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Kentucky’s got the talent, but here’s why they will not win a title this year

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Back in December, when Kentucky got dropped by North Carolina on their visit to Chapel Hill, I wrote this column and this sidebar taking stock of Kentucky’s status and potential this season.

I think it’s worth revisiting now. If you don’t feel like reading through 1,000 words of two month-old writing, here’s a summary of what I wrote:

  • Kentucky’s three best perimeter players — Aaron and Andrew Harrison and James Young — are all shoot-first scorers. There is no point guard and there is no distributor.
  • There is also no perimeter depth. Alex Poythress is not a small forward, and Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins should not be getting playing time on this team.
  • Outside of Willie Cauley-Stein, there is no one on this team that is a good defender.
  • Kentucky doesn’t have any leadership. There is no vocal leader on that roster. The players that lead by example do it with awful body language and effort.

I think it’s safe to say that after last night’s drubbing — the final score of 87-82 doesn’t do justice to the beatdown that Kentucky took — at LSU, most of those points have been reinforced.

The bottom-line is this: last season, the Wildcats were a flawed basketball team even before they lost Nerlens Noel to the knee injury. The pieces just didn’t fit together well, Ryan Harrow wasn’t ready to run a team facing the scrutiny of a program like Kentucky and, quite frankly, that team just wasn’t talented enough.

This team is.

I think it’s inarguable at this point that we overrated the Harrison twins, particularly Andrew’s ability to run the point. But Julius Randle has been as good as advertised, Willie Cauley-Stein had been playing his role very well until the last two weeks, James Young can get buckets and Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson finally seem to be turning a corner.

In other words, this issue with this team isn’t the talent on the roster. The issue is what that talent is missing.

Let’s call a spade a spade: Kentucky got punked last night. LSU came out and punched them in the mouth to start the game and to start the second half, and the Wildcats didn’t have what it took to complete a comeback.

Simply put, the Wildcats were atrocious defensively last night.

Ah. Tro. Shuss.

Johnny O’Bryant got position anywhere he wanted it in the paint, post-doubles and help-side rotations were slow, and LSU was able to get to the rim on straight-line drives whenever they decided to put the ball on the floor. That never would have happened with the 2012 National Title team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wouldn’t have allowed it. Darius Miller wouldn’t have allowed it. None of those guys would have allowed it.

Instead of coming together and fighting through what was clearly an off-night, Kentucky looked like they splintered. There were the confused looks after every defensive breakdown. There was Cauley-Stein yelling at Kenny Payne on the bench. There was John Calipari, clearly frustrated, shoving one of the Harrisons to try to get him to move into the right position. Their body language was simply awful, to the point where it looked like those guys don’t even like each other.

And that’s only what came through on TV.

I can’t even imagine how bad it looked in person.

That is why I think we can write Kentucky off as a national title contender. It’s not because they lack a point guard; running an offense through Randle and allowing their three perimeter players to create when teams are forced to double him could work. It’s not because they’re mediocre defensively, because they have the athletes to improve on that end if they really wanted to. It’s not because they lack perimeter depth or because they don’t have any role players.

They have the talent to make up for that.

What their talent can’t make up for is the fact that this group does not appear to have the leadership or the mental toughness to come together and play through adversity.

You need to win six straight games against good teams to win a national title. At some point, Kentucky will get burned.

Bracketology: Resume, metrics have Villanova No. 1

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in front of Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the first half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Recently, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee made public its intent to evaluate options for integrating additional analytics and metrics into its process for selecting and seeding teams for the NCAA tournament.  How that might eventually look we don’t know.  What metrics will be included?  Will there be any weighting for certain metrics (such as the current Ratings Percentage Index or RPI) over others?  It’s an interesting twist, although not necessarily that new.  Selection Committee members have had various data points at their fingertips for years.  How each chose to use (or not use) ratings such as BPI, KenPom, Sagarin, and others is unknown; none were a part of the “official” process and rarely discussed publicly.

The point today isn’t to have a lengthy discussion about the merits of various analytic tools.  Rather, it provides an opportunity to look at how a new system might look.  One of the concepts mentioned was the potential for a “composite” ranking that would factor in a given set of analytic metrics.  In the interest of today’s bracket update, here’s a look at some rankings and the “composite” for the top six teams on the seed list (data points were through games played on Tuesday).

