No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible?

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INDIANAPOLIS — On Monday night, Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez put together one of the most impressive individual performances we’ll see this season. He scored 20 points in the final 6:47, hitting five threes, including a contested, step-back 25-footer that gave the Hurricanes a lead over No. 8 Florida with 30 seconds left.

It was one of the biggest upsets that we’ll see before conference season kicks off, but that’s precisely what it was: an upset. Rodriguez is not going to be scoring 20 points in less than seven minutes all that often. He’s not going to be hitting step-back 25-footers on a regular basis. I’ll stop short of calling that performance a fluke, but the point remains that if Miami is going to count on Rodriguez to play that way to win games, they’re not going to win many.

In short, what Miami did on Monday was not repeatable.

For No. 1 Kentucky, Monday night’s performance — a 72-40 beatdown of No. 5 Kansas, a game wasn’t in doubt for the final 30 minutes or so — was anything but an accident. It wasn’t fluky, it didn’t feel out of the ordinary and it certainly did not come on the shoulders of an individual performance deserving unending praise.

MORE: If Michigan State can’t land elite talent, can they still be ‘elite’?

Simply put, this was a systematic beatdown of a team ranked in the top-5 nationally, one features five potential NBA first round draft picks. It was an evisceration of a program that has won a decade’s worth of consecutive Big 12 titles. We may not see a more dominating all-around performance than this all season long, at least not one featuring two teams that play at the high major level.

“Tonight we could have played our best game and it may not have been enough,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said after the game.

And that’s what makes this performance so scary.

As long as they buy-in, Kentucky can do this every single night.

It starts with their ability on the glass. Outside of maybe Texas, there is no team in the country with a frontline that is as big, as deep and as athletic as the Wildcats. Their small forwards are Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles, both of whom are more physical and athletic than the majority of Division I power forwards. What’s more, those two will always be the third-biggest player on the floor. How do you keep a team with that kind of size off of the offensive glass?

Offensively, it’s impossible to do any damage against them in the paint. If you’re not trying to finish over Willie Cauley-Stein (7-foot), Karl Towns (7-foot) and Poythress (6-foot-7), it’s Marcus Lee (6-foot-10), Dakari Johnson (7-foot) and Lyles (6-foot-10). If, on the off chance that you do get an offensive rebound, there is simply no room around the rim to try and score on a putback. Think about it like this: Kansas finished Monday night’s game with 11 field goals. Kentucky finished with 11 blocks. How can you compete with that?

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Marcus Lee blocks Frank Mason III (AP Photo)

And here’s the kicker: that platoon we’ve all been talking about so much? It’s working. When your team gets winded after playing four minutes against a starting lineup full of future first rounders pressing and defending and overwhelming, John Calipari has a second wave coming in, fresh off the bench without a hint of a dropoff in talent.

They’re coming in waves, and they’re bigger, and more athletic, and they’re fresher.

“We kind of bum-rushed them a little bit,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “Every time they looked up there were reinforcements coming over the hill. It wasn’t substitutes, it was tanks.”

And while that statement is filled with the kind of exaggeration and branding that we have come to expect out of Coach Cal, it is a statement rooted in fact.

When Kentucky wants to be, they are going to be damn-near unbeatable this season.

The problem, of course, are those three pesky little words: “wants to be”. Cal can make all the excuses that he wants for his team’s first half performance against Buffalo on Sunday, when the Cats trailed 38-33 at home at halftime, but the bottom line was that Kentucky simply did not show up ready to play. Whether that was a result of a wild Saturday night, the players overlooking an overmatched opponents or binging on Chick Fil-A breakfast burritos an hour before the game, only the people in that locker room will know. But it’s inarguable that the reason the Cats found themselves behind is that they came out flat. Their press wasn’t energetic, their defensive rotations were slow, they didn’t get back on defense in transition, you name it.

In the second half, when the team finally woke up, Kentucky outscored the Bulls 38-14.

“It’s just energy,” Cauley-Stein said. “You can tell the games we don’t play like that. It’s just a slower-paced game. You can really feel it.”

