Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Kemba Walker

Kemba Walker makes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wear UConn shirt after National Title win over Kentucky (PHOTO)

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Kemba Walker led UConn to a National Title three years ago. The next season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis propelled Kentucky to the program’s eighth championship.

In consecutive seasons, the Charlotte Bobcats used draft picks on Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist. On Monday night, the teammates watched the championship game, rooting for their former schools. From start to finish, Walker’s Huskies led, beating MKG’s Wildcats, 60-54, in front of a record crowd inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Following the game, the two Bobcats posed for a picture with Kidd-Gilchrist wearing a No. 15 UConn T-shirt.

Difference between Kentucky, ’12 title team: role players?

Boise State v Kentucky

source: Getty Images

I wrote a column last night on No. 11 Kentucky and their 82-77 loss to No. 18 North Carolina.

But I wasn’t in Chapel Hill.

Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com was.

He wrote a column too, and it included this passage, which I found particularly interesting:

It was interesting to watch in person because the TV cameras couldn’t have possibly captured the extent to which Calipari was bothered by his players breaking down individually and collectively against UNC. I watched guys check-in and out without touching hands, which isn’t a big deal except for that it rarely happens with close teams. I saw Julius Randle roll his eyes at his guards — specifically Andrew and Aaron Harrison — whenever they failed to even think about getting him the ball on the block. I witnessed Calipari reduced to yelling at players to huddle after a foul when most players these days simply huddle on their own.

The point has been made over and over again. If the last two seasons have proven anything to us, it’s that we certainly did not appreciate what we were watching as Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist rolled through everyone en route to the 2012 national title.

Those two were special.

That team was special.

But the reason why is more than the simple fact that Davis was the National Player of the Year and the No. 1 pick in the draft and Kidd-Gilchrist was an All-American and the No. 2 pick in the draft.

The truth is that Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were role players on that team. Say what you will about points and rebounds and whatever, Davis was a guy that anchored a top ten defense and was a finisher around the rim. Kidd-Gilchrist was the epitome of a glue-guy. He defended. He rebounded. He set screens, he dove on the floor and, from people I’ve talked to, he was much more of a leader in that locker room than he got credit for.

They got their points because they were just that talented and that good in their roles, but they weren’t go-to guys on that team. They didn’t need the ball in their hands to have a huge impact on a game. They bought into what John Calipari was selling. They, quite literally, did whatever the team needed them to do to win.

And since Kentucky also just so happened to have four other NBA draft picks on that roster, they were dominant.

This year’s Kentucky team may have more talent from top-to-bottom, but they don’t have that superstar that’s willing to play a role. Willie Cauley-Stein plays a role, but that’s because he can’t do anything beyond block a shot, get a rebound and run the floor. He’s not a pick-and-pop big man and you’re not running plays to get him the ball with his back to the basket.

To be frank, in my opinion, the guy that’s going to have to make the sacrifice is Julius Randle simply because he’s the only other starter that can do more than score. Can you see either of the Harrisons putting their body on the line to get a loose ball? Can you see James Young setting a back-screen on Patric Young to get Cauley-Stein a lane to the rim?

Because I sure can’t.

And while there isn’t a quick fix to Kentucky’s problems this season, finding a guy to lead by example wouldn’t be a bad place to start turning things around.

I just don’t know if they have the pieces they need to do it.

How much will Shabazz Muhammad affect UCLA this year?

Indiana State v UCLA
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I had UCLA ranked 25th in the preseason.

That was well below where everyone else had them.

My thinking?

The pieces didn’t fit for the Bruins. Their point guard play was reliant up a 6-foot-9 freshman, Kyle Anderson, nicknamed ‘slo-mo’ and a guy that flamed out at North Carolina, Larry Drew II, in about as epic a fashion as you’ll see. Their roster makeup included a lot of freshmen, a couple of overweight big men, a lack of perimeter shooting and no where near the kind of defensive ability we’re used to seeing with a Ben Howland team.

But most importantly, Shabazz Muhammad was dealing with eligibility issues. There was no indication, at the time, of when — or if — he’d ever be allowed to play college basketball.

