Blogger Spotlight: Kentucky’s ridiculous talent and eyebrows

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Kentucky fans crave information about their Wildcats. Whether it’s TV, radio, print, online, there’s a 24/7 news cycle regarding John Calipari’s team, whether it’s Lexington, the state or beyond.

That’s where Kentucky Sports Radio comes in.

The incredibly popular website does a little bit of everything when it comes to Kentucky hoops. Video, radio and an onslaught of posts fills with news snippets, short analysis and plenty of snark. Maybe that’s why one of its main personalities, Matt Jones, has become so damn popular. (Seriously? 33,000 Twitter followers?)

Matt doesn’t write as often as some of the other KSR stalwarts such as Thomas Beisner or Drew Franklin, but that’s partly because Jones is busy wrapping up his law career (he was prepping for his final case while we talked) and focuses on the radio and TV.

But hey, the guy knows his Kentucky hoops. He’s understandably amped about this season, as is Big Blue Nation.

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Q: For a 10-point win over No. 12 Kansas on Tuesday night, that game sure felt like a blowout.

A: I actually thought both of those games were like that. Duke [beat Michigan State] by five and should’ve won by 20. Kentucky fans wanted a coming out party. They remember two years ago when John Wall had his coming out party against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden . They didn’t get one of those, but they kinda had one with Anthony Davis.

More than anything, they’d been looking forward to this team for 16 months probably. Ever since Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague committed.

Q: Then compare this season’s team to John Calipari’s first two teams. They’re just as talented, perhaps more so, but is there more excitement and higher expectations?

A: There certainly have been higher expectations. People ask me all time: “Are you disappointed if they don’t win the title?” That depends. They could lose to North Carolina and I think people would understand. But .. the West Virginia loss two years ago still stinks heavy on people.

Part of that is that team, though. In my time being as a fan, there was not a more exciting team than that one.

Q: Why is that?

A: A couple of things came together for that. But, let me say this.

Kentucky has the most connected fan base in the country. But I would go even farther than that. It might be the most Internet-connected fan base in sports. The amount of fans on twitter, on blogs, I don’t think there’s another team like it. I mean, I have 33,000 Twitter followers. John Clay has like 10,000. I have not found another beat reporter from another team, and only a couple pro teams that has more followers. Nobody craves that information like Kentucky fans. They’re just wired in as anyplace in America.

And now that they can be obsessive about everything, it amplifies it even more.

Q: But what was it about that team that people loved so much? Was it because that was the team that ended the slide? Or was it more because that team was so damn good?

A: Look, there’s never gonna be anyone more popular than John Wall in Kentucky.

For a long time, Jamal Mashburn was revered like that. People saw him as the reason the team got good after probation. But they love Wall because for the first time Kentucky had the coolest player in college basketball.

They’re had good players, but not the coolest, Rex Chapman was close. I mean, Tony Delk is not cool. He was a great player, but that doesn’t make you cool. Kentucky’s never had a guy like Wall. We were the stuffy team of white guys with short shorts. But Wall tapped into this craving for cool.

Q: Bigger surprise: Anthony Davis leads the team in scoring or Darius Miller averaging fewer points than Kyle Wiltjer?

A: The latter. By the end of the year that won’t be the case, but the would be the bigger surprise. Most people figured this is the year Miller averaged 12 or 13 points a game and he may still. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Davis doesn’t surprise me at all.

Davis will score huge amounts of points against bad teams when he just overmatches everyone down low because he’s such a freak physically.

source: APQ: OK then, let’s talk about the unibrow. Is that just Davis’ brilliant method of fooling people into thinking he’s a goof?

A: I can’t understand why he keeps it. He’s an interesting kid and he’s really funny and has a sarcastic sense of humor. Everyone says he’s the funniest guy on the team. But I can’t understand it.

He clearly knows that he has a unibrow. When he first came on campus, he shaved it. Now it’s grown back. I’ve been calling him unibrow for a while and people were like “That’s so mean,” but I always said “If you think it’s bad now, wait until he has first game on national TV.” And that’s what happened last night. I tweeted “BrowDown” and it took off.

But he obviously doesn’t care. Maybe it’s becoming his thing. BrowDown may take off.

Q: This is the new “Jorts” for nicknames, right? People will love it.

A: [DeMarcus] Cousins did that by taking the nickname Boogie and messing with those buddy holly glasses. Fans love that.

Q: And besides, he’s unreal. He was swatting shots like mad against Kansas and just overmatched everyone. I felt bad for Thomas Robinson.

A: I don’t know how you score on him. I’ll be interested to see whichever guy Carolina puts on him. I’ve never seen a player like him before. He’s like Kevin Durant if you gave him three more inches on his wingspan.

Q: Davis is amazing. But is it wrong I like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist more? He plays hard, there’s no ego on him and he’s clearly talented.

A: I think Kentucky fans favor him too. [Speaking to a group of about 300 people] I asked “Who’s your favorite player?” by applause. He was first. First by a lot. I think he’s the fan favorite.

Q: How fast is Marquis Teague? Faster than John Wall?

A: He’s faster than Wall, but Wall’s faster with the ball. Wall had the unbelievable ability to dribble the ball and not break stride. He’d run the same 100 time and not break his stride. But Teague is really fast. He’s also the key. How he plays dictates everything. Like last night – in the second half he plays well and they run Kansas off the court.

In fact, this whole team is fast. When they get a rebound or steal, they don’t have to find a guard. You know that half a second when you grab a rebound or a steal and look for a guard? They don’t do that.

They just take off.

Q: Has this season been a slight shock for Terrence Jones? Or is the late-night mess more to blame for that?

A: I’d wanna see another three or four games. It might be a sample size thing. [Against Kansas] he did not play great, but that might be the best guy he’s gonna face all year. Robinson’s tough.

But they cannot beat North Carolina unless he plays really well. Last year in both games he didn’t play well. He was bad in Chapel Hill and he wasn’t great in the NCAA tournament. To me, I wanna see how he plays against them.

Q: That game’s about two weeks away. Is “jacked” a strong enough term for that game? I can’t imagine what Lexington will be like.

A: That game will be ridiculous. There are like 13 guys between the two teams that’ll play in the NBA. I can’t remember a ranked season game had that kind of talent. So yeah, Lexington’s stoked about. I think it’ll be a great thing for college basketball.

But what I’m most excited for is that big environment.

When it’s a big game, is Rupp Arena is the best environment in college basketball. That never happens in the SEC. The one time it happens is when Florida’s good, but that hasn’t happened in years. When Joakim Noah was there, people got pumped about it.

I just I wish [Kentucky-Carolina] wasn’t at noon. If it was primetime it’d be great for the sport.

Q: Got a prediction?

A: I actually think Carolina’s gonna win.

What’s you’ll see if that Kentucky is not yet mature enough to beat Carolina. They are against everybody else. But I don’t think they’re there yet.

You can find more of Matt’s work at Kentucky Sports Radio and follow him on Twitter @KySportsRadio.

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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.