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Kentucky’s concerns continue as Wildcats drop fourth straight game to No. 10 Auburn

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Wednesday night was the night Bruce Pearl has waited for since he took the job at Auburn.

Sitting atop the SEC, and playing in front of a raucous sold-out crowd, the No. 10 Tigers took down Kentucky for a 76-66 SEC home win. After beating the Wildcats at home for only the second time in the last 11 tries, the Tigers acted as if this was just another ordinary win. Vegas expected it. Auburn’s students didn’t even attempt to rush the floor despite beating the SEC’s most storied program.

In the midst of a tumultuous season that includes an FBI investigation and internal pressure from the Auburn athletics department, the win on Wednesday helps keep Pearl and the Tigers atop the SEC by two games in the loss column. Without two of its top players this season, Austin Wiley and Danijel Purifoy, Auburn has been arguably the best story in college basketball.

Wednesday night’s game was a microcosm of the SEC’s bizarre 2017-18 campaign. In other words, Auburn is trending in the opposite direction of free-falling Kentucky right now. And who saw that coming entering this season?

Auburn is sitting pretty after Wednesday’s win as they hope to earn a top-2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The young Wildcats, meanwhile, continued their recent struggles as some of their issues are starting to look pretty terrifying. Wednesday’s loss for Kentucky extended its losing streak to four games — the longest in John Calipari’s nine years coaching the Wildcats. That losing streak could just as easily be five games, as well, if not for Vanderbilt handing the Wildcats a win at Rupp Arena a few weeks back.

And Kentucky is just 3-6 since the regular-season debut of heralded McDonald’s All-American freshman Jarred Vanderbilt. Even with the additional depth of Vanderbilt being added to the rotation, Kentucky can’t figure anything out right now. The Wildcats’ half-court offense isn’t gelling. Kentucky’s defense is prone to stretches of inconsistent play.

Perhaps most concerning thing of all is the awful body language displayed by some of Kentucky’s best players. CBT’s Rob Dauster pointed out after Kentucky’s loss to Texas A&M on Saturday that it marked the first time all season that the Wildcats truly looked defeated as they were in the midst of a second-half blowout.

While Kentucky didn’t get blown out by Auburn on Wednesday, the Wildcats still squandered a second-half lead after they secured a little bit of momentum by utilizing their size advantage on the interior. When Kentucky’s momentum — and lead — disappeared, so did the team’s confidence.

ESPN analyst Dan Dakich noted how Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox had his head hanging entering second-half huddles. Even though Knox was one of the only consistent offensive weapons for the Wildcats on Wednesday, his poor defensive possessions were bad enough that Knox found himself on the bench during the final minute.

Freshman Hamidou Diallo has also been in an extended funk over the last several weeks. After seven consecutive games finishing as a double-figure scorer earlier this season, Diallo only has two double-figure scoring games over his last nine.

In the past, the Wildcats have simply been the most talented team in the SEC (and in some cases, America) and they were able to overcome youthful mistakes by overpowering weaker opponents. A deeper SEC, and the youngest Kentucky team Calipari has had during his time in Lexington, means the Wildcats need to actually earn some of the wins they might have picked up in the past.

The current concern for Kentucky is that this losing streak is something that the Wildcats can’t crawl their way out of. Who is the leader of this team right now? How do things stand to improve?

Even after Wednesday’s loss, Kentucky still has a difficult schedule left as they need to play Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Ole Miss and Florida. Among those five teams, only Ole Miss is outside of the NCAA tournament picture right now.

It’s unlikely that Kentucky misses the NCAA tournament — given how things currently stand. But did anybody expect Auburn to be atop the SEC by two games right now? Did anybody peg Kentucky to have this kind of letdown once a respected five-star freshman entered the rotation? It’s been a truly strange season in the SEC so far. Whatever the issues are for the Wildcats, they need to figure things out in a hurry if they want to be a factor in March.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”

Arizona releases non-conference schedule

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A trip to Maui, a home date against Baylor and trips to UConn and Alabama highlight Arizona’s non-conference schedule, which the school released Thursday, this season.

Despite losing nearly the entirety of last year’s talented-but-troubled group, Sean Miller still scheduled aggressively. The first test will come the week of Thanksgiving in Hawaii at the Maui Invitational. It’s an extremely competitive field with Duke, Auburn, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Illinois, San Diego State and Xavier. The bracket for the event has yet to be released.

The Wildcats travel to Storrs to face UConn in Dan Hurley’s first season on Dec. 2, and then a week later visit Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The marquee home game will be Saturday, Dec. 16, when Scott Drew and Baylor come to Tucson.

Here’s the full schedule:

Day Date Opponent Location

Sunday Nov. 11 Cal Poly Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Nov. 14 UTEP Tucson, Ariz.

Monday Nov. 19 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Tuesday Nov. 20 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 21 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 28 Texas Southern Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 2 at UConn Hartford, Conn.

Thursday Dec. 6 Utah Valley Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 9 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Saturday Dec. 15 Baylor Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Dec. 19 Montana Tucson, Ariz.

Saturday Dec. 22 UC Davis Tucson, Ariz.