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No. 1 Kentucky has talent (and time) to right what went wrong in loss to No. 2 Michigan State

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CHICAGO — Big Blue Nation’s traveling posse will head to O’Hare or Midway or back down I-65 to Lexington disappointed on Wednesday morning.

The first showing of Kentucky’s world famous recruiting class on a national stage did not exactly go as planned, as the No. 2 Wildcats took a generally hard-fought, but at times mighty frustrating, 78-74 loss to No. 2 Michigan State on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic.

On paper, the loss looks bad, as Kentucky went just 20-for-36 from the free throw line and finished with eight assists and 17 turnovers. Throw in a 4-for-20 performance from beyond the arc, which includes a scorching 0-for-9 in the second half, and, well, that’s just not pretty.

That’s also the point.

Think about it like this: Kentucky probably could not have played worse in the first 15 minutes. They were down 10-0 in the first four minutes. They were down by 15 with five minutes left in the half. Michigan State’s two All-Americans, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, were on fire. It looked like we were primed for a beatdown to kick things off in the United Center.

“That coulda been 25,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “It shoulda been 20 at half.”

But it wasn’t.

(MORE: Keith Appling came up big when Michigan State needed him)

For all the issues that the Wildcats had on Tuesday, for everything that went wrong in the first 20 minutes, Kentucky battled all the way back. They tied the game in the second half, erasing a 12 point halftime deficit despite missing 12 free throws in the final 20 minutes. They missed open three after open three, yet continued to slowly chip away at Michigan State’s lead. Despite a couple of seemingly back-breaking turnovers and momentum-killing bad shots, the only thing that could finally stop Kentucky’s surge was the final buzzer.

They did all that against a very well-coached, veteran Michigan State team with two future first round picks and a senior point guard playing his best game in recent memory that just so happened to enter this game as the No. 2 team in the country.

And all of that came in the first game that most of these guys have ever played at this level and with this much national attention.

Do you realize just how impressive that is?

“This kind of tournament is great for college basketball,” Cal said. “It is terrific for the teams. It’s just tough for a really young team. I knew we’d start that way.”

“They’ve never been in an environment like this. When guys get that, they get into themselves a little bit. It gets discombobulated. We just did stuff that shot ourselves in the foot. But that’s what kids like this are going to do.”

The bottom line is this: Julius Randle is a beast. He had 27 points and 13 boards and thoroughly dominated any and all of Michigan State’s big men in the second half, when he had 23 points and nine boards to spur the comeback. Randle did have eight turnovers, but that comes with the territory. This was the first time in Randle’s career he’s faced a team that is this talented and this well-coached in how to double-team the post. He’ll not only learn how to read where the double is coming from, he’ll develop a post move beyond just a simple spin — which was probably responsible for seven of those eight turnovers. 27 and 13 on an off-night? Yikes.

Randle wasn’t the only guy that showed promise. James Young had 15 points in the first half and 19 on the game. Alex Poythress finished with seven points, 12 boards (seven offensive) and three blocks. Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson did some good things when they were on the floor.

You weren’t being lied to when you were told that there is a ridiculous amount of talent on Kentucky’s roster, and it’s only going to get better as the season progresses.

The key, however, is going to be how the Harrison twins progress. Aaron, the shooting guard, was 1-for-7 from the floor. Andrew, the point guard, had 11 points and three assists, but committed four turnovers, took a couple of bad shots down the stretch and had noticeably poor body language. Kentucky needs that duo to provide leadership. Coach Cal needs them to be floor generals, facilitating offense and getting the Wildcats into their sets. He needs them to understand that their best offense is when the ball goes into the post.

We’re not quite there yet, which is part of the reason that Kentucky has not quite reached their potential yet.

The best news to come out of Tuesday? What Kentucky has more than enough of is time.

“I’ve got four months to get this right,” Cal said.

Video: Wildcats make it the “Blue And White House”

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Villanova’s title last month gave the Wildcats the opportunity to visit with the President of the United States on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“It is the Blue and White House today,” President Barack Obama said, “because we’re giving it up for the 2016 NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats.”

The Wildcats were customarily honored by the President on Tuesday for their 77-74 title game win over North Carolina that featured Kris Jenkins’ now-legendary 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“It might be maybe the best title game of all-time,” Obama said. “Just the last few seconds could be a documentary.”

The President mentioned Marcus Paige’s circus shot that tied the game shot seconds before Jenkins’ game-winner.

“A lot of teams would have had their spirit broken,” Obama said. “The wildcats, they took control. They responded.”

That response was Jenkins’ 3 as time expired to place himself in the game’s lore with perhaps the best finish ever for an NCAA championship game.

“That was a good shot,” Obama deadpanned. “It was like a Christian Laettner shot, it was like a Jimmy V(alvano) running up and down the court shot. Charles Barkley apparently jumped out of his seat, which he doesn’t do very often these days.”

Villanova also presented the 44th President with a No. 44 jersey that the team used on Dec. 7, 2015, at Pearl Harbor against Oklahoma.

“This is a great day for Villanova University,” coach Jay Wright said.

Wright didn’t get out of the day without a goodnatured needling from the President.

“Best-dressed man in college basketball,” Obama said. “The George Clooney of coaches.”

The President also noted that Vice President Joe Biden picked ‘Nova to win it all before the tournament.

