LEXINGTON, Ky. — PJ Washington set career highs with 25 points and seven rebounds, Tyler Herro added 18 points and No. 10 Kentucky rolled over North Dakota 96-58 on Wednesday night.
The Wildcats (2-1) finally got the dominant effort they sought after scraping by Southern Illinois last week. They had to survive an initial back-and-forth with the Fighting Hawks (2-1), who led 13-12 before Washington’s 3-pointer put Kentucky ahead to stay. The Wildcats outscored North Dakota 27-7 over 9:46 for a 39-20 cushion and led by 38 in the closing minutes.
Washington, who managed just 11 points through two games, scored his season high by halftime. He finished 9 of 13 from the field with four 3-pointers to surpass his previous of best 22 points against Mississippi State in January.
Herro shot 7 of 12 to top his 14-point debut against Duke, and Kentucky shot 53 percent in the opening game of the Ohio Valley Hardwood Showcase.
Conner Avants had 14 points and Filip Rebraca 13 for North Dakota, which shot 40 percent in its first meeting against the Wildcats.
Kentucky’s long-overdue convincing performance should seal another week in the Top 10.
North Dakota: Three-point shooting helped the Fighting Hawks make things interesting early against the Wildcats. That strong start lasted just six minutes as they were thoroughly overwhelmed in their first meeting against a Southeastern Conference school.
Kentucky: The Wildcats looked much better than in Friday’s shaky escape of Southern Illinois. Besides consistently shooting a season best from the field, they controlled the paint (46-18) and owned the glass 45-15. Washington certainly needed an offensive boost and delivered inside and outside the arc.
North Dakota hosts Minnesota Morris on Saturday in the first of consecutive home games.
Kentucky hosts VMI on Sunday in the second game of the Hardwood Showcase that also features Winthrop and Tennessee State.
With all the hand-wringing and excitement about the return of college basketball this week, you might be surprised to learn that just three teams ranked in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 lost.
Two of those losses came in the Champions Classic, as Kentucky and Michigan State fell to the top two teams in this week’s NBC Sports Top 25, Duke and Kansas, respectively. The third? Then-No. 17 West Virginia losing at home to now-No. 25 Buffalo on Friday night.
I say all that to say this: There really isn’t all that much to change about the Top 25 this week. There are really only three questions that need to be answered, so I’ll walk you through my thought process for each one:
Can Kansas fall out of the top spot with a win over a top 15 team?: Hell yes they can. The Jayhawks were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason based on projections and feelings we had about how good they might end up being. Now we have actual, actionable results to evaluate, and there really should be all that much of a discussion. I’m not even sure there are Kansas fans will sit here and say that, after watching Duke beat Kentucky by 34 points, they believe the Jayhawks are better than the Blue Devils.
How far should Kentucky fall?: I dropped the Wildcats to 18th. I’ve seen other top 25s that have Kentucky at the back-end of the top ten. I don’t think that’s crazy, but I also think that we have much more to worry about with this Wildcat team that those folks realize. Kentucky still has top ten potential, but for my money they are much further from reaching their ceiling than anyone realized. I ended up with them 18th because I couldn’t justify dropping them below LSU or Mississippi State.
What do we do with West Virginia and Buffalo?: I was already lower on West Virginia entering the season than the public, so dropping them out of the top 25 with a loss at home against Buffalo was pretty easy for me to do. I know that loss came as a result of a once-in-a-career blow-up game from C.J. Massinburg and that the Mountaineers didn’t have Beetle Bolden down the stretch as he dealt with cramping issues, but it seemed pretty evident that Press Virginia has some kinks to work out. Buffalo, on the other hand, entered the season as one of the best mid-majors in the country after smoking Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. They lived up to that billing, so why not reward them?