Well, now we know the answer to that: he’ll be in the lineup on Monday against Georgetown.

And that means that UCLA’s potential this season skyrocketed.

The biggest concern I had with Shabazz’s return is that sitting out ten games would mean that his return to the lineup could cause issues with the rotation, with understanding of roles, with minutes that wings play. And his return could still cause those problems, but tendencies that are built up over three games are much easier to break than habits developed over a third of the season.

The bottom line is this: Muhammad is a top five pick. He’s not a pure scorer at this point in his career, but he’s tough, incredibly athletic and as competitive as anyone in the country. They are different players, but imagine the impact that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had on Kentucky last season. That’s how big of a deal Friday’s ruling by the NCAA is.

What this ruling doesn’t change, however, are the other underlying issues: roster makeup, Josh Smith’s weight problems, perimeter shooting.

But the infusion of talent will make it easier for UCLA to overcome those issues.

So is UCLA still the 25th best team in the country?

I’ll tell you on Wednesday morning, after the Legends Classic.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats

John Calipari

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 38-2, 16-0 SEC (1st); Won the National Title

Head Coach: John Calipari

Key Losses: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb

Newcomers: Alex Poythress, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays

Projected Lineup:

G: Ryan Harrow, So.
G: Archie Goodwin, Fr.
F: Alex Poythress, Fr.
F: Kyle Wiltjer, So.
C: Nerlens Noel, Fr.
Bench: Willie Cauley-Stein, Fr.; Julius Mays, Sr.; Twany Beckham, Sr.; Jon Hood, Jr.

Outlook: As is the norm for this Kentucky program, there aren’t going to be many familiar faces on the Wildcat roster heading into the 2012-2013 season. Gone is just about everyone significant from last year’s team, with all six of Kentucky’s key players getting drafted in 2012.

What that means is, once again, Coach Cal is going to have to build his team from the bottom up, and he’s going to have to do it quickly — in just nine days, he’ll be kicking off the season with a trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to take on Maryland, heading to Atlanta just four days later to take on Duke. The learning curve for this group is is non-existent.

There’s no question about the talent level and NBA potential on this crop of ‘Cats. Nerlens Noel isn’t the second coming of Anthony Davis simply because he doesn’t have the same advanced perimeter skills that Davis did, but that doesn’t change the fact that Noel is a dominant interior force on the defensive end of the floor. He may even be a better shot-blocker than Davis was, and surely his ability on the offensive end will develop as the season progresses.

What’s scary is that, thus far in the preseason, the excitement for this group seems to be more about Willie Cauley-Stein than Noel. Cauley-Stein is seven-feet tall and was a wide receiver in high school, which should give you a bit of an idea of his athleticism. He’s very raw, maybe even more so than Noel, but with those two taking the floor at the same time, opponents may not be able to get a shot off within 10 feet of the rim.

Joining them up front will be Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. Poythress is a guy that may have the most potential for success this season, as he seems to be one of the more polished freshmen in the class. He’s a 6-foot-7, athletic combo-forward that has really put on muscle-mass since arriving on campus. He could have the same kind of impact as Terrence Jones did as a freshman, minus the attitude issues. Wiltjer could be the x-factor for this group. He’s by far the best perimeter shooter on the roster, and the fact that he’s a 6-foot-9 forward makes him a tough matchup. The question mark with him is simply how he well he’s going to be able to defend and rebound.

In the back court, Ryan Harrow takes over the point guard role. A transfer from NC State, Harrow spent last season redshirting and practicing every day against Marquis Teague. He’s not the same kind of talent as Coach Cal’s last five point guard recruits, however, and it will be interesting to see just how successful he ends up being in the role. Archie Goodwin will likely be the best perimeter scoring threat. He’s a hyper-athletic, 6-foot-5 slasher that understands how to get to the rim and score. Kentucky may end up needing him to be a guy that averages about 15 points given some of their other question marks offensively. Julius Mays, Twany Beckham and Jon Hood are the other guys that could end up seeing time in the back court.

