Coach K’s 903rd isn’t crowning achievement of his career

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NEW YORK – This morning, every website you go to is going to have story up about Mike Krzyzewski’s 903rd career win, and rightfully so.

The narrative is perfect. Coach K sets the all-time wins record at Madison Square Garden in an event called the Champion’s Classic with his mentor and previous record-holder Bobby Knight sitting courtside as he called the game for ESPN with one of K’s former players in Jay Bilas.

If, 30 years down the road, a movie gets made about the life of Coach K and this scene is included, it won’t be believable; everything fits together too well.

Which is why when you read thousands and thousands of exquisitely written words — stories that have been planned since the summer, when it became clear that Coach K was on pace to set the record in this fashion — about how impressive a feat this is, or how this all but solidifies Coach K’s standing as the greatest college basketball coach of all-time, or how this is a record that may never be broken.

I’m not here to argue any of that.

Krzyzewski’s 903rd victory, in photos

What Coach K has accomplished is truly incredible. Think about it like this. Winning 25 games in a single basketball season is considered an accomplishment for any coach at the collegiate level. This is Coach K’s 37th season as a head coach, meaning that in order to get himself into this position, he averaged — averaged — 25 wins a year for 36 years. That includes the 1994-1995 season where he left the team 12 games into the year to get back surgery and deal with exhaustion.

The only guy that most people believe even has a shot of breaking this record Brad Stevens. Stevens has amassed 117 wins through his first four years at Butler, roughly 29 wins a year. If he kept up that pace — which, keep in mind, is nearly impossible and bolstered by 10 wins in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons — he would have to coach into the 2037-38 to set the record. That’s assuming Coach K retired today. He’s obviously not retiring today, which means that Stevens will need 27 seasons in which he averages 29 wins per year starting after Coach K retires to catch him, something that doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon.

My grandchildren will be alive to see Coach K’s wins record get broken. And I don’t even have kids yet. Less than a month ago I finally decided I was responsible enough to get a cat.

So yeah, it will be awhile before someone approaches the number 903 again.

But what does it mean? What is the significance of passing Bobby Knight to move to the top of the career-wins list? Does this vault Krzyzewski atop the college coaching pantheon? Does this one win — a 74-69 victory over an over-matched Michigan State team — really change Coach K’s standing alongside the likes of John Wooden, Adolph Rupp or Dean Smith? Can one win truly make that much of a difference?

“I don’t know yet,” Krzyzewski said when asked what the milestone means. “I just coach ever game the same and they just start adding up. I think it will mean a lot when its all over, but I don’t know when that’ll be.”

Milestones are a tricky subject in sports. Being the career leader doesn’t necessarily equate to being the greatest. Sometimes it does, but its just as likely the result of being really good for the longest time. Pete Rose is Major League Baseball’s career hits leader, but how many people consider him the best hitter of all time? Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s career leader in rushing yards, but would take him over Barry Sanders or Jim Brown in their prime.

The same can be said for Coach K. Does the fact that he has more wins than Bobby Knight mean that he was a better coach than Bobby Knight? Does it mean he’s a better coach than Jim Calhoun? Or Tom Izzo?

Krzyzewski has his own standards for how to measure a season.

“I wanna win a championship with each team that I coach,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m more into that, because that’s the moment you want for a group.”

Krzyzewski’s had plenty of those moments in his time at Duke. He’s won four national titles and been to eight title games out of the 11 Final Fours that his team’s have reached. He’s won 25 different ACC titles — 13 tournament titles and 12 regular season championships. He’s won the Gold Medal in both the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Championships. He’s a member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Hall of Fame. He’s won a national coach of the year award in six different seasons and won five ACC coach of the year awards.

Whether or not that resume makes Mike Krzyzewski the greatest college basketball coach of all-time is debatable and a different post for a different day. What isn’t debatable is that his list of titles and award is a hell of a lot stronger of an argument than simply stating that he is the career wins leader.

