GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kentucky coach John Calipari went around the locker room at halftime and picked on just about everyone. His harshest criticism was directed toward star forward Nick Richards.
“Nick, you are so bad right now,” Calipari recalled. “We’re not going away from you, so you can either be the player you’ve been all year or look like this.”
Richards chose option No. 1. The junior scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, leading the way as the sixth-ranked Wildcats rallied from an 18-point deficit and stunned Florida 71-70 on Saturday.
The shorthanded Wildcats (25-6, 15-3 Southeastern Conference) needed the comeback to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time in nearly three months. They blew an 17-point lead against Tennessee on Tuesday night.
Richards, Keion Brooks Jr. and EJ Montgomery provided the spark in this one, helping make up for the absence of point guard Ashton Hagans.
Hagans didn’t make the trip three days after arguing with Calipari on the bench against the Volunteers.
“Just personal,” Calipari said. “Here’s what I’ll tell you about these kids: In the last three years, this has totally changed. What is on these players. … The clutter that they got to deal with, the lists, what’s out there, not being able to stay in the moment, the anxiety of worrying a year from now, everyone around them.
“And then you’re at Kentucky, where every game is someone’s Super Bowl, every game is sold out and now all of a sudden you start struggling four of five games and now you don’t know how to deal with stuff.”
Calipari said he expects Hagans to return before next week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky is the No. 1 seed and opens play Friday following a double bye.
“Hopefully what you’ll see is an inspired young man,” Calipari said. “And if he doesn’t think he’s ready for that, then he’s not ready. We’re going to go without whoever we have.”
Kentucky showed a little depth without Hagans and guard Immanuel Quickley, who fouled out with about nine minutes remaining. Quickley finished with 12 points. Freshman guard Johnny Juzang scored 10 points while playing a season-high 32 minutes. But the frontcourt did most of the heavy lifting down the stretch.
Brooks hit a floater in the lane with 59 second remaining to cut the lead to 70-69. Florida answered with a shot-clock violation on the other end.
Brooks missed a driving baseline layup, and Montgomery’s tip-in was initially waived off as a cylinder violation. Officials reviewed it and gave Montgomery the basket with 11.8 seconds left for a 71-70 Wildcats’ lead, their first of the game.
Richards missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Florida a final chance to win it. But Andrew Nembhard’s 3-pointer bounced twice off the rim before missing, setting off Kentucky’s raucous celebration.
Richards was 1-for-6 shooting in the first half. He was 7 of 11 after the break.
“Coaches gave me the challenge to see if I could turn it around,” Richards said. “I took on that challenge. Obviously, we came out with a really big win.”
Scottie Lewis scored a career-high 19 for Florida (19-12, 11-7). Noah Locke added 14, and Keyontae Johnson 12. Florida led by 18 points with 11:48 left in the game.
The Gators played most of the second half with standout forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. Blackshear sprained his left wrist in the first half. He went to the locker room and returned with it heavily taped. He tried to play in the second half, but he ended up on the bench with it wrapped in ice.
Blackshear was scoreless for the first time all season. He had five rebounds. Without him, Kentucky had a much easier time in the paint.
“Obviously, that’s big for us, a big loss defensively and offensively,” Lewis said. “He’s someone that can go get an easy bucket for us.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats need Hagans back to make a deep postseason run. They’re simply not the same without arguably the league’s best perimeter defender and open-court playmakers.
Florida: The Gators have to wait and see their seeding. They will be either No. 4 or 5 depending on Mississippi State’s outcome tonight.
Kentucky: Gets an extended break before playing in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday in Nashville.
Florida: Awaits seeding in the SEC Tournament. Will begin play Thursday or Friday.
Three Things to Know: Florida routs Providence; Creighton’s new piece does well in debut
Tuesday night didn’t have a lot of big matchups in college basketball. Only four top-25 teams even played. There were minimal matchups between power-conference teams.
But there were still some results to monitor for the future, including an SEC team earning a blowout win, the debut of a potential key rotation piece for a Big East team and
1. Florida routs Providence at Hall of Fame Invitational
On a slow Tuesday night, Florida ran past Providence for an 83-51 win at the Hall of Fame Invitational in Brooklyn. The Gators used four double-figure scorers to gain an early big advantage as they coasted from there. Keyontae Johnson paced Florida with 19 points and 10 rebounds as the Gators shot 44 percent (8-for-18) from three and got scoring from multiple sources.
Perhaps most importantly, Florida avoided a landmine. Providence isn’t very good this season as they fall to .500. For a team with a lot of talent on paper, the Friars aren’t gelling together. So for the Gators to go into a neutral site and get a win on a slow December night is important for a team that already has three losses in non-conference play.
