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Five Takeaways from Kentucky’s Bahamas exhibitions

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Big Blue Nation invaded the Bahamas last week, as the Kentucky Wildcats took another trip to the Atlantis Resort to play four exhibition games against professional competition.

And man, was their performance on the islands dominant.

Kentucky knocked off three professional teams as well as the Bahamian National Team by an average of 29 points in their four games.

Here are the five things that I learned while watching the Cats play:

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KENTUCKY IS GOING TO BE VERY, VERY GOOD

This isn’t exactly breaking news.

Kentucky is, after all, currently sitting at No. 3 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, and I am on record saying that the top three — Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky — is so close that any of them are justifiable as a preseason No. 1; Duke could be tossed in that mix as well.

And after watching 160 minutes of Wildcat basketball this weekend, that ranking is more than justified. Kentucky has it all. They haave size. They have depth. They have perimeter scoring. They have guards that can really, really pressure the ball. They are going to be able to get on the glass. Their sophomores look terrific. Their freshmen look ready, and have the luxury of not being asked to carry the load from the get go.

Perhaps most importantly, there is lineup versatility. They can play big; or small; or roll out a lineup that can press and force turnovers; or play a team that is going to be able to put up points in a hurry.

And we still haven’t really gotten a chance to see E.J. Montogomery in action yet.

Suffice to say, Kentucky looks like they are going to be farther along early in the season than I expected,

I’m not quite ready to bump them up in my preseason top 25, but that’s mostly because I don’t want to overreact to only seeing them play without actually seeing how good Kansas or Gonzaga — or those Blue Devils — look as well.

That said, I still do have some of the same concerns that I had before, and that’s because …

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… THE KEY TO KENTUCKY’S SEASON IS GOING TO BE ROLE ACCEPTANCE

To a point, this is always the case with Kentucky, isn’t it?

Their best teams are absolutely overloaded with talent — see: 2009-10, 2011-12, 2014-15, etc. — to the point that Anthony Davis is taking the fourth-most shots on the team or Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker are averaging 21 minutes a night. The reasons those teams were as good as they were on the court, and not just on paper, was because lottery picks that eventually turned into NBA superstars were perfectly fine with seeing their minutes reduced or their shots limited for the sake of winning.

John Calipari is the best in the business at getting guys to buy-in for the good of the team.

It’s incredible, really.

And he’s going to have to do it again this season.

It starts at the point guard spot, where Cal brought back former five-star recruit Quade Green while bringing in top ten prospects Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans, the latter of whom reclassified in order to enroll at UK a season early. Those are three of the top 20ish best point guards in the sport this season. At least one of them is going to be forced to come off of the bench, and in the event that Cal goes with a two-point guard look, they are all going to have to accept that they will be playing quite a few minutes off of the ball. (More on this in a minute.)

I think Reid Travis is going to be forced into a situation where he has to play a lesser role than anyone expected. Part of that is because both P.J. Washington and Nick Richards look like they’ve taken significant steps forward this offseason (again, more on this below), but it’s also because he was somewhat exposed during this trip. Travis is an absolute hoss on the block. He might be the strongest player in the country, and he’s undeniably a sensational rebounder, but he’s also somewhat limited athletically and quite a bit of his production the last couple of seasons was a result of being Stanford’s No. 1 option when there wasn’t a No. 2 option.

That’s not to say that he won’t be effective. There will be a bit of a learning curve, but I think our expectations for Travis should be something closer to 11 points and seven boards than, say, 15 points and nine boards.

Hell, he might not even start, because the biggest question I have this Monday morning is …

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… WHO IS NO. 4 AND WHAT DID HE DO WITH NICK RICHARDS?

I was expecting both P.J. Washington and Quade Green to develop into critical pieces for Kentucky this season.

I was not expecting Nick Richards to looks like a player that could force first-team all-Pac-12 transfer Reid Travis to the bench, but that’s exactly what Richards did during those four games in the Bahamas.