There was one headline matchup on Friday night, and that ended up being a dud, the bluest blueblood in action looked pretty bad and we may have seen the single-best individual performance of the season. Here are Friday’s Things To Know:
1. C.J. MASSINBURG PUT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON
I’m sure that, at some point over the course of the next five months, we are going to see someone put on a show that was more impressive than what Massinburg did on Friday night in Morgantown, but it is not going to be something that is easy to do. The Buffalo star put up a career-high 43 points, adding 14 boards and three assists while shooting 9-for-15 from three as the Bulls beat No. 13 West Virginia, 99-94 in OT. He had nine points in an 11-3 run in the final three minutes of regulation, including a three with 14 seconds left that forced overtime. He scored nine of Buffalo’s 15 points in overtime.
It was incredible.
And this wasn’t against some run-of-the-mill low-major program that Buffalo was in position to steamroll. This came on the road against a top 15 team in the country in a game where Buffalo trailed by double-digits for most of the second half. This came against Press Virginia, and it gave the Bulls the kind of win that will put their resume in the mix for an at-large bid come Selection Sunday. It puts them in a position where it’s feasible that they might end up with single-digit seed.
Remember, this is the same program that smoked Arizona in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament. Let’s see what happens when they play at Syracuse and at Marquette next month. That should be a lot of fun.
2. No. 11 AUBURN LOOKS LIKE A POWERHOUSE
The Tigers were really impressive in a season-opening win over South Alabama, but that was South Alabama.
On Friday night, the Tigers looked just as impressive, but instead of beating some overmatched in-state mid-major, Bruce Pearl’s club put a hurting on No. 25 Washington, the team many think will win the Pac-12 this season. Chuma Okeke once again led the way for Auburn with 19 points, 10 boards and two blocks while knocking down three more threes. On the season, he’s 6-for-8 from three with five blocks and seven assists in two games.
So he can protect the rim and space the floor while also attack a closeout and find shooters. Anfernee McLemore, who starts alongside Okeke in Auburn’s frontline, led the nation in block percentage a season ago while shooting 39.1 percent from three. So he can protect the rim and space the floor as well. Auburn presses. They play in transition. They have a point guard in Jared Harper who has been dominant and a combo-guard alongside him in Samir Doughty who is living up to the hype. Should I mention their best perimeter scorer, Bryce Brown, at some point, or that they are still waiting to get Danjel Purifoy eligible and Austin Wiley back to 100%?
Auburn, to me, looks like the best team in the SEC this season and possibly a top five team in the country. That also has a lot to do with the fact that …
3. … KENTUCKY JUST IS NOT VERY GOOD RIGHT NOW
The Wildcats knocked off a solid enough Southern Illinois team team on Friday night, winning by 12 points in a game they trailed in the second half. The final score was 71-59, but perhaps the most surprising part about all of this was that Kentucky’s best frontline might actually be Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery. P.J. Washington was bad tonight. Reid Travis was a complete non-factor after putting up 22 points against Duke.
Richards finished with 19 boards (nine offensive) while Montgomery added 10 points and seven boards while not turning the ball over; Washington had five in 20 minutes. The other issue is that Kentucky’s guard rotation is quirky right now. Head coach John Calipari is going to realize pretty quickly that he team cannot function offensively right now unless both Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley are on the floor.
My opinion on Kentucky hasn’t changed much since this podcast was recorded, but it is worrisome that this appears to be an issue with their team, not just a function of playing Duke on Tuesday.
No. 2 Kentucky rallies past Southern Illinois for 71-59 win
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Those lopsided wins No. 2 Kentucky is normally used to this time of year might eventually happen. All that mattered to the Wildcats was proving they could regroup from a blowout loss and get their first victory.
It certainly took everything for them to scrape past Southern Illinois.
Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley each scored 15 points, Nick Richards grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds and the Wildcats rallied in the second half to beat the Salukis 71-59 on Friday night.
Kentucky (1-1) managed to bounce back from Tuesday night’s 118-84 shellacking by No. 4 Duke, its most lopsided loss under coach John Calipari. It left the Wildcats a lot of room for improvement, but the biggest question was whether they could shake the disappointment of being pounded by the Blue Devils on a national stage.