It really is that simple, at least at this point in the season, because where Kentucky struggles at this point is in their half court execution. The sets they run are anything-but complex — ball-screens, dribble handoffs, post isolations — which often means they rely on the individual ability of the players to create open looks. It doesn’t help that on the season, Kentucky is now shooting 28.8% from beyond the arc. Factor out the 5-for-8 that Tyler Ulis is shooting from beyond the arc, and Kentucky is a rousing 10-for-44 from three.

If they continue to shoot like that, teams can zone them. They can play pack-line. They can slough off of everybody on the perimeter, packing every body possible into the paint to help nullify that overwhelming size advantage by taking away space.

As good as this performance was on Sunday night, Kentucky still shot just 43.1% from the floor and 6-for-18 from three.

But they turned 16 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points and 11 turnovers into 12 points at the other end.

Those are “energy points”, if you will.

Does this mean that Kentucky will go undefeated this year?

Well, I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d say 50% of this loss is pinned directly on Kansas and the fact that they simply are not a good basketball team right now. If these two square off again in March, Kansas will not lose by 32 points. I think even the most diehard Kentucky fan will agree with me there.

Someone is going to matchup with them. Someone is going to have the size and the length to hold their own in the paint. Someone is going to catch them on the right night, when their threes are falling and Kentucky comes out sluggish. Someone is going to make them pay for giving up 20 offensive rebounds in a game. Someone is going to go all Angel Rodriguez on them.

The Cats still have to play No. 10 Texas, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 7 Louisville and UCLA, who is ranked No. 23 in our top 25. They still play Florida twice, not to mention the rest of the SEC season.

The Wildcats look like they’ll be the better team every time they take the court this season.

If they can get through their non-conference slate unscathed, their chase for 40-0 will be a fun one to follow.

Top prospect Jonathan Kuminga will enter G League program over NCAA

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Jonathan Kuminga announced on Wednesday night that, after graduating from The Patrick School last month, he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2020 and, instead of going to college, enrolling in the G League Pathway Program.

This decision will allow Kuminga, originally a member of the Class of 2021, to enter the 2021 NBA Draft, where he is considered a potential top five pick in what should be a loaded draft class.

As detailed in this story, the G League Pathway Program is an initiative that the NBA has developed for elite prospects competes with overseas deals — specifically the NBL’s Next Stars program — to provide a one-and-done year alternative to college basketball. Kuminga will join Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix and Kai Sotto as the inaugural class in the program. His deal is reportedly worth $500,000, which is similar to what Green was offered.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

Kuminga picked the G League over Duke, Kentucky, Auburn and Texas Tech. Tech was considered the frontrunner because his brother, Joel Ntambwe, is a member of their roster, but his decision to head to the G League caught no one by surprise.

As a player, Kuminga is an explosive athlete at 6-foot-8. He has long arms, the ability to play multiple positions and versatility on the defensive end of the floor. Prior to the pandemic, Kuminga was known as an elite athlete with upside through the roof, but he is going to have to develop offensively, particularly his shooting, if he’s going to reach that upside.

Moussa Cisse’s commitment makes Memphis a top 25 team

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Moussa Cisse committed to Memphis on Wednesday, which is huge for the Tigers. Any time you add a 6-foot-11 center that is a top ten prospect and a potential one-and-done player that could end up being the very best rim protector in all of college basketball this upcoming season, it’s a good thing.

A really good thing.

That’s precisely the player that Cisse is. He’s a terrific athlete that plays with a motor, loves to get on the glass and will be an impact defensive presence from the first day that he is allowed to play for the Tigers. More importantly, he won’t be put in a position where he is going to be asked to do much more than that for this Memphis team.

I spent much last summer trying to downplay the hype that surrounded Memphis as they brought in a recruiting class that ranked No. 1 in the country and featured a pair of one-and-done five-stars in James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa. The reason for that was simple: Not all No. 1 recruiting classes are built the same, and once you got past a pair of bigs that needed to be near the basket to be effective, the Tigers had a roster full of guys that had all the makings of being 2-3 year guys.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

D.J. Jeffries, Damian Baugh, Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones. Those guys all had solid freshman seasons. More importantly, they all returned to school for their sophomore seasons, and as the saying goes, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Throw in the return of Alex Lomax, and Penny Hardaway has a pretty good core of perimeter players at his disposal even before you consider the potential that Landers Nolley and Deandre Williams get waivers.