As for Coach K, he’s not worried about any of that. He simply wants to move past this moment and get on with the season..

“Maybe now they’ll take specials on me off TV,” he said. “I’m getting tired of see me on TV.”

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

Your guide to the 16 best early-season college basketball tournaments

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Starting next week, college basketball will be thrown back into one of the best weeks of the season. 

It’s Holiday Tournament time!

Afternoon college hoops means opportunities to gamble for 15 straight hours on college hoops.

So with that in mind, here is a ranking of the 16 best exempt events that will take place over the course of the next two weeks. 

(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

1. BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS

WHEN: Nov. 27-29

MATCHUPS

  • Michigan vs. Iowa State
  • No. 5 North Carolina vs. Alabama
  • No. 8 Gonzaga vs. Southern Miss
  • No. 13 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Oregon

FAVORITE: In what should be far and away the best exempt event this year, we have four top 15 teams and as many as seven potential NCAA tournament teams heading to Atlantis. For my money, I think North Carolina and star freshman point guard Cole Anthony are the favorite to win this thing. On the one hand, they are the highest-ranked team in the event. On the other hand, they are on the side of the bracket where they will not have to play a top 25 team until the finals, if they get there. This will be a nice proving ground for the Tar Heels, who have relied quite heavily on their freshman point guard.

TEAM TO WATCH: There are quite a few, but I think Gonzaga is the team that I will be the most intrigued to see play in Atlantis. At this point, we more or less know how good UNC, Seton Hall and Oregon are. Gonzaga is tougher to peg. They have been utterly dominant through three games, but I’m not quite sure how much stock to put in their opponents. Even a 30 point win at Texas A&M is not all that impressive right now. Are their young bigs legit? Can a patchwork backcourt made up of grad transfers work? Is Killian Tillie still alive? There are a lot of questions that we need answered.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Myles Powell. I should not have to explain this one.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I honestly don’t know if there truly is an ideal title game here. There are just so many good matchups throughout the event. Seton Hall-Oregon in the quarterfinals is, essentially, a battle of potential Final Four teams. One of those two teams playing Gonzaga in the semifinals is, again, a battle of potential Final Four teams. Even Michigan-Iowa State, and the winner facing off with, most likely, UNC, is going to be fun.

Me?

I think I’ll be rooting for a Seton Hall-North Carolina title game for no reason other than the fact that I want to see Powell and Anthony go shot for shot for 40 minutes.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

2. MAUI INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 25, 26 and 27
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Georgia vs. Dayton
  • Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Michigan State
  • No. 4 Kansas vs. Chaminade
  • BYU vs. UCLA

FAVORITE: The two losers from the Champions Classic will headline the Maui Invitational. At this point, I’m going to call Michigan State the favorite to win this event. I had the Spartans at No. 1 in the preseason, I have them ranked higher than Kansas today and I believe they will have the best player on the court in Cassius Winston.

TEAM TO WATCH: BYU just picked up a win at Houston and Dayton looks like they could end up being a top 25 team this season, but UCLA is the team to watch for me. The Bruins have a new head coach in Mick Cronin, but they have actually looked pretty solid through their first three games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: I’m going to pick two here because I can. The first is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. He’s the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and one of the best scorers in all of college basketball. Then there’s Dayton forward Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9 athletic freak that is a potential first round pick in his own right. They will face off in the very first game of the tournament.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I think that, come March, we are going to be saying that Michigan State and Kansas are the two best teams in college basketball, so if we can get them squaring off in the final of the Maui Invitational on that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, that would be an ideal situation for everyone involved. What would be best individual matchup be: Cassius Winston vs. Devon Dotson or Udoka Azubuike vs. Xavier Tillman?

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

3. 2K EMPIRE CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 21 and 22
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS:

  • Texas vs. Georgetown
  • Duke vs. Cal

FAVORITE: Duke is the No. 1 team in college basketball right now. I think that means the are the favorite to win this event.

