No. 2 Kentucky rides Monk’s hot hand to blowout win of No. 13 Michigan State

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK — It only took seven minutes for the 18,000 fans packed into Madison Square Garden to get a feel for how dangerous Malik Monk can be as a scorer.

Kentucky’s most entertaining freshman hit three threes in the span of 161 seconds to spark an 11-2 Kentucky run that gave the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish. Monk finished his night with 23 points, hitting 7-for-12 from three and living up to the hype as one of the streakiest players in college basketball. Monk entered the night shooting 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from three and left the Garden as the clear difference-maker for this version of Kentucky as the No. 2 Wildcats beat No. 13 Michigan State, 69-48.

Isaiah Briscoe added 21 points and five boards while De’Aaron Fox finished with 12 points, six assists, four boards and two steals.

But it was Monk who was the star of the show.

The Wildcats entered Tuesday having shot just 9-for-34 from beyond the arc in the season’s first two games, with three of those nine threes coming from Mychal Mulder, who didn’t get off Kentucky’s bench until garbage time against Michigan State. On Tuesday, Wildcats not named Monk shot 0-for-10 from beyond the arc.

It doesn’t take a physicist to figure out that the Achilles’ heel for this team is going to be their perimeter shooting, the same way that it was for the 2010 team. And on the nights when Monk gets hot from deep, this is the result that you’re going to get. When he gets rolling like this, Monk has ‘gravity’. Defenses have to adjust to his presence on the floor. He pulls help defenders out of position, he creates driving lanes for the likes of Fox and Briscoe and, eventually, it will create space for Bam Adebayo, Isaac Humphries and the rest of Kentucky’s front court in the paint.

“We knew they were going to pack the lane in,” Monk said. “Fox and Briscoe get in the lane every time they can. They set me up and I was able to knock down the shot.”

“I knew he was due for a big night,” Briscoe added.

Perhaps the most important part of Monk’s performance was that none of the 17 shots that he took felt forced. His reputation coming out of high school wasn’t just as a streaky shooter; it was as a dumb shooter, too. His shot selection wasn’t what you would call good, and it is certainly a very good sign for the Wildcats that, on a night where Monk was cooking from the opening minutes while playing on the biggest stage he’s ever played on, that he didn’t start forcing shots.

In fact, he was almost too passive.

In the first half, he passed up an open look to set up Wenyen Gabriel for a three – which he missed – and committed his only turnover of the game when he palmed the ball later in the half. After the game, head coach John Calipari noted that finding a way to manufacture shots for Monk is one of the things his team is working on.

“Malik has it going,” Cal said, “so how are we going to get him shots and where are we going to get them from?”

Tuesday night was the first time we got a real look at who Kentucky is going to be this year – forgive me if I’m unimpressed with wins over Stephen F. Austin and Canisius in Rupp Arena – and as impressive as Monk was shooting the ball, perhaps the most important takeaway was how well that back court works in concert with each other.

At this point, everyone should know about Fox’s prowess on the defensive end of the floor. He may be the best on-ball defender in college basketball. But Monk is athletic enough that effort is the only thing that will keep him from being a plus-defender, and Briscoe is developing into a lock-down defender in his own right. Miles Bridges, Michigan State’s star freshman and a future lottery pick, finished 2-for-11 from the floor with nine turnovers on Tuesday and it was Briscoe who did the heavy lifting on him defensively.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats puts up a shot against Kenny Goins #25 of the Michigan State Spartans in the first half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Isaiah Briscoe (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“People that watched him in high school can’t believe he can defend and rebound the way he has,” Coach Cal said of Briscoe, who is embracing the role of ‘elder statesman’ on this Kentucky team. “He’s way more mature. He’s way more comfortable with the way he’s playing.”

Briscoe was once against terrific getting to the rim, both in half court settings and in transition, where defenders bounce off of him like pebbles bouncing off the windshield of a Ford F150 on the interstate. The knock on him is his inability to shoot from the perimeter, and on Tuesday, he was 0-3 from three and did not make a field goal from outside the paint. And while his stroke did not look as bad as it did last season, he’s still a long way away from being a ‘good’ shooter.