The true value of the Memphis recruiting class wasn’t just Wiseman and Achiuwa, it was the fact that Penny had himself a solid foundation for his program moving forward. Unless you are Duke or Kentucky, the teams that get the most out of their one-and-done freshmen are the programs that can plug these guys in and ask them to do a job. The healthiest programs in the sport — Virginia, Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas, Baylor — are the teams that can land elite talent while maintaining roster continuity.

And that’s precisely what Penny has set himself up with.

The hole in this Memphis team was in the middle.

There was not a player on the market better suited to filling that hole on Memphis than Moussa Cisse.

This addition gives Memphis a team that should enter the season in the preseason top 25 and will have a shot at contending with Houston for the American regular season title.

CBT Podcast: So are we going to have a college basketball season?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to talk through … well, to talk about whether or not the Coronavirus pandemic is going to cause us to lose out on a college basketball season. Depressing, I know.

Patriot League punts on fall football as SEC leaders meet

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The Patriot League joined the Ivy League on Monday, punting on football and other fall sports because of the pandemic while holding out hope games can be made up.

The Patriot League said its 10 Division I schools will not compete in any fall sports, which include football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey. The council of presidents said the league will consider making up those seasons in the winter and spring if possible.

The conference is mostly comprised of private schools located in the Northeast that offer limited athletic scholarships. Pennsylvania rivals Lehigh and Lafayette have played 155 times, more than any two opponents in college football history.

Army and Navy are also Patriot League members, but not in football.

The Patriot League competes in Division I’s second tier of college football (FCS) like the Ivy League, which announced a similar decision last week. Unlike the Ivy League, the Patriot League participates in the FCS playoffs.

Meanwhile, at the top of college sports, Southeastern Conference athletic directors met in person in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss how the SEC can have a football season as COVID-19 cases spike throughout much of the South.

No final decisions were expected to be announced, but the meeting comes just days after the Big Ten and Pac-12 said they would play conference-only schedules this fall in football and a number of other sports.

SEC football media days, the unofficial start of the season for many fans, had been scheduled to begin this week, but the coronavirus pandemic forced all FBS conferences to hold those events online this year. Even some of those – for the SEC and ACC – are now on hold.

Some programs are taking steps toward playing in and even starting their football seasons on time. Monday was the first day the NCAA allowed football players to take part in mandatory team activities with coaches, including unpadded walk-through practices.

Florida State posted a video on social media of its team hitting the field with players and coaches wearing face coverings and shields to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Pac-12 football teams will have to wait. Last week, conference presidents delayed mandatory team activities for Pac-12 athletes, acknowledging it would likely delay the start of the fall sports seasons.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard in a letter to fans posted online said the school is trying to balance the health and safety of athletes with the drastic financial repercussions of not having a football season.

“If we are unable to play sports this fall, the athletics department would incur approximately $40M in unfunded expenses in the next six months,” Pollard wrote.

College football season was scheduled to start with a handful of nonconference games – three involving Pac-12 teams – on Aug. 29, before a full slate around Labor Day weekend from Sept. 3-7.

The Patriot League has seven schools that play football: Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette, Holy Cross and affiliate members Georgetown and Fordham.

Lehigh and Lafayette, located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania, started playing in 1884, sometimes as many as three times in a season. Only in 1896 was the rivalry not played since it began.

Army and Navy play in college football’s highest tier of Division I and were exempt from the Patriot League’s decision regarding other fall sports. The Patriot League council said the service academies will be allowed to pursue competition in those sports in which they usually compete within the conference, including soccer and volleyball, as the schools’ leaders see fit.

Northwestern’s Phillips to chair NCAA men’s hoops committee

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INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern vice president Jim Phillips was chosen Monday to chair the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2021-22 season, succeeding Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

Phillips, who is in his fourth year on the committee, will spend the upcoming season as vice chair.

Phillips was the first active athletic director to serve on the Board of Directors and Board of Governors, and he was elected first chair of the NCAA Division I Council in 2015. He also sits on the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors and is vice chair of LEAD 1, an organization made up of athletic directors from all 130 schools that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The rest of the Division I Men’s Basketball committee includes Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson; Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett; Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade; Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds; Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien; SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland; Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard; and North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

The current chairman, Duke athletic director Kevin White, will rotate off the committee on Sept. 1.