TEAM TO WATCH: I’ve been high on Texas all offseason, and seeing the Longhorns go into West Lafayette and beat Purdue only reaffirmed what I believe. This will be their toughest test of the young season, and they get a talented-but-enigmatic Georgetown team in the opener with a shot to make a statement against Duke in the title game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The most entertaining player in this field is going to be Georgetown’s Mac McClung, a YouTube sensation that throws down highlight reel dunks without a problem. The best story, however, is Texas guard Andrew Jones, who beat leukemia and has returned to play for the Longhorns after two years away from the game.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: Obviously, Duke needs to be involved here. I want to see Texas take on the Blue Devils, personally, mostly because I need the world to buy into Texas the way I am buying into Texas.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

4. EMERALD COAST CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 29-30 (Niceville, Fla.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Florida State vs. No. 20 Tennessee
  • Purdue vs. No. 21 VCU

FAVORITE: In terms of sheer competitiveness, I don’t think that there is a better event than the Emerald Coast Classic. I can legitimately say that I have no great feel on who is actually the best team here. Tennessee probably has the most impressive win while VCU is coming off of a win over a ranked team as well. Florida State won at Florida. Purdue has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball running things. I think the Vols are probably the best team here, but I can see any of the four winning the event.

TEAM TO WATCH: All of them. The thing that makes this event so great is that all four of these teams are going to be in the NCAA tournament and all four of them have so many question marks still. Does Tennessee have any quality depth? Are their bigs really as good as they looked against Washington? Can VCU find a way to make perimeter shots at any point this season? Is there a go-to scorer on Florida State’s roster? Was their win at Florida simply a sign of how bad the Gators have been this season? Can Purdue really rely on Jahaad Proctor to be their best scorer and compete atop the Big Ten?

PLAYER TO WATCH: I love Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner. I think he is a difference-maker. Point guards that make big shots are killers at this level.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: Getting a rematch of Tennessee vs. Purdue would be fun, but I think I’d rather see VCUTennessee.

(Porter Binks/Getty Images)

5. CHARLESTON CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Charleston, S.C.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Miami vs. Missouri State
  • Florida vs. St. Joseph’s
  • No. 18 Xavier vs. Towson
  • UConn vs. Buffalo

FAVORITE: Despite a fairly slow start to their season, Xavier has to be considered the favorite to win this event. The Musketeers are a long way away from hitting their ceiling – that’s what happens when you go through the first four games shooting 20.4 percent from three – but there is enough talent on this roster to figure it out if those shots start falling. Will three games in four days in beautiful Charleston, S.C., cure what ails them?

TEAM TO WATCH: No team in college basketball has been more disappointing through the first two weeks of the season that Florida. The core of the issue? Florida cannot shoot, they aren’t playing fast and their defense isn’t forcing turnovers which means they have to try and execute against a set defense. It’s a mess, but it is also fixable. Can they right the ship this week?

PLAYER TO WATCH: If there is one guy in this field that can put together three games of 25-plus points and carry a team to a tournament win, it is Chris Lykes of Miami. The 5-foot-7 point guard is one of the most entertaining players in the country and certainly deserving of more attention than he is currently receiving.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: In theory, the ideal title game would feature Florida and Xavier. They are the two most talented teams in the event. They are also two of the worst shooting teams in America right now. If this ends up being the final, they are going to need to replace the rims after the final.

(Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

6. MYRTLE BEACH INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 17 Villanova vs. Middle Tennessee
  • Mississippi State vs. Tulane
  • Ohio vs. No. 24 Baylor
  • Utah vs. Coastal Carolina

FAVORITE: On paper, the answer is probably Villanova. We all know what Jay Wright has built on the Main Line and the success that they have had over the course of the last six seasons. Last season was a down year for Nova and they still won the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were absolutely trucked by Ohio State last week, but they’ve looked really impressive in their other two games. I don’t know what that means in the big picture, but I think we’ll find out this week.