The metrics included: RPI, NPI (Warren Nolan), ELO Chess, KenPom, Sagarin, and BPI.  Composite ranking is in parenthesis, based upon an average of these metrics.

  1. Villanova (2.33)
  2. Kansas (4.83)
  3. Baylor (9.00)
  4. UCLA (11.16)
  5. Kentucky (3.16)
  6. Gonzaga (6.50)

As you can see, the composite score would favor moving Kentucky and Gonzaga into spots two (2) and four (4) on the seed list, making them No. 1 seeds instead of Baylor and UCLA (in today’s bracket).  Those are not wrong conclusions.  Of course, metrics do not necessarily do an effective job of including actual results.  Example: UCLA won at Kentucky.  An individual result is only one factor (usually a small one) in a team’s overall resume.  But the disparity in numbers (11.16 to 3.16) suggests a notable difference between UK and UCLA.  How the Committee might discuss those two teams given the result vs. numbers would be interesting.

The more relevant takeaway here is that Villanova is No. 1 by a significant margin.  When you factor in the math, the difference between Villanova and Kentucky is a little larger than it looks.  Thus, the Wildcats remain entrenched as the overall No. 1 seed today by almost any measure, resume and otherwise.

In keeping with our theme, we used a similar process, including a metric called Strength of Record (SOR) to help decipher an uninspiring collection of bubble teams.  With that in mind, Kansas State and Wake Forest are the final two at-large entries.  It’s completely erratic near the bottom of the bracket, so this is far from definitive.  History suggests that may not change much.

UPDATED: January 19, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Rhode Island vs. Kansas State | Midwest Region
  • Georgia vs. Wake Forest East Region
  • NEW ORLEANS vs. WEBER STATE | Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. MORGAN STATE | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York                     MIDWEST – Kansas City
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) M.S. MARY’S / MORGAN ST 16) NEW ORLEANS / WEBER ST
8) Northwestern 8) Michigan State
9) MID TENNESSEE ST 9) Clemson
Buffalo Sacramento
5) Florida 5) CINCINNATI
12) VERMONT 12) Kansas St / Rhode Island
4) Virginia 4) OREGON
13) RICHMOND 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Milwaukee Greenville
6) MARYLAND 6) South Carolina
11) Georgia / Wake Forest 11) NC-WILMINGTON
3) Butler 3) North Carolina
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) WINTHROP
Orlando Salt Lake City
7) Indiana 7) Saint Mary’s
10) Seton Hall 10) TCU
2) FLORIDA STATE 2) Creighton
15) GA-SOUTHERN 15) BUCKNELL
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Sacramento Tulsa
1) UCLA 1) Baylor
16) TEXAS-SOUTHERN 16) UC-IRVINE
8) Dayton 8) USC
9) Virginia Tech 9) Arkansas
Orlando Salt Lake City
5) Purdue 5) Duke
12) AKRON 12) NEVADA
4) West Virginia 4) ARIZONA
13) CHATTANOOGA 13) VALPARAISO
Milwaukee Indianapolis
6) Wisconsin 6) Minnesota
11) California 11) ILLINOIS STATE
3) Notre Dame 3) Louisville
14) MONMOUTH 14) BELMONT
Salt Lake City Indianapolis
7) SMU 7) Xavier
10) Texas Tech 10) Iowa State
2) GONZAGA 2) KENTUCKY
15) NORTH DAKOTA ST 15) PRINCETON

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Baylor, and UCLA

Last Four Byes (at large): Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU, California

Last Four IN (at large): Georgia, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Rhode Island

First Four OUT (at large): VCU, Miami-FL, Pittsburgh, Michigan

Next four teams OUT (at large): Marquette, Wichita State, Illinois, Penn State

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): FLORIDA STATE, North Carolina, Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia, Duke, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Big 10 (7): MARYLAND, Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern

Big 12 (7): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas State

Big East (5): VILLANOVA, Creighton, Butler, Xavier, Seton Hall

SEC (5): KENTUCKY, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia

Pac 12 (5): ARIZONA, UCLA, Oregon, USC, California

Atlantic 10 (3): RICHMOND, Dayton, Rhode Island

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE

Mountain West (1): BOISE STATE

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), Georgia-Southern (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), Weber State (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), Chattanooga (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), Morgan State (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), MT. ST. MARY’S (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

VIDEO: Tom Crean chokes up talking about O.G. Anunoby, Indiana win

HONOLULU, HI - NOVEMBER 11: Head coach Tom Crean of the Indiana Hoosiers paces the sideline during the first half of the second game of the Armed Forces Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center on November 11, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
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Indiana went through the gauntlet of emotions on Wednesday night.

