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No. 16 Kentucky lands largest win over Louisville since Pitino’s first season with Cards

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It was over before the first TV timeout of the second half.

Kentucky used a 36-16 surge to close the first half and opened the second half on a 26-9 run, opening up a lead that climbed as high as 32 points as the No. 16 Wildcats cruised to their most impressive win of the season, humiliating a beaten-down Louisville team with a 90-61 win.

The last time the Wildcats won by more than 20 points in this rivalry came back in 2001, exactly 16 years ago to the day, when the Cardinals lost 82-62 to No. 6 Kentucky in Rick Pitino’s first season as Louisville head coach and his first trip back to Rupp Arena since leaving Kentucky for the Boston Celtics.

Here are four things we can take away from that beatdown:

1. SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER PLAYED HIS BEST GAME TO DATE

I’ve been as hard on SGA this season as anyone for one, relatively simple reason: For a team that can struggle on the offensive end of the floor, he can be a limiting factor. He wasn’t on Friday afternoon, finishing with a career-high 24 points to go along with five boards, four assists and three steals off the bench. It wasn’t just in transition, either, which is where a lot of his offense has come from this year. He was beating Louisville defenders off the dribble. He showed an ability to navigate taller defenders in the paint. He was more than just a straight-line driver. He was terrific. I’m not sure how much more there is to add.

And that’s significant because he already is an excellent presence on the defensive end of the floor given his 6-foot-6 size, length and athleticism. We know what he provides on that end. It’s why he’s in the conversation as a potential first round pick whenever he does end up heading to the professional ranks. But to see him provide this kind of spark offensively? I think this raises the ceiling of what Kentucky can be for one, simple reason: Before today, I didn’t know if it was possible to close the gap between Kentucky’s best offensive five and their best defensive five.

Well … they did.

2. KENTUCKY’S DEFENSE WAS TERRIFIC

Prior to the start of the season, the big concern that everyone had with this Kentucky roster was on the offensive end of the floor. Would they be able to score efficiently enough and shoot consistently enough to be a Final Four contender? We had that concern because the general consensus was that, with the size and athleticism that John Calipari had at his disposal, he would find a way to make the Wildcats one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

That was not the case for the first six months of the season. While the Wildcats were good enough offensively – they entered Friday with the 27th-best offensive, according to KenPom, while shooting 36 percent from three and grabbing 37 percent of their own misses, all numbers that, in a vacuum, should be enough – they struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Virginia Tech put up 86 on them. UCLA put up 83. Even Vermont’s guards were able to torch the Wildcats in a game earlier this year, and it’s not like they overwhelmed the likes of Harvard, or Troy, or East Tennessee State.

On Friday, Kentucky’s defense looked like the defense we thought the Wildcats would be capable of playing this year. The Cards shot 34.8 percent from the floor, 3-for-25 from three and scored all of 0.91 points-per-possession, which included a flurry of offense once the game was decidedly in hand. Some of that, however, might have been due to Louisville being #notgood, but we’ll get to that in a second.

3. WILL LOUISVILLE MAKE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT?

This is a legitimate question that needs to be asked at this point. The Cardinals finished non-conference play at 10-3, and none of their losses are all that bad – at Purdue, at Kentucky, Seton Hall at home. All three of those teams have legitimate Final Four upside.

It is concerning that their best win in the non-conference came against a six-loss Indiana team that has been beaten at home by a combined 41 points by Fort Wayne and Indiana State, but what’s more concerning is that this Louisville team just does not look like they are good enough to collect the wins that they need to collect in order to put together a profile strong enough to get a tournament bid in the ACC.

Yes, this is recency bias rearing up, but you tell me, Louisville fans: Are you confident in your team’s ability to nick a win off of, say, Duke, or North Carolina, or Miami? What about Notre Dame? Or even someone like an 11-1 Clemson team?

