As expected, Kentucky will be losing seven players to the NBA Draft.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, head coach John Calipari and seven of his underclassmen announced their decision. When Cal asked the players declaring for the draft to stand up, this happened:
Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devon Booker, Dakari Johnson and both Aaron and Andrew Harrison will all be heading to the NBA.
“If Alex [Poythress] didn’t get hurt, it would have been eight,” Coach Cal said. Poythress has not yet made a decision. He’s got his degree already, according to Cal, and he’s still deciding whether or not he will return.
Towns is projected to be a top two pick in the NBA Draft, with many expecting that he will be taken No. 1 over Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Cauley-Stein is a top ten pick, while Lyles and Booker are both expected to be taken somewhere between the late lottery and the late first round.
Things are a bit different for the twins and Johnson. Johnson will likely get drafted, although he is expected to be a second round pick. The twins, on the other hand, are not guarantee to end up being picked. Andrew is probably the better NBA prospect at this stage, especially given the way he played late in the season, while Aaron is a shooting guard that hasn’t proven to be able to consistently shoot outside of the NCAA tournament.
Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress will all return for the Wildcats, joining Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews, the three freshmen that Kentucky has signed for the 2015-16 season. Labissiere is one of the top prospects in the 2015 class, a guy that is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. Briscoe is a top ten recruit and a talented scoring guard, while Matthews is a four-star prospect.
Kentucky is still in the mix for a number of elite recruits that have yet to commit to a school, including Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo, Stephen Zimmermann and Thon Maker, among others.
We had Kentucky has the preseason No. 4 team in the country when we put out our list earlier this week, and nothing unexpected with any of the other teams in the top five has happened since then. As good as Labissiere is, they will ideally add some front court depth this spring, be it a freshman or a graduate transfer that is eligible immediately.
Weekly Awards: Sir’Dominic Pointer and Baylor shine in a wild week of hoops
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s
Pointer was sensational this week as the Johnnies landed two critical wins that have punched their NCAA tournament ticket. In a win over Xavier on Monday, Pointer had 19 points, nine boards, six blocks, four steals and three assists, following that up with 24 points, 10 boards, two blocks and two assists in a double-digit win over Georgetown on Saturday.
The two wins this week completed a stretch of seven games where St. John’s won six out of seven, a stretch that has taken this team from NIT-bound to the NCAA tournament. At one point in time, the Johnnies were just 3-6 in Big East play, and without the energy that Pointer has brought to this team, they would not have made this turnaround. As good as Kris Dunn, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and about half of Villanova’s roster has been, Pointer has been the best player in the Big East this year, and he’s proven it of late.
THE ALL ‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Aaron White, Iowa: Iowa landed a pair of critical wins for their tournament resume, beating Illinois and winning at Penn State in overtime. White had 29 points and nine boards against Illinois and followed up with 21 points and 14 boards over the weekend.
Justise Winslow, Duke: Winslow was terrific this week for the Blue Devils, just as he has been terrific for them for the past month. After posting 15 and seven in the overtime win at Virginia Tech, he went for a career-high 23 points, nine boards and three blocks against Syracuse. When Winslow plays like this, Duke is much more dangerous.
Derrick Marks, Boise State: Marks went for 30 points, five boards and five assists in a win over New Mexico, following that up with 18 points to lead the Broncos to a win at San Diego State. The win may end up getting Boise State into the tournament.
Jarrell Martin, LSU: The Tigers kept themselves on the right side of the bubble with wins over Auburn and Ole Miss, and Martin starred in both, averaging 21.5 points and 12.0 boards.
Trey Lyles, Kentucky: Lyles scored 18 points in back-to-back games, giving Kentucky yet another player that can take over a game.
