Karl Towns

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Karl Towns takes over, No. 1 Kentucky moves to 30-0

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Karl Towns was Kentucky’s savior on Tuesday night.

With the No. 1 Wildcats struggling offensively and down nine to Georgia in a rocking Stegeman Coliseum, John Calipari started to pound the ball into his most talented big man, and Towns delivered. He scored 15 of his 19 points in the final 11 minutes, overwhelming Georgia’s smaller front line and sparking a 21-6 run that kept the Wildcats perfect. They’re now just the fourth team to go 30-0 since Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana team had an undefeated season.

Kentucky would go on to win 72-64 despite a terrific effort from the Bulldogs, who executed a flawless game-plan to perfection.

I don’t say that lightly, either.

For 30 minutes, Georgia only made a single mistake, a flagrant foul committed by Kenny Gaines on a fast break that gave the Wildcats a four-point possession and five-point lead late in the first half. And to be frank, they didn’t make too many mistakes down the stretch, either.

Kentucky just … turned it on.

And that’s what makes this team so scary heading into March.

They’ve played some pretty poor games during SEC play. They were lit up by Ole Miss from the perimeter in an overtime win. They set offensive basketball back a decade with their double-overtime win over Texas A&M. LSU erased a 13-point deficit with a 21-2 second half run, which the Wildcats needed to answer in the final minutes. They were wobbled by a couple of right hooks at Florida, but bounced back to win in one of the toughest environments in the country.

On Tuesday night, Kentucky dug themselves a hole with their inability to finish around the rim and some fairly poor — by their standards — defending. But when they needed to, when the gameclock hit winning time, the Wildcats suddenly became impenetrable defensively and unstoppable offensively. It’s incredible how their able to go on those runs, to the point that it never felt like Georgia was ever in control of the game on Tuesday. We were just waiting for Kentucky to turn it on, it just took longer than we expected.

Therein lies my issue with the idea that teams on a winning streak in late-February and early-March “need a loss”.


What Kentucky needs to is learn how to win when the pressure is on. They need to learn how to execute and make plays down the stretch on the nights that they’ve spent the majority of the game doing the exact opposite. They need practice “turning it on”.

Just like they did on Tuesday.

As the saying goes, good teams win games when they don’t play well. Kentucky did that — again — on Tuesday.

Weekly Awards: Karl Towns shows us his best, Oklahoma State back in the Big 12 convo

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Karl Towns, Kentucky

Kentucky put together a pair of solid wins this week, knocking off Georgia at home before going into the O-Dome and taking Florida’s best shot before beating the Gators. Towns, in those two games, played his best basketball since he arrived in Lexington, averaging 17.0 points, 10.5 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.0 blocks in the two wins.

It’s not just the numbers for Towns, because if he were consistently playing 31 minutes every night on a team where the offensive was built around him, he could probably put up numbers like that for an entire season. It’s the little things that he showed an ability to do, like a deft over-the-head pass for a dunk out of a double-team or reading a defender trying to anticipate how Towns would use a screen. We know Towns can block shots and we know that he can get to the offensive glass. We’ve even seen him do a decent job switching onto guards while defending ball-screens.

If there’s a knock on Kentucky this season, it’s that they don’t score all that well in half court settings. When Towns is making plays like that, the Wildcats are that much more dangerous.


  • Marcus Posley, St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies went 2-0 this week, and Posley is the one to thank. He hit buzzer-beating game-winners in wins over No. 18 VCU and Davidson.
  • Joseph Young, Oregon: Young led the Ducks to wins over the Washington schools this week, averaging 30.5 points, 6.5 boards and 5.0 assists. He shot 22-for-37 from the floor and 7-for-14 from three, and suddenly, the Ducks are tied for third in the Pac-12, just two games behind Arizona and Utah.
  • Rico Gathers, Baylor: The Bears have won five of their last six games, including a pair of blowout wins against TCU and at West Virginia. Gathers had 31 points and 33 boards in those two wins.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke: Winslow went for 15 points and 10 boards in a win over Georgia Tech, following that up with 19 points and 11 boards in Saturday’s beatdown of Notre Dame. He’s now notched three straight double-doubles.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: In a pair of road wins for the Zags, Wiltjer was the best player on the floor, averaging 25.5 points and 8.5 boards.
  • Notables: Schadrac Casimir (Iona), Jamel Artis (Pitt), Jalen Cannon (St. Francis NY)
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TEAM OF THE WEEK: Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Pokes landed a pair of critical wins this week, as they went into Texas and knocked off the Longhorns in overtime, following that up with a win over No. 8 Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Area. The Big 12 might be a bit overrated at this point, but there is no denying how much of a meat-grinder league play is in that conference. Winning two straight games against teams that could end up making the NCAA tournament — particularly when coming off of a loss — is huge. The wins also put Travis Ford’s club in a much better position in regards to the NCAA tournament.


