As expected, Kentucky will be losing seven players to the NBA Draft.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, head coach John Calipari and seven of his underclassmen announced their decision. When Cal asked the players declaring for the draft to stand up, this happened:
Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devon Booker, Dakari Johnson and both Aaron and Andrew Harrison will all be heading to the NBA.
“If Alex [Poythress] didn’t get hurt, it would have been eight,” Coach Cal said. Poythress has not yet made a decision. He’s got his degree already, according to Cal, and he’s still deciding whether or not he will return.
Towns is projected to be a top two pick in the NBA Draft, with many expecting that he will be taken No. 1 over Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Cauley-Stein is a top ten pick, while Lyles and Booker are both expected to be taken somewhere between the late lottery and the late first round.
Things are a bit different for the twins and Johnson. Johnson will likely get drafted, although he is expected to be a second round pick. The twins, on the other hand, are not guarantee to end up being picked. Andrew is probably the better NBA prospect at this stage, especially given the way he played late in the season, while Aaron is a shooting guard that hasn’t proven to be able to consistently shoot outside of the NCAA tournament.
Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress will all return for the Wildcats, joining Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews, the three freshmen that Kentucky has signed for the 2015-16 season. Labissiere is one of the top prospects in the 2015 class, a guy that is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. Briscoe is a top ten recruit and a talented scoring guard, while Matthews is a four-star prospect.
Kentucky is still in the mix for a number of elite recruits that have yet to commit to a school, including Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo, Stephen Zimmermann and Thon Maker, among others.
We had Kentucky has the preseason No. 4 team in the country when we put out our list earlier this week, and nothing unexpected with any of the other teams in the top five has happened since then. As good as Labissiere is, they will ideally add some front court depth this spring, be it a freshman or a graduate transfer that is eligible immediately.
No. 1 Kentucky moves to 29-0 with blowout win over No. 18 Arkansas
No. 1 Kentucky has rolled through the majority of its games this season, with head coach John Calipari’s talented mix of freshmen (four of them, to be exact) and returnees who finished one game short of a national title last season establishing themselves as the clear favorites to win the national title. In No. 18 Arkansas, Kentucky was faced with their lone ranked opponent in SEC play, and it should also be noted that the Razorbacks won both meetings last season and held a three-game win streak in the series.
But none of that mattered at Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon, as Kentucky rolled to an 84-67 victory that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. The Wildcats, who shot just 5-for-17 from beyond the arc, outscored the Razorbacks 40-24 in the paint and made nearly 56 percent of their two-point shots.
That percentage inside of the arc may not be considered “elite,” but in Arkansas’ seven-game win streak prior to Saturday’s loss just one team managed to make at least 50 percent of their two-point shots (Missouri). Kentucky simply had too much skill, size and athleticism for the visitors, and while Mike Anderson’s team didn’t quit they were fighting upstream all afternoon.
Starters Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles scored 18 points apiece, and reserve guards Tyler Ulis (14) and Devin Booker (ten) combined to score 24 off the bench. Aaron Harrison may have shot just 2-for-11 from the field, but Kentucky has more than enough weapons to account for one player’s off afternoon.
Yet even with Kentucky’s offensive options, the biggest problem for Arkansas was the impact Kentucky had on the defensive end. The Wildcats limited the Razorbacks to 37.5% shooting from the field and 5-for-18 from beyond the arc, with both percentages well below Arkansas’s numbers for the season. And for a team that has utilized its depth well throughout the season, Arkansas received just seven points from its reserves.
Arkansas needed to produce its best showing of the season to have a shot at handing Kentucky its first loss of the season. That didn’t occur, and the Wildcats had a lot to do with that. The remainder of Kentucky’s opponents will face similar odds between now and the end of the season. And Saturday’s demolition was the latest piece of evidence that “putting it all together” against the Wildcats is far easier said than done.
No. 1 Kentucky holds off Texas A&M in double overtime for another tough SEC win
Earlier in the week Kentucky was able to get past Ole Miss with a decent effort in a close 89-86 overtime home win. The Wildcats once again played to the level of its competition on Saturday as No. 1 Kentucky had its true SEC road game at Texas A&M.
This time it nearly came back to bite them as Kentucky avoided an upset with a 70-64 double-overtime win over the Aggies. Freshman Tyler Ulis hit a huge 3-pointer with a little over a minute left that proved to be the game winner and Dakari Johnson hit two clutch free throws with 14.7 seconds left to put the game away.
Aaron Harrison missed a game-winning 3-pointer to end regulation and it led to an overtime that saw Kentucky lose control in the final minutes. With the Wildcats trailing by two on a final possession out of a timeout in overtime, Trey Lyles was fouled and made two free throws to put the game into double overtime. Texas A&M’s Alex Robinson missed a long 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
In the second overtime, Lyles gave a big lift with Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein fouled out as he helped give Kentucky new life. After Ulis’ shot, the Wildcats calmed down enough to get stops and win.