Notables: Obi Emegano (Oral Roberts), Nigel Johnson (Kansas State)
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
Baylor picked up one of the most impressive wins of the season on Wednesday night, as they went into Hilton Coliseum, one of the toughest road venues in the country, and knocked off Iowa State. They followed that up with an impressive win over a short-handed West Virginia team, putting Scott Drew’s team in a great position to land a top three seed when the brackets are released in two weeks. I still feel like I don’t really have a grasp on this team, but at some point, you have to respect a team that can get to the offensive glass and shoot the three the way that Baylor can.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Kansas State: The Wildcats knocked off the two best teams in the Big 12 this week, picking off both Kansas and Iowa State in Manhattan. All of a sudden. Kansas State — despite having a 15-15 record — has a chance to go to the NCAA tournament.
BYU: The Cougars did what they needed to do in order to have a chance at earning an at-large bid, by going into Spokane and knocking off Gonzaga. They’re not a lock for the tournament yet, but they’re close.
Maryland: The Terps beat Michigan on Saturday, a win that followed up their upset of No. 5 Wisconsin on Tuesday night. Dez Wells and Melo Trimble were fantastic all week long.
Villanova: While the rest of the potential No. 1 sees seem to be limping their way into the NCAA tournament, Villanova is playing as well as they have all year long. They beat Providence by 28 points on Tuesday, following that up with a 12 point win at Xavier.
Wichita State: The Shockers smacked around Northern Iowa in Koch Arena on Saturday, a win that earned them the Missouri Valley regular season title.
No. 1 Kentucky has rolled through the majority of its games this season, with head coach John Calipari’s talented mix of freshmen (four of them, to be exact) and returnees who finished one game short of a national title last season establishing themselves as the clear favorites to win the national title. In No. 18 Arkansas, Kentucky was faced with their lone ranked opponent in SEC play, and it should also be noted that the Razorbacks won both meetings last season and held a three-game win streak in the series.
But none of that mattered at Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon, as Kentucky rolled to an 84-67 victory that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. The Wildcats, who shot just 5-for-17 from beyond the arc, outscored the Razorbacks 40-24 in the paint and made nearly 56 percent of their two-point shots.
That percentage inside of the arc may not be considered “elite,” but in Arkansas’ seven-game win streak prior to Saturday’s loss just one team managed to make at least 50 percent of their two-point shots (Missouri). Kentucky simply had too much skill, size and athleticism for the visitors, and while Mike Anderson’s team didn’t quit they were fighting upstream all afternoon.
Starters Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles scored 18 points apiece, and reserve guards Tyler Ulis (14) and Devin Booker (ten) combined to score 24 off the bench. Aaron Harrison may have shot just 2-for-11 from the field, but Kentucky has more than enough weapons to account for one player’s off afternoon.
Yet even with Kentucky’s offensive options, the biggest problem for Arkansas was the impact Kentucky had on the defensive end. The Wildcats limited the Razorbacks to 37.5% shooting from the field and 5-for-18 from beyond the arc, with both percentages well below Arkansas’s numbers for the season. And for a team that has utilized its depth well throughout the season, Arkansas received just seven points from its reserves.
Arkansas needed to produce its best showing of the season to have a shot at handing Kentucky its first loss of the season. That didn’t occur, and the Wildcats had a lot to do with that. The remainder of Kentucky’s opponents will face similar odds between now and the end of the season. And Saturday’s demolition was the latest piece of evidence that “putting it all together” against the Wildcats is far easier said than done.
Kentucky freshman to miss Tuesday, possibly more, with undisclosed illness
Kentucky freshman Trey Lyles missed Saturday’s game against Alabama, and that may not be the only game that he’ll sit out this season.
John Calipari announced on Monday that Lyles will not play on Tuesday when Kentucky takes on Georgia, and that may not be the end of it. Lyles has an undisclosed illness, and Kentucky has yet to elaborate past that.
“We don’t believe he’ll play Tuesday and don’t know after that,” Calipari told reporters on the SEC . “But we’re going to try to figure that out. We had to play without him Saturday and I thought it was a great win without him. I mean, you’re talking about a 6-foot-10, talented, talented player. And we’re playing without him now. I thought we played well without him, but we’re never going to be as good without him, because he’s a really good player.”