  • Virginia: The Cavaliers beat North Carolina and Louisville this week, solidifying their place at the top of the national rankings, but they also lost Justin Anderson in the process.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes bounced back from a three-game losing streak with blowout wins at Michigan and over No. 17 Maryland at home.
  • Boise State: The Broncos are suddenly in the bubble conversation and tied for first place (in the loss column) in the Mountain West after wins at Utah State and over San Diego State this week. They’ve won seven straight.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils beat arch rival Arizona at home on Saturday afternoon. It won’t be enough for them to get into the NCAA tournament picture, but a win over a rival can make a bad season worthwhile.
  • Harvard: The Crimson have now won four straight road games in Ivy League play, culminating with a win at Yale on Saturday night.


  • No. 11 Iowa State at No. 21 Oklahoma, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 1 Kentucky at LSU, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 19 Baylor at No. 8 Kansas, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 VCU at George Washington, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 7 Villanova at Butler, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

Burning Questions: Which five players would you pick to play the final minutes for Kentucky?

Kentucky is the choice of many to win it all (AP Photo)
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Kentucky is the choice of many to win it all (AP Photo)

Given the brouhaha over Kentucky’s rotation, particularly on Sunday, who are the five that you would pick to finish a game for the Wildcats and why?

MORE: Read through all the Burning Questions here

Scott Phillips: I’ve always said going into this season that freshman point guard Tyler Ulis was too valuable with the ball in his hands to not have him on the floor to close games and I still see him ending games alongside the Harrison twins during crunch time this season. Those three can all create from the perimeter and with Willie Cauley-Stein’s defensive ability and experience and Karl-Anthony Towns’ overall skill level, Kentucky would be wise to look into that line-up to close games this season.

Raphielle Johnson: Before we get into this, I think some people took Calipari’s words to mean that by no means would he deviate from the “platoon” idea. Obviously factors such as foul trouble, matchups and who’s playing well will be considered as the game wears on. It would be irresponsible to not consider those variables. That being said, in crunch time I’d go with Ulis, the Harrison twins, Cauley-Stein and Johnson. Ulis is their best distributor and Andrew isn’t a slouch either. So why not have two playmakers on the floor? Aaron’s hit big shots in the past and Dakari has to be out there for rebounding. And I think the three perimeter players can provide enough scoring, so Cauley-Stein needs to be out there as well.

Terrence Payne: I’d go with the three-guard lineup of Tyler Ulis alongside Andrew and Aaron Harrison on the perimeter. I would trade length for a player who will help set guys up while being a defensive menace on the ball. Up front, I could see going with Alex Poythress for his energy but I would go with Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky’s best offensive player and Willie Cauley-Stein, its best defensive player.

Rob Dauster: Based on the answers to this question, it seems like everyone is convinced that the best lineup Kentucky can put on the floor will have Ulis sharing the back court with the twins, and it’s hard to argue with. But I like arguing, so here is the five that I would go with: Ulis, Aaron Harrison, Trey Lyles, Karl Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein. Offensively, I think Lyles and Towns are skilled enough that they would be able to keep opposing defenses from collapsing into the paint. At the same time, you run into a situation where an NBA-caliber big man will be guarded by a college small forward. Someone is going to have a mismatch on the block, and Kentucky will have an overwhelming advantage on the offensive glass. For a team that hasn’t proven adept at running half court offense, their best play down the stretch may end up being a missed shot.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 1 Kentucky.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: John Calipari

