the Tulane game. The injuries to Ray and Foster leaves the Mustangs with only nine scholarship players left for the season.

Without Foster in the lineup, SMU should still be able to compete for an NCAA tournament bid. The Mustangs just won on the road against a top ten team and have plenty of talent as the team currently has six double-figure scorers. But Foster was the team’s most versatile frontcourt player, leading the team in blocks and creating turnovers on the wing. He’ll be tough to replace on the defensive end and he’s also capable of being a solid scorer.

Coach Cal takes another shot at Duke, Coach K

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Duke and Kentucky have been at the forefront on the recruiting world for some time now, and as of late, it has been Duke that has been winning those wars.

In the Class of 2018, Duke has beaten Kentucky on Cameron Reddish, R.J. Barrett and, on Saturday, Zion Williamson. Kentucky landed Kevin Knox, who many believed was a heavy Duke lean, but the Blue Devils also beat out Kentucky on Marques Bolden.

That has not quite gone as well as planned, but nonetheless, Bolden’s commitment did set off the most recent Petty Wars between the two programs. It started with something that was posted on Coach Cal’s website that said that Kentucky isn’t trying to sell recruits on the idea that the program and the program’s alumni-base will take care of the kid for the rest of his life. That was a clear reference to comments that Hamidou Diallo made about Duke tried to recruit him.

Then, after Bolden committed to Duke, the Duke twitter account did their best to troll Coach Cal, responding to a tweet where he said “Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish” with this tweet:

That was in the summer prior to the 2016-17 season.

After this year’s Champions Classic, where Kentucky lost and Duke beat Michigan State by playing zone the entire game, Cal had this to say:

“You know what was really funny? We were going to come in and I was going to play 40 minutes of zone. We were. My staff talked me out of it. And then I heard Duke played zone the whole. Like, the whole game. And I was going to do it simply to see if we can really play it then we’ll have to play it against this team. And then naturally I didn’t play one down of it, but I had come in with the idea. Like, let’s just throw it up and play zone the whole game. I laughed and I said look at—when you have a young team like that, a bunch of freshmen, it’s much easier to play zone than to try to teach them man-to-man principles and all the other stuff, which is what we’re trying to do.” (My emphasis added.)

That leads me to today, where Coach Cal met with local media to talk about, among other things, some of the issues that his program has had on the recruiting trail. (Quotes courtesy my buddy Kyle Tucker at SEC Country):

“I don’t sell, like, ‘When you come here, the university and the state will take care of you the rest of your life,’ ” Calipari said. “You may buy that, and I’ve got some great property in some swampland down in Florida to sell you, too.”

 

“Every one of us in this country is based on you’ve gotta take care of yourself. And then when you make it, you make sure that you’re helping [others]. And along the way you bring other people with you,” Calipari said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do, just give these guys the best opportunity. We’re not trying to say this university or this state will take care of you the rest of your life. There’s no socialism here. This stuff is, ‘You’ve gotta go do it and we’re gonna help you do it.’ Some [recruits] like that. Some don’t like it.”

I am so here for all of this.

I love Duke-Kentucky becoming a year-round rivalry. I wish that they played more often than every three years in the Champions Classic.

As part of my effort to become commissioner of college basketball, I propose that these two programs must play at least once every year.

UCLA lands McDonald’s All-American center Moses Brown

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UCLA landed one of the premier Class of 2018 players left on Monday as five-star center Moses Brown pledged to the Bruins.

The 7-foot-1 Brown brings legitimate size and length to the interior for the Bruins as the New York native is one of the better big men in the class. A McDonald’s All-American, Brown is regarded as the No. 20 overall prospect in the national Class of 2018 rankings, according to Rivals. Brown made his announcement with a tweet through Slam.

Brown becomes the headliner of a strong four-man class for the Bruins that includes four-star forward Jules Bernard and guard David Singleton and three-star big man Kenneth Nwuba. UCLA has continued to recruit well despite the Chinese incident and the Ball family essentially leaving the program for good this season.

With his size and ability to impact the game inside, Brown could get early minutes right away for UCLA next season as he becomes an important piece for its future. If Brown stays around for a few years then he could anchor the interior for the Bruins — although it remains to be seen how Brown will look in a more up-and-down system.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kentucky is no longer a top 25 team

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The latest coaches poll was released on Monday, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who the top three teams in the country are.

Villanova, Virginia and Purdue are the consensus three best teams in the sport.

Kentucky also fell out of the top 25 after a pair of losses this week.

