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Kentucky’s ‘Camp Cal’ could turn the season around

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John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats lost two straight, one at home snapping a 55-game home winning streak and marking the first time Calipari has lost inside Rupp Arena while on the UK sideline and if that wasn’t enough, Kentucky went from being No. 8 in the nation to be unranked…in a week.

Safe to say Coach Cal is not happy and so the emergence of ‘Camp Cal’ has occurred.

For the past two days, the Kentucky roster has gotten up at 7 a.m. for workouts, followed by an afternoon practice. This will continue until Calipari is satisfied with his team, that started entered the season ranked No. 3.

Camp Cal started after Calipari was unhappy with his team’s efforts in an 88-56 win over Samford, a game in which the Wildcats only outscored the Bulldogs by one in the second half. Calipari certainly wasn’t happy with Saturday’s loss to Baylor.

This lack of effort, especially in Tuesday’s second half against Samford, sparked Coach Cal to use a “forced breakfast club” to get players to begin their days together with training. Classes have already ended at UK, meaning more time has opened up for extra workouts. However this could all be over soon – or extended through Christmas break – depending on the Wildcats performance against 3-5 Portland on Saturday

“We’ve got a good group of guys, we really do,” said Calipari. “They just don’t know how hard you’ve got to work or what kind of investment you have to make in this sport. I’ve always had a couple of guys on the team that could drag others. We’re still trying to find that mix.”

One of the main issues with the team thus far is the uncertainty at the point guard position. Junior point guard Jarrod Polson was great for the season-opener against Maryland in Brooklyn. But in a John Calipari team, the point guard has always been critical, whether it be Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight, or Marquise Teague. That floor general was suppose to be Ryan Harrow, who has been unable to find a role after battling illness and dealing with a family matter the first few weeks of the season.

Since then, Archie Goodwin, making the transition from the two guard has filled into that role.

“I worked out like three times on Thursday,” said Harrow. “I was just trying to get a workout in and I’ll work out tonight. … We want to be in shape. We need something.”

At 5-3, this isn’t where Kentucky was expecting to be, but Camp Cal – whether it ends on Saturday or continues through the holiday season – this could make or break the Wildcat’s season.

“It may be a month and half before you really see,” said Calipari. “It won’t change overnight.”

Kentucky has three games remaining on this current home stand – Portland, Lipscomb, and Marshall – before a Dec. 29 road game against rival, Louisville.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

Markel Starks, Otto Porter lead Georgetown past No. 11 UCLA

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BROOKLYN – This game was supposed to be about Shabazz Muhammad and UCLA. With the nation’s most talented freshman finally getting declared eligible by the NCAA this past Friday, Monday night’s game against Georgetown in the semifinals of the Legends Classic was supposed to be his debutante ball.

We’ve all seen the mixtapes. We’ve all watched the youtube highlights. Monday was supposed to be the real thing.

And then Georgetown showed up. If this was UCLA’s debutante ball, than Georgetown was the girl that took home the Bruin’s date.

The Hoyas got a career-high 23 points from Markel Starks in a 78-70 win over the No. 11 Bruins, moving to 3-0 on the season. Starks may have led the team in scoring, but Otto Porter was the star in his first full game of the season. He finished with 18 points, 11 boards, five blocks, five assists and three steals.

“Otto’s first full game, if you look at the stat sheet, is a full game,” Thompson said, “and there is a whole bunch of other stuff that he did that doesn’t show up on this stat sheet. We’re a better team with him on the court, so it was good to have him back out there.”

This was a long way from the best game that UCLA will put together this season, but that shouldn’t diminish just how impressive Georgetown was. The Hoyas used a 12-0 run to open the second half, sparked by a pair of threes from sophomore Greg Whittington and capped with a dunk in transition from Mikael Hopkins, and systematically picked apart the UCLA defense for the duration of the game. The Bruins were able to get within four on a couple of occasions, but Georgetown had an answer for every Bruin run.

The best player on the floor for Georgetown in this game was Starks, the Hoyas’ junior point guard in his second season as a starter. His stat line was impressive enough — 23 points on 9-14 shooting, 2-4 from beyond the arc, four steals, two assists — but it was his leadership and patience running the team that made the difference.