Last Season: 29-11, 12-6 SEC (t-2nd), lost in the national title game to UConn

Key Losses: Julius Randle, James Young

Newcomers: Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker

Projected Lineup

G: Andrew Harrison, So.
G: Aaron Harrison, So.
F: Alex Poythress, Jr.
F: Karl Towns, Jr.
C: Willie Cauley-Stein, Jr.
Bench: Tyler Ulis, Fr.; Trey Lyles, Fr.; Dakari Johnson, So.; Marcus Lee, So.; Devin Booker, Fr., Derek Willis, So.; Dominique Hawkins, So.

They’ll be good because … : They’re loaded.

I mean, we all know this by now, right?

I’m not breaking any news here, am I?


Nine guys on this roster are McDonald’s All-Americans. As many as eight of them could end up being first round draft picks whenever it is they turn pro. We could talk about the fact that John Calipari is being forced into trying a platoon system in an effort to make sure that everyone on his roster is happy with their minutes, but if you really want to get a sense of how deep this Kentucky team is, think about Derek Willis: He’s a 6-foot-9 forward that was, at one time, a top 30 recruit in the country. No. 115, according to Rivals, in the final Class of 2013 rankings.

Derek Willis would start for all but about 25 teams in the country.

He’s essentially a walk-on with the Wildcats.

Think about that.

But they might disappoint because … : There are a number of concerns that I have about this Kentucky teams, so lets roll them out in bullet form:

  • First and foremost, I’m not convinced that the platoon system is actually going to work. When Kentucky faces teams that they should beat — Grand Canyon and Buffalo and Boston U. — it will be effective because the Wildcats simply are that much more talented. But what happens when they square off with teams that can actually beat them? Will Coach Cal be willing to give Marcus Lee or Trey Lyles their full rotations if they aren’t playing well? Will he be willing to play crunch time minutes without his five best players on the floor? If someone sees their minutes cut, will Cal be able to keep the peace in the locker room?
  • There is no natural small forward on this team. There are, however, six guys that play the four and the five spot. Alex Poythress is the guy that’s being forced into the role, but his natural position is as an undersized power forward. Lyles is really skilled for a power forward, but he’s a four through and through. Lee is, obviously, a four. The best lineup that Kentucky fields might end up having three guards on the floor. Who gets their minutes cut if Cal plays, say, Tyler Ulis and the Harrisons?
  • Karl Towns is better than Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein. Trey Lyles is better than Poythress and Lee. Ulis may be the best point guard on the roster. What happens if the freshmen end up getting all the minutes?
  • And lastly, I think that the Harrisons are going to have big years. I think that Aaron will be the team’s best perimeter scorer and Andrew will take control of the team at the point guard spot. But there’s no guarantee that they make that leap.

Outlook: It’s not going to be easy for Coach Cal to keep everyone happy. It’s not going to be easy for him to maintain the chemistry in the locker room. It’s not going to be easy for him to convince a kid that expects to be a first round pick that sitting on the bench in college is a good thing for him just because it’s a good thing for the team, but it’s what Cal is going to have to do.

But I will say this: Coach Cal’s issues are enviable. Having to keep everyone happy because there are too many good players is a much, much better problem to have than finding a way to win with guys that simply aren’t good enough.

Kentucky is the heavy favorite to win the SEC title. Anything less than a league title and a trip to the Final Four would be a disappointment.

Early highlights of Karl-Anthony Towns at Kentucky [VIDEO]

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One of the players I want to watch many times this season is Kentucky freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns. The 6-foot-11 big man is one of the best incoming freshmen in the country and he could be the best among the Wildcats’ many former McDonald’s All-American big men.

Here is a highlight video of Towns’ early-season plays in Kentucky’s Blue Madness event and recent scrimmage. You can see why the freshman is so squarely on the radar of so many fans and analysts this season.

(H/T: City League Hoops TV/Slam)

2014-15 Season Preview: College Basketball Dream Team

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 7 North Carolina.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Over the summer, before the USA went on to win the FIBA World Cup, we put together the 12-man roster that we would want if Team USA were still made up of college players.