Florida’s fates weren’t swayed by a win over a floundering Providence team. But they gained some confidence by pounding a Big East opponent before a more important game against Utah State this weekend.
2. Creighton holds off Oklahoma in second half
In another matchup of power conference teams Creighton held off a second-half charge from Oklahoma for the 83-73 home win.
The trio of Marcus Zagorowski (20 points), Mitch Ballock (17 points) and Ty-Shon Alexander (19 points, 11 rebounds) led the way for the Bluejays as they combined for 56 points.
But most notably for Creighton in the win was the season debut of Denzel Mahoney. The Southeast Missouri State transfer hasn’t played since the 2017-18 season when he averaged 19.3 points per game. The 6-foot-5 Mahoney made his presence immediately felt in the Creighton lineup with 14 points in 29 minutes on Tuesday night.
Creighton already has the No. 15 offense in the country with a trio of talented players combining to put up 48 points per game. And now they’re adding a double-figure scorer who came off of a year and a half absence and scored double-figures on a Big 12 team? The Bluejays are an interesting wild card team in the Big East with their ability to put up points.
The matchup this weekend featuring Creighton traveling to Arizona State just got a lot more intriguing.
3. Miami wins back-and-forth game over Temple
In the second game of the Hall of Fame Invitational, Miami won a back-and-forth game over Temple with a 78-77 thriller.
Point guard Chris Lykes made two free throws after getting fouled with four seconds left to give the Hurricanes the win. Only 30 seconds before, the Owls had buried a three-pointer to take the lead as De’Vondre Perry looked like a potential hero.
But Miami pulled out the win making for a significantly more exciting outcome in Brooklyn than the opening contest. The Hurricanes still don’t have any sort of tournament-worthy profile. They still don’t look like an easy out after a recent road win at Illinois and this close win on Tuesday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s Florida debut came in front of his mom and several other family members. It’s one of the reasons he chose to play in Gainesville, about a two-hour drive from his hometown.
It also made his first game with the Gators even more special.
Blackshear had 20 points and 10 rebounds, looking every bit as good as advertised as No. 6 Florida opened its most anticipated season in more than a decade with a 74-59 victory over North Florida on Tuesday night.
“My goodness, he’s a heck of a player,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It’s hard for anyone to average 20 and 10. I don’t foresee that happening. But he’s a terrific player and he gives you the opportunity offensively to play in a variety of ways.
“He scores in the interior. He draws fouls. He can shoot it. And probably his most underrated asset is how well he passes the basketball. He’s extremely unselfish as well.”
Blackshear made 8 of 11 shots, including a 3-pointer, and was perfect from the free throw line. The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer who came to Gainesville after four years at Virginia Tech added three assists and two steals.
He gave the Gators their first significant inside presence since Patric Young five years ago. Of course, it came against an overmatched team from the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Blackshear and Florida should get a better test against rival Florida State on Sunday.
Still, Blackshear’s arrival this summer made Florida an instant title contender in the Southeastern Conference. He joined a team that returned three starters to go along White’s best recruiting class, which featured high school All-Americans Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann.
Lewis finished with nine points, five rebounds and two assists in his college debut. Mann had 11 points and four boards.
Noah Locke chipped in 14 points for the Gators.
But all eyes were on Blackshear, including some really close to him. Family members only got to see two or three of his games a year while he was at Virginia Tech. So having so many on hand for this one made the night more enjoyable.
“It’s great,” he said. “I always have my brothers on the court, but it’s even better to have my immediate family there, too.”
JT Escobar led North Florida with 15 points. Garrett Sams added 14.
Florida was 3 of 15 from 3-point range, but overcame those long-range woes by outscoring the Ospreys 38-14 in the paint.
The Gators got off to a slow start and even trailed early. But they used a 16-0 run midway through the first half to seize control of the game. They led by as many as 24 early in the second half before UNF got hot from behind the arc.
“For this team to get where we want to be, we’ve got to make an exponential growth,” Blackshear said.
Count UNF coach Matthew Driscoll as one who’s convinced Florida will get there — thanks to Blackshear.
“He’s going to allow (Florida) to be in the that upper echelon, be top of the country and compete like that because he’s got that understanding,” Driscoll said. “He’s endured. He’s got strength. And he’s got character. When you have those three things, you can do really, really special things for your team.”
North Florida: The Ospreys return eight of their top nine scorers from last season, including four senior starters. They were picked to finish second in the Atlantic Sun Conference, with Sams, Wajid Aminu and Ivan Gandia-Rosa giving them a chance to win the league.
