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

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Willie Cauley-Stein dunks on Jamari Traylor (Getty Images)

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.

Bacot, Anthony lead No. 5 UNC past Elon 75-61

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Those newcomers at No. 5 North Carolina were playing like freshmen — and, really, the upperclassmen were too — during yet another sluggish start.

The big men took it upon themselves to demand the ball — and dominate down low.

Armando Bacot had season highs of 22 points and 14 rebounds, Garrison Brooks added 14 points and the slow-starting Tar Heels beat Elon 75-61 on Wednesday night.

Bacot said coach Roy Williams “talked to me and Garrison and was like, `We need to dominate in the paint.”

“So we just told all the guards to get the ball and feed us,” Bacot added.

As a result, fellow freshman Cole Anthony flirted with North Carolina’s first triple-double in 19 years. He finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight assists for North Carolina (4-0), which hasn’t had a player with a triple-double since Brendan Haywood and Jason Capel each did it 10 days apart in December 2000.

And yet, in a sign of how high Anthony’s ceiling is, Williams called it a bad night for his star guard, who was 4 of 14 from the field with four turnovers.

“I’ve seen some really good players, and he’s got a chance to be one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “But I also know when good players stink and that was him about half the game.”

The Tar Heels were 30 1/2-point favorites who a year ago beat Elon on the road by 49 points. They trailed at halftime for the second time this season before opening the second half with a Bacot-led 21-5 run that pushed the lead into double figures, and wound up outrebounding Elon 56-25.

Marcus Sheffield scored 19 points for the Phoenix (2-3), who lost their third straight — all to power-conference schools — while shooting 28% in the second half. Hunter Woods added 18 and his 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes left pulled Elon to 68-61. Bacot — who had 18 points in the second half — followed with two buckets to re-establish the Tar Heels’ double-figure lead.

BIG PICTURE

Elon: The Phoenix looked nothing like a team still chasing its first Division I victory of the season. Elon led 33-32 at halftime despite missing 13 of its final 15 shots of the first half — many of them wide-open looks — and the signature highlight might have been Sheffield’s posterizing, one-handed dunk on Justin Pierce midway through the half. Plenty of encouraging things in this one for first-year coach Mike Schrage — a former member of Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke who was quite comfortable in the Smith Center’s visitors’ locker room.

“The first 20 minutes, we’ll take, but I thought the start of the second half, they really imposed their will,” Schrage said. “I thought we got worn down trying to fight them.”

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ youth and inexperience was evident early in this one — Williams, a noted time-out hoarder, burned one 2 minutes, 9 seconds in after a particularly sloppy turnover. (“Earliest one in my history, I’m sure,” he quipped. “Doesn’t have a lot of competition.”) But they flipped the switch at halftime and took over early in the second half with their freshman big man leading the way, then made enough plays to ride out the victory.

BACOT BITS

This was by far Bacot’s best night of his young career. He set scoring and rebounding highs for the second straight game after finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds against Gardner-Webb last Friday night. He also had three blocks, his first game with more than one.

KEY STATS

With Bacot and Brooks underneath, North Carolina scored 46 points in the paint to just 16 for Elon. That helped the Tar Heels overcome 16% shooting from 3-point range — their worst at the Smith Center since Louisville held them to 14% in January.

UP NEXT

Elon: Plays host to Manhattan on Saturday.

North Carolina: Faces Alabama on Nov. 27 in its Battle 4 Atlantis opener in Paradise Island, Bahamas.

No. 2 Louisville rallies past USC Upstate 76-50

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s latest rout was anything but routine.

The No. 2 Cardinals trailed in the second half for the first time this season against a determined USC Upstate squad that challenged them longer than expected. That scare got Louisville’s attention, and its response was fast and furious.

Ryan McMahon made consecutive 3-pointers and Dwayne Sutton and Darius Perry had one each during a second-half surge that rallied Louisville past USC Upstate 76-50 Wednesday night.

Trailing the determined Spartans 43-40 with 14:07 remaining, Sutton’s 3 tied it before McMahon added one after a huge block of Josh Aldrich’s layup attempt. McMahon and Perry followed again from long range, and the Cardinals (5-0) turned up the intensity on both ends for a 24-5 burst.