With the NBA season kicking off this week, we thought it would be fun to put together a 15-man roster of college players if we had to choose a college team that would play an NBA season. The roster is similar — the best players are still the best players — but there are some notable changes here.

And one other thing: We know this team is going to lose a lot of games in the NBA. So what. The person that makes that statement is the same person that vetoes every trade in a fantasy football league because it makes other teams better. No one likes that guy, so don’t be that guy. At the very least, our team would give Philly a fight in a seven game series.

Here’s our roster:


COACH: Billy Donovan, Florida: Donovan is clearly an NBA-caliber head coach. The Orlando Magic already signed him once before he returned to Florida, and that is far from the last NBA team that has made a push to try to hire him. He runs a ball-screen heavy offense, which suits our personnel, and he’s good enough to know when he needs to feed the ball to his big men, which is a strength of this team. The three front court players on our bench fit perfectly into pick-and-pop scenarios.

G Marcus Paige, North Carolina: I’m not convinced Paige can be a full-time point guard at this level yet, but I’m also not convinced that there is a point guard in the country that can this year. What I loved about Paige last season was that he showed a willingness to run UNC’s offense until it was crunch time, when he would take over. He had quite a few monster second halves and made a number of critical jumpers. I think there’s a real shot he wins National Player of the Year this season.

G Caris LeVert, Michigan: LeVert is still too skinny, and I have concerns about him on the defensive end of the floor, but he’ll a nice addition on the offensive end of the floor because he has NBA range on his jumper and because he can operate in the pick-and-roll. He should be a good fit for the offense that gets run by Donovan.

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Montrezl Harrell (Getty Images)

F Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson has a terrific future in front of him, and he gets the nod despite being a freshman because he’s just such a good all-around player with a body that can already handle playing against pros at this point in his career. There are two things in particular that made him an ideal three for our team: 1) He’s a very good defender that won’t get back down by stronger wings, and 2) He’s a good enough ball-handler and playmaker that he can initiate offense, taking some of the pressure off of our back court.

F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell gets the bump into the starting lineup for us in what I like to call the “Kenneth Faried role”. Harrell is our energy guy, a rebounder and a defender that will set some menacing screens and earn extra possessions with his hustle. His improving perimeter stroke earned him the nod over Karl Towns and Frank Kaminsky, as he’ll now be able to keep opposing fours from collapsing on Okafor on the block.

C Jahlil Okafor, Duke: This is the guy that we figured we would need to build our team around, as he’s the most NBA-ready player in college basketball. He’s already got the size and the low-post game to be effective against NBA centers, although his effectiveness on the defensive end of the floor is a concern. Is he ready to guard pick-and-rolls yet?


  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia: Sometimes you just need a guy to come off the bench that can give you instant offense, and Staten can do that.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville: This is assuming that Rozier takes the kind of step forward that we are expecting him to make. He’s a terrific athlete that can run the pick-and-roll, scores in the mid-range and really rebounds the ball well for his size.
  • Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker is like a utility infielder on a baseball team. He can run the point, he can shoot like an off-guard and he can defend any position on the perimeter.
  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: I’m not sure there is a better spot-up shooter in the country than Hunter, and he’s got the size (6-foot-5) to play two-guard to boot.
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker’s grown to about 6-foot-9 and has a chance to be an all-american this season. I foresee him playing a lot of minutes at the two alongside Stanley Johnson.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Defensive stopper, sensational athlete, great motor and a jump shot away from being a very, very good player.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: Now 25 pounds lighter, Niang is turning into one of the best offensive weapons in college basketball.
  • Karl Towns, Kentucky: Towns is eligible for this team since it isn’t Team USA. He’s the second-best prospect in college basketball and we nearly started him over Harrell because of his ability to shoot. His defense and body need to develop, but he’s already supremely skilled offensively.
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: The big question marks with Kaminsky are his ability to rebound and his ability to defend. That said, he’s a matchup nightmare for opposing big men and there are few people that can take over a game offensively the way he did as a junior.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: He makes the cut over Nnanna Egwu and Amida Brimah as our defensive stopper up front.