Here is the full top 25 poll:

1. Villanova
2. Virginia
3. Purdue
4. Duke
5. Kansas
6. Michigan State
7. West Virginia
8. Xavier
8. Cincinnati
10. North Carolina
11. Oklahoma
12. Arizona
13. Ohio State
14. Texas TEch
15. Gonzaga
16. Wichita State
17. Clemson
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Auburn
20. Arizona State
21. Tennessee
22. Florida
23. Rhode Island
24. Miami
25. Michigan

College Basketball AP Poll: Kentucky falls out of Top 25 for 1st time since 2014

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Kentucky is out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in nearly four years while another bunch of Wildcats — Villanova — maintained their hold on No. 1.

Kentucky slid out of Monday’s latest poll from No. 18 after losses to South Carolina and Florida, snapping a 30-game home winning streak for the Wildcats in Southeastern Conference play. That dropped coach John Calipari’s Wildcats out for the first time since March 2014 and snapped a 68-week stretch in the poll.

The top three of Villanova, Virginia and Purdue remained the same, with the Wildcats (18-1) remaining firmly in place by collecting 63 of 65 first-place votes. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers (18-1) and the Boilermakers (19-2) have combined to win 25 straight games, 19 by double-digit margins, and split the remaining first-place votes.

Duke inched up a spot to No. 4, while Kansas jumped five spots to No. 5 after winning at West Virginia. Michigan State, West Virginia, Xavier, Cincinnati and reigning national champion North Carolina rounded out the top 10, which saw three teams — Oklahoma, Wichita State and Texas Tech — each lose twice last week to take big tumbles.

Kentucky (14-5, 4-3 SEC) started the year at No. 5 and remained in the top 10 until Christmas Day, but the Wildcats have lost three of five overall and are 0-2 against ranked teams this year.

They also rank outside the top 25 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive national rankings through Sunday’s games. Coach John Calipari’s teams in Lexington have finished outside the top 25 in both categories only once before: the 2012-13 season that ended with 12 losses and a first-round NIT loss to Robert Morris.

Then again, the last Kentucky team to fall out of the AP poll in 2014 went from being a 10-loss disappointment to playing for the NCAA championship in the span of weeks.

“We’re going to be fine,” Calipari said after Saturday’s 66-64 loss to Florida. “I was worried after South Carolina, now. I’m not worried after this. We’ll be fine. I was worried after Vanderbilt to be honest with you, and we won that game. They do this and they stay this course and this is who we are, we’ll be fine.”

Here is the full poll:

1. Villlanova (63 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (1)
3. Purdue (1)
4. Duke
5. Kansas
6. Michigan State
7. West Virginia
8. Xavier
9. Cincinnati
10. North Carolina
11. Arizona
12. Oklahoma
13. Ohio State
14. Texas Tech
15. Gonzaga
16. Saint Mary’s
17. Wichita State
18. Clemson
19. Auburn
20. Florida
21. Arizona State
22. Tennessee
23. Nevada
24. Rhode Island
25. Michigan

PURDUE’S SURGE

The Boilermakers (8-0 Big Ten) have won 15 straight to remain at No. 3, their highest since being ranked No. 2 in March 1988. They have won three straight Big Ten games by at least 23 points for the first time in school history.

THE LONG CLIMB BACK

Arizona (16-4, 6-1 Pac-12) went from ranked No. 2 to unranked in the span of a week in November after a disastrous 0-3 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, including a 25-point loss to Purdue — which started the Boilermakers’ run — in the eight-team tournament’s seventh-place game.

But the Wildcats have won 13 of 14 since and check in this week at No. 11, their highest ranking since falling out.

TOP RISERS

No. 13 Ohio State (17-4, 7-0 Big Ten) is up nine spots for the week’s biggest leap. The Buckeyes checked in at No. 22 last week for their first AP Top 25 ranking since March 2015.

UNC matched Kansas’ five-spot jump to No. 10 after beating Clemson last week at home.

LONGEST SLIDES

Wichita State’s first two losses in its new American Athletic Conference home had the Shockers drop 10 spots to No. 17 for the week’s biggest fall.

Two Big 12 teams also took big tumbles after two-loss weeks. Oklahoma and freshman star Trae Young fell eight spots to No. 12 after losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State, while No. 14 Texas Tech slid six spots after losses to Texas and Iowa State.

Arizona State also fell five spots to No. 21 and has lost four of seven since a 12-0 start.

NEWCOMERS

Saint Mary’s led the newcomers at No. 16 after winning at Gonzaga in West Coast Conference play last week. The Gaels, led by Jock Landale, were ranked for three November polls before falling out but have won 14 straight.

No. 20 Florida — which reached No. 5 in December before falling out — and No. 23 Nevada both returned to the poll after being ranked earlier this season, while No. 24 Rhode Island checked in for the first time this season.

SLIDING OUT

In addition to Kentucky, Seton Hall (No. 19), TCU (No. 24) and Miami (No. 25) fell out of this week’s rankings.