Struggling to get consistent offense going and only shooting 28 percent (18-for-64) from the field, Kentucky had to rotate different lineups and work on the defensive end. Wildcat freshman guard Devin Booker emerged as the team’s most consistent offensive threat as he went 4-for-6 from 3-point range to finish with a team-high 18 points. Aaron Harrison again hit a key 3-pointer in the closing minutes to score 12 points while grabbing seven rebounds. But the Harrison twins struggled overall and combined to shoot 6-for-30 from the field as Andrew finished with nine points.
Kentucky (15-0, 2-0) didn’t make plays when they needed to and they couldn’t get away from a team with inferior talent. With a deep rotation, they still couldn’t find the right pieces to make the right plays. Texas A&M (9-5, 0-2) had multiple looks in the final minutes and couldn’t knock them down but extended possessions with offensive rebounds in late-game situations. Andrew Harrison made a questionable decision and missed a contested layup with Kentucky up two and running clock late in regulation. That led to Danuel House being fouled on the other end and tying the game, sending it to overtime.
House had a huge game with 25 points and nine rebounds as he shot 8-for-18 from the field and was nearly unstoppable driving to the rim. He just didn’t have enough help to ultimately topple Kentucky.
Texas A&M went on a 12-5 run the last six minutes of the game to stay within striking distance. Kentucky just couldn’t find a go-to scorer down the stretch with the team struggling to hit shots. Booker looked like he would emerge after a 3-point play to start overtime but he was quiet for the rest of the first overtime.
We knew that Kentucky would likely lose eventually because young players have inconsistent games. The problem is, the loss nearly came to a team that hasn’t been considered a major NCAA Tournament threat all year. Texas A&M lost by 21 points at Alabama four days ago and nearly beat Kentucky. The Wildcats won a tough road game here but ultimately need to be more consistent overall to go unscathed in the SEC but they still got it done with young players stepping up.
INDIANAPOLIS — On Monday night, Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez put together one of the most impressive individual performances we’ll see this season. He scored 20 points in the final 6:47, hitting five threes, including a contested, step-back 25-footer that gave the Hurricanes a lead over No. 8 Florida with 30 seconds left.
It was one of the biggest upsets that we’ll see before conference season kicks off, but that’s precisely what it was: an upset. Rodriguez is not going to be scoring 20 points in less than seven minutes all that often. He’s not going to be hitting step-back 25-footers on a regular basis. I’ll stop short of calling that performance a fluke, but the point remains that if Miami is going to count on Rodriguez to play that way to win games, they’re not going to win many.
In short, what Miami did on Monday was not repeatable.
For No. 1 Kentucky, Monday night’s performance — a 72-40 beatdown of No. 5 Kansas, a game wasn’t in doubt for the final 30 minutes or so — was anything but an accident. It wasn’t fluky, it didn’t feel out of the ordinary and it certainly did not come on the shoulders of an individual performance deserving unending praise.
Simply put, this was a systematic beatdown of a team ranked in the top-5 nationally, one features five potential NBA first round draft picks. It was an evisceration of a program that has won a decade’s worth of consecutive Big 12 titles. We may not see a more dominating all-around performance than this all season long, at least not one featuring two teams that play at the high major level.
“Tonight we could have played our best game and it may not have been enough,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said after the game.
And that’s what makes this performance so scary.
As long as they buy-in, Kentucky can do this every single night.
It starts with their ability on the glass. Outside of maybe Texas, there is no team in the country with a frontline that is as big, as deep and as athletic as the Wildcats. Their small forwards are Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles, both of whom are more physical and athletic than the majority of Division I power forwards. What’s more, those two will always be the third-biggest player on the floor. How do you keep a team with that kind of size off of the offensive glass?
Offensively, it’s impossible to do any damage against them in the paint. If you’re not trying to finish over Willie Cauley-Stein (7-foot), Karl Towns (7-foot) and Poythress (6-foot-7), it’s Marcus Lee (6-foot-10), Dakari Johnson (7-foot) and Lyles (6-foot-10). If, on the off chance that you do get an offensive rebound, there is simply no room around the rim to try and score on a putback. Think about it like this: Kansas finished Monday night’s game with 11 field goals. Kentucky finished with 11 blocks. How can you compete with that?
And here’s the kicker: that platoon we’ve all been talking about so much? It’s working. When your team gets winded after playing four minutes against a starting lineup full of future first rounders pressing and defending and overwhelming, John Calipari has a second wave coming in, fresh off the bench without a hint of a dropoff in talent.