Richards fits the mold of the kind of center that Cal loves. He’s a 7-footer with athleticism that can catch lobs at the top of the square. There’s a reason that he started all 37 games for Kentucky last season despite the fact that he was, frankly, not very good. H

But he was awesome in the Bahamas, averaging 12.0 points while showing off an array of quick post moves and a soft touch that extended out to about 16-feet. He’s not exactly an instinctual rebounder and, despite his size, I think Washington may be a better rim-protector, but Richards is very much going to be a player that will have a positive impact on this team.

And as good as he looked in the post and as a lob target, I think his shooting touch will be just as important to this group. Both Washington and Travis are question marks as shooters, and while mid-range jumpers are not great shots, Richards’ ability to consistently make shots out to even just 12-feet will help to unclog the lane.

It’s amazing what a little bit of confidence will do for a player.

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TYLER HERRO IS GOING TO FORCE COACH CAL TO PLAY HIM

The biggest question I have with this team right now is simple: Who their go-to guy?

Over the course of the last two seasons, Kentucky’s offense has essentially centered about two things: Point guards making plays off the bounce and in ball-screen actions, and shooters/scorers getting run off of baseline screens. The former centered about De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, respectively. The latter involved Malik Monk (as a three-point shooter) and Kevin Knox (more in the mid-range).

That will change somewhat this season, as Washington is probably the odds-on favorite to lead Kentucky in scoring at this point, but I do think that it’s fair to be worried about how trustworthy he will be as someone that you give the rock to and count on to make a play.

Enter Tyler Herro, who averaged a team-high 17.3 points while coming off of the bench during this trip. Not only is he clearly the best three-point shooter on the team, but he is the guy that is the best-suited to running off of those baseline-screens. He is going to get the shots — if not play the role — that Knox, Monk and even Devin Booker have gotten in past seasons, and while he had some issues on the defensive end during this trip, he has the size and athleticism to be at least an adequate defender in the SEC.

For a team that has questions about where they are going to get offense in the halfcourt and whether or not they can space the floor, Herro is a guy that is going to force Cal to play him a lot of minutes.

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QUADE GREEN IS THIS TEAM’S QUINN COOK

I still, to this day, believe that the most important player in Duke’s run to the 2015 national title was Quinn Cook for one, simple reason: A former McDonald’s All-American and all-ACC point guard went into his senior year and gladly accepted a brand-new role playing off the ball. He embraced the idea that he would be the guy that chased around shooters defensively, that spaced the floor offensively and operated as a secondary ball-handler to Tyus Jones.

If Cook doesn’t buy into that role, if he doesn’t sacrifice his shots and the prestige of being “Duke’s starting point guard!” then his leadership falls on deaf ears and the talent on that roster is irrelevant in the big picture.

The scenario here is slightly different — Green is a sophomore, not a senior, and he’s never been an all-SEC point guard — but the impact will likely be the same. Kentucky absolutely needs Quade Green on the floor this year. His playmaking, his shooting, his decision-making. But they are likely going to need him playing off the ball, as the more dynamic Quickley and Hagans will get the first crack at that lead guard role.

He’ll still get his chances — Cook averaged 15.3 points and 2.6 assists as a senior, parlaying that into an NBA career that included a ring as a floor-spacer with the Warriors, and no one thinks Chris Paul isn’t a point guard playing next to James Harden — and as long as he’s cool with those chances coming in a different role this season, he’ll be the key that unlocks Kentucky’s best lineup.

No. 14 Oregon ride Pritchard to beat No. 24 Arizona in OT

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Payton Pritchard scored a career-high 38 points, Shakur Juiston added all of Oregon’s points in overtime and the 14th-ranked Ducks rallied to beat No. 24 Arizona 73-72 on Saturday night.

Pritchard had a terrific game in regulation and Juiston was the unlikely hero in overtime, scoring nine points, including a layup with 1.4 seconds left that was the winner. Arizona had one more great opportunity but Christian Koloko missed two free throws with one second left that could have tied or won the game.