The Ospreys were undersized against Florida, but could have made it even closer with a few more 3s. They were 11 of 34 from behind the arc.
Florida: The Gators were a popular preseason pick to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and they showed flashes on both ends of the court. This is their highest preseason ranking since being No. 1 to open the 2006-07 season.
North Florida: Hosts Florida National of the NAIA on Thursday. It’s the first of four straight for UNF at home.
As the NBA game gets smaller and quicker and more spread out, the college game can still be beaten with big guys.
Just two years ago, in between Villanova’s two national titles, was a championship game played between a Gonzaga team built around their big guys and a North Carolina team built around their big guys.
Hell, I think you can make the argument that Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is one of the five most valuable players in college basketball, even if his potential as a pro is limited.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best frontcourts in college hoops.
1. KANSAS (Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna)
The Jayhawks have perhaps the best traditional big men in college hoops in Udoka Azubuike, who shot 77 percent from the floor in his last (and only) healthy season, but it’s unclear just exactly how this frontcourt will work as a whole. Silvio De Sousa is probably the most talented of this group with David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot the most experienced. None of those three, though, have shown the ability to step out on the perimeter to help create the space that will be critical for Azubuike to operate. Lightfoot is actually largely expected to redshirt. That leaves freshmen Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, a couple of four-star recruits.
What Bill Self does with this situation could very well determine Kansas’ ceiling. Frankly, it won’t be at all surprising if we see Self try doses of Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss and Ochai Agbaji at the four to alleviate the spacing concerns.
2. DUKE (Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White)
Coach K’s use of his frontcourt last year was one of the more scrutinized tactical decisions, with Zion Williamson, a singular force in the sport, splitting his time between power forward and center, when more time at the five probably would have unlocked a little more firepower for the Blue Devils. That won’t be the case this year with Duke’s roster flipping over, but how its frontcourt performs will go a long way in determining if it can get where last year’s team didn’t – the Final Four.
Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt are both five-star recruits and potential one-and-done lottery picks as top-15 prospects. The pair should, well, pair well with Carey at the five and Hurt stretching the floor at the four. Javin DeLaurier got a lot of run for the Blue Devils last year, and will help provide experience and depth up front.
Just how good Penny Hardaway’s frontcourt is will go a long way in determining if the Tigers are as good as their recruiting class.
It starts with James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 top-rated freshman and potential top-NBA draft pick come June. If he’s All-American good, then that sets Memphis up for success more than anything else. There’s that pesky ankle injury that’s kept him sidelined in the preseason, which is concerning but not cause for a full panic now.
It’s not the only thing, though. Precious Achiuwa was the other five-star Hardaway collected in his No. 1 recruiting class, which also included Isaiah Maurice, D.J. Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge.
4. GONZAGA (Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Drew Timme, Pavel Zakharov)
Killian Tillie is one of the more intriguing forwards in the country. People have been raving about his talent for years, but he’s been stuck behind great college players and future pros while also dealing with injuries. He even had knee surgery this offseason that has his immediate availability currently in question. If he’s healthy, the deck has been cleared in Spokane for him to be featured.
Six-foot-11 Filip Petrusev played in 32 games last year for the ‘Zags but wasn’t a huge piece of the rotation. He did have a big summer playing for Serbia at the FIBA U19s, putting up nearly 20 points a game and shooting 66 percent from the floor. He and Tillie could make for a dynamic duo.
Coach Mark Few also has some highly-rated freshmen he can mix in with Drew Timme and Pavel Zakharov, but they did get dinged when Oumar Ballo was forced to redshirt..
5. WASHINGTON (Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart, Naz Carter, Hamier Wright, Sam Timmins)
Memphis’ recruiting deservedly got a lot of love this summer, but Mike Hopkins got the job done, too. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are both top-10 recruits that will immediately make the Huskies’ frontcourt formidable. Both are 6-foot-9, but Stewart weighs in at 245 pounds and McDaniels 185. Nahziah Carter averaged 8.1 points and 2.4 rebounds while Hameir right played nearly 18 minutes per game. Sam Timmins played sparingly, but shot 62 percent.
6. LOUISVILLE (Jordan Nwora, Steve Enoch, Malik Wiliams, Aidan Igiehon, Jaelyn Withers)
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Nwora blossomed into an All-American candidate last year, averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 37.4 percent from the floor. He’s an ACC player of the year frontrunner, and the cornerstone to both the Cardinals’ frontcourt and their Final Four aspirations.