“Starks had a great game tonight,” Howland said. “He had 23, and that was as many points as he scored in the last six games last season. He’s made a big jump and that really hurt us.”

When you think of Georgetown, the first thing that comes to mind is their front court. John Thompson III has developed a reputation for producing versatile, play-making big men that he runs his offense through: Greg Monroe, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Henry Sims. What people don’t realize, however, is that those same Hoya teams are at their best when they are stocked with veteran back court players, the Austin Freemans and Chris Wrights and Jonathon Wallaces of the world.

Starks is the next in line in that role, and if tonight was any indication, he may be ready for the limelight.

“We’ve had guys that go into the season as unknowns, and guys that when their opportunities come, they’re ready,” Thompson said after the game. “This is an unselfish group, and they trust each other. Tonight was a night where Markel got in a little rhythm, and his teammates did a good job of finding him.”

As good as Starks was, the difference in this game came with about seven minutes left in the first half. UCLA was on a 22-10 run over a ten minute stretch, erasing Georgetown’s 10-2 start, and on the verge of taking control of the game. That’s when JT III switched to a 2-3 zone, and completely changed the course of the game.

“When they went zone in the last seven minutes of the second half, we were tentative and didn’t get it inside,” Howland said. UCLA ended up down two at halftime, setting up Georgetown’s 12-0 spurt to start the second half.

Georgetown is not a traditionally ‘big’ team. Mikael Hopkins and Nate Lubick are a long way from Cody Zeller and Thomas Robinson. Where the Hoyas have size, however, is on the wings. They start Greg Whittington and Otto Porter, who are both 6-foot-8 with insanely long wingspans, at the two and the three. They have Stephen Domingo and Jabril Trawick, who are both 6-foot-5 and athletic, coming off the bench. When the Hoyas settle back into that zone, that length makes them tough to score on.

It’s tough to judge a team based off of a single performance, especially when that performance comes less than a week after the Hoyas struggled to beat Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Duquesne at home.

But it’s also difficult to ignore this one simple fact: Georgetown just smacked a UCLA team that could have as many as four or five first round picks.

That’s quite a statement to make.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Ben McLemore is turning into the missing piece for Kansas: We all know what Kansas is missing this year: a go-to player. A star. A ‘give me the ball and get out of my way’ scorer that can be trusted with the ball in his hands in crunch time. Their best option? Freshman Ben McLemore, who is not only learning how to be a collegiate player right now, he’s learning how to be the focal point of an offensive attack; he played second-fiddle to Bradley Beal in AAU.

That aggressiveness was missing against Michigan State in the Champions Classic, and as a result, Kansas blew a five point lead with five minutes left as their offense bogged down. McLemore finished with 14 points on just seven shots against the Spartans. But two nights later, McLemore went for 25 as the Jayhawks erased an eight point halftime deficit against Chattanooga.

My point? He’s learning. He’s getting better. So watch out.

Has Murray State found their third option?: The key for the Racers heading into the season was to find out a way to take the pressure off of Isaiah Canaan and Ed Daniel. Who would play the role of Donte Poole this year? It certainly wasn’t going to be Zay Jackson, who got the boot after that ugly incident in the Walmart parking lot. Maybe Stacy Wilson is the answer. Through four games, the 6-foot-4 senior is averaging 17.5 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 46.4% from the beyond the arc.

What is going on with Larry Drew II?: Contrary to what all of the headlines will tell you this week, Shabazz Muhammad’s affect on this UCLA team is not going to be the biggest influence on the Bruins’ season. Drew will be. It’s a small sample size, I know, but Drew’s averaging 8.3 assists while committing a total of five turnovers over 108 minutes in three games. Will that last? Can he continue to be a playmaker and a facilitator for this team? Because if he can, with Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, the Wear twins and Tyler Lamb, there are no shortage of talents at Ben Howland’s disposal.

