AP Photo/Wade Payne

No. 7 Tennessee gets revenge, blows out No. 4 Kentucky

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I guess Tennessee wasn’t scared of P.J. Washington after all.

Jordan Bone finished with a career-high 27 points and three assists while shooting 11-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-5 from three as the No. 7 Volunteers exacted their revenge on No. 4 Kentucky, 71-52, in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon.

The win keeps the Vols in a tie for first place in the SEC as No. 13 LSU won at Alabama this afternoon. Kentucky trails both of those teams by a game.

Grant Williams finished with 24 points and seven boards for Tennessee, outplaying his counterpart Washington, who had 13 points but was on the bench in foul trouble late in the first half as the Vols got some separation from Kentucky.

The last time these two teams playing, in Rupp Arena, Kentucky beat Tennessee, 86-69, and after the game, Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro told reporters that he thought the Vols “were scared of P.J. Washington.”

They got over that fear on Saturday.

Here are three things that we can take away from this game:

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

1. TENNESSEE GOT BACK TO THEIR DEFENSIVE ROOTS

Tennessee won a share of the 2018 SEC regular season title on the strength of their defense. They finished last season ranked sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and while they brought back essentially the same team from a season ago, that defense did not travel. Entering Saturday, Tennessee was sitting 36th nationally in that same metric, and that just has not been good enough for a team that wants to be contending for a national title.

On Saturday, they got back to those roots.

Kentucky scored just 24 points in the first half. They shot 6-for-26 from the floor in the first 20 minutes — Tyler Herro was the only Wildcat that made more than one first half field goal — including a stretch late in the half where Kentucky made just one of their last 14 field goal attempts. Tennessee’s guards were up in Kentucky’s young and flustered backcourt. By the time the game came to an end, Kentucky was shooting 31.8 percent from the floor, 5-for-19 from three and had committed 17 turnovers, good for a season-low 0.8 points-per-possession.

That’s the kind of defense this team played last season, and if this is the kind of defense they are going to play moving forward, then those of us dropping them out of the national title conversation might end up looking dumb in four weeks.

2. JORDAN BONE SHOT ALL OVER THE ‘TENNESSEE’S GUARDS AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH’ NARRATIVE

It’s hard to overstate just how good Bone was on Saturday afternoon.

He finished with 27 points. He shot 11-for-15 from the floor and made all five of his threes. He didn’t commit a single turnover while going up against Ashton Hagans pesky on-ball defense. He handed out three assists. He picked up a couple of steals of his own.

And that performance could not have come at a more opportune time.

Because, if we’re being honest, Tennessee really didn’t play all that well offensively.

Admiral Schofield posterized Nick Richards, but he finished the day just 3-for-13 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three. Lamonte Turner wasn’t much better, and while he did have out six assists, he also shot 2-for-10 from the field and 0-for-4 from three. Kyle Alexander spent basically the entire game on the bench in foul trouble. Jordan Bowden made a couple of shots, but it was far from his best game.

Bone scored nine of Tennessee’s first 19 points. He buried a couple of massive jumpers during the 17-6 surge to end the first half. He facilitated an offense that did not shoot all that well but that only committed five turnovers against a defense that has forced turnovers on nearly 20 percent of their defensive possessions this season.

There’s an argument to be made that he is the best guard in the SEC.

When he plays like this he is, and it’s what makes Tennessee a real threat to win a title.

3. DON’T OVERREACT TO THIS KENTUCKY LOSS

This was a revenge game.

This was a lesson to Tyler Herro that he probably shouldn’t run his mouth about teams like Tennessee.

This was a group of freshmen guards going into the cauldron that is Thompson-Boling Arena at the same time that their frontline of Nick Richards, E.J. Montgomery and P.J. Washington combined for 10 fouls and four made field goals without Reid Travis.

They aren’t as good as they were when they beat Tennessee in Rupp and they aren’t as bad as they were today.

The loss is disappointing, as it likely takes the Wildcats out of the SEC title picture, but this is still a team that has the horses to make a run in March.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)