Lyles is averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 boards this season. He was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior in high school.
To this point in the season No. 1 Kentucky has been, in the eyes of many, the best team in the country. With their ten-man rotation chock full of highly talented players, the Wildcats entered Wednesday’s game against Columbia having won all nine of their games by 12 points or more. Yet even with that being the case there’s still plenty of room for improvement for John Calipari’s team, with perimeter shooting being the issue of late.
Kyle Smith’s Lions were able to effectively slow down the pace at Rupp Arena, with each team getting a paltry 52 possessions on the night. The combination of the slow pace and Columbia’s outscoring Kentucky by 12 points from beyond the arc in the first half led to Columbia leading 25-23 at the intermission.
However Kentucky’s ability to hit the offensive glass ultimately made the difference, with the Wildcats grabbing 21 offensive rebounds on their way to the 56-46 victory.
It should be noted that the Wildcats played without guards Tyler Ulis and Devon Booker (and Columbia is playing this season without Alex Rosenberg, who’s their best player), and that did impact the way in which Kentucky shot the ball from the perimeter. Overall the Wildcats shot 2-for-17 from beyond the arc, and over the last four games (playing three with their full rotation) Kentucky’s made just eight of their 49 three-point attempts. Yet even with their struggles in making perimeter shots the Wildcats have remained one of the best offensive teams in the country with regards to efficiency.
Why? Because they’re the best offensive rebounding team in America.
Prior to Wednesday’s game Kentucky was rebounding 45.5% of its missed shots, and against Columbia the Wildcats posted an offensive rebounding percentage of 52.5%. And while Kentucky may have scored “just” 15 second-chance points those extra possessions add up, and given Kentucky’s total scoring output that isn’t a figure to scoff at.
Willie Cauley-Stein was responsible for five of those 21 offensive rebounds, and he combined with Trey Lyles to grab 20 of Kentucky’s 41 total rebounds. The size and athleticism of the Wildcat big men produces extra opportunities against most opponents, and that will likely be the case throughout the 2014-15 season.
On nights when that doesn’t occur and they’re dealing with teams who can take away the lob without giving up the offensive glass, which Columbia was unable to do, Kentucky will need to hit some perimeter shots to loosen things up. However given the pieces at Calipari’s disposal, that strategy is far easier to plan than it is to execute.
INDIANAPOLIS — On Monday night, Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez put together one of the most impressive individual performances we’ll see this season. He scored 20 points in the final 6:47, hitting five threes, including a contested, step-back 25-footer that gave the Hurricanes a lead over No. 8 Florida with 30 seconds left.
It was one of the biggest upsets that we’ll see before conference season kicks off, but that’s precisely what it was: an upset. Rodriguez is not going to be scoring 20 points in less than seven minutes all that often. He’s not going to be hitting step-back 25-footers on a regular basis. I’ll stop short of calling that performance a fluke, but the point remains that if Miami is going to count on Rodriguez to play that way to win games, they’re not going to win many.
In short, what Miami did on Monday was not repeatable.
For No. 1 Kentucky, Monday night’s performance — a 72-40 beatdown of No. 5 Kansas, a game wasn’t in doubt for the final 30 minutes or so — was anything but an accident. It wasn’t fluky, it didn’t feel out of the ordinary and it certainly did not come on the shoulders of an individual performance deserving unending praise.
Simply put, this was a systematic beatdown of a team ranked in the top-5 nationally, one features five potential NBA first round draft picks. It was an evisceration of a program that has won a decade’s worth of consecutive Big 12 titles. We may not see a more dominating all-around performance than this all season long, at least not one featuring two teams that play at the high major level.
“Tonight we could have played our best game and it may not have been enough,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said after the game.
And that’s what makes this performance so scary.
As long as they buy-in, Kentucky can do this every single night.
It starts with their ability on the glass. Outside of maybe Texas, there is no team in the country with a frontline that is as big, as deep and as athletic as the Wildcats. Their small forwards are Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles, both of whom are more physical and athletic than the majority of Division I power forwards. What’s more, those two will always be the third-biggest player on the floor. How do you keep a team with that kind of size off of the offensive glass?