The Wildcats did, but they had to work hard in the second half to overcome sloppy play and the veteran Salukis, who led 44-37 before Quickley and Quade Green (14 points) made consecutive 3-pointers to spark a 10-2 run for a 47-46 lead with 12:19 left.
“Our energy and effort was off the charts,” Quickley said. “This team’s really good with that. We just have to keep getting better every day, individually and as a team.”
SIU didn’t quit, but the Wildcats slowly extended their lead to 61-52 on consecutive three-point plays by Johnson and Green. Kentucky went on to win, and Calipari saw the effort as progress no matter how it looked.
“I just said, be happy we won and figure it out,” said the coach, who has won all 10 home openers with Kentucky. “I’ve got a pretty good idea of how I’m going to do this now, and I’m just glad that we really got smashed, so there’s no question.
“If you demand a lot, you get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you’re going to get it every time. … I was very aggressive today.”
So was Richards, whose rebounding provided the biggest lift as Kentucky dominated SIU 48-19 on the glass. The sophomore forward had as many boards as the Salukis combined, surpassing his previous best of 15 last season against Fort Wayne. His total matched the highest by a Kentucky player since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist grabbed 19 against Louisville in December 2011.
“My team just needed to get rebounds with Reid (Travis) out of the game,” said Richards, who also had three blocks. “Just playing my game and guys were just playing better, just trying to play harder as team to get the `W.”
The Wildcats also shot 47 percent after halftime and limited SIU to 1 of 7 shooting from long range.
Aaron Cook had 18 points and Kavion Pippen 16 for the Salukis (0-1), who opened against their first ranked team since No. 13 Illinois in 2010. They shot 41 percent in their first meeting with the Wildcats.
SIU coach Barry Hinson credited the Rupp Arena crowd of 20,277 for motivating Kentucky to rally past his squad. He also urged Big Blue Nation to use restraint when judging the perennially-young Wildcats.
“You want to microwave the maturation process and you can’t do that,” he said. “It takes time. So, back off and let these guys go through the maturation process and let coach Calipari do what he does best. By March, you’re going to have something on the floor you’re going to be really proud of.”
Kentucky should remain in the Top 10 after a bounce-back win, even if it was a little shaky at times.
Southern Illinois: The Salukis returned five starters from last year’s 20-13 team and played as if they had been together for a while, pushing the offensive tempo and forcing the Wildcats into mistakes most of the night. But they let their seven-point edge slip away because they missed shots and couldn’t keep Kentucky off the glass, especially Richards.
“There’s a difference between losing and getting beat,” Hinson said. “Tonight, we got beat. Losing is unacceptable.”
Kentucky: Developing chemistry might take a while for the Wildcats, who seemed out of sync for many stretches and committed 19 turnovers. They were fortunate that Richards was fierce on the glass while Green and EJ Montgomery (10 points) contributed critical scoring as Kentucky dominated bench scoring 32-6.
Four takeaways from No. 4 Duke’s 118-84 win over No. 2 Kentucky
The Duke Blue Devils are apparently better than everyone thought they were going to be.
That’s the biggest takeaway from their 118-84 win over No. 2 Kentucky in Indianapolis on Tuesday night.
Here are four more things that we learned:
1. THAT WHOLE ‘DUKE CAN’T SHOOT NARRATIVE’? MIGHT’VE BEEN OVERBLOWN
The biggest question mark that I — and many others — had about Duke was just how much the concerns about their shooting would affect what they were able to do in the halfcourt. If a defense doesn’t have to run any of their perimeter guys off of the three-point line, will there be enough space for the ridiculous amount of talent on the roster to create off the dribble?
As it turns out, Duke might have enough shooting to keep defenses honest. On Tuesday night, they shot 12-for-26 from beyond the arc. Zion Williamson made the only three that he attempted, although he also hit another deep jumper. Cam Reddish was 3-for-8 from three. R.J. Barrett shot 3-for-7 from deep. Tre Jones hit the only three he attempted. That’s more than enough shooting to punish defenders for helping too much.
