Kentucky grinds out an impressive win over Louisville

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s performance against Louisville on Saturday afternoon was undeniable.

He had 24 points on the night, 18 of them coming in the first half as Kentucky built a 15 point lead. He also added 19 rebounds, with 10 of those coming in the second half as Kentucky forced Louisville into miss after miss, pulling away from the Cardinals to win 69-62. If it wasn’t for two Russ Smith threes in the final 10 seconds, that final score would have looked quite a bit less respectable.

At this point, there really is no argument that MKG is the best player on Kentucky. He may not have the most upside, but there is nothing that he can’t do on a basketball court. He defends, he attacks the glass, he can penetrate to score or to pass and he can hit a three. There is only one player (Jared Sullinger) I would consider taking over him if I was starting a college basketball team right now, and MKG couldn’t have possibly made that more obvious than he did today.

But Kidd-Gilchrist may not have even been the most important player for Kentucky in this game.

Especially down the stretch.

That honor would go to Anthony Davis.

Think about this for a second: Kentucky shot 29% from the floor against Louisville. They were 3-16 from three and turned the ball over 20 times. Darius Miller, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb combined to shoot 4-23 from the floor and contributed 16 turnovers, 13 fouls and eight assists as a group. And Terrence Jones, once again, failed to get the memo that Kentucky had a basketball game today.

And Kentucky won without much of a challenge from the Cards down the stretch.

The credit for that goes to Davis.

He was an absolute game-changer in the second half. Davis finished with six blocks on the game, five of which came in the final 20 minutes. His presence on the floor had as much to do with Louisville’s 9-35 shooting (25.7%) in the second half as the other four defenders on the floor combined. Anytime the Cards had the ball in the paint, they were looking for Davis. They missed layup after layup simply because they were trying to avoid getting their shot blocked. As a result, Kentucky was able to play just that much tighter and more aggressively on the perimeter, making Louisville’s life just that much more difficult offensively.

That shot-blocking alone wasn’t what won the game for the Cardinals. It was the Wildcat’s ability to clear the offensive glass when Louisville missed all of those shots. Kentucky outrebounded Louisville 57-31. Since we all know rebounding margin is a dead statistic, Kentucky grabbed 78.8% (37 of 47) of the available defensive rebounds, which was almost as impressive as the 48.7% (20 of 41) of available offensive rebounds they collected.

Louisville is one of the top 25 teams in the country on the offensive glass, and Kentucky completed took that aspect of their game away.

That is the most impressive part of this win for Kentucky. In a game that devolved into a foul-ridden, offensively-challenged slug-fest, Kentucky pulled out a win over a heated-rival by being able to muck it up on the glass.

That was a question mark that some (me!) had about the Wildcats earlier this season.

This performance went a long way towards quelling those concerns.

What We Learned

Kentucky:

– Terrence Jones was once again a no-show on the offensive end of the floor for the Wildcats, but he did have an impact on this game. The sophomore forward, who came off the bench but started the second half, finished with 11 rebounds in 30 minutes. As we laid out above, UK’s rebounding was the most important aspect of the win. Kentucky doesn’t necessarily need Jones to be a big-time scorer. They have offensive weapons on their roster and have proven that they can beat quality teams without him providing 15-20 points. Where he can make a difference is in the paint. He’s the only player on Kentucky with the strength to be a physical presence inside.

– It cannot be understated how poorly Kentucky’s back court played on the offensive end of the floor. I don’t think its crazy to say that today’s performance was the worst that you will see out of Miller, Teague and Lamb individually all season long. And Kentucky still won fairly easily.

– Kyle Wiltjer just doesn’t fit with this Kentucky team. I think that, eventually, he can play a similar role to what Erik Murphy is doing for Florida. But with the makeup of this roster, he just doesn’t fit. He’s not a shot blocker, he’s not a defender, he’s not going to get rebounds. He’s a face-up four who is ideal playing for a team that has a dominant low-post scoring threat and needs someone to help spread the floor, not on a team that has Anthony Davis on the block and thrives on dribble penetration off the perimeter.

– Anthony Davis shot 12-13 from the free throw line. He was shooting 58.7% coming in.

Louisville:

– Rick Pitino routinely does as good of a coaching job as anyone in the country. From a personnel perspective, Louisville has no business competing with Kentucky on their home floor. Yet the Cardinals were able to erase a 15 point first half deficit to tie the game midway through the second half. Their ability to hit threes, force turnovers and get points in transition means they are rarely going to be out of a game.

– Peyton Siva just doesn’t seem like he’s the kind of point guard that can run a team. He takes far too many bad jump shots early in a possession and tries far too often to use his athleticism to finish amongst the trees. Kemba Walker went through the same problems as a sophomore. Siva needs to learn a) to pick his spots as a shoot; b) hot to get the rest of his team involved when he is running the show; and c) how to consistently make runners and floaters in the 8-10 foot range. Until that happens, he is always going to be a guy where announcers use the words “could” and “should” to describe.

– Russ Smith is best suited for his role coming off the bench with the makeup of this Louisville team, just like Dion Waiters is being used ideally as the sixth man for Syracuse. Smith is not a point guard, but he’s also not a shooting guard in the way that Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are. Smith is a guy that always makes things happen, whether it is forcing a turnover, hitting three or four shots in a row or missing three or four in a row. He’s far too inconsistent from possession to possession to start, but he’s got the kind of lightening-in-a-bottle scorer that allows him to change the flow of a game when he enters.

That change of pace, particularly when it is coming against the reserves of Louisville’s opponents, is why Smith always seems to have such a big impact when he gets into the game. I am riding shotgun in the Russ Smith bandwagon, but I firmly believe he is the most effective as this group’s sixth-man.

– Louisville needs Wayne Blackshear to get healthy and be effective immediately. They simply do not have enough scoring punch on their perimeter. That said, I’m not sure how much impact a freshman that gets inserted into the rotation in January or February will have.

– Louisville is a borderline top 10 right now. At best. And I would have told you the same thing before this week.

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

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.