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Five takeaways from Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina

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No. 6 Kentucky beat No. 7 North Carolina 103-100 in what was one of the best college basketball games that you’ll see.

Malik Monk went bananas. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II had (almost) enough answers. And the result was a thriller that came down to the final seconds. 

Here are the five things we learned from that game:

1. So that Malik Monk guy is pretty good: Can you think of a more impressive performance than the one that Malik Monk had on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas?

Buddy Hield’s 46 points in Oklahoma’s loss at Kansas, the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game from last January, comes to mind, but Buddy did that in three overtimes. Denzel Valentine’s 29-12-12 game in last year’s Champions Classic. Jeremy Morgan had 38 points in one half for Northern Iowa last weekend. All terrific, but I’m not sure any of them are in the same class as what Monk did on Saturday.

Forgetting, for a second, that Monk scored 47 points on 28 shots – the majority of which were jumpers, he only got to the foul line five times – in a 40-minute game against the No. 7 team in the country, Monk buried contested threes twice in the last two minutes to answer a North Carolina baskets. The first came after Justin Jackson gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the game at 98-95. The second came with 15 seconds left with Kentucky down 100-98.

He carried the Wildcat’s offense for 38 minutes.

Then he made the two shots he had to make to ensure that this team wouldn’t lose.

Unreal.

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2. Should we be concerned about Kentucky’s supporting cast?: While he wasn’t quite as good as Monk was, De’Aaron Fox probably would have been considered the Player of the Day on any other day, finishing with 23 points and 10 assists. Combined, Fox and Monk took 49 of Kentucky’s 74 shots and 12 of their 21 free throws. They scored 70 of Kentucky’s 103 points.

It was dominant.

But what happens when Monk isn’t incapable of missing, or if Fox goes up against a defender that’s able to keep him out of the paint? In other words, when the Wildcats are playing against competition like this, are they going to have to rely on those two playing like this to win?

There are two reasons I bring this up:

  1. Kentucky didn’t really have a third option avail himself. Bam Adebayo played much better in the second half than he did in the first, but outside of about a five-minute stretch in the second half, he was mostly anonymous. Bam finished with 13 points and seven boards before fouling out. Briscoe added 10 points, seven boards and four assists, but his best role on this team is as a glue-guy largely due to the fact that he’s always going to struggle to score against this level of competition. Does Kentucky have a third option they can count on? Do they even need one?
  2. Suddenly that vaunted Kentucky defense doesn’t seem so scary. The Wildcats gave up 97 points on 83 possessions to UCLA in Rupp Arena. They gave up 100 points on 79 possessions against UNC. Their perimeter is supposed to be the strength of the defense, but they let Justin Jackson go for 34 points and were torched by Joel Berry II, who had 23 points and seven assists, in ball-screen actions. Put another way, it looks like they’re going to have to be able to score in the 90s if they want to beat elite teams. Can they do that if either Monk or Fox has an off-night or gets into foul trouble?

3. What a difference a Berry makes: Without Joel Berry II on the floor, North Carolina struggled to put away Davidson and then nearly got upset by Tennessee, both games that happened in the Dean Dome. Against Tennessee, Justin Jackson finished shooting 3-for-15 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three.

Fast forward six days and the Tar Heels traveled across the country and not only survived the raining hellfire that was Malik Monk’s shooting but came back on them and took the lead in the final minute. Jackson? He finished with 34 points in what was without a doubt the best performance of his career as Berry went for 23 points and seven assists, carving up Kentucky’s ball-screen defense.

Berry is not only UNC’s second-leading scorer, but he is the guy who creates better looks for everyone else on the floor. If the last two games wasn’t enough to prove it to you, Saturday was. And if you still don’t believe it, you cannot be helped.

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket against De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Justin Jackson (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

4. Just how good are North Carolina’s big men?: First things first: North Carolina is really, really good. I’m not sure they’re ‘Steal The ACC Title From Duke’ good, but they’re definitely good enough that a Final Four isn’t unlikely; if they finish second in the ACC I think they’re probably looking at a No. 2 seed at worst. Berry and Jackson can quite clearly hold their own with any 1-2 punch in college hoops, and the Heels are still waiting to get Theo Pinson back.

But there is a concern with this team: Their front court. Do they have a shot-blocker? Do they have a low-post scoring threat that is, truly, a threat? Kennedy Meeks is a land-warrior that always seems to be in foul trouble. Isaiah Hicks is a freak athlete that has never capitalized on his gifts. Tony Bradley is a freshman that is still learning just how good he can be.