But Coach Cal doesn’t care, because as far as he is concerned, Briscoe’s issue is that he thinks like a bad shooter.

“All it is is being more confident,” he said. “The first half he didn’t want to take the shots that were there. I told him that if he didn’t take the three that was there I was taking him out.”

That’s all he really needs to be.

Because Monk is going to have nights where he goes nuts, where he makes Tuesday’s shooting display look pedestrian. Fox and Briscoe are going to create all kinds of problems on the defensive end of the floor and in transition; I think these Wildcats have the potential to be a top three team defensively. Tom Izzo agreed, saying “I think this is one of John’s best defensive teams,” which is saying a lot considering he’s had three teams finish in the top two of KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric.

And eventually, talents like Adebayo, Humphries and Wenyen Gabriel are going to start playing like the future NBA Draft picks that they are.

“The group of freshmen, they’re not ordinary freshmen,” Briscoe said. “They pick up things fast and they know how to play basketball. We don’t run a lot of plays.”

Kentucky’s ceiling is as high as any team in the country.

And if the Wildcats are going to end up reaching that ceiling, they’re going to need Monk to be the guy that he was on Tuesday night.

Report: Notre Dame closing deal with Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is finalizing a deal to make Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry its new men’s basketball coach, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract details were still being completed and needed school approval.

Shrewsberry, in his second season at Penn State (23-14), led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and a tournament victory for the first time since 2001.

The Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M and were eliminated by Texas in the second round.

Notre Dame has been searching for a replacement for Mike Brey, who spent the last 23 season as coach of the Fighting Irish. He announced in January that this would be his last season with Notre Dame

The Irish finished 11-21.

Shrewsberry grew up in Indianapolis and went to school at Division III Hanover College in Indiana.

He was the head coach at Indiana University South Bend, an NAIA school located in the same city as Notre Dame, from 2005-07.

He later worked as an assistant coach at Butler and Purdue, with a stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in between.

ESPN first reported Notre Dame was close to a deal with Shrewsberry.

Armando Bacot says he’s returning for fifth season at North Carolina

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina forward Armando Bacot is returning to play a fifth season for the Tar Heels.

Bacot announced his decision Wednesday, giving North Carolina fans a bit of good news after the Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Bacot is North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds, double-doubles and double-figure rebounding games.

Bacot led North Carolina to a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and his decision to return was a major reason the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to meeting those expectations. They went 20-13 and opted against playing in the NIT. Bacot earned Associated Press All-America third-team honors and averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds in 2021-22. He capped that season by becoming the first player ever to have six double-doubles in one NCAA Tournament.

Bacot participated in North Carolina’s Senior Night festivities this year. He has a fifth year of eligibility because of the waiver the NCAA granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cooley takes over at Georgetown with lofty aspirations

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.

Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.

At his introductory news conference Wednesday that felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins – many of them – and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.

“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”

Georgetown has lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play.

While Cooley at Providence was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.

“I don’t have anything to do what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”

Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After late Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year-old run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and Ewing getting the head job, Cooley is the school’s first outsider in the position in a half-century.

His only connection to the Hilltop – beyond coaching in the Big East – is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.

It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”

That landscape, including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more easily transfer schools, are the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.

“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”

Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.

“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”

Texas’ Arterio Morris plays amid misdemeanor domestic violence case

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — In a season when Texas fired coach Chris Beard after a felony domestic violence arrest, it has allowed a reserve guard to keep playing while he awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Second-seed Texas has advanced under interim coach Rodney Terry to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, and the Longhorns play No. 3 Xavier in Kansas City, Missouri.

Arterio Morris, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, was initially scheduled to stand trial March 29, three days before Final Four weekend. Denton County prosecutors were granted a delay to an unspecified date.