TEAM TO WATCH: I can be talked into the idea that Baylor is actually the favorite to win this event. They are big, they are tough and they are old. They can overwhelm Villanova on the glass and they may actually have the better guards. That said, we saw Baylor lose a game they dominated against Washington already this season, and in the process we got a look at Tristan Clark, who does not look like he is back to 100 percent just yet.

PLAYER TO WATCH: He may not be the best player in this event, but it will be our first chance to see Villanova freshman Bryan Antoine at the collegiate level. Antoine has been out of action since getting shoulder surgery over the summer, but he was medically-cleared to play. Just how much of an impact will the five-star freshman have? He has not played real basketball since the end of his senior season in high school, he had his serious surgery on his shoulder and Villanova’s system is notoriously difficult for freshman to pick up.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: There are two ranked teams in this event: Villanova and Baylor. That makes picking a perfect title game pretty easy. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can get past a potential semifinal matchup with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are talented and have the kind of size inside that will give the Wildcats trouble.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

7. ORLANDO INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Dec. 1
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 6 Maryland vs. Temple
  • Texas A&M vs. Harvard
  • USC vs. Fairfield
  • Marquette vs. Davidson

FAVORITE: Maryland should be far and away the best team in this field. They are the only ranked team, and that’s because they are the most talented team. But there are certainly question marks about this group and whether or not Mark Turgeon is going to be able to get them to reach their ceiling. In an event where there are so many teams that have something to prove, this is a chance for the Terps to assert their dominance, so to speak. If you want to truly be looked at as a national title contender, you win this event.

TEAM TO WATCH: There are four teams here that need to be tracked.

  • Just how good is Marquette? They beat Purdue but got whipped by Wisconsin in a rivalry game.
  • Will Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken ever play for Harvard again?
  • Davidson was embarrassed by Auburn in their season-opener. Are they really an A-10 title contender?
  • USC is really, really talented, especially in their frontcourt. Can that translate to wins?

PLAYER TO WATCH: Everyone knows about Markus Howard by now, so I’m going to go with Onyeka Okongwu, the USC big man that is currently averaging 14.5 points, 10.5 boards ad 2.8 blocks.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: It will, of course, include Maryland. Personally, I think that Marquette is probably the second-best team in this event, so I’ll be hoping to see them face off in the final.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

8. LEGENDS CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 25 and 26 (Brooklyn)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Wisconsin vs. Richmond
  • No. 19 Auburn vs. New Mexico

FAVORITE: Auburn has actually been pretty impressive throughout the first two weeks of the season. They overwhelmed Davidson and put up 116 points against Cal. State Northridge. Bruce Pearl may have lost his three best players off of last year’s roster, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal. The Tigers are a threat.

TEAM TO WATCH: Wisconsin notched themselves a nice little win over archrival Marquette on Sunday afternoon, and while they have not exactly been the most hyped team entering the season, they have looked pretty good. The big question is whether or not they are going to get overwhelmed by the athleticism that Auburn has if they face off.

PLAYER TO WATCH: He is not the most well-known freshman in the country, but Isaac Okoro of Auburn has proven himself to be a potential first round pick with his play. He is to this team what Chuma Okeke was to last year’s team.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: AuburnWisconsin. They are clearly the two best teams in this field, and both of them are good enough to be a top six or seven seed in the NCAA tournament.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

9. LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 28 and 29
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 12 Texas Tech vs. Iowa
  • San Diego State vs. Creighton

FAVORITE: For the second straight season, Chris Beard has apparently found a way to keep Texas Tech amongst college basketball’s elite despite the fact that they lost just about everyone off of last season’s roster. They have yet to play anyone worth discussing this season – and they won’t until they get Iowa in the opener – but it is clear through three games that there hasn’t been much hangover from the trip to the national title game.