The million-dollar question is if it will matter. Think about it like this: Of the top six teams in the country – Duke, Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA – no one has a front line that is overpowering. Gonzaga and Baylor do, but I’m not convinced they’re on the same level. In fact, there aren’t many teams anywhere in the country that have a front line that will strike fear in UNC’s hearts.

5. This win was enormous for Kentucky’s chances at a No. 1 seed: Kentucky has as many marquee non-conference games as anyone. They got Michigan State in the Champions Classic. They played Arizona State and Hofstra in nationally-televised neutral site games. They beat UNC today and still have Louisville in the Yum! Center next week and Kansas in Rupp Arena next month.

But they lost to UCLA. Beating the trio of Michigan State, Arizona State and Hofstra isn’t all that notable. The SEC doesn’t have another elite team in the league. If Kentucky had lost this game, they probably would have had to beat both Louisville and Kansas for any shot at getting a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. They probably still need to win both of those games to feel comfortable, but at least with this win they know they have one elite win in the bank.

Monday’s Overreactions: Myles Powell, Florida’s fix and Virginia’s shooting woes

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Myles Powell, Seton Hall

Coming off of an ankle injury – the severity of which can probably be debated – Powell went for 37 points in a three-point loss at home against Michigan State. It might have been a loss, but it was still one of the most impressive and entertaining performances that we are going to see this college basketball season.

Powell then followed that up on Sunday with a 26-point performance in a win at Saint Louis, a 3-0 Atlantic 10 team that knocked off the Pirates when they played in Newark last season. All told, Powell after spraining his ankle exactly nine days ago, Powell went out and averaged 31.5 points as the Pirates picked up a solid road win and played well enough to beat one of the three best teams in college basketball.

Not bad.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols picked up the best win of the weekend, as they flew up to Toronto and landed themselves a victory over a Washington team that had impressed everyone when they knocked off Baylor last week. Tennessee made a bunch of threes and Lamonte Turner played well despite struggling to shoot the ball, but the key was the Tennessee frontcourt. Going up against Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, Tennessee’s overmatched frontline won the day. John Fulkerson had 14 points, six boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks while Yves Pons finished with 15 points and a block of the year candidate on Naz Carter.

I was in on Tennessee in the preseason. I am very in on Tennessee today.

OVERREACTIONS

1. FLORIDA IS REALLY BAD, BUT THEY’RE ALSO FIXABLE

I’m ready for the influx of bad Florida takes today because that’s what happens when a preseason top ten team plays terribly for the first two weeks of the season. I’m going to do my best to avoid being frustrated by people saying that Florida was overhyped because Kerry Blackshear was the last guy to commit, or that Scottie Lewis is overrated as a top ten prospect, or that Mike White is just a bad basketball coach.

Well, the latter may actually have some merit if this thing doesn’t get turned around, but we’re not there yet.

Because the simple truth is that Florida is struggling because they cannot shoot. The Gators are shooting 24.1 percent from three this season. The only guy on the roster shooting better than 28.6 percent from beyond the arc is Keyontae Johnson, and he’s the starting four-man. Andrew Nembhard, a former five-star recruit and Florida’s sophomore starting point guard, is shooting 28.6 percent from the field. Noah Locke is 5-for-22 (22.7%) from three and shooting 9-for-36 (25%) overall. He is playing with the confidence level of eighth grader at a school dance.

This shooting cripples Florida for three reasons:

  1. The Gators are built to play small-ball. Small-ball is entirely ineffective when you are incapable of scoring from the perimeter.
  2. Florida’s inability to score means they can’t set their defense, get into a press or force turnovers. That means they are forced to play every possession in the halfcourt, which is a nightmare for a team designed to play small-ball that can’t make a shot.
  3. The entire reason we believed Florida was going to take a leap forward this season was that they replaced their high-usage, low-efficiency shot-jackers with freshman Tre Mann and sophomores Locke and Nembhard. As it turns out, those three have been high-usage, low-efficiency shot-jackers through four games.

The issue to date has not been Blackshear. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 11 boards as the sole interior presence on a team where defenses have not had to leave the paint yet.

He’s not the problem.

He’s been fine.

The issue is, quite literally, everything else.

2. TENNESSEE IS THE ONLY TEAM IN THE SEC OUTPERFORMING EXPECTATION

The SEC has been the most disappointing conference in major college basketball this season. Florida, obviously, has been a disaster to date. Kentucky owns the second-best win on the season (Michigan State in NYC) when the best win on the season was themselves (Evansville’s upset in Rupp).

Auburn has been fine, but the win over Davidson does not look nearly as good today as it did when it happened. Arkansas has looked good while beating no one. LSU lost at VCU and struggled in wins over Bowling Green and Nicholls State. Alabama has been bad. Vandy and Texas A&M have been about as bad as we expected.