Offensively, it’s impossible to do any damage against them in the paint. If you’re not trying to finish over Willie Cauley-Stein (7-foot), Karl Towns (7-foot) and Poythress (6-foot-7), it’s Marcus Lee (6-foot-10), Dakari Johnson (7-foot) and Lyles (6-foot-10). If, on the off chance that you do get an offensive rebound, there is simply no room around the rim to try and score on a putback. Think about it like this: Kansas finished Monday night’s game with 11 field goals. Kentucky finished with 11 blocks. How can you compete with that?
And here’s the kicker: that platoon we’ve all been talking about so much? It’s working. When your team gets winded after playing four minutes against a starting lineup full of future first rounders pressing and defending and overwhelming, John Calipari has a second wave coming in, fresh off the bench without a hint of a dropoff in talent.
They’re coming in waves, and they’re bigger, and more athletic, and they’re fresher.
“We kind of bum-rushed them a little bit,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “Every time they looked up there were reinforcements coming over the hill. It wasn’t substitutes, it was tanks.”
And while that statement is filled with the kind of exaggeration and branding that we have come to expect out of Coach Cal, it is a statement rooted in fact.
When Kentucky wants to be, they are going to be damn-near unbeatable this season.
The problem, of course, are those three pesky little words: “wants to be”. Cal can make all the excuses that he wants for his team’s first half performance against Buffalo on Sunday, when the Cats trailed 38-33 at home at halftime, but the bottom line was that Kentucky simply did not show up ready to play. Whether that was a result of a wild Saturday night, the players overlooking an overmatched opponents or binging on Chick Fil-A breakfast burritos an hour before the game, only the people in that locker room will know. But it’s inarguable that the reason the Cats found themselves behind is that they came out flat. Their press wasn’t energetic, their defensive rotations were slow, they didn’t get back on defense in transition, you name it.
In the second half, when the team finally woke up, Kentucky outscored the Bulls 38-14.
“It’s just energy,” Cauley-Stein said. “You can tell the games we don’t play like that. It’s just a slower-paced game. You can really feel it.”
It really is that simple, at least at this point in the season, because where Kentucky struggles at this point is in their half court execution. The sets they run are anything-but complex — ball-screens, dribble handoffs, post isolations — which often means they rely on the individual ability of the players to create open looks. It doesn’t help that on the season, Kentucky is now shooting 28.8% from beyond the arc. Factor out the 5-for-8 that Tyler Ulis is shooting from beyond the arc, and Kentucky is a rousing 10-for-44 from three.
If they continue to shoot like that, teams can zone them. They can play pack-line. They can slough off of everybody on the perimeter, packing every body possible into the paint to help nullify that overwhelming size advantage by taking away space.
As good as this performance was on Sunday night, Kentucky still shot just 43.1% from the floor and 6-for-18 from three.
But they turned 16 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points and 11 turnovers into 12 points at the other end.
Those are “energy points”, if you will.
Does this mean that Kentucky will go undefeated this year?
Well, I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d say 50% of this loss is pinned directly on Kansas and the fact that they simply are not a good basketball team right now. If these two square off again in March, Kansas will not lose by 32 points. I think even the most diehard Kentucky fan will agree with me there.
Someone is going to matchup with them. Someone is going to have the size and the length to hold their own in the paint. Someone is going to catch them on the right night, when their threes are falling and Kentucky comes out sluggish. Someone is going to make them pay for giving up 20 offensive rebounds in a game. Someone is going to go all Angel Rodriguez on them.
The Cats still have to play No. 10 Texas, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 7 Louisville and UCLA, who is ranked No. 23 in our top 25. They still play Florida twice, not to mention the rest of the SEC season.
The Wildcats look like they’ll be the better team every time they take the court this season.
If they can get through their non-conference slate unscathed, their chase for 40-0 will be a fun one to follow.