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The beauty of No. 6 Louisville vs. No. 18 Kentucky is the unpredictability

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Two months ago, the Battle of the Bluegrass that will take place on Saturday afternoon was the single-most highly-anticipated game of the college basketball season.

Two of the nation’s top three teams — the last two national champions — squaring off in a game that just-so-happens to be the most intense rivalry in the sport these days? It’s should come as no surprise, then, that the entire state of Kentucky and every college hoops media member circled this date on their calendar the second that we knew what the date was.

But thanks to some early season struggles, No. 6 Louisville’s visit to No. 18 Kentucky isn’t even the best game on Saturday afternoon. That title goes to the battle of the undefeateds between No. 2 Syracuse and No. 8 Villanova.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t be looking forward to that 4:00 p.m. tipoff on Saturday.

Quite the opposite, actually.

In fact, what makes the game so intriguing is the unknown. This is not an exaggeration: There is nothing that could happen in this game that would surprise me, save for Willie Cauley-Stein hitting 10 threes or Chane Behanan hitting all his free throws.

Louisville is one of the best teams in the country. They are currently sitting at No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings, posting the nation’s most efficient offense while slotting in fifth in defensive efficiency. They do what every Rick Pitino team has done: press, force turnovers, rely on the playmaking ability of their back court. The Cardinals are legit, and it would shock no one if they went into Rupp and beat the Wildcats.

But part of the reason for that is that Kentucky has not been themselves thus far this season. Or maybe they have and we just expected too much. John Calipari has a group that has now lost to the three marquee opponents they have played by a total of 13 points. All three of those losses came on the road or on a neutral court. In all three games, there was one part of Kentucky’s performance that cost them the win.

In other words, the talent on this roster is evident. Getting that talent to play together has been a tougher task that Cal expected.

Is this the game that they finally breakthrough?

Because at the end of the day, neither Kentucky nor Louisville has an elite victory this season. The Cards lost to North Carolina in fairly ugly fashion, getting worked over at Mohegan Sun back in November. Both teams really need this win, not just to right their ship and get their season headed in the right direction. And it’s not just to earn bragging rights in the Commonwealth for the next 12 months.

It’s to ease the fears of a slow start. Doubts are creeping in on both sides of the rivalry, and a loss on Saturday will only escalate those doubts.

So who gets the win?

Well, there are two keys to this game the way I see it.

First and foremost, the Harrison twins are going to have to be able to handle Louisville’s pressure. They cannot turn the ball over and give the Cardinals easy run outs. Kentucky’s biggest knock is on the defensive end of the floor, and they last thing they need to do is allow the Cards to get run out after run out after run out. Protect the ball, maximize possessions offensively and eliminate those easy buckets. Sounds easy, right?

The other key to the game will be the battle of the front courts. Julius Randle is as good as anyone in the country at drawing fouls and getting opposing bigs into foul trouble. Louisville has some bigs that can hold their own against Randle in the post, but those kids — Montrezl Harrell, Chane Behanan, Mangok Mathiang, Stephen Van Treese — have a bad habit of getting into foul trouble.

Kentucky-Louisville has lost some of its luster from the preseason, but this is still must-see TV.

Report: CBE Hall of Fame Classic headliners set

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The headliners for the 2017 CBE Hall of Fame Classic have been set.

UCLA, Baylor, Wisconsin and Creighton will highlight the bill for the annual event in Kansas City, according to a report from CBS Sports.

The CBE Hall of Fame Classic historically has included on-campus games and a flagship four-team championship round at the Sprint Center. This year’s headliners include Kansas, Georgia, George Washington and UAB.

Certainly securing four high-majors is a significant get for the event, which will also likely coincide with the induction of the 2017 class of the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. The 2016 class is highlighted by Mark Aguirre, Doug Collins, Dominique Wilson, Jamal Wilkes and Mike Montgomery.

Coach Cal softball game raises $300K for La. flood relief

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John Calipari is known for his ability to amass talent. Over the weekend, that quality helped raise $300,000 for Louisiana flood relief.

The Coach Cal Celebrity Softball Classic brought Kentucky stars like Keith Bogans, Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns and the likes of former UK quarterback Tim Couch and NFL Hall of Famer Chris Carter to Lexington to help aid Louisiana in conjunction with the Red Cross after the area suffered major flooding earlier this month.

“I didn’t want to really do a softball game,” Calipari said according to his website, “but then we decided to do it and then Louisiana happens and now you have a cause. … It’s kind of neat. You have a cause, you have a why.”