Other than the Vols – and maybe Missouri – no one in the league has been better than we thought they were before the season started.

3. VIRGINIA GAMES ARE GOING TO BE PARTICULARLY UGLY THIS YEAR

There is a certain faction of college basketball fans that believes that Virginia plays the ugliest brand of basketball in the history of the sport, and for the most part, those people just don’t appreciate a good, well-executed offensive possession or the beauty of a shot clock violation.

Usually, I’d push back against these takes. Because usually, Virginia’s offense is ruthlessly efficient, just really so. That’s not really the case this year. Through three games, UVA is shooting just 20 percent from three. There are only five teams in the entire country that are hitting triples at a lower rate, and given that there are no Ty Jeromes, or Kyle Guys, or De’Andre Hunters on this year’s roster, I don’t know how much that’s actually going to improve.

Should I mention that Virginia didn’t allow their 100th point until there was 5:16 left in the second half of their third game of the season?

4. VERMONT IS THE BEST MID-MAJOR TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

The Catamounts went into Carnesseca Arena and knocked off St. John’s on Saturday after. Anthony Lamb hit the game-winner with 1.9 seconds left. It’s the third true road win of the season for John Becker’s club, who also owns victories over St. Bonaventure and Bucknell.

UVM will get two more cracks at high-major opponents in the next two weeks. They’re at Virginia on Tuesday and at Cincinnati on Dec. 3rd. If they can land one of those wins, and if they roll through the America East undefeated, I think there is a real chance that this group can get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Monday Overreaction podcast: Florida stinks, Tennessee doesn’t, George Papas is a legend

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We are back for another rendition of the Monday Overreactions podcast. Rob Dauster was joined by Bobby Reagan to walk through everything that happened in college basketball in the last 72 hours, including an impressive win for UConn over Florida, a dominant performance for Washington over Tennessee and Vermont’s upset win at St. John’s. They also talk through the atrocious flopping rule and how it cost Xavier as well as Monmouth’s George Papas, who set the college basketball world on fire with the most ridiculous garbage dunk of all-time.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Duke back to No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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This week’s Top 25 is tough to put together because so many of the top teams in the country keep on losing.

The No. 1 team in the country lost at home to Evansville. That’s really all you need to know at this point. But since they had beaten the previous No. 1 team in the country in Michigan State, it makes trying to decipher the top of the sport just that much more difficult.

To be frank, I think this is going to end up being one of those seasons where there is never truly a “No. 1 team.” It’s the kind of season where there 15 teams that feel like they are good enough to be a “top ten team,” so to speak, but none of those 15 feel like they are good enough to be a “top three team.”

Put another way, there are a whole bunch of teams that feel like they are somewhere between pretty good and very good and no one that feels like they are remotely close to unbeatable.

We’ll see if that ends up being the way that everything plays out.

But for now, I think that it’s fair to say that you can have the top 10-12 teams in any order this week and it would be tough to argue against it.

So with that in mind, here is the Week 2 version of the NBC Sports Top 25:

1. DUKE (4-0, Last Week: 3)
2. LOUISVILLE (4-0, 2)
3. MICHIGAN STATE (2-1, 4)
4. KANSAS (2-1, 5)
5. KENTUCKY (2-1, 1)
6. GONZAGA (4-0, 6)
7. OHIO STATE (3-0, 24)
8. MARYLAND (3-0, 8)
9. VIRGINIA (3-0, 9)
10. TEXAS TECH (3-0, 10)
11. OREGON (4-0, 11)
12. ARIZONA (4-0, 14)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (3-0, 13)
14. SETON HALL (3-1, 12)
15. UTAH STATE (4-0, 15)
16. VILLANOVA (2-1, 6)
17. XAVIER (4-0, 17)
18. TENNESSEE (3-0, 23)
19. AUBURN (4-0, 22)
20. MEMPHIS (3-1, 20)
21. TEXAS (4-0, 25)
22. WASHINGTON (2-1, 21)
23. VCU (4-0, NR)
24. LSU (2-1, 18)
25. BAYLOR (2-1, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 VCU, No. 25 BAYLOR
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 SAINT MARY’S, No. 19 FLORIDA

No. 15 Florida falls to UConn 62-59 on the road

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STORRS, Conn. — Christian Vital scored 15 points and made a key steal at the end of the game as UConn upset No. 15 Florida 62-59 on Sunday.

Tyler Polley also scored 15 points and Josh Carlton added 13 for the Huskies (2-1) who led by five points at halftime and never trailed after intermission.