But Duke probably doesn’t even need to worry about playing in the halfcourt.
Their transition attack is absolutely lethal. They have four stars that can grab a defense rebound and lead the break without needing to make an outlet pass. Williamson is the best grab-and-go big that I have ever seen, and Barrett is right there with him.
Who needs halfcourt offense when you can just get dunks in transition?
2. I HAVE NO IDEA WHO IS GOING TO BE ABLE TO BEAT DUKE THIS SEASON
I went longer on this subject here, but suffice to say that I simply have no idea how anyone in college basketball is going to be able to beat this team.
I’m sure it will happen at some point. There are going to be nights where Duke shoots 2-for-26 from three instead of 12-for-26, and if that happens against, say, Syracuse or Virginia on a night where Duke lets their opponent hit a dozen triples, they can get picked off.
But I just don’t know how you go into a game against them with anything other than a hope and a prayer that happens. Duke has the two-best players in the sport and, more often than not, will have the three-best players on the court. They have the ideal point guard, they have the pieces to defend the way that Coach K has always wanted to defend and their role players are all capable of and willing to do their jobs.
How do you beat them?
3. DUKE’S ROLE PLAYERS DID A JOB
I want to come back to this point because it matters.
Javin DeLaurier was more or less a no-show on Tuesday, but that didn’t matter because Marques Bolden was, dare I say, effective? He scored seven points and he grabbed four boards and he changed a few shots at the rim while being functional defending ball-screens. He did his job well. Jack White? He had nine points, 11 boards, three assists, one impressive hustle play that led to a steal and Williamson dunk and knocked down a three for good measure. Alex O’Connell made three threes.
Hell, even Tre Jones fell in line and let the Big Three show out while he racked up six assists, gave Kentucky’s point guards headaches and played the brand of winning basketball we associate with his family tree.
Duke has better depth than I’ve been giving them credit for.
4. THIS RESULT HAD AS MUCH TO DO WITH KENTUCKY AS IT DID DUKE
I wish I had beaten this drum more during the preseason so I could sit here and gloat about how correct my take was.
Kentucky has a problem. They don’t have a star. Keldon Johnson was good tonight, Reid Travis put up numbers in a blowout loss (he did that a lot at Stanford) and Tyler Herro was as impressive as we expected him to be.
But do any of those guys scare you?
After watching the tape of this game, if you’re an opposing coach, are you up burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how in the world you are going to slow them down?
What Kentucky has is a roster with nine players that are all good enough to start on a top five team but who are all at their best as the third- or fourth-best starter on that team. This is a roster full of role players, guys that would thrive playing in a complimentary role. Even Johnson has a lot of Miles Bridges to his game, and while that means he (rightly) projects as a terrific college players and a really good pro, it’s important to note that all last season, we criticized Bridges for the fact that he wasn’t a ‘take-the-game-over’ kind of guy.
The other issue?
They only really have one two-way player (Johnson). Kentucky’s best defensive backcourt features Immanuel Quickly and Ashton Hagans. Their best offensive backcourt has Quade Green and Herro. The same can be said about their bigs, where E.J. Montgomery and Travis are their offensive weapons while Washington and Nick Richards are better defensively.
Minimal overlap between a team’s best offensive five and best defensive five is not ideal.
There are more red flags with this team than anyone was willing to acknowledge.
Tuesday’s Things to Know: Duke and Florida State roll, Garrison Brooks shows out
The 2018-19 college basketball season officially began Tuesday night with a slate headlined by the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. No. 4 Duke absolutely demolished No. 2 Kentucky in the nightcap, with top-ranked Kansas holding off No. 10 Michigan State in the first game of the night. Below are three things you need to know about Tuesday’s action.