The biggest question mark I have with this Kentucky group is simple: How well does this roster fit together? Cauley-Stein and Noel are, essentially, the same player — big, tall, athletic shot-blockers that can’t do much offensively besides dunk the ball. But Kentucky’s best lineup is probably going to be with both of them on the floor together because I’m not completely sold on Wiltjer being a good fit for Cal’s system. This is a group that is going to have to thrive on athleticism and defense, especially early in the season, and those are the two biggest weaknesses for Wiltjer.

The problem with leaving Wiltjer off the floor is that he’s really the only guy that is the kind of shooter that cannot be left open; Kentucky has no one to play the role that Deandre Liggins and Darius Miller have the past three seasons. Poythress seems like a better fit at the four than at the three, but he needs to play the three because Kentucky isn’t very deep in the back court. That means that either Cauley-Stein or Wiltjer is going to have to play major minutes unless one of Beckham, Mays or Hood can prove that can be a defensive stopper and three-point marksman.

Predictions?: There’s plenty of talent here, and if there is anything in Calipari’s coaching repertoire that rivals his ability to recruit, it’s his ability to convince elite talents to buy into playing a specific role for the betterment of the team. I don’t doubt that he’ll find a way to get his best five players on the floor at the same time; one of the most interesting subplots to the college basketball season as a whole will be to watch what he does to make that happen. I don’t think that Kentucky is as safe of a bet to win the SEC as a lot of people are giving them credit for simply because I believe Missouri is being severely underrated. That said, as long as Kentucky as this much talent on their roster and Coach Cal making their decisions, they have to be considered a top three team and a national title contender.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 17 Arizona Wildcats

Sean Miller
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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 23-12, 12-6 Pac-12 (4th); Lost in the first round of the NIT

Head Coach: Sean Miller

Key Losses: Josiah Turner, Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry, Brendan Lavender

Newcomers: Mark Lyons, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley, Gabe York

Projected Lineup:

G: Mark Lyons, Sr.
G: Nick Johnson, So.
F: Kevin Parrom, Sr.
F: Solomon Hill, Sr.
C: Kaleb Tarczewski, Fr.
Bench: Grant Jerrett, Fr.; Brandon Ashley, Fr.; Angelo Chol, So.; Gabe York, Fr.; Jordin Mayes, Jr.

Outlook: The recruiting job that Sean Miller has done since he landed at Arizona is simply undeniable. Even with a pair of top 100 recruits — Josiah Turner and Sidiki Johnson — leaving the program after last season, Miller has a roster brimming with talented college players and potential pros. The problem is that almost every player currently on the roster brings with him a question mark. In other words, not much about Miller’s roster and rotation is a known quantity.

The biggest question mark that Miller is going to have to deal with is youth. He three most talented big men — Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley — are all freshmen while Angelo Chol is a sophomore. In the back court, Miller will likely be starting a sophomore, Nick Johnson, while using another freshman, Gabe York, for major minutes off the bench. All things considered, six of the top eight players in Arizona’s rotation — and all of their big men –will be underclassmen.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily preclude Arizona from competing on a national level the way that it has in the past. Obviously, Kentucky won the national title last season with a roster based almost solely on freshmen and sophomores. But John Calipari is the best in the business when it comes to dealing with freshmen, getting them to buy-in to a system and making them accept their roles. I’m not saying that Miller can’t do that as well, but we just don’t know. And while every single player in that group is talented — there is a reason that Arizona has one of the top three recruiting classes in the country — they aren’t exactly Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, either.

As if that wasn’t enough of a question mark, one of Arizona’s veterans, senior wing Kevin Parrom, is coming off of one of the most difficult seasons for any player in recent memory. Not only did his lose both his mother and grandmother last offseason, but Parrom was shot twice when someone broke into his home last September. If that wasn’t bad enough, he broke his foot last January. All signs point to Parrom being back to 100%, but there really is no way to tell if he will be the same player that he was — and it should be noted that he was a very good player — before all of that happened.