First, one of their most important players, O.G. Anunoby, went down with what appears to be a serious knee injury midway through the first half. Then, the Hoosiers blow a big lead at Penn State. Finally, James Blackmon Jr. bailed them out with a game-winning, buzzer-beating three.

After the game, head coach Tom Crean got choked up talking about the victory:

RELATED: What’s wrong with Indiana?

“As the leader of these guys I’m excited about the way they played considering everything we went through in this game,” Crean said. “There were a lot of tears in that locker room because no one knew what was going on with one of their fallen brothers. And I had to leave a guy who was crying and that wasn’t easy. But we found a way to win the game so I’m proud of them for that.”

Crean gets a lot of heat from fans – both of Indiana and of Indiana’s rivals – but that was a genuine moment of anguish. It’s easy to forget that he’s a human being dealing with more job-related stress than you can imagine. He’s paid handsomely for it, but that doesn’t make always make it easier.

VIDEO: Fordham tops VCU at the horn in OT

In this Oct. 6, 2015, photo, VCU men's NCAA college basketball coach Will Wade talks to his team during practice at the Franklin Street Gym in Richmond Va. VCU surged at the end of last season, winning the Atlantic 10 tournament to earn its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (
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Down 12 at halftime, VCU needed a second-half comeback to force overtime at Fordham.

There was nothing VCU could do to counteract Fordham’s game-winner.

Antwoine Anderson’s jumper as time expired in overtime gave Fordham a 69-67 victory Wednesday night.

After winning eight-straight games, VCU has now dropped back-to-back games with a loss to Davidson coming last weekend. The loss will likely bring up the same questions that were there after a less-than-steallar non-conference showing for VCU, given Fordham had lost 10 of 12 coming into the night.

Allonzo Trier suspended after failing PED test

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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The suspension that Arizona guard Allonzo Trier is currently serving is due to positive test for performance-enhancing drugs during the preseason.

Trier, who has missed the first 18 games of the season, confirmed the news with a statement released late on Wednesday night that said he has “never knowingly taken a banned substance.”

According to a statement released by the university, Trier has been cleared by the NCAA after an appeal, but he cannot suit up for the Wildcats until the drug is completely out of his system.

“After finding out that I was given a banned substance by a well-intentioned, but misguided person not associated with the University after an injury, I presented this information to the NCAA,” Trier said in the statement. “The NCAA agreed that I had no knowledge of receiving the substance and my eligibility was restored. Although I can practice and travel with the team, I am not allowed to resume playing in games until the substance completely leaves my body even at a trace amount.”

There is no timetable for his return, but the door is open for a return.

As a freshman last season, Trier averaged 14.8 points and shot 36.4 percent from three. He was Arizona’s best isolation scorer and their leading returning scorer.

Without Trier, Arizona has looked like a Pac-12 title contender. They are 16-2 on the season and undefeated in league play heading into their games at the LA schools this weekend.

VIDEO: James Blackmon saves Indiana with buzzer-beating three

HONOLULU, HI - NOVEMBER 11: James Blackmon Jr. #1 of the Indiana Hoosiers calls out a play during the second half of the second game of the Armed Forces Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center on November 11, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Indiana won the game 103-99. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
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There is plenty of reason to criticize James Blackmon Jr., and I did plenty of it in this story I wrote about Indiana earlier this month.

It’s also pretty obvious that Blackmon has been Indiana’s best player this season, and he backed that up on Wednesday night. Blackmon kept Indiana from falling to 2-4 in the Big Ten by burying a three at the buzzer to beat Penn State in Happy Valley.

The bigger issue for Indiana fans is the status of O.G. Anunoby’s knee. Indiana’s star forward went down with a non-contact injury in the first half and did not return to the game in the second half. I’m not going to play armchair physician here, but this does not look good.

This shot from Blackmon may have saved the Hoosiers from embarrassment, but where there season goes from here is still a major question mark.