Arizona led 64-58 with 3:27 left in regulation but the Wildcats went cold and Pritchard hit six straight free throws to pull the Ducks (21-7, 10-5 Pac-12) even with 15 seconds left. Arizona’s Josh Green missed two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining that would have put the Wildcats ahead.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Dylan Smith led Arizona (19-8, 9-5) with 18 points. Zeke Nnaji and Nico Mannion both scored 13. The Wildcats had a rough night at the free-throw line, making just 10 of 21 and missing the four crucial ones by Green and Koloko.

Oregon’s offense revolved around the great shooting of Pritchard. He gave the Ducks a huge boost by making several difficult 3-pointers, shooting over Arizona defenders who were right in his face.

The rest of the team didn’t have a particularly good night until Juiston’s clutch play in the final minutes. Oregon snapped a three-game road losing streak. Juiston finished with 14 points.

Pritchard scored 20 points in the first half as Oregon pushed to a 36-33 halftime lead. He hit 7 of 11 shots – including 4 of 8 from behind the 3-point line – before the break. Nnaji had eight points and five rebounds for the Wildcats in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks were competitive on the road and finally broke through with a big win. Oregon’s offense was stagnant outside of Pritchard and too many possessions consisted of four players watching the senior guard try to work his shot-making magic. Juiston’s overtime scoring was sorely needed.

Arizona: The Wildcats are playing well at the right time of the year but this one stings. Their newfound confidence will get a big test when they head to California and face USC and UCLA next week.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Hosts Oregon State on Thursday night.

Arizona: At Southern California in Thursday night.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 23 BYU upsets No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78

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PROVO, Utah (AP) Yoeli Childs scored 28 points to help No. 23 BYU upset second-ranked Gonzaga 91-78 on Saturday night and end the Bulldogs’ 19-game winning streak.

Jake Toolson added 17 points and T.J. Haws had 16 points. BYU (23-7, 12-3 WCC) never trailed after halftime en route to winning its eighth straight game.

Killian Tillie scored 18 points and Corey Kispert added 16 to lead the Bulldogs. Filip Petrusev added 14 points and Admon Gilder chipped in 13. Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1) won the previous five meetings in Provo before Saturday.

Gonzaga trailed by 14 points early in the second half before mounting a comeback. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 70-68 on a jumper from Drew Timme with 7:52 remaining. BYU did not let Gonzaga erase the lead entirely.

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Zac Seljaas made back-to-back baskets to give the Cougars a little breathing room again. Then Childs bookended a string of four straight BYU baskets with a layup and a jumper to put the Cougars up 87-76 with 3:15 left.

BYU got a big lift from Childs in the first half. The senior forward crashed the boards and made several critical baskets to provide a much-needed spark for the Cougars on offense.

Childs capped a 13-4 run that gave BYU a 21-18 lead with back-to-back baskets. Gonzaga briefly regained a 25-24 lead on back-to-back baskets from Kispert and Petrusev. The Cougars surged back ahead before halftime thanks to Childs.

He accounted for three buckets on a run of five straight possessions that ended in baskets for BYU. It helped the Cougars claw out a 38-32 lead.

Gonzaga struggled to keep pace with BYU after going without a field goal over the final 4:36 of the first half.

The Cougars kept building on their momentum early in the second half. 3-pointers from Kolby Lee and Toolson highlighted a run of four straight baskets that put BYU up 58-44.

A win over a Gonzaga team that spent part of the season ranked no. 1 overall will go a long way to helping the Cougars lock up an NCAA Tournament bid in March.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga hosts San Diego on Thursday.

BYU visits Pepperdine on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Saturday’s Things To Know: Three of the nation’s top four teams lose

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It was a wild Saturday in college basketball, as it started with No. 3 beating No. 1 and ended with the final undefeated team in the country losing right before the No. 2 team in the nation took their second loss.

Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. NO. 3 KANSAS BEAT NO. 1 BAYLOR IN WACO

It’s weird when the highlight of a college basketball Saturday happens in the first game, but that was precisely the case today, as Udoka Azubuike put together one of the most dominant performances on both ends of the floor that we have seen this season in a 64-61 win over the No. 1-ranked Baylor Bears in Waco.