Steve Enoch was effective both inside and out last season while Malik Williams is a top-level shotblocker. Aidan Igiehon is a four-star, top-75 recruit while Jaelyn Withers is a top-150 prospect from 2019.
7. MISSISSIPPI STATE (Reggie Perry, Abdul Ado, Elias King, Robert Woodard II, Prince Oduro, KeyShawn Feazell, E.J. Datcher, Quinten Post)
Reggie Perry is a first-team all-SEC pick after he averaged 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season while Abdul Ado is back after shooting 61.4 percent from the floor and blocking 1.8 shots per game last season. Robert Woodard played 17 minutes per game last year while Prince Oduro is eligible after a promising freshman season for Siena.
Bruno Fernando is gone, but Jalen Smith was nearly as productive as him last season as a freshman. The 6-foot-10 Smith blocked 12.5 percent of opponent shots while on the floor while shooting 56.2 percent from 2-point range. He shot just 26.8 percent from distance, but hoisted 71 attempts, at least an indication he could potentially be a floor-spacer. The Terps are also adding twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, the former a top-75 recruit and the later a three-star prospect. Chol Marial is a 7-foot-2 freshman that could contribute if he gets healthy.
9. BAYLOR (Tristan Clark, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie, Flo Thamba)
Tristan Clark was on his way to first-team all-Big 12 honors last year before his knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season in January. He’s back this year, and he’ll anchor one of the best frontcourts in the country. Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie and Flo Thamba all were contributors last season, and should be more effective with Clark by their side this season.
10. MICHIGAN STATE (Xavier Tillman, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier, Malik Hall, Joey Hauser*)
Nick Ward and Kenny Goins are gone, but Xavier Tillman returns after a productive sophomore campaign that has him blossom on both ends of the floor, albeit not his 3-point shooting. Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier will be in line for more minutes after being seldomly used as freshmen while Malik Hall is a top-75 recruit.
The wildcard here is Joey Hauser. The Marquette transfer has already seen his request for an immediate-eligibility waiver denied by the NCAA, but Michigan State has appealed. If the NCAA reverses course, the Spartans’ frontcourt will suddenly look much more formidable.
The Florida frontcourt got a massive boost when the 6-foot-10 Kerry Blackshear decided to grad-transfer over this past offseason. Blackshear averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hokies last season while also shooting 50.8 percent from the field. He’ll join Keyontae Johnson, who put up 8 and 6 last year, and Gorjok Gak, a 6-foot-11 center who missed last season with injury.
12. VIRGINIA (Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key)
The national champs lost a lot from last year’s team, but their frontcourt remains somewhat intact, although De’Andre Hunter is a major loss, no doubt. Getting Mamdi Diakite, Braxton Key and Jay Huff all to return is a help, though.
Diakite averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 minutes per game while blocking more than 10 percent of opponent shots while he was on the floor. Braxton Key and Jay Huff were smaller contributors last year, but still important ones. They’ll help Tony Bennett bridge the gap to the post-title era.
Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson are both gone, but Garrison Brooks is back from his junior season and five-star center Armando Bacot comes into the fold. So, too, is William & Mary graduate transfer Justin Pierce, a third-team all-CAA honoree who averaged 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season as a junior.
14. UTAH STATE (Neemias Queta, Justin Bean, Diogo Brito, Kuba Karwowski, Roche Grootfaam)
Neemias Queta, a 7-foot sophomore, averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his rookie campaign while shooting 61.4 percent, putting him among the country’s most productive centers. Justin Bean saw more time late in the season and was productive against MWC competition. Diogo Brito is a floor-spacer when he’s at the four. Kuba Karnowski and Roche Grootfaam are a pair of junior college transfers that could contribute.
Matt Painter and the Boilermakers have made a habit of having one of the nation’s best frontcourts, and that won’t be any different this year. Matt Haarms will anchor the group after the 7-foot-3 center averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. Two freshmen that saw time last year – 6-foot-9 forwards Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams – will step into bigger roles up front, too.
Four-star forward Jalen Wilson asks out of Michigan letter of intent
Beilein’s decision to leave Michigan for the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the college basketball world earlier this week, and there’s little surprise to see it shake the Wolverines’ recruiting class as the head coaching position remains vacant and Michigan conducting a search of its next coach.
Wilson, a 6-foot-8 forward, is now considering Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma State and Florida along with the Wolverines, according to 247Sports. The Texas native suddenly becomes one of the most desirable players left available ahead of the upcoming season.
Cole Bajema, a top-150 wing from Washington, is the lone remaining signee in Michigan’s 2019 class.
The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.
Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.