TEAM TO WATCH: I’m very intrigued by this Creighton team. Their frontline has been beaten up with injuries through the first two weeks of the season, but their backcourt is absolutely electric. I think they actually matchup pretty well with Texas Tech.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The key to everything for Texas Tech this year is lead guard Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is their star freshman built in the mold of a Keenan Evans or a Jarrett Culver, a big, powerful combo-guard that can operate in ball-screens. I will be intrigued to see what he can accomplish playing against some better competition.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I want to see Creighton get their shot at Texas Tech. Greg McDermott has developed into one of the best offensive minds in college hoops while Chris Beard’s exploits on the defensive end of the floor are no joke.

(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

10. HALL OF FAME TIP-OFF CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 23-24 (Mohegan Sun)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 7 Virginia vs. UMass
  • Arizona State vs. St. John’s

FAVORITE: Virginia has been one of the more impressive teams in college basketball through the first two weeks. The competition hasn’t been that great, but they have played Syracuse on the road and went more than 114 minutes of game-time before giving up their 100th point. We’ll see if they end up turning into a good team on the offensive end of the floor, but at least we know what they are defensively.

TEAM TO WATCH: I’m still curious to see what will happen with Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils have talent this year, like they do every year, but in Bobby Hurley’s tenure that has yet to turn into impressive results come March.

PLAYER TO WATCH: So the weird thing about this event is that there are actually two events happening at the same time – one involves high-major team and one involves mid-majors. The one that involves mid-majors includes Vermont, who is the best mid-major program in the country this season and one of the best mid-major players in college hoops in Anthony Lamb.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: The ideal title game would probably be a matchup between Virginia and Vermont, but since that isn’t going to happen, I think that getting the ‘Hoos paired up with Arizona State would be the best. We’ve already seen Vermont beat St. John’s in Queens.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

11. WOODEN LEGACY

WHEN: Nov. 28, 29 and Dec. 1 (Anaheim)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Providence vs. Long Beach State
  • Wake Forest vs. Charleston
  • UCF vs. Penn
  • Pepperdine vs. No. 14 Arizona

FAVORITE: Through the first two weeks of the season, Arizona has been one of the most impressive teams in college hoops. Their backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green has been exceptional, while Zeke Nnaji has been one of the sport’s breakout stars. Considering that this game is being played on the west coast and that the second-best team in the event lost to Northwestern, I’d say the favorite is a pretty easy pick.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Arizona’s Nico Mannion has been one of the most exciting freshman in college basketball, even more so than Zeke Nnaji, his teammate and fellow freshman.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’m hoping for ArizonaProvidence because I think it will be the only matchup of tournament teams that we will get from this field.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

12. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 25-26 (Kansas City)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Butler vs. Missouri
  • Oklahoma vs. Stanford

FAVORITE: For my money, Missouri is the best team in this field. The Tigers have a couple of terrific guards, they really can defend and their former five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon has developed into one of the better big men in college basketball. There is a lot to like on that roster.

TEAM TO WATCH: Keep an eye on Oklahoma. This may be the season that they finally break out of their post-Trae Young doldrums. Lon Kruger can really, really coach.

PLAYER TO WATCH: I have always been a fan of Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. He is the best player on a Butler team that is going to sneak up on some people this season.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I am totally here for a throwback Big 12 battle between Missouri and Oklahoma.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

13. MGM RESORTS MAIN EVENT

WHEN: Nov. 24 and 26 (Las Vegas)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 23 Colorado vs. Wyoming
  • Clemson vs. TCU

FAVORITE: They aren’t getting all that much attention right now, but Colorado is one of the most intriguing teams in college basketball. We’ve seen Arizona, Oregon and Washington make statements on national television already this season. Will this event be Colorado’s coming out party?