I wrote all about that game and Azubuike right here.

2. UNLV ENDED SAN DIEGO STATE’S UNDEFEATED SEASON

That sucks. My column.

3. OH, AND GONZAGA LOST, TOO

If it wasn’t enough that the No. 1 team in the country and the lone remaining unbeaten team in the country both lost on Saturday, No. 2 Gonzaga lost as well. The Zags went into Provo and got dropped, 91-78, by No. 23 BYU.

Yoeli Childs led the way for the Cougars with 28 points, 10 boards, three assists and a pair of steals while Tyler Haws and Jake Toolson combine for 33 points and 14 assists. It’s precisely the kind of marquee win that BYU needed on their resume if they want to climb up to the No. 5 or 6 seed line on Selection Sunday.

It certainly was a statement of intent by BYU, but I’m not all that worried about Gonzaga after this loss. The Cougars are a dangerous team when Haws and Toolson are making shots. The Marriott Center is a wild environment for a game of this magnitude. There were 20,000 fans going absolutely bonkers, and if the Zags had made a couple of the open threes that they missed late in the second half, when they had cut a 14 point lead to just two points, maybe this game would have been different.

Put another way, Gonzaga is not going to shoot 5-for-25 from three all that often. Corey Kispert is not going to shoot 1-for-10 from three all that often. Everyone has off nights, and when it happens on the road against a ranked team, you lose.

Even if you’re Gonzaga.

4. PAYTON PRITCHARD WENT NUTS

No. 14 Oregon and No. 24 Arizona played another overtime thriller on Saturday night. Oregon won, 73-72, but this one had too many twists and turns in the final minutes to hash it all out here. Just know this: Arizona had two free throws to win the game in regulation and Josh Green missed both. In overtime, they had two more free throws with 1.1 seconds left down by one, and Christian Koloko missed both.

You don’t see that happen often.

The bigger story, however, was the play of Payton Pritchard, who made sure to remind everyone that he is still in the National Player of the Year race. He finished with 38 of Oregon’s 73 points. He was 12-for-27 from the floor. He had six boards and four assists and he turned the ball over just twice despite being asked to have the ball in his hands on just about every possession.

He was dominant. He hit big shots. He made big plays. And he’s done it all season long.

I don’t know if I would have Pritchard as the National Player of the Year, but it’s hard to talk myself out of him being a first-team All-American this season.

5. PROVIDENCE IS THE WEIRDEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY …

I’m not sure there is a team in the country that had a more disappointing run through the non-conference portion of the schedule.

The Friars, who were thought to be a borderline top 25 team entering the year, lost to Northwester, Penn, Long Beach State and Charleston. They got smacked by in-state rival Rhode Island. They got blown out by Florida. Entering the month of February, the Friars were sitting at 11-10 overall and 4-4 in the Big East having lost three straight games.

Then everything changed in February. They won at Butler. They beat Creighton, the only team to do so since January 15th. They beat Seton Hall in a game they led by as many as 25 points. They won at Georgetown. And, on Saturday, they blew out Marquette, winning 84-72 in a game they led by as many as 20 points despite allowing Markus Howard to go for 38.

They have seven Quad 1 wins, which is incredible when you consider that they still have a lot of work to do to get into the NCAA tournament.

I would not want to have to face the Friars in March.

6. … BUT UCLA ISN’T FAR BEHIND

Back in December, as the calendar was getting ready to turn, UCLA fans were trying to fire their new head coach, Mick Cronin. After losing to Cal St. Fullerton — who is horrendous — the Bruins were sitting at 7-6 on the season with a pair of losses to mid-major programs in Pauley Pavilion; back in November, they lost to Hofstra at home.

And it only got worse from there. After winning at Washington to open Pac-12 play, the Bruins reeled off three straight losses. They were sitting under .500 on the season in mid-January, and it was the best thing to happen to them?