But the biggest question mark for the Wildcats will be at the point guard spot. During the offseason, Miller brought in a pair of transfers — Mark Lyons from Xavier and TJ McConnell from Duquesne, although McConnell will be redshirting this year — to solidify the point guard spot. The problem is that it has been four years since Lyons was needed to play the point. He redshirted his first season with the Musketeers and spent the last three playing off the ball while Tu Holloway put up all-american numbers running the show. Lyons is a veteran, a tough kid that is a proven scorer, but he also developed a bit of a reputation during his time there. He didn’t have the best shot selection and he was a bit of a hothead.

Does that mean he can’t be the kind of leader and facilitator that Miller needs him to be? Of course not. Lyons was recruited as a point guard out of high school. But he’s spent the past four years proving himself to be a certain kind of player, and there’s no way for us to know if he’s going to be anything different until we actually see it unfold.

Predictions?: The Pac-12 should be improved from where the league was a season ago, and, for my money, Arizona will be the best team in the conference. But how good they end up being on a national scale depends on how a number of different factors end up playing out. They have all the pieces, but will all those pieces fit together the right way? Can Lyons truly be a point guard, a guy that gets the ball to his big men where they need it and is willing to share the glory with his younger teammates? How good will that trio of freshmen big men prove to be? Will Solomon Hill embrace the role of veteran leader the way that Darius Miller did for Kentucky last season? I can see this scenario playing out a myriad of different ways. If everything breaks the right way, having the Wildcats ranked 17th heading into the season will look silly. But if everything goes wrong, it will as well. I’d say a Pac-12 title, a three or four seed in the NCAA tournament and a trip to the second weekend should be the expectation for this group.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

NCAA investigating Texas point guard Myck Kabongo for possible impermissible benefits

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Texas v Cincinnati
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As reported by Yahoo! Sports, the NCAA is investigating Texas point guard Myck Kabongo for the possible receipt of impermissible benefits.

Kabongo, who hails from Toronto, has been interviewed multiple times by the NCAA in regards to his summer workouts in Akron, Ohio with former Texas teammate and close friend Tristan Thompson.

One of the questions for Kabongo, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports, is the relationship he has with sports agent Rich Paul.

Paul represents both Thompson and LeBron James, and according to Yahoo sources called NBA executives on behalf of Kabongo in the months leading up to the NBA Draft (this is legal).

“We’re aware of the situation,” Texas basketball media relations official Scott McConnell said according to both Yahoo! Sports and CBSSports.com. “But we have not heard any decisions from the NCAA.”

The NCAA would like to know how Kabongo paid for his expenses in Akron, hence the questions about his relationship with Paul.

Kabongo’s time in Akron according to the Yahoo report included a workout with professional trainer Jerry Powell.

Powell denied any wrongdoing on his part in interviews with both the NCAA and Yahoo.

“I told the NCAA my side of the story,” Powell told Yahoo! Sports. “I’m sure Myck told his side. I’m not trying to ruin nobody’s eligibility. It’s never been about anything but workouts with me. I’m a trainer. That’s all. I’m not aligned with anybody. I’m my own person. I don’t get caught up with any of that.”

An agent can have a relationship with a student-athlete and his family provided there’s no agreement on representation or promise of financial benefits, according to NCAA rules.

Finding that Paul or someone else handled Kabongo’s expenses would result in the sophomore having to be declared ineligible.

“At the end of the day, here’s the main thing, it’s no crime to have a relationship with the kid,” Paul told Yahoo! Sports. “Of course, I know Myck through Tristan and Cory. I haven’t been contacted by the NCAA and I wouldn’t put a kid in harm’s way. My time in Cleveland was getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist prepared for the draft. I live in Cleveland.

“I would never disrespect anybody’s program. I love the game of basketball. I understand the business of basketball, but I’m about doing it the right way.”

So if this happens what would Rick Barnes do with the point guard position?

Even with Kabongo the Longhorns are young on the perimeter thanks to J’Covan Brown going pro and Sterling Gibbs’ decision to transfer to Seton Hall.

But if the preseason All-Big 12 selection has to sit Texas would be down to a pair of freshmen (Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland) and two sophomores (Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan) in their rotation.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.