Beard was fired Jan. 5, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of choking his fiancée in a fight during which she also told police he bit, and hit her. She later recanted the choking allegation and the Travis County district attorney dismissed the case, saying prosecutors were following her wishes not to got to trial and that the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Morris is charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which in Texas includes dating relationships. It stems from a June 2022 confrontation in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The charge carries penalties ranging from probation and fines to up to a year in jail if convicted.

Morris’ attorney, Justin Moore, said the charges against Beard and the player are different.

“(Beard) was charged with a felony family assault,” Moore said. “That was far more serious as to what Arterio was alleged to have to committed. We maintain Arterio’s innocence.”

According to police, the ex-girlfriend said Morris grabbed her arm and pulled her off a bed, and later pulled the front of her sports bra, causing an injury to her neck and shoulder area. Police reported seeing a sizable bruise or scratch.

Texas officials declined comment. Beard said before the season that school officials he would not identify determined the freshman could play this season.

Moore defended Texas officials’ decision to not suspend Morris.

“I do believe Texas has taken this seriously. They’ve also allowed Arterio to enjoy his due process rights,” Moore said.

Morris has played in all 36 games this season, although his minutes and have been limited on a senior-dominated team. He averages nearly 12 minutes and 4.7 points per game. His biggest moment was a soaring alley-oop dunk against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Attempts to reach Morris’ ex-girlfriend through family members were not successful. According to online records, prosecutors sought the trial delay to “procure witness availability.” Prosecutor Jamie Beck did not immediately return messages.

Wichita State hires ORU’s Paul Mills to lead program

Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program, landing what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches.

The 50-year-old Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, engineering upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed.

He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons as the Shockers slowly slipped toward mediocrity.

“My family and I are extremely excited about being a part of Wichita State,” said Mills, who will be introduced during a news conference Thursday at Charles Koch Arena. “The rich history, winning tradition and unbelievable community support will keep us working on behalf of the greatest fans in all of college basketball.”

Mills got his break in coaching when he joined Scott Drew’s first staff at Baylor in 2003, working alongside future Kansas State coach Jerome Tang in helping to turn around a program that had been mired in controversy. Mills stayed for 14 years, helping to reach seven NCAA Tournaments, before replacing Scott Sutton at Oral Roberts before the 2017 season.

“I absolutely love Paul Mills. He’s like a brother to me. So happy for him and his family, for Wendy and the girls,” said Tang, who has Kansas State playing Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. “He’s going to be incredible because he is passionate about young people and about developing young men.

“There’s no throttle, like, hold-back governor on him in terms of love and what he pours into his guys.”

Mills went just 11-21 each of his first two seasons in Tulsa, but the seeds of a turnaround had been planted, and the Golden Eagles have not had a losing season since. The biggest step came two years ago, when Mills led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament played entirely within an Indianapolis “bubble environment” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Golden Eagles slipped to 19-12 the following year before winning 30 games and the Summit League title this past season, when they were led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, an honorable mention All-American selection.

“He’s the one that told me, he said, ‘Tang, 10s hangs with 10s and one hangs with ones,’” Tang said, “and he’s a 10 and he’s going to have some 10s around him.”

The hiring of Mills comes as the Shockers try to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference. Perennial powerhouse Houston is joining Central Florida and Cincinnati in leaving for the Big 12 after this season, and six new schools are due to arrive from Conference USA for the start of next season.

Wichita State, a power under Ralph Miller and Gene Smithson in the 1960s, returned to prominence when Mark Turgeon took over in 2000. But it was under Gregg Marshall, who resigned in November 2020 amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse of players, that it began to soar. The Shockers advanced to the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten the following year and at one point went to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Brown, who was Marshall’s top recruiter, led them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. But the Shockers were just 15-13 last year and 17-15 this past season, leading Saal to decide that a coaching change was necessary.

Turns out the answer Saal was looking for was just a few hours south at Oral Roberts.

“Paul Mills’ heart for people, passion for life and approach to the development of young people and programs is energizing,” Wichita State athletic director Kevin Saal said in a statement. “He aligns with Shocker Athletics’ core values, facilitates a first-class student-athlete experience and fuels broad-based competitive excellence.”