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Turnovers, rebounding woes plague No. 3 Kentucky again

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Last weekend, when John Calipari brought his team up to the Barclays Center to take on Providence, he made it a point to talk about how much he team has to learn defensively.

In fact, in both the press conference he gave prior to the game and his postgame chat with reporters, Coach Cal used the exact same anecdote when describing how little his team knew about defense. He tried to run a simple, fundamental drill where his team does defensive slides with their hands behind their back — it forces you to move your feet and not play defense with your hands — and his kids had never done it before.

They had never been drilled on the basics, the fundamentals, of playing man-to-man defense, according to Cal, and while some of that is just Kentucky’s head coach doing and saying the things he does in the media, there is some truth to it.

The only team that Coach Cal has had in the KenPom era that was worse defensively than this group has been through a month of the season was (you guessed it) last year’s team. Generally speaking, Kentucky has been awesome because Cal has gotten great athletes to play great defense, and that just hasn’t been the case this year.

Friday’s loss to Baylor was just about their worst effort yet.

The No. 3 Wildcats allowed No. 20 Baylor to grab 54.5% of the available offensive rebounds — if Baylor missed a shot, they got the rebound more than half the time — and they notched not a single steal in a 67-62 loss to the Bears.

Those weren’t the only problems that Kentucky had on display. For starters, they were shredded by Baylor’s pick-and-roll action, which is becoming more and more common in the collegiate game. Baylor got a number of wide-open dunks for Cory Jefferson and rhythm, 15-foot pull-ups for Kenny Chery using the pick-and-roll. That’s what those two guys do. That’s what’s on the scouting report, and Kentucky looked like they had never seen it before.

The Wildcats also did the kind of things that freshmen do. They missed critical free throws. They blew box out assignments. Their offensive execution down the stretch was pitiful. In the final 13 minutes, Kentucky made all of two field goals. Those are the mental lapses that will turn John Calipari’s hair the color of Dave Thomas’ by the end of the season.

But Kentucky’s struggles on the defensive glass given all of their size and their issues forcing turnovers given all of their athleticism are the two biggest red flags for this group. The Wildcats are 203rd in defensive rebounding percentage, they are 269th in defensive turnover percentage and they are 330th in steal percentage.

It’s quite simple, really. Kentucky isn’t ending possessions, either by corralling a rebound or forcing a turnover. That not only means that they are giving their opponents too many opportunities to score, they are costing themselves a chance getting easy buckets in transition. That’s not a recipe for winning games.

Think about it like this: Kentucky just shot 8-for-17 from three, had 19 assists on 21 field goals and just nine turnovers.

And they lost.

But they lost playing their worst defensive game of the season to a top 15-20 in what was more-or-less a road game. That’s saying nothing of the ice storm that crippled the Dallas area and kept quite a few Kentucky fans in Kentucky.

This wasn’t exactly a step forward for Kentucky. But it certainly wasn’t a sign that the Wildcats are destined for the NIT again.

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.