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Film Room: What went wrong for Kentucky against Evansville?

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We’re going to take a deep dive into Kentucky and what happened against Evansville in this space today, and we’re going to have a larger conversation about what, exactly, is going on in Lexington right now and how the No. 1 ranked team in the country can go out and lose a home game to a team that was picked eighth in the Missouri Valley.

I promise.

We’re going to get into that.

Every little bit of it.

But at the heart of the issue, the biggest problem that Kentucky is currently facing as we sit here today, on November 13th, in the year of our lord 2019, is that their players just aren’t good enough.

I know that sounds simplistic, and I know that we are only now just entering the second week of a five-month long season, and I know that Coach Cal’s teams tend to improve throughout the year.

Trust me.

I know.

There’s plenty of room for Kentucky to improve, and very specific areas that could end up solving some of these problems.

But the simple truth is that, as of today, Kentucky just is no where near good enough.

Here’s why:



It starts with the backcourt. Typically, John Calipari has had an elite, dynamic lead guard to build things around, but he just does not have that guy this year. Ashton Hagans has not yet taken that leap on the offensive end of the floor. As good as Tyrese Maxey has been in flashes, he’s still a 6-foot-3 combo-guard that’s shooting 30.3 percent from three with four assists and seven turnovers on the season. It looks like head coach John Calipari is trying to mold Immanuel Quickley to play the role that Tyler Herro, Kevin Knox, Malik Monk and Jamal Murray have played for him in the past, but he’s not the shooter – or, to be frank, near as talented – as those four.

But Kentucky doesn’t have a dynamic scorer on the wing, either. Kahlil Whitney has made a few threes, but beyond that, he hasn’t done all that much offensively. Keion Brooks shows some flashes, but he’s as raw as a frozen hamburger patty. Johnny Juzang just isn’t ready for this level.

In the past, when this has been the case, Kentucky has had a behemoth on the block to throw the ball into. Nick Richards is not that. Not even close. E.J. Montgomery is fine, but he’s been banged up and ineffective thus far as a collegian. Nate Sestina is useful in matchups where he won’t have to guard on the perimeter, but on Tuesday night he had to guard on the perimeter. He got lit up defensively and could not overpower a smaller defender on the other end of the floor. He was a net negative.

Those frontcourt issues are compounded by the fact that Kentucky has typically relied quite heavily on second chance points. In John Calipari’s tenure with the Wildcats, he’s never had a team grab fewer than 32.9 percent of their own misses and only three times has had a team finish outside the top 20 in offensive rebounding percentage. This year’s group currently ranks 212th, getting just 26 percent of their own misses. Small sample sizes and all that, but when you see the only 7-footer Kentucky has on the roster and their starting center do things like this against a team from the bottom of the Missouri Valley, you get worried.

Put another way, I think that fundamentally, Kentucky’s roster is flawed based on the way that Coach Cal wants to play.

But it was so much more than that on Tuesday night.

The number of lazy and sloppy mistakes that the Wildcats made was downright baffling.

I mean, just watch this:

These are totally unforced, self-inflicted errors, but the turnovers themselves aren’t the only issue.

Kentucky took a lot of bad shots by shooters that shouldn’t be taking them if they were good shots. Do you think that these are the shots that John Calipari wants to see his team take? What are the chances that pull-up 17-footers from Brooks with 22 seconds on the shot clock was Cal’s game-plan?:

I’ve seen some criticism of Kentucky’s defense from Tuesday night, and I don’t understand it. I thought they were good on that end of the floor. Really good, even. Yes, Sam Cunliffe caught fire for a five-minute stretch in the first half. He’s a former top 50 recruit that has played at Arizona State and Kansas. He’s good enough to do that, especially when allow him space:

Sestina was exposed on Tuesday, but this was also a tough matchup for him. Evansville played four guards and forced Sestina to guard out on the perimeter. He got blown by on more than a few times, and it certainly didn’t help that he was unable to take advantage of his size on the other end of the floor. He’s not alone in sharing this blame, however (hi, Nick Ricahrds), and Sestina also showed up on some of Kentucky’s most important stops in the second half, when the Wildcats forced a number of shot clock violations to put themselves in a position to win:

If E.J. Montgomery was healthy, he could have helped mitigate some of this problem. Later in the season, as the likes of Whitney and Brooks theoretically improve and earn more of Cal’s trust, they can play the four in smaller lineups as well. Hell, Kentucky more or less held Cassius Winston in check when they beat Michigan State. If you’re worried about what Kentucky is defensively right now, you’re worrying about the wrong thing.

Kentucky is fine – more than fine, they’re really good – on that end of the floor right now, and they’re only going to get better.

Where they need to find answers is on the offensive end.

There is a saving grace here.

Every team in the country has issues right now. Kansas is trying to figure out what they hell they are going to do at the four. Louisville has point guard concerns. Duke still can’t really shoot. Michigan State is younger than anyone realized. Florida just got waxed at home by a team that lost to Pitt, who lost at home to Nicholls State.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t put this game into context. This was Kentucky’s third game of the season. The first was the Champions Classic. The second was their home opener on a Friday night. There are reasons to be jacked up for both of those games. On Tuesday, it was frigid and snowing in Kentucky. Rupp Arena was as raucous as a retirement home on board game night.

I get why Kentucky was sleepwalking to start.

It happens.

Now the question that Cal has to answer is whether or not he can get this team to the point where they’re good enough to win on those nights.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.