4. ALL THIS SHOULD GO TO SHOW YOU JUST HOW GOOD OF A COACH RICK PITINO IS

Here’s something crazy that I remembered today: In the first iteration of the 2017-18 Preseason Top 25, the one that we released on the night of the national title game, when Donovan Mitchell was returning to school, Miles Bridges seemed like a one-and-done player and Marvin Bagley III was thinking about junior prom, the Cardinals were No. 1.

Let me repeat: Nine months ago, I thought Louisville would be the best team in college basketball this season.

Yes, losing a potential Rookie of the Year in the NBA changes a lot of things, but the Cardinals were still the No. 16 team in the preseason AP Poll even after everything they’ve gone through in the last two months. They still have players like Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Anas Mahmoud, Ray Spalding and V.J. King, guys that were expected to play a major role regardless of who was their head coach.

Padgett was put into an impossible position and has performed about as well as you could have asked him to.

So maybe that should shed some light on why we keep referring to Pitino as one of the best to ever coach the game of basketball.

Grand Canyon earns two more high-major transfers

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Grand Canyon has done a great job of attracting high-major transfers as the program landed two more former Big Ten players this week.

Forward Michael Finke, a former Illinois big man, will join the program as a graduate transfer while former Northwestern guard Isiah Brown also committed to the Antelopes.

Michael Finke made 50 career starts for the Illini, as he joins younger brother Tim Finke on the Grand Canyon roster. The floor-spacing big man could help Grand Canyon on offense if he shoots like he did a few seasons back as he could be a valuable addition to the rotation. Finke put up 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game at Illinois last season.

Brown, who just finished his sophomore season as Northwestern, will have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. The duo of Brown and Finke join Washington transfer Carlos Johnson (also sitting out next season) as high-major transfers that head coach Dan Majerle and his staff have pulled in this offseason.

Last season at Northwestern, Brown averaged 3.9 points per game after his minutes dipped a bit.

With Grand Canyon making a major push towards an NCAA tournament, these are the types of moves that could pay off the next few seasons for an emerging mid-major program.

Nebraska lands Robert Morris transfer Dachon Burke

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Nebraska landed a coveted transfer on Thursday as former Robert Morris guard Dachon Burke pledged to the Cornhuskers during an official visit, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-4 Burke will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more seasons of eligibility. Burke averaged 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season for the Colonials in a breakout sophomore campaign. Also putting up 2.1 steals per game, Burke should be a major contributor for Nebraska when he becomes eligible.

Nebraska was able to pull in Burke even though he was coveted by other high-major programs as he’s a solid addition for the program. If Burke can improve his perimeter shooting (33 percent last season from three-point range) then he could be a major weapon for the Huskers.

 

Report: Arizona State adds 7-foot-1 center

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Height has been something of an issue in recent years for Bobby Hurley and Arizona State. The Sun Devils took a step to remedy that Thursday.

Uros Plavsic, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia has signed with Arizona State to become the fourth member of the program’s 2018 recruiting class, according to a report from 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels.

Plavsic, who is attending high school in Tennessee, originally committed to Cleveland State, but backed off that commitment last month before visiting Tempe this week.

“It was a great experience,” Plavsic told Scout. “They really took good care of me these past few days. Their campus is so, so big. The people here are nice. I met two guys I really liked and were important for a basketball team. Their facilities are crazy. Everything is in the same area.”

The Sun Devils ranked in the bottom half of the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last year while ranking 265th in average height, according to KenPom.

“They were short the past two seasons,” he said about Arizona State. “They really needed a big guy and they can use me inside or can pass outside. They really need a big guy and I think I can help them out a lot next season.”

 

NCAA begins work of implementing complex basketball reforms

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The most difficult part of the NCAA’s attempt to clean up college basketball begins now.

Hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the Commission on College Basketball’s sweeping recommendations for reforming a sport weighed down by corruption, NCAA leaders set in motion the process for turning those ideas into reality.

The NCAA Board of Governors, a group of 16 university presidents and the association’s highest ranking body, unanimously endorsed all the commission’s recommendations Wednesday. Now it’s up to various subcommittees, working groups and college administrators to dig into a mountain of work over the next three months as the NCAA attempts to change NBA draft rules, create a new enforcement body, toughen penalties for rules violations, revamp summer recruiting and certify agents. All while trying to get buy-in from organizations that might not be motivated to help.