TEAM TO WATCH: Other than Colorado? It’s probably TCU, who has one of the best players in the Big 12 that no one is paying attention to in Desmond Bane. They are coming off of a 23-win season and will be looking to get ready for another run through the Big 12 gauntlet.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The Pac-12 is loaded with talented point guards. Nico Mannion is the guy that has gotten all the hype at Arizona, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is the veteran presence that everyone loves and Remy Martin of Arizona State is the guy with the hair and the name. But Colorado’s McKinley Wright might actually be the best of the bunch.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’ll be hoping to see Colorado take on TCU, but as long as we get the best version of the Buffaloes, I’ll be happy.

(Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

14. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF

WHEN: Nov. 27 and 29 (Brooklyn)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Ole Miss vs. Penn State
  • Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse

FAVORITE: Part of what makes the Preseason NIT so interesting this season is that it is hard to figure out who, exactly, is the favorite. It’s pretty easy to envision a scenario where any of the four teams playing can win two games in Brooklyn. The problem is that part of the reason that it is hard to determine who is a favorite is because the teams are not really all that good. Gun-to-head, I’d say Oklahoma State is the favorite. But who knows.

TEAM TO WATCH: Is this the year that Penn State finally makes the leap to relevance? We’ve been waiting for them to do it for more than five years now, but it may actually happen this season. Lamar Stevens is awesome, and Myreon Jones looks like one of college basketball’s breakout stars.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The two best players in the NIT this year are Lindy Waters from Oklahoma State and Penn State forward Lamar Stevens. What that means is that …

IDEAL TITLE GAME: … the ideal title would feature a matchup between Penn State and Oklahoma State, which would let us see Waters square off with Stevens.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

15. CANCUN CHALLENGE

WHEN: Nov. 26 and 27

MATCHUPS

  • Wichita State vs. South Carolina
  • Northern Iowa vs. West Virginia

FAVORITE: Heading into the season, I probably would have said that Wichita State was the favorite to win this thing, but after seeing West Virginia go into Pittsburgh and do what Florida State could, I think I lean the Mountaineers at this point. This group is hardly the Press Virginia of old, with Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe in the frontcourt, Bob Huggins has a roster with as much strength inside as anyone.

TEAM TO WATCH: I still think Wichita State is good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid, but they have not had the smoothest start to the season, struggling to put away the likes of Nebraska Omaha and Texas Southern. I do think there’s an argument to be made that Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson are the best backcourt in this event.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The best NBA prospect in Cancun will be South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson. He’s a borderline first round pick that has gotten off to a solid start this season.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: Frank Martin was an assistant under Bob Huggins when Huggy Bear was at Cincinnati and Kansas State. His coaching career really took off when Huggs left Kansas State for West Virginia one year after arriving in Manhattan and Martin was given the job. So obviously, I want to see South Carolina square off with West Virginia in the title game.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

16. PARADISE JAM

WHEN: Nov. 22, 23 and 25 (Virgin Islands)

MATCHUPS

  • Valparaiso vs. Grand Canyon
  • Nevada vs. Fordham
  • Cincinnati vs. Illinois State
  • Western Kentucky vs. Bowling Green

FAVORITE: At this point, Cincinnati has to be considered the favorite to win the event, but do we know how good the Bearcats actually are right now? They haven’t beaten anyone of note to date, and their best player – Jarron Cumberland – missed the last game because of issues between him and head coach John Brannen.

TEAM TO WATCH: The two teams that I am the most interested in learning about are Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. Both have looked pretty good throughout the first two weeks of the season

PLAYER TO WATCH: If Brannen decides to let him play, the answer is Jarron Cumberland.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: If the Paradise Jam happens and no one notices, does it actually count?

Three Things To Know: Auburn’s rolling; Kentucky’s struggling; Mizzou’s tough

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It was a relatively quiet night in college hoops, but there were still three things that were worth discussing.

1. IS AUBURN THE BEST TEAM IN THE SEC?

I’m trying to come up with a reason to argue otherwise, and it’s just not working.

Despite the fact that they lost their three best players from last season’s Final Four team, the Tigers look like they are going to once against have a shot of getting back to the final weekend of the college basketball season.