1. DUKE MADE A MAJOR STATEMENT
No. 4 Duke’s matchup with No. 2 Kentucky was supposed to be the game of the night. Instead we ended up watching the basketball version of Ivan Drago vs. Apollo Creed, as the Blue Devils rolled to a 118-84 victory in what is the largest margin of defeat for a John Calipari-coached team (that includes his stints at UMass and Memphis). Freshmen R.J. Barrett (33 points, six assists, four rebounds), Zion Williamson (28 points, seven rebounds) and Cam Reddish (22 points) combined to score 83 points, with classmate Tre Jones dishing out a team-high seven assists.
Duke shot 54.4 percent from the field on the night, and Kentucky looked overwhelmed outside of freshman guard Keldon Johnson (23 points) and senior forward Reid Travis (22 points, seven rebounds). While top-ranked Kansas managed to open its season with a win, don’t be surprised if some voters put Duke atop their rankings ahead of Monday’s new polls. And they wouldn’t be wrong to do that either, because the Blue Devils looked that good.
2. KANSAS LOOKED EVERY BIT AS GOOD AS WE EXPECTED
It’s going to fly all the way under the radar because, you know, Duke actually is the Golden State Warriors, but the No. 1 Jayhawks looked like the No. 1 team in the country on Tuesday night. Despite the fact that Dedric Lawson, their best player, had one of those nights where he seemingly couldn’t get a single shot to drop, the Jayhawks still managed to take control and keep control in a 92-87 win over No. 10 Michigan State. It wasn’t until the final minutes that the Spartans, who resorted to ‘Hack-a-Doke’ down the stretch, made things interesting, and even then, they never actually had the ball with the lead down to a single possession.
Duke is going to deservedly be the No. 1 team in the country when the polls come out on Monday, but that doesn’t mean Kansas is anything less than what they were advertised as.
3. PLAYING WITHOUT PHIL COFER, NO. 17 FLORIDA STATE WHIPPED FLORIDA
Someone on staff made the bold prediction Monday that Florida could be the currently unranked team that gets to the Final Four. The Gators looked nothing like that kind of team Tuesday night, and a lot of credit for that should go to Florida State. Playing without senior forward Phil Cofer, the Seminoles beat the Gators by an 81-60 final score in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. Leonard Hamilton’s squad shot nearly 48 percent from the field, made 11 three-pointers and limited Florida to 37.0 percent shooting.
P.J. Savoy led three double-digit scorers with 20 points, and Trent Forrest played well with 13 points and a team-high five assists. Once Cofer returns, Florida State could be even better than anticipated…and many held this team in high regard even before Tuesday’s win. As for Florida, the biggest concern has to be the play of senior guard KeVaughn Allen. In 23 minutes of action Allen was scoreless, missing all four of his field goal attempts. Consistency has been an issue throughout his career, but unlike last year’s team Florida does not have much margin for error in that regard. Jalen Hudson (11 points on 3-for-10 shooting) wasn’t great either, but he at least produced something. Florida really needs Allen to be at his best consistently if they’re to hold their own in an improved SEC this season.
4. GARRISON BROOKS STEPS UP IN NO. 8 NORTH CAROLINA’S WIN AT WOFFORD
North Carolina, a team expected to contend in the ACC and nationally, boasts one of the nation’s best players in senior forward Luke Maye. But while much of the “who else will contribute in the front court” conversation has been focused on five-star freshman Nassir Little, another option stepped forward in North Carolina’s 78-67 win at Wofford. Sophomore Garrison Brooks played extremely well for the Tar Heels, shooting 9-for-15 from the field and finishing with 20 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. That contribution, along with the 24 and seven boards from Maye and Cameron Johnson’s 17 points, was enough to propel North Carolina past a Wofford team whose best scorer (Fletcher Magee) struggled from the field.
The point total represents a new career high for Brooks, who scored 14 in his collegiate debut against Northern Iowa last season. The key for the 6-foot-9 sophomore is to build on his standout performance, something he’ll have a chance to do when North Carolina takes on Elon Friday night.