Kentucky Athletics

Five thoughts on Kentucky after their third straight win in the Bahamas

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Kentucky Athletics

Kentucky has now played three games in the Bahamas, winning all three in impressive fashion. I’ve watched all three games. Here are five takeaways from those three games:

1. I did not see this coming: I knew Kentucky was going to be good this season. Everyone with a pulse knew that Kentucky was going to be good this season. There’s a reason they are going to be the preseason No. 1 team in any poll worth paying attention to. But after just 10 practices this summer, and with two potential starters sitting out with injuries, I did not expect to see these Wildcats steamroll their way through the first three games the way that they have. The Wildcats have now won their three games — two against Puerto Rico and one against French club Chalon-Reims — by an average of 28 points, demoralizing their opponents in the second half.

Now keep in mind, while these are professional basketball players, they don’t have all that much to play for. This isn’t Puerto Rico’s A-squad. Chalon-Reims has had even less time to prepare than Kentucky. Those players have their livelihood on the line if they hurt themselves in a game like this; Kentucky’s kids are competing to earn playing time this season. That’s an important distinction when it comes to effort, especially in the second half of these games.

But still: I’ve been impressed.

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2. The key sentence in Part 1: “Competing to earn playing time this season”: The single biggest issue that John Calipari is going to face this season is from a playing time perspective. He doesn’t really have a small forward on this roster; he essentially has four guards, three power forward and three centers, plus Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis. That’s a lot of talent, but it’s also a lot of people to keep happy without a lot of minutes available to give them. Will Marcus Lee be happy if he gets relegated to sitting the bench again this season? How will Willie Cauley-Stein or Dakari Johnson react if Karl Towns comes in and steals their minutes at center? If Trey Lyles and Lee out play Alex Poythress, will the junior be OK with seeing his minutes cut?

Who knows. At this point, we don’t know how healthy Cauley-Stein and Lyles are, let alone what the breakdown of front court minutes will look like. And Cal has proven that he is adept at getting his players to buy into a role and put the team first when it comes to playing time. This season will be his toughest challenge yet.

3. Alex Poythress finally playing with energy: For the past two seasons, Calipari has been trying to get Poythress — a 6-foot-7 forward with all the physical tools that you could ask for — to consistently play with energy and aggression. In the three games in the Bahamas, Poythress has done just that. He’s crashing the offensive glass, he’s getting out and running in transition, he’s making plays defensively. If he continues to do that, he becomes a completely different player for the Wildcats. And while he hasn’t quite added those perimeter skills that everyone was looking for out of him, it’s important to remember that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wasn’t exactly the most-skilled perimeter player when he donned a Kentucky uniform. With the versatility of Lyles and Towns, Kentucky should be able to get by with Poythress at the three … assuming he consistently brings that junkyard dog mentality.

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4. Kentucky will be at their best with Tyler Ulis on the floor: Andrew Harrison has gotten better at the point guard spot. Aaron Harrison has gotten better, too, and I think it’s fair to say that both of them are better players, in a vacuum, than Ulis is at this point. But what Ulis brings to the table will make this Kentucky team that much better. For starters, he is a nightmare on the defensive end of the floor, one of those tough, quick little pests that always cause trouble for opposing ball-handlers. He’s also a pure point guard offensively, a kid that can read pick-and-rolls and can run offensive sets equally well. He doesn’t need to “get his”. He doesn’t need to score. He’s satisfied setting the table for his teammates, which is something that needs to happen with the talent Kentucky has on the floor.

Don’t be surprised if Calipari eventually favors a lineup that features three guards, even if that means that Ulis will be on the floor at the same time as both of the Harrisons.

5. Karl Towns is going to be Kentucky’s best freshman, if not their best player: He’s just so talented. He can score in the post. He can hit threes. He’s a very good passer. He just has a terrific feel for the game offensively. On the defensive end there are some question marks, but if he plays as a center and is asked to, essentially, defend the rim and rebound the ball, he should be more than adequate on that end of the floor.

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.