“It’s going to be a challenge to say the least,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “This is a pace of decision making that the association’s really never done on this kind of scale before.”

The Division I Council, comprised mostly of athletic directors and headed by Miami AD Blake James, has the job of turning the recommendations into rules. That requires feedback from schools, then council votes with some conference votes counting more heavily than others. Each proposal then goes to the Board of Directors, where a majority vote is needed to send it to the Board of Governors for final approval.

It’s a winding path — crossing 351 Division I schools with varied priorities and concerns — and requiring consensus building and compromise for measures to pass. NCAA rule changes can sometimes take a full calendar year to sort out.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t let the good fall victim to the perfect here,” Emmert said. “Nobody believes we’re going to get everything perfect the first time through.”

The independent commission Rice led released a much-anticipated and detailed 60-page report , seven months after the group was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme , and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.

“They believe the college basketball enterprise is worth saving,” Rice told the AP of commission members in an interview before addressing NCAA leaders. “We believe there’s a lot of work to do in that regard. That the state of the game is not very strong. We had to be bold in our recommendations.”

The proposals were wide-ranging, falling mostly into five categories: NBA draft rules, specifically the league’s 19-year-old age limit that has led to so-called one-and-done college players; non-scholastic basketball such as AAU leagues and summer recruiting events; the relationship between players and agents; relationships with apparel companies; and NCAA enforcement.

“Some people like some of (the recommendations) more than others, which is human nature, but as a board we’re unanimous in the endorsement and the acceptance of these recommendations for the NCAA,” said Minnesota President Eric Kaler, chairman of the Division I Board of Directors.

It’s not yet clear how the governing body would pay for some of the proposals, though the NCAA reported revenues of more than $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2017 in its most recent financial disclosures.

The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding hoops “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.

It also defended the NCAA’s amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.

“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.

The commission did leave open the possibility that college athletes could earn money off their names, images and likenesses , but decided not to commit on the subject while the courts are still weighing in.

Rice called the crisis in college basketball “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”

ONE-AND-DONE

The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.

The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

“I’m confident they are going to be very supportive,” Emmert said of the NBA and NBAPA.

The NBA and players union praised the recommendations on enforcement and expressed concerns about youth basketball. On draft eligibility rules, however, there was no commitment.

“The NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” they said.

The commission did, however, say if the NBA and NBPA refuse to change their rules in time for the next basketball season, it would reconvene and consider other options for the NCAA, such as making freshmen ineligible or locking a scholarship for three or four years if the recipient leaves a program after a single year.

“One-and-done has to go one way or another,” Rice told the AP.

ENFORCEMENT

The commission recommended harsher penalties for rule-breakers and that the NCAA outsource the investigation and adjudication of the most serious infractions cases. Level I violations would be punishable with up to a five-year postseason ban and the forfeiture of all postseason revenue for the time of the ban. That could be worth tens of millions to major conference schools. By comparison, recent Level I infractions cases involving Louisville and Syracuse basketball resulted in postseason bans of one year.

Instead of show cause orders, which are meant to limit a coach’s ability to work in college sports after breaking NCAA rules, the report called for lifetime bans.

“The rewards of success, athletic success, have become very great. The deterrents sometimes aren’t as effective as they need to be. What we want are deterrents that really impact an institution,” said Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, who was a member of the Rice commission.

AGENTS

The commission proposed the NCAA create a program for certifying agents , and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers.

AAU AND SUMMER LEAGUES

The NCAA, with support from the NBA and USA Basketball, should run its own recruiting events for prospects during the summer , the commission said, and take a more serious approach to certifying events it does not control.

APPAREL COMPANIES

The commission also called for greater financial transparency from shoe and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. These companies have extensive financial relationships with colleges and coaches worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Adidas had two former executives charged by federal prosecutors in New York in the corruption case.

 

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.