Towns’ team was the 18-12 victor over Team Calipari on the day.

“This is amazing,” Towns said on CoachCal.com. “This is something that we get a chance to rarely do. We get to help the community out but at the same time have fun. There’s nothing better than doing something that we would do for free but for charity. This is something we’re going to have a lot of fun doing today.”

The softball game was played the same weekend as the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience which generated $1 million that will be shared with 14 charities.

‘Noles add legacy guard to 2017 class

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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Florida State has added another solid member to its 2017 recruiting class.

Anthony Polite, a 6-foot-6 guard from Florida, pledged to the Seminoles on Tuesday morning.

“Officially committed to Florida State University #Nole Nation,” Polite wrote on Twitter.

Polite chose Leonard Hamilton’s program out of a final top-five that also included Pitt, Memphis, Texas Tech and Miami. He also sported offers from TCU, Boston College, Kansas State and Utah, among others.

“It was a really tough decision,” Polite said according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Miami had a great coaching staff. I just thought FSU would be the best fit for me and I had more of an opportunity to talk to the players at Florida State.”

Polite, whose father played for the Seminoles during his college career, averaged 21.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year as a junior playing for St. Andrew’s in Boca Raton, Fla.

“Anthony Polite is a skilled wing who can handle the ball and distribute a bit,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “Florida State still needs to help Polite improve his perimeter jumper, but his commitment gives them another talented playmaker from the wing who can handle and attack the rim.”

Regarded as a three-star prospect, Polite join power forward RaiQuan Gray and fellow guard Bryan Trimble in the Seminoles’ 2017 class. It doesn’t have the star power of Hamilton’s group last year, which included five-star Jonathan Isaac and four-star Trent Forrest, but they can be important pieces for a Florida State team that has just one senior on the 2016-17 roster.

Kansas players make weight room gains – and losses – this summer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JUNE 18: Udoka Azubuike #105 in red runs back for defense the NBPA Top 100 Camp on June 18, 2015 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images)
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Summer is the time to refine not only players’ skill sets, but also their bodies. Kansas’ highly-touted freshman duo of Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike have fulfilled the latter thanks to the Jayhawks’ strength and conditioning program.

Azubuike has dropped 27 pounds from his 7-foot frame while the wiry Jackson has added 17 pounds, according to the Kansas City Star.

“These guys have goals,” Adrea Hurdy, Kansas’ long-time assistant director for sports information, told The Star. “They come here in part because we have the resources to help them attain their goals.

“They want the challenge and want to become better people, better basketball players and better athletes.”

Only 16 years old, Azubuike arrived in Lawrence having been consistently listed as weighing around 270 pounds throughout his prep career. Getting leaner while still maintaining – and increasing – strength is a significant development for such a young player, who was a consensus top-50 player in the 2016 class.

Jackson, the country’s top rated incoming freshman, now weighs in at slightly over 200 pounds at 6-foot-8. Six-foot-10 forward Carlton Bragg,a sophomore, also got in on the body-changing as he’s put on 26 pounds to head into the fall at 247 pounds.

Kansas is a likely top-five preseason team with returners like Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, and having newcomers like Jackson and Azubuike along with sparsely-used but talented returnees like Bragg making gains in the weight room will only make them more formidable as they look to capture an astounding 13th-straight Big 12 title.

 

Texas bolsters 2017 frontcourt

Texas head coach Shaka Smart calls a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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Shaka Smart has added another four-star forward to his 2017 recruiting class.

Texas picked up a commitment Tuesday from 6-foot-8 Jericho Sims of Minnesota, according to multiple reports.

Sims, who visited Texas this past weekend, is ranked in the top-50 by Scout and in the top-75 by ESPN and 247Sports. He joins Royce Hamm, a top-100 forward from Houston, as members Smart’s second recruiting class at Texas.

“Jericho Sims is a late-blooming big man who has a lot of room to grow in terms of upside,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “A good athlete with a good frame to work with, Sims should help immediately on the glass and defensively but his offense will be a work in progress.

“Texas has a large recruiting class and targeted Sims later than many, so this is a nice commitment for the Longhorns.”

The commitment represents a significant get for the Longhorns, who beat out the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Ohio State, Connecticut and Sims’ hometown Gophers, whom his father played basketball for in the 1970s and his brother football more recently.

Sims and Hamm both are players that could help Smart and his staff transition more back to the Havoc style of play Smart employed at VCU as both have the length, speed and athleticism to help the Longhorns dial up the pressure and push tempo.