A layup by Florida’s Keyontae Johnson with just over a minute to go cut the lead to 60-59, but those would be the last points the Gators scored.

Vital hit two free throws with 17 seconds left and Florida had a chance to tie. But Alterique Gilbert tipped the ball out of Johnson’s hands and Vital grabbed it and dribbled away, securing the win.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. had 15 points and eight rebounds for Florida (2-2), falling two boards shy of a fourth straight double-double. But he fouled out with 4:37 left in the game and his team trailing 53-49.

Andrew Nembhard scored Florida’s next four points, including a 3-pointer that brought the Gators within a point at 54-53.

Blackshear scored the game’s first two baskets, but the Gators made just four of their first 13 attempts from the floor.

But UConn had a tougher start, going without a basket for the first six minutes.

Vital got the UConn crowd into the game with a 3-pointer, a dunk and a jumper on consecutive trips down the court that gave the Huskies an 11-6 lead.

The Huskies held Florida to two Blackshear free throws over the final 4:17 of the first half and led 25-20 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

The loss ends a rough seven days for the Gators. Florida was No. 6 coming into the season but lost to Florida State a week ago and beat Towson by just six points on Thursday. The Gators offense came into the game averaging just 63.7 points per game, while giving up 60.7.

UConn: Highly touted freshman guard James Bouknight has finished serving his three-game suspension following his arrest on charges including evading police in a September car accident. Bouknight, who is due in court on Monday, is expected to suit up for the Huskies in this week’s Charleston Classic, where it’s possible the Huskies could again face either Saint Joseph’s or Florida, depending on how the early rounds pan out.

UP NEXT

Florida: The Gators face Saint Joseph’s in the Charleston Classic on Thursday.

UConn: The Huskies also travel to Charleston and face Buffalo in the first round of the tournament on Thursday.

Seton Hall placed on probation for three years for transfer tampering

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SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — The NCAA has placed the men’s basketball program at Seton Hall on probation for three years, taken away a scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year and limited recruiting in each of the next two seasons as part of a negotiated resolution of a transfer tampering case started in 2016.

Under terms of the agreement announced Friday, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard was given a two-game suspension he has already served, and his former assistant and current Saint Peter’s University head coach Shaheen Holloway received a four-game suspension that has two games remaining.

Seton Hall, which is currently ranked No. 12 and dropped a 76-73 decision to No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday night, remains eligible for the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA also announced Friday Seton Hall has been fined $5,000 plus 1% of the men’s basketball budget and had its scholarships reduced to a maximum of 12 in 2020-21. Willard will have to attend an NCAA rules seminar in 2020 and the program will have a two-week ban on recruiting communication this academic year and next.

Holloway, who was Willard’s assistant at Seton Hall in 2016, is prohibited from all recruiting communication for six weeks during the 2019-20 academic year. He also is required to attend a rules seminar in each of the next two years.

The case centers around current Seton Hall forward Taurean Thompson, who transferred from Syracuse to Seton Hall in August 2017.

During the investigation, the NCAA learned Holloway had approximately 243 impermissible contacts with the prospect’s mother from Nov. 16, 2016, through Aug. 28, 2017, while the prospect was enrolled at his initial institution.

The NCAA said Holloway and the prospect’s mother had 154 phone calls without written permission from the prospect’s athletic director. After Thompson informed his original university of his intent to transfer and requested permission to contact Seton Hall, the university denied the request. After the request was denied, Holloway still had 87 impermissible calls with the prospect’s mother.

Willard, who has taken Seton Hall to the past four NCAA tournaments, was penalized for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program. He admitted to not taking adequate steps to report or stop the calls when he found out about them.

According to the agreement, Holloway did not report the calls with the prospect’s mother because they involved a personal relationship outside of the prospect and basketball, and he believed the communications were permissible.

“Seton Hall University, in conjunction with the NCAA, recently concluded a review of an infraction within our men’s basketball program,” Seton Hall said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Our department was proactive in our review and fully cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff. While the violation was inadvertent, it was nonetheless against NCAA bylaws, and for that we take full responsibility.”

The case was processed through the new negotiated resolution process. The process was used instead of a formal hearing or summary disposition because the university, the head coach, the former associate head coach and the enforcement staff agreed on the violations and the penalties.

The Division I Committee on Infractions reviewed the case to determine whether the resolution was in the best interests of the NCAA and whether the agreed-upon penalties were reasonable.

Holloway is in his second season at Saint Peter’s. He will miss games against Providence on Saturday and Wagner on Wednesday. His first game will be against St. Francis, New York, on Nov. 30.