Because it was the spark that UCLA needed.

Since losing to Stanford at home on January 15th, UCLA has won nine of their last 11 games. After winning at Colorado on Saturday, the Bruins have now won five straight games. They swept Colorado. They won at Arizona. And, sitting at 17-11 on the season, they can probably play their way into the NCAA tournament in they can beat Arizona State and Arizona at home and win at USC.

7. MEMPHIS KEPT THEIR AT-LARGE HOPES ALIVE

The Tigers are hanging on by a thread, but they are still hanging on right now.

Memphis knocked off No. 22 Houston, 60-59, in the FedEx Forum on Saturday afternoon. They still have some work to do if they are going to go dancing, but with a pair of Quad 1 wins and trips to SMU and Houston with a home date against Wichita State left, the Tigers still have a chance to get this done.

8. IMMANUEL IS QUICKLEY BECOMING A STAR

No. 10 Kentucky survived Florida, 65-59, on Saturday in large part due to the play of Quickley, who finished with 26 points. He’s been easily the most consistent player on this Kentucky roster, and he has made a habit of hitting the biggest shots over the course of a game. On Saturday, it was three straight triples to turn a 44-41 deficit into a 50-44 lead.

And then there is this stat from Kyle Tucker of The Athletic: Quickley, who is averaging 15.2 ppg on the season, is averaging 15.5 ppg in the second half of the last six games.

9. VIRGINIA IS THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE ACC

Kihei Clark led four players in double figures with 17 points and Virginia went on the road to knock off Pitt, 59-56, meaning that they have now won four straight games and seven of their last eight. With just four games left in the regular season, the Wahoos have a chance to prove themselves in the final two weeks: They still get Duke and Louisville at home.

10. MICHIGAN IS THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE BIG TEN

The Wolverines have now won five straight games after going into Mackey Arena and dropping a hammer on Purdue. They’ve won seven of their last eight games. This week, they went into the RAC and won as well, meaning that the Wolverines went 2-0 in arenas where the road team had been 3-27 combined on the season.

Isaiah Livers played on Saturday. He was on the floor for 36 minutes. He finished with 19 points on 5-for-11 shooting with six boards and a pair of blocks.

Michigan is back, baby.

UNLV hands No. 4 San Diego State its first loss, 66-63

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SAN DIEGO — Elijah Mitrou-Long scored 19 points, including two free throws with 11.5 seconds left, and UNLV handed No. 4 San Diego State its first loss of the season, 66-63 on Saturday night to end the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak.

San Diego State, which had been the nation’s only undefeated team since Jan. 15, erased most of a 14-point deficit when it pulled to 64-63 on Malachi Flynn’s 3-pointer with 14.5 seconds left. Mitrou-Long was fouled by Matt Mitchell with 11.5 seconds left and made both free throws.

Flynn missed a contested 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left and the ball went to the Runnin’ Rebels. After a long pass down the court, Mitchell ended up with the ball and his desperation shot at the buzzer fell short.

SDSU (26-1, 15-1 Mountain West) unveiled the regular-season conference banner before the game and then looked nothing like the team that raced to the best start in school history. The Aztecs trailed by 14 midway through the second half and were down 11 with 4:32 to go.

They were uncharacteristically porous on defense and sloppy on offense, missing easy shots and committing careless turnovers.

SDSU had been projected as the No. 1 seed in the East in the NCAA Tournament. Providing the Aztecs don’t stumble again, the loss could keep the Aztecs in the West as the No. 2 seed. Gonzaga is the projected No. 1 seed in the West, where the regionals will be at Staples Center up the freeway in Los Angeles.

Amauri Hardy scored 17 points and Bryce Hamilton added 11 points and 10 rebounds for UNLV (15-14, 10-6).

Flynn scored 24, Mitchell 13 and Jordan Schakel 10 for SDSU.

SDSU pulled to 62-60 on Flynn’s two free throws with 1:47 left and Arop Aguek’s layup with 25.6 seconds left. Mitrou-Long then made two free throws with 19.9 seconds left for a four-point lead.