They’re coming in waves, and they’re bigger, and more athletic, and they’re fresher.
“We kind of bum-rushed them a little bit,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “Every time they looked up there were reinforcements coming over the hill. It wasn’t substitutes, it was tanks.”
And while that statement is filled with the kind of exaggeration and branding that we have come to expect out of Coach Cal, it is a statement rooted in fact.
When Kentucky wants to be, they are going to be damn-near unbeatable this season.
The problem, of course, are those three pesky little words: “wants to be”. Cal can make all the excuses that he wants for his team’s first half performance against Buffalo on Sunday, when the Cats trailed 38-33 at home at halftime, but the bottom line was that Kentucky simply did not show up ready to play. Whether that was a result of a wild Saturday night, the players overlooking an overmatched opponents or binging on Chick Fil-A breakfast burritos an hour before the game, only the people in that locker room will know. But it’s inarguable that the reason the Cats found themselves behind is that they came out flat. Their press wasn’t energetic, their defensive rotations were slow, they didn’t get back on defense in transition, you name it.
In the second half, when the team finally woke up, Kentucky outscored the Bulls 38-14.
“It’s just energy,” Cauley-Stein said. “You can tell the games we don’t play like that. It’s just a slower-paced game. You can really feel it.”
It really is that simple, at least at this point in the season, because where Kentucky struggles at this point is in their half court execution. The sets they run are anything-but complex — ball-screens, dribble handoffs, post isolations — which often means they rely on the individual ability of the players to create open looks. It doesn’t help that on the season, Kentucky is now shooting 28.8% from beyond the arc. Factor out the 5-for-8 that Tyler Ulis is shooting from beyond the arc, and Kentucky is a rousing 10-for-44 from three.
If they continue to shoot like that, teams can zone them. They can play pack-line. They can slough off of everybody on the perimeter, packing every body possible into the paint to help nullify that overwhelming size advantage by taking away space.
As good as this performance was on Sunday night, Kentucky still shot just 43.1% from the floor and 6-for-18 from three.
But they turned 16 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points and 11 turnovers into 12 points at the other end.
Those are “energy points”, if you will.
Does this mean that Kentucky will go undefeated this year?
Well, I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d say 50% of this loss is pinned directly on Kansas and the fact that they simply are not a good basketball team right now. If these two square off again in March, Kansas will not lose by 32 points. I think even the most diehard Kentucky fan will agree with me there.
Someone is going to matchup with them. Someone is going to have the size and the length to hold their own in the paint. Someone is going to catch them on the right night, when their threes are falling and Kentucky comes out sluggish. Someone is going to make them pay for giving up 20 offensive rebounds in a game. Someone is going to go all Angel Rodriguez on them.
The Cats still have to play No. 10 Texas, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 7 Louisville and UCLA, who is ranked No. 23 in our top 25. They still play Florida twice, not to mention the rest of the SEC season.
The Wildcats look like they’ll be the better team every time they take the court this season.
If they can get through their non-conference slate unscathed, their chase for 40-0 will be a fun one to follow.
Kentucky’s first platoon jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the season opener against Grand Canyon. The second platoon followed with a 7-0 run of its own when it entered the game. Neither one of John Calipari’s units had issues with Grand Canyon, as the top-ranked Wildcats breezed to an 85-45 win on Friday night at Rupp Arena.
First platoon: Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress, Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein
Second platoon: Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson.
Nine of those 10 players scored, led by Andrew Harrison with 16 points (scored 12 in the first half), 12 from Cauley-Stein and Lyles with 11 off the bench. The frontline was as advertised with five of Kentucky’s big men corralling at least a handful of rebounds with Johnson (12) and Towns (eight) leading the way. That frontline defense also protected the rim, rejecting a total of 10 shots while creating second-chance opportunities with 22 offensive rebounds.
With under four minutes to play, Calipari abandoned the platoon system and inserted Ulis into the lineup with both Harrison twins, Poythress and Cauley-Stein. This was a lineup we saw in August during the Big Blue Bahamas Tour: Ulis and the Harrison twins in a three-guard set to close out the game for Kentucky, although, at that point, the Wildcats had a 30-plus point cushion. It’s worth noting that will be a lineup Kentucky will uses moving forward.
Kentucky will face a more competitive opponent on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, which will be a lead up to Tuesday night’s top-5 showdown against No. 5 Kansas at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
Kentucky is going to dunk a lot this season. That was made clear during the six games the Wildcats played in the Bahamas this past August. Exhibition opponents, Pikeville (Kentucky) and Georgetown (Kentucky), can attest to that as well.
Here is the video evidence, courtesy of Wildcat Dunks, a YouTube account that has been around since January 2013, but has put in work the last three months, serving as a warmup for more highlights to come over the course of the next five and a half months.