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Slow start, rebounding prove costly in Kentucky’s title game loss

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Throughout the season the Kentucky Wildcats have been one of the nation’s best when it comes to hitting the offensive glass. Rebounding nearly 42% of their missed shots on the season, John Calipari’s team ranked second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. And with their superior size advantage entering Monday’s title game against UConn, the expectation of some was that Kentucky would be able to hurt the Huskies on the glass.

However that didn’t turn out to be the case and while the Wildcats’ free throw shooting (13-for-24) and the struggles of Aaron and Andrew Harrison didn’t help matters, their incredibly slow start and the fact that Kentucky couldn’t get those second-chance points were the real issues.

UConn led the game by as much as nine in the first ten minutes, and an 11-2 run would expand that lead to 15 with 5:59 remaining in the half. The guards struggled to get anything going with their ball screen action, and defensively the Wildcats had trouble containing UConn off the dribble. And that hole, which came as a result of the Huskies being the aggressors, proved to be too deep for Kentucky to climb out of.

MORE: UConn wins fourth national title | Harrison twins struggle

“Well you could say that, but the way we started the game probably cost us the game,” Calipari said when asked if Kentucky’s poor free throw shooting was the biggest issue. “Somebody said, ‘Well, why do you think you started that way?’ They’re all freshmen. They’re scared to death again. We tried to settle them down and we were rattled early. Then we settled down and started playing.

“But I have to give Connecticut credit now because the way they were aggressively picking up the ball. We told the guys, ‘If you don’t play with energy they’re going to.'”

That energy carried over to the 50/50 balls that can be so important in big games, with UConn getting the majority of those battles. And with this being the case, Kentucky was unable to take advantage of a statistical category that led to them being one of the most efficient offenses in the country this season (ranked 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com).

Kentucky finished the game rebounding 27.8% of its misses, and they converted their ten offensive rebounds into just seven second-chance points. Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle, Kentucky’s two best offensive rebounders from a percentage standpoint, combined to grab three offensive rebounds on the night. Get a few more of those 50/50 balls and offensive rebounds, and maybe Kentucky makes up for the poor foul shooting and the slow start.

But that wasn’t the case, and UConn certainly deserves the credit for that. Throughout the NCAA tournament the Huskies have managed to take away the opposition’s “bread and butter,” with their Round of 64 win over Saint Joseph’s being the notable exception. Against Iowa State the Huskies neutralized Melvin Ejim, and in their Elite Eight win over Michigan State they limited the Spartans to just six points in the paint.

Clearly the plan of attack Monday night was to do whatever it took to keep Kentucky out of the lane and off the offensive glass, and UConn was able to do so for much of the night. While Kentucky hasn’t defended particularly well throughout the NCAA tournament, their offensive skill and the ability to make plays when needed carried them through to the national title game.

But when faced with an opponent that proved more than capable of taking away what they do best, the Wildcats were unable to muster enough offense to win their program’s ninth national title.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.

Michigan State lands second Class of 2017 commitment

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tom Izzo landed his second commitment in the Class of 2017 as big man Xavier Tillman announced that he will be attending Michigan State.

A 6-foot-7, 235 pound power forward, Tillman is a physical-if-undersized player that is rated as a three-star prospect. He’s not a one-and-done player, but he’s should be a good program guy for the Spartans.

“Tillman is another big and strong interior presence for Michigan State,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “What separates Tillman from a lot of big men his size is his passing ability. Tillman is an intelligent player on the offensive end and he rebounds his area well.”

Tillman joins Jaren Jackson, his AAU teammate for Speice Indy Heat, in Michigan State’s recruiting class.

He picked Michigan State over Purdue and Marquette.