Remember Brandon Knight?

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On April 14th of this year, Brandon Knight signed a financial aid agreement with the University of Kentucky.

Knight, a five-star point guard that was universally considered a top five player in the class of 2010, was John Calipari’s fourth consecutive top point guard recruit. The other three were Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, and John Wall. All three were one and done superstars. Evans was the “worst” of the trio because he went fourth in the draft, not first overall.

It was far from crazy to expect that Knight would be the talk of the Kentucky freshmen class.

But he’s been hardly more than an afterthought.

The same day that Knight signed with Kentucky, Coach Cal got a signature from another big time recruit, a 6’10” Turkish mystery by the name of Enes Kanter. Only three days prior to signing, Kanter had gone for 34 points and 13 rebounds against the USA’s best high school kids at the Nike Hoops Summit. That night, the hype surrounding Kanter began to build to a crescendo. It didn’t take long for the “Kanter could be ineligible” talk to start, either.

Two weeks later, while the Kanter-hysteria was beginning to fully blossom, another recruit was creating his own media frenzy. Terrence Jones was taking part in a press conference where he and his high school teammate Terrence Ross would jointly announce their college choice. Both players picked Washington, but immediately after Jones made his announcement, he spoke on the phone with Coach Cal.

Jones never signed a letter of intent with the Huskies, however, and it led to three weeks full of rampant speculation and rumor-mongering. When it was all said and done, Jones was on his way to Kentucky. It was a decision that didn’t sit well with Washington fans, and one that drew a reaction from just about every outlet that covers college hoops.

By September, the concern over Enes Kanter’s eligibility had reached critical mass. Pete Thamel had published the first of two articles speculating that Kanter had received six figures while playing for Fenerbahce Ulker, his club team in Turkey. The fervor spawned a Free Enes movemenet, but unfortunately Big Blue Nation’s passion was not enough, and Kanter was ruled ineligible earlier this month.

With Kanter out of the picture, the focus almost immediately turned to Terrence Jones. Going for 25 points and 12 boards in his first career game — just a day after Kanter was ruled ineligible — was a big reason for that, as was the fact that just four games into his college basketball career he was playing the team that he originally committed to. And now that Kentucky has advanced to the finals of the Maui Invitational, Jones has become the centerpiece of conversation thanks to his impressive performance in the paint. Everyone knew about this kid’s scoring ability and versatility, but the fact that he is averaging 11.8 rpg and 3.0 spg to go along with his 20.5 ppg has caught some folks off guard.

With so little being said about Knight, would it surprise you if I told you that he is averaging 18.8 ppg this season?

Because 18.8 ppg is impressive, whether you are a freshman or a fifth-year senior.

What if I said that Knight will end up being the most important piece on this Kentucky team?

Kentucky has talent this season, there’s no question about that. But they are young. There will be times when the Wildcats have as many as four freshmen on the floor at one time. The upper classmen? They may have been around for a couple years, but they certainly have not logged a ton of minutes on the court. Experience, for this team, is not a forte.

The Wildcats will be looking for a leader this season, and dollars to donuts Coach Cal puts the onus on Knight to be that guy.

Perhaps more important than a leader, Kentucky will spend much of the season in search of half court offense. There aren’t exactly a lot of shot creators on this team. As good as Jones has been, he’s not Kevin Durant. He’s not a guy you can give the ball to in an isolation situation and say “go get us a good shot.” Right now, he seems to be better when he allows his strength and athleticism to take over, finishing in transition and attacking the offensive glass.

Doron Lamb is a spot-up shooter. DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller have shown flashes, but both are far too inconsistent as decision makers.

That leaves Knight.

Now, Knight is not a prototypical point guard. He’s more of a combo-guard, a kid that will take, and make, a lot of perimeter jumpers. He’s got more Stephen Curry in him than he does Ty Lawson. The comparison I have used before is Sherron Collins. And that is fine in Coach Cal’s dribble-drive motion offense. The DDM is predicated more on having four or five guys that can be a threat when they have the ball in their hands than allowing one player to dominate possession of the ball.

That said, every team needs a guy they can give the ball too with the shot clock winding down. Every team needs a player that can produce a bucket when they really need one.

Knight needs to be that guy. If last night was an audition, it was a promising one. Knight scored 24 points on 10-17 shooting. He hit a number of big baskets down the stretch, baskets that helped Kentucky hold on to their second half lead. 10 of his point came in the last eight minutes of the game. He hit the jumper that gave Kentucky the lead for good at 44-43. He hit the and-one jumper that gave Kentucky their first five point lead since the first half at 57-52. He was the one heady enough to attack a cramping Venoy Overton with a back door cut after Washington had whittled a nine point lead down to three with just over two minutes left.

Detractors will point to his 8 turnover, no assist game. To that, I say that he is a freshman. No matter your talent level, freshmen are going the make freshman mistakes. It comes with the territory. Playing in front of a raucous gym on national television against a team with a defensively harassing back court in a game that turned into glorified pick-up basketball is not the easiest way to transition a freshman ball-handler to the college game.

The ability of Knight to transition will be, as much as anything, the key to Kentucky’s season.

The Cats have shown they’re willing and able to defend. Three point shooting will be a strength for this team, not a weakness. Josh Harrellson isn’t Enes Kanter, but he looks like more of a capable big man than he has been given credit for.

As a team, these Cats look better than we expected.

So long as Brandon Knight can bring them together.

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

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.