Kentucky Wildcats

Getty Images

Tuesday’s Things to Know: No. 1 Kentucky upset, Oregon topples Memphis, Gavitt Games continue

3 Comments

One week into the new college basketball season and we’ve already seen the No. 1 team lose in back-to-back weeks.

Last week’s Champions Classic saw No. 1 Michigan State get picked off by No. 2 Kentucky. On Tuesday, the No. 1 Wildcats fell in stunning fashion at home to Evansville.

The shocking Kentucky loss made for an surprisingly busy night in college hoops as Oregon and Memphis also played in Portland in a “neutral” matchup of top-15 teams.

1. No. 1 Kentucky suffers stunning loss to Evansville

Although Tuesday night’s slate of games was supposed to be intriguing it wasn’t supposed to give us this sort of excitement.

Evansville and Walter McCarty went into Rupp and exited with a 67-64 win as the No. 1 Wildcats suffered one of the most stunning early-season upsets in recent memory. The Purple Aces soundly outplayed a team that was favored to win by 25 points. We just never see No. 1 teams lose at home to unranked, mid-major teams.

I break down more on some of Kentucky’s early-season issues. The Wildcats are desperately seeking a consistent go-to player while the interior scoring and perimeter shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley were the only consistent Kentucky players on offense on Tuesday.

This loss was a big sign that college basketball doesn’t have a dominant team at this point in the season. Things are wide open.

2. No. 14 Oregon takes down No. 13 Memphis, James Wiseman

The top matchup of Tuesday saw the Ducks take care of the Tigers in Portland. Memphis star freshman James Wiseman is continuing to suit up for Memphis despite the NCAA’s claim of ineligibility.

That didn’t matter to Oregon.

This was a solid overall effort from the Ducks as Payton Pritchard (14 points, six assists) made some clutch plays to lead a balanced offensive effort. Oregon also got Wiseman in first-half foul trouble as they limited him to 14 points and 12 rebounds on only 5-for-8 shooting.

CBT’s Rob Dauster digs deeper into this one. Oregon is once again looking like a balanced team led by one of the nation’s top lead guards in Pritchard. Memphis has many exciting young players to keep tabs on but they are in for an up-and-down season.

3. Home teams win all three Gavitt Games

The Big Ten/Big East Gavitt Games continued Tuesday night with three more games. Following DePaul’s road win over Iowa on Monday, all three home teams won on the second night of the event.

No. 21 Xavier needed overtime to outlast Missouri in the closest game of the three. Michigan took down Creighton to open up the evening while Butler took down Minnesota behind a big game from Kamar Baldwin.

Tuesday’s results pushes the Big East to a 3-1 mark so far through four games as the Gavitt Games continue the next two nights. While Tuesday’s games were mediocre, Wednesday sees Villanova traveling to Ohio State while Thursday features Seton Hall hosting Michigan State.

Evansville stuns No. 1 Kentucky

Getty Images
5 Comments

Evansville pulled off a stunning upset of No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night as the Purple Aces came away with a 67-64 non-conference win.

Picked to finish eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll, Evansville and head coach Walter McCarty rolled into Rupp and scored one of the most surprising early-season college hoops upsets in recent memory. It’s incredibly rare to see a No. 1 team lose at home to an unranked opponent — particularly this early in the season.

Playing with a shocking lack of energy for loose balls and allowing 11 offensive rebounds, this loss is perhaps the most surprising upset of the John Calipari era at Kentucky. Despite a 25-point spread in some places, the Purple Aces soundly outplayed the Wildcats in multiple facets of the game. A team with almost zero preseason expectations showed minimal fear despite Kentucky’s No. 1 ranking and numerous McDonald’s All-Americans.

