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CBT Exam Week Essays: How do you fix what ails Kentucky?

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For college students and college basketball fans, Exam Week is the worst week on the schedule. For students, this week is the culmination of three months worth of procrastination, cliff notes and Wikipedia. For college basketball fans, it’s the lightest week of hoops action we will see all season.

With so very little going on this week in terms of action, the staff at College Basketball Talk is going back to school. Over the next five days, the CBT Staff will be responsible for answering an essay question in one of five different subjects.

Monday’s exam covered covered sociology. Tuesday is the psychology exam.

Kentucky is currently battling through the roughest year of the John Calipari era. In your opinion, what is the root problem for the Wildcats and how, if at all, can it be remedied in order for the team to make their second-straight Final Four?

By Dan Martin

It seems as though we go through this every year with John Calipari and Kentucky. There’s a young group of highly-talented freshmen, analysts cite the Wildcats’ lack of experience as the reason they won’t make a deep run in March, then we see how the season plays out.

One year after the “youth” argument was debunked, Calipari finds himself in the toughest stretch of his tenure in Lexington, on the outside of the Top 25, looking in, and with the most question marks of perhaps any Kentucky team he has had.

There are a number of reasons for UK’s less-than-optimal start, which we’ll explore here, but here is one that many are overlooking: context.

Kentucky is coming off a national championship run, supposedly the great triumph for Calipari, proving that he could once and for all assemble a team that defies convention and takes home a national title.

But you have to look at it in context.

That team, though young, did the most fundamentally important thing any team can do. The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats played team defense and they played it well.

They had a historically good shotblocker in Anthony Davis. They had one of the hardest-working players in college basketball, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They had (get this) experience with sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, not to mention senior Darius Miller.

Now, in reference to this year’s Kentucky team, how many of those variables have carried over?

Calipari has no Darius Miller to come off the bench and provide stability when the team needs it. The only senior on the roster who sees regular minutes is Julius Mays, who is working through his own transition, having played last season at Wright State.

Aside from seniors, there are virtually no seasoned, experienced college players returning for Kentucky from last year’s national championship team. Kyle Wiltjer played, yes, but he averaged under 12 minutes per game.

For Calipari to have pieces like Jones and Lamb stay in Lexington last season was instrumental to UK’s championship run, even if they weren’t upperclassmen. In a program where the roster is turned over every season, being a sophomore with playing experience makes you a veteran by comparison.

The next biggest problem for Calipari is his point guard situation.

Ryan Harrow is just now working back to full speed after missing four games due to illness. That has meant that natural shooting guard Archie Goodwin has had to take the majority of the ballhandling duties.

Has he performed? Statistically, yes. He is the team’s leading scorer with 16.4 points per game, but he’s not built to be a true point guard. He’s averaging 4.4 assists, but also 3.2 turnovers per game.

Added to that, inconsistencies shooting from the floor as a team have plagued the Wildcats, including 29.6 percent vs. Baylor and 40 percent vs. Notre Dame.

But how can it all be remedied?

The easiest answer is that this simply does not look like a Kentucky team capable of  a Final Four run, especially with the way Florida is emerging in the SEC.

Calipari’s words have proven true that, as talented as Nerlens Noel is and the ceiling he has as far as his development goes, right now he is not where Anthony Davis was last season.

There are questions that remain at the point guard position, which is one of the more difficult liabilities to overcome.

Once they get their feet under themselves, talent alone makes them a Top 25 team. They could even reach into the Top 15, but those inconsistencies are what will keep them from making it much further than the Sweet 16 this season.

Professor’s Notes: This is a brilliantly written essay. You attack the cause of Kentucky’s problems, their lack of experience and consistent guard play, and explain why this team differs from last season’s National Championship squad. I would like to have read more about how you think Calipari can combat the issue. Nonetheless, this an excellent essay.

GRADE: A

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.