This year’s group is a little different than last season. They’re not forcing as many turnovers as they did last year, but they are running the floor and they are shooting up a ton of threes and, right now, they are playing with as much swagger and confidence as anyone in the country. Colgate is a solid, veteran mid-major team and they were absolutely mollywhopped by Auburn. The final score was 91-62, but don’t forget that Auburn led 53-21 at halftime. The spread of 16 points. Auburn was covering midway through the first half.

Now, if we’re going to talk about them in terms of being the best anything, it’s important to note that they haven’t really played anyone yet. Colgate and South Alabama are fine. Davidson was, apparently, entirely overrated. Hopefully Auburn will get a showdown with Wisconsin in the final of the Legends Classic, otherwise we may not see them face a tournament team until they host N.C. State.

In other words, expect a lot of wins from Auburn in the month of December.

2. KENTUCKY CERTAINLY ISN’T, NOT RIGHT NOW

We have already spent quite a bit of time on Kentucky in this space. The Wildcats struggled with a mid-major foe in Rupp Arena for the second straight game. They did not lose on Monday night, but they did leave us asking the question: Can Kentucky actually cure what is ailing them this season?

3. MISSOURI IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH OUT ALL SEASON LONG

I’m not sure there is a team that is flying further under the radar than Missouri right now. The Tigers improved to 3-1 on the season with a 75-56 win over Wofford on Monday night. They’ve also beaten Northern Kentucky and took No. 18 Xavier to overtime in Cincinnati.

As of today, they are a top ten team defensively, according to KenPom. They are ninth nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. They have an assembly line of talented perimeter players that can all get out and pressure while Jeremiah Tilmon has embraced being the defensive anchor for this group while also becoming an efficient catch-and-dunk offensive weapon that can draw fouls.

I’m going to hold off on going all-in on Missouri until we see them in the Hall Of Fame Classic next week (they open with Butler, another sneaky-good team) but at this point, it looks like the Tigers should be a tournament team.

Cassius Winston addresses Michigan State crowd: ‘I lost a piece of my heart’

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Michigan State guard Cassius Winston spoke publicly for the first time since his younger brother died by suicide nine days ago.

He thanked the crowd at the Breslin Center:

Can Kentucky cure what is ailing them?

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For the second straight game against mid-major competition, the Kentucky Wildcats looked like everything but the team that beat No. 1 Michigan State in the season opener.

On Tuesday night, the Wildcats blew a 14-point second half lead and allowed Mark Madsen’s Utah Valley Wolverines to have a couple of shots to take the lead in the final three minutes of what eventually turned into an 82-74 win. This came just six days after the Wildcats, as the No. 1 team in the country, found a way to lose to Evansville, who turned around and lost to SMU at home Tuesday.

So things have been better in Lexington.

Much better.

But panicking over anything would be silly right now.

Because the thing that this Kentucky team needs more than anything else is the only thing that cannot be rushed: Time.


What’s wrong with Kentucky? We broke it down last week.

One of college basketball’s most annoying bits of coachspeak and cliche is the saying, “This will be a different team come March.”

Sometimes it’s accurate. Sometimes it’s a coach or a columnist trying to explain away the dumb mistakes that a team keeps making.

And sometimes, it’s said in regard to this iteration of the Kentucky Wildcats, who will be a completely different team in, what, two weeks? A month? Surely not much more than that. Right now, Kentucky more closely resembles a MASH unit than it does a college basketball. Look at this seemingly ever-growing list of injuries:

  • E.J. Montgomery has missed the last three games with an ankle injury he suffered in the opener against Michigan State.
  • Ashton Hagans has been dealing with some kind of leg injury that John Calipari hasn’t specified but that had limited him early on this season.
  • Nick Richards is still battling an ankle injury that has kept him out of practices.
  • Immanuel Quickley missed the Utah Valley game with what was termed a chest injury.
  • Dontaie Allen is still recovering from a torn ACL.
  • Kahlil Whitney appeared to dislocate a finger with three minutes left before popping it back in himself. He did not return to the game.