K.J. Riley paced Evansville with 18 points while former top-100 prospect Sam Cunliffe surged out of the gate with a strong first half to finish with 17 points. The Purple Aces ran balanced offense and did a good job of establishing the shots they were looking for. In only his second season of coaching, this win could go down as McCarty’s signature win in his coaching career. How many coaches beat the No. 1 team on the road with a mid-major team — particularly when that team is your alma mater? And at 4-3 against the No. 1 team in the country over the last 20 years, the Missouri Valley Conference continues to show why bigger conferences hate to play them at any point during the regular season.

Most importantly for the national college hoops landscape, however, is this very concerning overall effort from Kentucky.

A week after taking down No. 1 Michigan State in a season-opening win at the Champions Classic, this looked like a completely different Wildcats team than we saw in Madison Square Garden. We’re used to seeing Calipari coach freshmen-laden groups still trying to figure each other out. But we rarely see a Kentucky team still searching for its true go-to player.

Tyrese Maxey (15 points) is still trying to establish himself as that go-to offensive presence. But it didn’t always come naturally for both Maxey, or Kentucky’s offense, when he tried to take over on Tuesday. It didn’t help Maxey that the Wildcats had almost zero inside scoring presence against an underwhelming mid-major frontcourt. Even without E.J. Montgomery, this is the type of game where Nick Richards and Nate Sestina should be counted on for production but Evansville limited them to a combined 15 points on only 10 shots.

The outside shooting for Kentucky (4-for-17 from three) was dreadful. And point guard play was also a problem. Ashton Hagans finished with three points and four turnovers on 1-for-8 shooting as this might go down as the worst game of his college career.

This loss shows that Kentucky still has to figure out where its best looks will come from late in close games on offense. And a young team is also trying to adapt to playing with each other amid huge national expectations. Past Kentucky teams have featured dominant interior scorers, shot-creating wings and downhill guards who can get to the rim. This Wildcats team still has the talent to live up to the No. 1 status by the end of the season. We just don’t know if they have the true No. 1 guy to get there if they don’t play perfect in every other facet.

Kentucky has a month until they face another power-conference opponent when they battle Georgia Tech on Dec. 14. That gives them time to figure out some glaring issues before conference play begins but it also shows that college basketball is lacking a dominant team at this point in the season.

Three Things to Know: Duke uses defense to win; Maxey leads solid night for freshmen, Saint Mary’s gets big win

Getty Images
Leave a comment

College basketball’s 2019-20 season tipped on Tuesday night with the Champions Classic, opening-day ACC conference games and 18 of the top 25 teams playing.

For a sport known mostly for postseason and the build to March Madness, the Nov. 5 slate of games is a great way to start the season. Here’s a look at three early things to take stock of that we learned on Tuesday night.

No. 4 Duke shows toughness and defense in win over No. 3 Kansas

It certainly wasn’t pretty. The first half was a downright disaster at times to watch. Kansas committed 27 turnovers and Duke had turnovers on 20 percent of its offensive possessions.

What matters, however, is Duke coming away with a hard-fought 68-66 win over the Jayhawks. A year removed from stunning the world with the superhero force of freshmen like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, this Duke team was about getting stops and figuring out a way to win behind the will of Tre Jones.

The sophomore point guard is clearly still figuring out the most effective way to score. Those hoping for an improved perimeter jumper might need to dampen expectations. It’s also abundantly clear that Jones is going to be the key to Duke’s season. On both ends of the floor.

CBT’s Rob Dauster was in the building at Madison Square Garden for this game as he gets some interesting comparison quotes from Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer. While the Blue Devils freshmen group of Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley all had bright spots in the win, they aren’t the stud top-five picks and dominant players we’ve seen from Duke in the past.

But that doesn’t mean Duke isn’t very dangerous. And a team knowing and understanding its identity this early in the season is a good sign for the Blue Devils.

Tyrese Maxey headlines big night for freshmen in No. 2 Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Michigan State

The freshman class debuted with some solid performances on Tuesday night. None greater than guard Tyrese Maxey’s 26-point effort in a Kentucky win over Michigan State in the second game of the Champions Classic.

A cold-blooded three-pointer with under a minute left and Kentucky clinging to a two-point lead proved to be a major dagger as Maxey showed an attack-mode mentality and the savvy to score in a number of ways. Needing only 13 field goal attempts for the night, Maxey was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.