They outscored Upstate 36-7 to close the game, capped by the second of two dunks from freshman guard David Johnson in his collegiate debut following a summer shoulder injury.

“They are going to go up against a team that isn’t in awe and play as well as they can for periods of 10 minutes,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “Tonight was not as tough as a moment we will find ourselves in the next month or two, but it is good for a team to figure it out.”

Jordan Nwora had two 3s among his season-high 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. The Cardinals finished 51% from the field and have shot above 50% in each game this season.

McMahon scored 15 points on five 3-pointers, his last ones helping Louisville avoid a huge upset. The Cardinals were 9 of 21 from behind the arc, including 5 of 9 after halftime. Sutton grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and scored nine points.

“It shows the power of the 3-point shot in college basketball,” added Mack, whose team tied a season high with 22 assists. “It can keep you in any game.”

The Cardinals owned the smaller Spartans in just about every statistic as expected: They held Upstate to 33% shooting with a 40-22 gap in rebounding with a 36-10 scoring advantage in the paint.

Blowouts have been the norm for the Spartans, who entered losing by an average margin of nearly 21 points. That included Monday’s 31-point loss at Akron, which seemed forgotten as they stayed within reach and even led.

“We played 30 minutes of the best basketball we’ve played all year,” second-year coach Dave Dickerson said. “But their size and athleticism and the fact they have one of the best players in the country as well, it’s hard for us to contend with that. They wore us down.”

Bryson Mozone’s 14 points on four 3s led Upstate (1-5), which was 9 of 24 from long range.

FULL STRENGTH

Johnson and 6-foot-11 junior forward Malik Williams finally got on the court for Louisville after missing time with injuries. They combined for seven points and four rebounds, all big in helping the Cardinals pull away.

“It felt great, been itching to get out there and finally got to do it,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to get the win.”

There was one scary moment as Williams, who returned from September foot surgery, landed hard and awkwardly following a flagrant-1 foul by Mozone. He got up gingerly but shook it off and made 1 of 2 free throws.

“I wasn’t really scared,” Williams said. “I just put my foot back in place and get right back to it. I’m good. I’m here to stay.”

BIG PICTURE

USC Upstate: The Spartans stayed close thanks to perimeter shooting and defense that forced the Cardinals into off-balance attempts. They just didn’t have enough height to battle on the glass and were no match once the Cardinals found their shot and intensity.

Louisville: The Cardinals led for much of the game despite appearing out of sync when Upstate kept making baskets. Their failure to contain Mozone could have cost them, but they also started making 3s to thwart the upset. The returns of Williams and Johnson from injuries helped in a comeback they didn’t expect and should help team depth.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The near-upset shouldn’t cost Louisville much in the rankings.

UP NEXT

USC Upstate returns home Saturday to host Youngstown State, which Louisville beat 78-55 on Nov. 10.

Louisville hosts Akron on Sunday in the last of its five-game homestand.

No. 16 Memphis beats Little Rock 68-58 as Wiseman watches

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis players said they were unaware before Wednesday night’s game that star freshman James Wiseman had been suspended 12 games by the NCAA.

There was another culprit for the No. 16 Tigers’ poor early play — a lack of respect for Arkansas-Little Rock — before Memphis escaped with a 68-58 win.

Precious Achiuwa had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and DJ Jeffries added 15 points — all in the first half — providing a spark for the lackadaisical Tigers (4-1).

The game was played only hours after the NCAA ruled Wiseman, the Tigers 7-foot-1 freshman and last season’s top recruit, ineligible for the next 11 games — he’d already sat out one — for receiving impermissible benefits from Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. Hardaway provide the family with $11,500 to help with moving expenses from Nashville to Memphis two years ago, before Hardaway became the Tigers’ coach. After moving to Memphis, Wiseman played for East High, where Hardaway coached.

The NCAA considered Hardaway a university booster because he donated $1 million to the university in 2008.

Wiseman watched the game from the bench.

