Kentucky is a flawed team, but does that mean they can’t contend?

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We are now 11 games into the college basketball season, but No. 11 Kentucky still appears to be a long way away from being a team capable of winning a national title. The Wildcats are sitting at 8-3 after Saturday’s 82-77 loss to No. 18 North Carolina, with one final chance against Louisville to try and post a marquee non-conference win.

Is it time to be worried about the Wildcats?

This Kentucky basketball team has some major flaws this season, some of which can be corrected and some of which are woven into the fabric of this team.

As good as Willie Cauley-Stein is at defending the rim, the other four players that join him on the floor just don’t seem to be all that good on the defensive side of the ball. Some of it is a lack of desire to keep their man from penetrating. Some of it is an overabundance of gambling for steals. Some of it is the failure to understand help-side rotations.

Simply put: Kentucky is not a good defensive basketball team right now, but that can get better. With those athletes, defense can always get better.

That’s not it.

The Wildcats are some issues on the offensive end of the floor as well. I’ve seen some bemoan the lack of a point guard for the Wildcats, and that’s part of it. The bigger issue is that Kentucky’s three best perimeter players are all guys that are shoot-first scorers that need the ball in their hands to be effective. That’d be fine if they had, say, T.J. McConnell out there to facilitate their offense. But they don’t, which is why their offense too often gets bogged down. On Saturday, the result was that Kentucky’s offense devolved into the Harrison twins going 1-on-1 on every possession.

They also don’t have any perimeter depth. Their three best perimeter players are, more or less, their only three perimeter players. Alex Poythress is not a small forward, but he’s Kentucky’s first wing off the bench. Dominique Hawkins and Jarrod Polson are a great story, but they should be getting spot minutes when Kentucky is in foul trouble, not playing a significant role in UK’s rotation.

That issue isn’t fixable. Neither is Kentucky’s lack of a leader. Who is the guy that settles people down in a timeout? Who takes control offensively in a moment when Kentucky desperately needs to get a bucket? Who is the pulse of the locker room? Who is the guy that refuses to lose, that convinces his teammates that, no matter how dire the circumstances, they’ll find a way to win? Right now, whoever it is isn’t doing a very good job. Kentucky’s body language was awful in the second half on Saturday. That team didn’t look like they believed they could win late in the game. That’s not a good thing.

Consider all of that.

Now add in the fact that Kentucky was playing their first true road game against a team that has already beaten Michigan State and Louisville. Then toss in the foul trouble that the Wildcats were dealing with, and the fact that their best player — Julius Randle — was a non-factor, finishing with 11 points and five boards on 3-for-9 shooting.

Think about all of those problems.

And remember this: Kentucky lost this game by five points. They weren’t run out of the gym, they were slowly overwhelmed by a more experienced team. This wasn’t like last year’s Notre Dame loss.

It’s obvious that all the talk about this Kentucky team being legendary has quickly gone out the window.

But writing this group off as a national title contender at this point is too early.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.

2017 NBA Mock Draft: Post Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline

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Last week, the fearless leaders of Pro Basketball Talk and College Basketball Talk joined forces to put together a comprehensive mock of the first round of the NBA Draft.

That podcast was recorded prior to the NBA Draft Lottery, which took place last week, and the NCAA’s deadline for underclassmen to return to school, which was Wednesday night at midnight. At a later date, we’ll roll through the updated draft order more in depth, but for now, here is a new mock draft based on the order the teams will actually be picking in.

At the bottom of this post you can find the original podcast, with all of our prospect analysis and thought processes for each team’s draft needs:

1. BOSTON (via Brooklyn) – Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
2. LAKERS – Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
3. PHILADELPHIA – Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
4. PHOENIX – De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
5. SACRAMENTO – Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
6. ORLANDO – Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
7. MINNESOTA – Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
8. NEW YORK – Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
9. DALLAS – Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State
10. SACRAMENTO (via New Orleans) – Dennis Smith Jr., PG, N.C. State
11. CHARLOTTE – Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
12. DETROIT –  Donovan Mitchell, CG, Louisville
13. DENVER – O.G. Anunoby, SF, Indiana
14. MIAMI – Justin Jackson, SG, North Carolina
15. PORTLAND – Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
16. CHICAGO – Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
17. MILWAUKEE – Justin Patton, C, Creighton
18. INDIANA – John Collins, C, Wake Forest
19. ATLANTA – Terrence Ferguson, SG, Austrailia
20. PORTLAND (via Memphis) – Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
21. OKLAHOMA CITY – Semi Ojeleye, PF, SMU
22. BROOKLYN (via Washington) – Isaiah Hartenstein, C, Lithuania
23. TORONTO (via Clippers) – Harry Giles III, C, Duke
24. UTAH – T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
25. ORLANDO (via Toronto) – Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
26. PORTLAND (via Cleveland) – Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
27. BROOKLYN (via Boston) – Bam Adebayo, PF, Kentucky
28. LAKERS (via Houston) – Rodions Kurucs, SF, Barcelona
29. SAN ANTONIO – Jonathan Jeanne, C, France
30. UTAH (via Golden State) – D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan

 

AP: University of New Mexico spending under review

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state Auditor’s Office is reviewing the spending of public money by the University of New Mexico’s athletic department on a 2015 golf trip to Scotland that included the athletic director, other employees and boosters, the agency confirmed Wednesday.

The review comes as the state’s universities and colleges are being forced to consider tuition increases and other cuts as New Mexico grapples with a budget crisis.

Athletic director Paul Krebs is drawing criticism as more details about the international junket emerge following a series of public records requests filed by journalists, some of which netted documents with large swaths of information that had been blacked out.

Krebs has said the $65,000 trip was meant to strengthen relationships with donors, but critics argue that it should have been paid for by the university’s independent fundraising arm, not with athletic department money.

Albuquerque television station KRQE reported this week that Krebs revealed to the university’s acting president that public money was used to pay for the trips of at least three boosters.

The university told the Albuquerque Journal () that possible discipline against Krebs was being considered.

President Chaouki Abdallah said Wednesday he’s looking forward to a timely process and that UNM will cooperate fully with the auditor’s review.

Athletics spokesman Frank Mercogliano said the department and Krebs, who was out of town and unavailable for comment Wednesday, would cooperate with the review.

University officials were focused Wednesday on a budget summit as the Legislature began a special session aimed at restoring funding for all higher education in the state.

The spending on the golf trip by UNM has raised questions about possible violations of the state Constitution’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits state entities from making gifts to private citizens.

Justine Freeman, a spokeswoman with Auditor Tim Keller’s office, said the findings of the review will be made public once the investigators’ work is complete.

It was not immediately clear how long the review will take. The auditor’s office has been looking into the matter for at least three weeks.

Records show the golf trip cost about $39,000 for Krebs, former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and Lobo Club executive director Kole McKamey, but the university did not reveal what it paid for the private donors to attend the trip and initially recorded the trip as a basketball tournament in Ireland.

Abdallah told the television station that Krebs came to him and acknowledged that UNM picked up the tab for the boosters. He described it as a serious omission.

“This is not where university funds should be spent,” he said. “I want the public to know that in the future we will not be using university funds for such activities.”

Krebs said in a statement that UNM had not planned to pay for the donors’ trips in 2015 and that the situation “has to be corrected.” He acknowledged that the original plan was to be reimbursed for the travel costs but that a review of documents showed that never happened.

“The public and our fans put their trust in us, and the only way to keep that trust is to admit when an error is made, to rectify it, and to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.