Elsewhere, Memphis’ hyped freshman class was led by center James Wiseman as he had 28 points and 11 rebounds in a Tigers home win over South Carolina State. After not playing in the preseason, Wiseman coming out and dominating is a great sign for a potential monster season.

Also noteworthy was freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scoring 24 points and chipping in 13 rebounds in a Villanova win over Army. Jay Wright isn’t usually one to start freshmen, but Robinson-Earl’s physicality and skill level demands that he play immediately for the Wildcats.

Not much was expected of this freshman group compared to previous years. There isn’t a Zion-like standout to be found. But maybe some of these freshmen will be team leaders at times for some of the program’s biggest programs as three top-15 teams were paced by newcomers.

No. 20 Saint Mary’s earns critical overtime win over Wisconsin

Opening day of college hoops featured one of the better Champions Classics we’ll ever see along with the new addition of early ACC conference games.

But no team in the sport helped themselves more on Tuesday than Saint Mary’s did by outlasting Wisconsin for an overtime win. Jordan Ford started his year strong with 26 points to pace the Saint Mary’s. Why is a win over a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team so important for the Gaels? Because Saint Mary’s won this on a neutral floor and will get the added benefit of that status come Selection Sunday.

This opening-night win should enhance the Saint Mary’s profile in a big way. The Gaels don’t get a lot of opportunities to play power-conference opponents during non-conference play — particularly on neutral sites. The best non-con opponents that Saint Mary’s plays the rest of the way includes a home game against Utah State, a road game at Cal and hosting Nevada.

Not exactly a murderer’s row of opponents and opportunities for Saint Mary’s to make their stock look better. In other words, Saint Mary’s needed to make the best of this limited opportunity and they took care of business by leaving South Dakota with a win.

So as Saint Mary’s learns its postseason fate four months from now, a game played on Nov. 5 will have had a significant impact on their overall status. Who said the early part of college basketball was useless?

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

Kentucky’s EJ Montgomery withdrawing from draft

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

EJ Montgomery isn’t ready to leaving Lexington.

“I’m back. Year 2,” the Wildcat big man said in a video released by Kentucky on social media.

The 6-foot-10 Washington started 10 games as a freshman for Kentucky last season, averaging 15.1 minutes per game while putting up 3.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. He shot 48 percent from the floor.

“EJ improved so much during the season and I know how much he wants to show our fans what he can do with another year,” Kentucky coach John Calipari wrote on Twitter. “I’m thrilled to be able to continue to coach EJ. He has a special skillset and he’s only begun to scratch the surface of his potential.

“EJ knows how hard this is going to be, and I know he’s ready to embrace the grind and do everything he can for this team while continuing to develop into the best version of himself. Looking forward to getting back to work with this group.”

Montgomery would very well be a starter for this Wildcat group, which will welcome another star-studded recruiting class that has become the expectation under Calipari. We’ve already got them slated No. 2 in the country in our preseason Top 25.

Arizona lands Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arizona landed a notable transfer on Tuesday night as former Kentucky guard Jemarl Baker Jr. announced his commitment to the Pac-12 program on Twitter.

A former four-star prospect who never earned consistent minutes with Kentucky, Baker opted to head West as the California native should become a key piece for Arizona once he’s eligible. After missing his freshman season with a season-ending knee injury, Baker returned to Kentucky’s rotation for the 2018-19 season as he averaged 2.3 points per game in 9.1 minutes per contest.

Known as a perimeter threat, Baker never consistently found his shooting touch for Kentucky last season as he only shot 31 percent from three-point range. Baker will have to sit out the 2019-2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but given his knee injury, he should have three seasons of eligibility remaining if he petitions the NCAA for the extra year.

While Baker couldn’t establish himself at arguably the deepest program in America, playing at Arizona could be a better fit as he’ll have a year to acclimate with the new Wildcats before taking the floor.