Hardy’s jumper gave UNLV a 44-30 lead three minutes into the second half before SDSU pulled within seven, thanks to Flynn’s layup and Jordan Schakel’s 3-pointer. But Hardy then made a jumper from the free-throw line and a layup to put the Runnin’ Rebels back up by double digits.

UNLV took advantage of numerous SDSU breakdowns to take a double-digit lead midway through the first half and pushed it to 37-25 at halftime on a steal and slam dunk by Mitrou-Long.

SDSU had the lead just once, at 14-13 after Flynn’s 3-pointer, and then allowed UNLV to go on a 10-0 run. Mitrou-Long started it by converting a 4-point play when he hit a 3-pointer and was fouled by Flynn. Cheikh Mbacke Diong scored inside and then Hardy hit a floater and Mitrou-Long made a layup.

SDSU’s only points in a four-minute span were two free throws apiece by Mitchell and Flynn. UNLV kept connecting, though, getting a bank shot by Hamilton and a 3-pointer by Mitrou-Long to take its first double-digit lead, 28-18 with 7:12 before halftime.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Aztecs will drop from their No. 4 spot in the Top 25, which matched the highest ranking in school history.

BIG PICTURE

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels lost at home to SDSU by just four points on Jan. 26. They came out strong on the road and let SDSU have the lead just once in the first half, at 14-13 after Flynn’s 3-pointer.

SDSU: Matt Mitchell was recognized before the game for reaching the 1,000-point plateau, which he accomplished in the previous home game, Feb. 11 against New Mexico.

UP NEXT

UNLV hosts Boise State in its home finale on Wednesday night.

SDSU hosts Colorado State in its home finale on Tuesday night.

UNLV ends No. 4 San Diego State’s undefeated season

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And then there were none.

On the night that San Diego State celebrated winning the Mountain West regular season title, the dream of an undefeated season died, and T.J. Otzelberger killed it.

Elijah Mitrou-Long led the way with 19 points off the bench, hitting four clutch free throws in the final minutes, while Amauri Hardy went for 17 points and Bryce Hamilton chipped in with 11 points and 10 boards as UNLV handed the No. 4 Aztecs their first loss of the season, 66-63. The Rebels were able to hang on despite the fact that they did not make a field goal in the final 10:44 of the game, which should tell you how the first 30 minutes of the game went.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

The Aztecs came out flat. They led for the first 1:41 of the game, but that’s it. UNLV jumped out to a 37-25 halftime lead, pushed it to 14 points during the second half and SDSU was not able to get it to a single possession game until the final 30 seconds. If the game was a minute longer, maybe they win, but that’s not how basketball is played.

And if I’m being honest, I think this sucks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for Otz and the entire UNLV program. Those kids played their tails off and deserved to win that game. They showed up for 40 minutes and completed an off-the-butt inbounds against a press with 15 seconds left on the clock. San Diego State spent too long celebrating a league title to be up for it.

It is what it is.

Weird things happen when 21-year olds play basketball.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the most entertaining and exciting storyline of this college basketball season died on Saturday night. I was all in on the Aztecs making a run at a perfect season. I wanted to see them get through the Mountain West unscathed. I wanted them to survive challenges in the second round of the tournament, roll into Madison Square Garden and take down some East Coast powerhouse en route to Atlanta. I wanted to write columns about how Brian Dutcher was able to reinvigorate a program that had stagnated a bit under Steve Fisher and argue about whether or not this SDSU team would be able to beat Kawhi Leonard’s SDSU team. I wanted to see Kawhi sitting right behind me on press row when the games actually tipped off.

In a year where there are no great teams, no great players and no one that is must-see TV, all I wanted in my life was the greatest possible storyline.

San Diego State becoming the first team to go undefeated since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana team in the same year that Knight finally returned to Indiana was that.

So while you might think that, given how annoying San Diego State fans are on any and all social media platforms, I want to dance on the grave of the SDSU undefeated season, you’re wrong.

This sucks.