“We were definitely glad to find out a number. We had been waiting on that,” Hardaway said.

Jeffries and Achiuwa both said they were unaware of the NCAA ruling.

“I haven’t actually looked at my phone in like four hours,” Achiuwa said, Jeffries nodding in agreement.

Hardaway said he didn’t talk about the situation with his team.

“It is what it is right now,” he said. “It has taken on a life of its own. I’m sure they will see it later.”

Hardaway attributed the slow start to the team’s disregard for the Trojans.

“I kind of got the feeling of how the locker room was before the game that these kids were taking Little Rock for granted,” Hardaway said. “There wasn’t the same energy.”

Markquis Nowell led the Trojans (3-2) with 16 points, while Ben Coupet Jr. added 12 points. Ruot Monyyong had 12 points and nine rebounds and Kamani Johnson finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Nowell also had 10 turnovers, representative of the sloppy play throughout the game.

“We had our chances,” Little Rock coach Darrell Walker said. “You think about it, Kamani at the rim 13 times and he misses 10 layups and doesn’t get fouled. There’s nothing the coach can do about that. Markquis turns the ball over 10 times. I told him they weren’t going to let him score all those points tonight. I told him he had to be a facilitator and a decoy.”

Memphis missed its first eight shots and by the midway point of the first half, the Tigers (4-1) were 3 of 13 from the field and had missed all five of its 3-pointers while committing eight turnovers.

The Tigers were unable to overcome the anemic start until less than five minutes left in the half, with Jeffries providing the spark with 15 points helping Memphis take a 28-23 lead at the break.

Little Rock was within 55-53 with about five minutes left, but Memphis outscored the Trojans 13-5 the rest of the way as the Trojans gave way to the Tigers depth.

“I don’t have all the weapons that Penny has,” Walker said. “He has a bunch of weapons, even coming off the bench. … Right now, I don’t. I got a couple of freshmen and some guys hurt. My deck is not full, but I’m not making excuses.

“Penny’s deck is not full either.”

BIG PICTURE

Little Rock: After jumping to an early 9-0 lead, the Trojans defense played well enough to cause problems for Memphis. Little Rock stayed close, but the visitors struggled from the foul line, going 13 of 24.

Memphis: Memphis was a mess to start the game, missing its first eight shots, some of them way off the mark. Four turnovers added to the early misery. After taking the lead late in the first half, the Tigers never relinquished the advantage in the second half, although Little Rock kept the game close.

UP NEXT

Little Rock: Travels to North Carolina State on Saturday

Memphis: Hosts Ole Miss on Saturday.

Memphis could not have handled the James Wiseman situation more poorly

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As much as I want to wave my fists in the air, pound on my keyboard and scream about how unfair it is that James Wiseman is the person in this scenario that has to serve a 12-game suspension, the unfortunate truth here is that Memphis played this out about as poorly as humanly possible.

Memphis probably never should have played James Wiseman in the first place. And as much as bleeding hearts like myself enjoyed watching the Tigers relentlessly troll the NCAA, they certainly should not have antagonized an organization that has proven that they are vindictive and unafraid of levying heavy-handed punishments. They definitely should not have messed with the bull if they weren’t ready for the horns.

But let’s back this up for a second.

Best that I can tell, there are only two reasons that the NCAA exists:

1. To oversee the tournaments that determine the national champion in every sport at every level. This, they are really good at, even if it took them four decades to realize the RPI was a joke.

2. To enforce amateurism and ensure that no one is breaking their bylaws. This, they are not so good at because, unlike law enforcement, the NCAA does not actually have any subpoena power. They can’t force anyone to talk, and as long as the paper trail is hidden well and no one is caught on an FBI wiretap talking about paying for players with strong-ass offers, it’s hard for NCAA investigators to do their job well.

The way the NCAA gets schools to comply and the people involved in these investigations to cooperate and tell the truth is to threaten them with the fire of 1,000 suns if they get caught doing anything else. If coaches get caught in a lie, the punishment far outweighs the crime. Bruce Pearl was banned from the coaching for three years because he lied about bringing a recruit to a barbecue at his house, a fairly minor violation. The same can be said for schools. If they do something like – oh, I don’t know – opt to play a player that they have been told by the NCAA is “likely ineligible,” then you have to be prepared to put every resource at your disposal behind fighting what you know is coming.