“This team possessed something that the coaches preached since day one,” Obama said, “and that’s attitude.”

 

TCU’s leading scorer leaving school

Jamie Dixon
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TCU’s leading scorer is leaving the school and college basketball behind.

Chauncey Collins, who had two years of eligibility remaining, will pursue a start to his professional career, the school announced Tuesday night. The Horned Frogs also announced the departure of little-used freshman guard Lyrik Shreiner.

“We would like to thank Chauncey and Lyrik for their contributions to TCU,” coach Jamie Dixon said in the school’s press release.  “We wish Chauncey the best as he looks to begin his professional career to provide for his family and will support Lyrik as he continues his college career at another university.”

Collins started 24 games and averaged 12.3 points on 38.7 percent shooting while dishing out 2.0 assists and grabbing 3.0 rebounds in 31.0 minutes per game. His professional career would presumably begin overseas or in the D-League.

His departure paves the way for incoming recruit Jaylen Fisher to take the reigns at point guard immediately in Dixon’s first year coaching at his alma mater. Fisher is a consensus top-50 recruit who pledged to TCU following decommitting from UNLV.

Shreiner appeared in 22 games last year, averaging 5.4 minutes per appearance.

Cal’s Mathews to transfer

Reed McConnell, Jordan Mathews
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The graduate transfer pool just got a considerable addition.

Cal guard Jordan Mathews intends to graduate this summer and transfer to another school, where he would be immediately eligible, he announced Tuesday evening.

“This decision was not easy, but I am incredibly thankful for this experience,” Mathews wrote on social media. “The relationships I have developed will last a lifetime.

“I will always be a CAl Bear and I will forever cherish my time in Berkeley.”

Mathews’ decision now puts three years’ experience plus last year’s stats of 13.5 points on 42.2 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists on the market just hours before the calendar flips to April. He will certainly not lack for suitors, and it would appear Gonzaga has already emerged as the favorite, per multiple reports. Also of note is his brother, four-star guard Jonah, will be a freshman at USC.

The loss is a significant one for the Golden Bears as the 6-foot-3 Mathews was set to help anchor the perimeter for another season along with Jabari Bird. Coach Cuonzo Martin, though, does have incoming point guard commit Charlie Moore plus getting Ivan Rabb back makes for a solid enough core, especially if Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, who is visiting this week, decides to pledge. Even if things do break its way there, losing Mathews heading into his senior season is a setback Cal would have otherwise like to have avoided.

Forward Charles Buggs to leave Minnesota program

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 9: Charles Buggs #23 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers drives against Alex Austin #44 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois defeated Minnesota 85-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Tuesday afternoon the Minnesota basketball program announced that forward Charles Buggs would be leaving the program, making him the second player to depart since the end of the season. The 6-foot-9 Buggs, the last remaining link to Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota, has graduated and will be eligible immediately at another Division I school as a result.

Buggs started 21 of the 28 games he played in last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action per contest. He joins guard Kevin Dorsey as players who have left Richard Pitino’s program this offseason.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2012-13, Buggs played in 16 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14 and for his career averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. With size being at a premium on the transfer market at this point in the spring, it will be interesting to see which schools reach out to Buggs with an eye towards adding another front court option to their rotation for the 2016-17 season.

Pac-12 all-star team to tour Australia in July

Oregon State's Stephen Thompson Jr., center, celebrates with fans after he made free throws with no time left on the clock to give Oregon State a 71-69 win over Utah in an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
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While the majority of summer tours in college basketball consist of teams making the trek overseas (or to Canada) together, there are all all-star teams put together to represent a conference or some other entity. The Pac-12 has put together an all-star team of sorts in recent years, and on Tuesday they announced the 12-member squad that will visit Australia to play three games in early July.

Two of those games will be played against the Australian men’s national team, which will be preparing for the Summer Olympics to be played in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August.

The coaching staff will be led by Mike Montgomery, who led the programs at both Stanford and California before retiring in 2014, with former Stanford head coach Trent Johnson and former Stanford players Casey Jacobsen and Brevin Knight serving as his assistants. Ten of the conference’s 12 teams will be represented on the roster, with Oregon (which has some players hoping to reach the Olympics for other countries) and UCLA being the teams without a player making the trip.

Also of note for Oregon is the fact that they’ll be taking a summer trip to Spain in August, so their players are already set up for a busy summer.

Arizona and Oregon State will each have two players on the roster, with Kadeem Allen and Chance Comanche making the trip representing Sean Miller’s program and Drew Eubanks and Stephen Thompson Jr. doing so for Wayne Tinkle’s program. Of the 12 players two earned honorable mention all-conference honors (USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson), and Colorado’s Wesley Gordon was a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection.

Below is the full roster, and the team is scheduled to depart for Australia from Los Angeles July 7.

G Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
C Chance Comanche (Arizona)
G Tra Holder (Arizona State)
G Stephen Domingo (California)
F Wesley Gordon (Colorado)
F Drew Eubanks (Oregon State)
F Stephen Thompson Jr. (Oregon State)
G/F Dorian Pickens (Stanford)
G Jordan McLaughlin (USC)
G Lorenzo Bonam (Utah)
F Matisse Thybulle (Washington)
F Josh Hawkinson (Washington State)