SEC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals - Vanderbilt v Kentucky

Questions still need answering, but Kentucky takes a step in the right direction in win over UNC-Asheville

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Kentucky isn’t there yet. They looked sloppy and careless at times and are still learning how to play with each other, but it was evident in the Wildcats’ 89-57 victory over UNC-Asheville that John Calipari has a special group on his hands.

Kentucky didn’t need to beat the Bulldogs by 32 points in order for the nation to recognize that the Harrison twins, Julius Randle, and the other future NBA players on the squad are a special group but, if nothing else, tonight reaffirmed that notion.

Recall last year’s Kentucky team that had a bevy of talent and future pro players on the roster. Expectations were high in the preseason, perhaps unreasonably so, and the Wildcats fluttered throughout the year thanks to inconsistent play at point guard and Nerlens Noel suffering a torn ACL midway through the season. That team never seemed to click, and while it’s still extremely early for the current team, the chemistry seems to be there.

Yes, the sloppy play for much of the first half that saw Kentucky head to the locker room with an unimpressive 41-31 lead needs correcting. Yes, missing 18 free throws is a legitimate concern. And yes, whether freshman point guard Andrew Harrison will be able to shoulder the load of leading this team or not is in question.

However, what we saw tonight was a team that seemingly enjoys playing with each other and has fun. It sounds juvenile for a team to “have fun” out on the floor, but far too often last season that appeared to be an issue.

The star of the night was freshman Julius Randle, who poured in 23 points and corralled 15 rebounds. There is no doubt he will be a menace in the paint throughout the season, but what was so encouraging about Randle’s night was drilling 11-13 from the line. He’s going to receive double and triple teams and he is going to be sent to the line a fair amount, especially with the new defensive rules. If he can hit 75% of his free throws or better, he becomes that much more of a threat.

Conversely, there has to be a cause for concern that the rest of the Wildcats combined to shoot 19-35. Free throw shooting has bit John Calipari’s teams in the past — remember some of his teams at Memphis — and that’s an area needing work.

One can only learn so much after blowing UNC-Asheville out at home. Kentucky’s game against a talented Michigan State team next Tuesday will be a good barometer of just how far along the Wildcats are — how the youthful talent on Kentucky maintains their composure against a veteran Spartan team will be telling.

One of the primary questions of this team over the summer months was if Cal could get these future NBA players to all buy-in. Tonight was a step in that direction.

Hayes returning to Wisconsin for senior season

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes celebrates with fans after an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 67-59. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Wisconsin has cemented itself as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season.

Forward Nigel Hayes, the Badgers’ leading scorer and assist man, is withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration to return to Madison for his senior season, he told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday evening.

Hayes declared for the draft last month, but did not hire an agent, taking advantage of new NCAA legislation that allowed him to attend the NBA Draft combine and workout for pro franchises. He was largely regarded as a fringe first-round prospect by draft observers.

His decision is a major boon for Greg Gard, who may have the Big Ten’s best team in his first full season at the helm after taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season. Wisconsin had a major turnaround under Gard, which ultimately resulted in him moving from interim to full time. The Badgers were 7-5 when Ryan stepped down, but recovered by going 13-4 to end the season and make the Sweet 16. 

Now, the entirety of that team, headlined by Hayes, is returning for another year and almost assuredly will be a top-15 (or better) preseason pick. Michigan State will welcome in a dynamite recruiting class that features five-stars Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston, and Indiana should remain strong, but the Badgers, with some players having the experience of  playing in two Final Fours, could very well have the best roster on paper with its blend of talent and experience. Whichever team is pegged as the favorite, the top of the Big Ten is shaping up to be a fantastic race.

Illinois dismisses Kendrick Nunn

Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn (25) tries to go up for a basket against Indiana center Thomas Bryant (31) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at in Champaign, Ill., on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Heather Coit)
(AP Photo/Heather Coit)
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Illinois announced on Tuesday that they have dismissed Kendrick Nunn from the basketball program.

Nunn was sentenced to community service after pleading guilty to a battery charge that stemmed from a domestic violence incident. He was alleged to have hit a woman in the head and pushed her to the ground before pouring water on her.

“We have made the decision to dismiss Kendrick Nunn from the men’s basketball team, effective immediately,” a statement put out by head coach John Groce and athletic director Josh Whitman read. “After extensive deliberation, we think it best for our program to reaffirm our core values of trust and respect, to send a strong message about what is acceptable behavior.”

Nunn averaged 15.5 points as a junior last season.

Delaware hires Martin Inglesby as head coach

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Joe Raymond, AP
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Delaware has finally hired a head coach, a little more than two months after Monte’ Ross was fired.

The man that earned the right of taking over a program with just four returning scholarship players is Martin Inglesby, a Notre Dame assistant that has been under Mike Brey’s tutelage for more than a decade. A source confirmed the news with NBCSports.com. Brey spent his first six seasons as a Division I head coach in Newark.

The reason that the search for a new basketball coach took so long is that the university was in the midst of looking for a new athletic director. Chrissi Rawak was hired as AD on May 13th, and one of her first orders of business was finding a replacement for Ross.

CBS Sports was the first to report Inglesby’s hiring.

Report: UCLA signs record apparel deal with Under Armour

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(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest arms race in the collegiate ranks centers around apparel deals, and UCLA has reportedly signed the largest in the history of amateur athletics.

Under Armour will pay the university $280 million over the next 15 years, according to ESPN.com, in exchange for their athletes to work as unpaid models, turning Pauley Pavilion and the Rose Bowl into a runway for the athletic apparel company to hawk their wares.

Here are the details from ESPN:

At those numbers, the deal would be the largest in college football history. In January, Ohio State said its 15-year deal with Nike was worth $252 million. Texas signed a 15-year deal with Nike worth $250 million in October, and Michigan signed an 11-year deal, with a four-year option, that could be worth up to $173.8 million.

Landing UCLA only furthers Under Armour’s presence on the west coast. Their most famous client is Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

Kentucky-Kansas headlines the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge

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The Big 12 and the SEC announced the matchups for the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Tuesday, and the highlight is, of course, Kansas and Kentucky.

The two schools, who played an instant classic in Phog Allen Fieldhouse last season, will square off in Lexington this season. If that wasn’t enough, Kentucky and Kansas are currently sitting second and third, respectively, in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25.

So that should be fun.

The game will be played on January 28th along with the rest of the matchups in the series. Those matchups are:

Texas at Georgia
Texas A&M at West Virginia
Florida at Oklahoma
Baylor at Ole Miss
Iowa State at Vanderbilt
Kansas State at Tennessee
Arkansas at Oklahoma State
Auburn at TCU
LSU at Texas Tech

To be frank, the rest of that schedule is not all that enticing. West Virginia should be a top 25 team, and they host a Texas A&M team that is talented but young. Florida and Georgia are arguably the two best non-Kentucky teams in the league, but they face off with a rebuilding Oklahoma and a young Texas squad, neither of whom are guaranteed to make the tournament.

The problem here?

Both the SEC and the Big 12 are likely going to be down this season, which puts a damper on just how excited we can get about this challenge.