Memphis picked a fight with the NCAA. As soon as they did that, as soon as they willfully put James Wiseman on the floor at FedEx Forum against South Carolina State, they should have known they would never be able to put Pandora back in her box.

They should have known that this was going to put a bullseye on their back. They should have known that, as Sports Illustrated has reported, “a major infractions case targeting Memphis is now likely.” They should have known that those three games legitimately – and, by the rulebook, rightfully – put the future of the program and that of head coach Penny Hardaway in jeopardy.

None of what’s coming was worth it for wins over two teams no one cares about and a loss to Oregon.

It probably would not have been worth it for a full 30-something games of James Wiseman, but at least that would be understandable. I would not have put all of that on the line for a chance at living out the season the program has been anticipating since Penny replaced Tubby Smith, but I would at least see what the plan was. Memories cannot be vacated, and with public sentiment supporting the end of amateurism, maybe they could fight this thing in court long enough that it would no longer be a violation.

Oh, and the sideshow would have been incredible.

You think Zion Williamson’s shoe moved the needle?

Imagine what a full season of a potential No. 1 pick going to the war with the NCAA would have done.

But that’s not the way it played out for Memphis.

They waved the white flag last week.

On Wednesday, the NCAA ruled that Wiseman will have to serve the final 11 games of his 12 game suspension. So the Tigers may have cost themselves their best chance at getting to the NCAA tournament and they still have the NCAA coming after them.

And the complicating factor here is that this was an NCAA violation. No one is arguing that. Penny, who at the time was a Memphis booster and alum, paid $11,500 to Wiseman’s mother for the family to relocate from a ritzy private school in Nashville to a public high school in Memphis. At the same time, Wiseman stopped playing with Brad Beal Elite and started playing for Team Penny. All of this happened nine months before Penny was hired to be the Memphis head coach and around the same time that some of the most powerful voices in Memphis media started calling for Penny to replace Tubby.

This was always going to be thoroughly investigated by the NCAA.

Thinking otherwise was just foolish.

The honest-to-god truth here is that the only victim is Wiseman himself. He has been failed by every adult in this situation.

Penny should have known better than to pay Wiseman’s mother to get him to move to Memphis to play for his teams.

Memphis administrators should have known better than to allow him to step on the court when the NCAA had the goods.

Both Penny and the University should have been better prepared for what was coming knowing that this payment had happened; and if the University didn’t know this payment happened, they should have.

The NCAA should be above vindictive punishments that solely target a kid that had little, if anything, to do with this. He didn’t make the payments. He didn’t accept the payments. It wasn’t his decision whether or not to play, and if it was, Memphis never should have let an 18-year old make that decision.

One of the biggest failings of NCAA bylaws is their absolute inability to punish people that actually break the rules. Penny isn’t suspended. Wiseman’s mom isn’t suspended. No one in the athletic department is suspended.

No, the person being punished is the kid who was 16 when his mom accepted money from a man who was deemed a booster in 2008.

Memphis’ James Wiseman suspended 12 games by NCAA

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The NCAA announced on Wednesday evening that potential No. 1 pick James Wiseman has been suspended for 12 games and will be reinstated on Jan. 12th.

Wiseman sat out Memphis’ win last Friday against Alcorn State. It will count as one of the 12 games Wiseman must sit out. Wiseman will be eligible to return Jan. 12 against South Florida.

The NCAA suspended Wiseman because of the $11,500 that his family received from then-high school coach Penny Hardaway to relocate from Nashville to Memphis in the summer of 2017. He got an additional punishment because he played the first three games of the season while technically ineligible. Hardaway became Memphis’ coach in 2018.

Wiseman must make an $11,500 donation to a charity of his choice, per the NCAA.

The 7-foot-1 Wiseman was the No. 1 player in the 2019 class, and the headliner of Hardaway’s top-ranked recruiting class.