Do the math, and the Wildcats finished this game with six scholarship players, two of whom are not at 100 percent.

That’s rough for any team to deal with, especially when three of the opening night starters are on that injured list.

But the issue is magnified for Kentucky.

The Wildcats are not only incredibly young, but they also lack the kind of elite talents we typically associate Big Blue with. There is no surefire lottery pick on this roster. More importantly, there may not be a college All-American on this roster. Tyrese Maxey is the most dangerous scorer they have, but he’s shooting 28 percent from three, has eight assists and nine turnovers in four games and has looked far from the star guard he played like against Michigan State. Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards were terrific on Tuesday, but if they’re the two best players on this team that’s a far cry from Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, or John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis.

Editor’s note: Need tickets to watch the Wildcats? Click here

Hell, there isn’t anyone on this roster that is as good as P.J. Washington or Tyler Herro were last season.

At least right now. That’s the important part here.

Because, if you remember, neither P.J. Washington or Tyler Herro were as good in November as they were in February and March. They got better as the season went on, just like the guys on this roster will get better (and healthier) as the season goes on.

So when you put it all together, what you have is a team that we knew was going to need time to gel dealing with injuries to half their roster that is keeping key pieces out of games and, perhaps more importantly, out of practice. Don’t gloss over that. If injuries are keeping these guys from practicing, it’s keeping them from getting better, from learning their roles, from growing into the player they will hopefully be once league play begins. That is in no way insignificant.

Frankly, Maxey going absolutely bonkers in Madison Square Garden while Michigan State paired foul trouble with 5-for-26 shooting from three papered over a lot of these cracks.

We knew Kentucky was going to take their lumps early on these season and we ranked them where we ranked them anyway.

They are taking their lumps.

And if you are patient, they’ll look like Kentucky again soon enough.

No. 9 Kentucky gets another scare, holds off Utah Valley

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Ashton Hagans scored a career-high 26 points, and No. 9 Kentucky survived another close game against what should have been a lesser opponent, beating Utah Valley 82-74 on Monday night.

The Wildcats (3-1) dropped out of the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press Top 25 after losing at home to Evansville last week, and they had to overcome a late surge to hold off the Wolverines.

Kentucky led by 16 points early in the second half, but Utah Valley steadily chipped away until T.J. Washington’s 3-pointer got the Wolverines (3-2) within one at 68-67 with 3:26 remaining. Nate Sestina responded with a three-point play that helped the Wildcats pull away.

Kentucky was without second-leading scorer Immanuel Quickley, who sat out because of a chest injury. Quickley has scored 16 points in each of the last two games.

The Wildcats also have been without forward EJ Montgomery, who has missed the past three games because of an ankle injury. Coupled with Quickley’s injury, Kentucky’s roster has dwindled to seven scholarship players, leaving the Wildcats short-handed in practice.

Nick Richards had 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyrese Maxey added 14 points.

Washington led the Wolverines with 22 points, followed by Trey Woodbury with 17 and Jamison Overton with 10.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are used to shooting free throws and averaged 29.7 attempts per game in their first three. Kentucky made 31 of 34 from the line against the Wolverines, including 14 of 15 in the first half. The Wildcats held a 46-27 edge in rebounding, including 34 on the defensive end.

Utah Valley: Just as Evansville did in its upset, the Wolverines spread the floor and forced the Wildcats to play defense in the open court. The Wolverines made 11 3-pointers to keep the game close.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wildcats play two more games this week and could move up a spot or two with three victories, although games like this will surely give voters pause. The Wildcats don’t play a ranked opponent again until they take on No. 10 Ohio State at Las Vegas on Dec. 21.

UP NEXT

Utah Valley hosts Lamar on Thursday.

Kentucky hosts Mount St. Mary’s on Friday