Memphis still has rebounding issues: After the Tigers struggled to knock off lowly Samford at home on Friday night, Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins had some very harsh words for Josh Pastner’s team. There are a host of issues plaguing Memphis right now, but none bigger than their board work. Calkins explains:

But in trots Samford — skinny, small and slow — and outplays Memphis for much of Saturday night. How does that happen? Or, better yet, how does this happen: How does Samford outrebound Memphis, 25-24?

How does Tarik Black get two rebounds in 25 minutes? How does Adonis Thomas get zero rebounds in 39?

“They shot 52 percent in the first half,” said Thomas. “There weren’t that many balls coming off the rim.”

Which is ridiculous, of course. There were plenty of balls coming off the rim. Samford missed 21 shots on the night. Memphis missed 24. So there were 45 balls coming off the rim.

Thomas didn’t get one of them. Even though he weighs 30 pounds more than any player from Samford. You’d think it would be humiliating at some point, wouldn’t you? You’d think Thomas would just say the heck with it, and focus on nothing else but getting a rebound, even if he had to tear one from a teammate’s hands.

If Glenn Robinson III plays the four, the concerns about Michigan go away: The Wolverines were vaulted up into the top five in the preseason polls this season, due in part to the return of Trey Burke. But a big factor in that bump was what the Wolverines were bringing in on the recruiting trail: namely, a lot more talent than we are accustomed to seeing John Beilein land. There were concerns that this could affect the way his system runs, and that was shown when the computer profiles showed that Michigan was overrated.

For me, the biggest question mark was at the four: were the Wolverines really going to try and play two of Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford?

Well, apparently they aren’t Robinson has been starting at the four. He’s averaging 15.0 points and 6.5 boards in two games against D-I competition, but more important is the fact that he’s shooting 3-6 from deep. Throw in Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, and the only difference between the usual makeup of Beilein’s 2-3-4 and his current one is that the current one is longer, more athletic and more talented.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Abdul Gaddy is the key to Washington’s season

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Senior point guard Abdul Gaddy had made a career out of being a pretty good point guard for the Washington Huskies.

He came of the bench as a freshman, spelling Venoy Overton and Isaiah Thomas. He moved into a starting role as a sophomore, averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 assists before tearing his ACL that January, and followed that up with averages of 8.1 points and 5.2 assists as a junior. Throw in two NCAA tournament trips in those three seasons, and Gaddy has had himself a decent collegiate tenure.

The problem with Gaddy having a ‘decent collegiate tenure’ is that he was supposed to be oh so much more.

A McDonald’s All-American back in 2009, Gaddy was the No. 2 point guard in the class, sitting squarely behind John Wall. By comparison, the No. 2 ranked point guard in the Class of 2008, according to ESPN, was Kemba Walker. In 2010, it was Brandon Knight. In 2011, it was Myck Kabongo. Impressive company.

This season is Gaddy’s final chance to prove that he is capable of living up to those lofty expectations, and it happens to coincide with a year where Washington desperately needs to him to be a star.

Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar may have lost Terrence Ross after last season, but there are still plenty of pieces at his disposal, particularly on the wing. Scott Suggs and CJ Wilcox are both big, athletic wings capable of putting up 20 points on any given night, while sixth-man Andrew Andrews looks like he has the chance to be really good down the road. Aziz N’Diaye anchors the front court, and while he isn’t much more than a shot-blocker and a rebounder, Desmond Simmons has had a solid start to the year, averaging 9.0 points and 7.0 boards through three games.

But it all comes back to Gaddy, the tie that binds.

And never was that more clear than on Saturday night, as Washington knocked off Seton Hall 84-73 in overtime in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

In the first half, the Huskies looked utterly dominant. They shot 61.3% from the floor, they scored 49 points and they went into the break with a 16 point lead. And Gaddy? He was sensational, finishing with 14 points, five assists and just a single turnover while shooting 6-8 from the floor. He hit a three. He drove the lane and finished at the rim. He penetrated, drew defenders, and found the open man. He showed off a decent mid-range game.

“He played as good a first half as any guard around, I thought,” Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game. “When he plays that way he makes our team play at a high, high level.”

And when he doesn’t?

“If no one else steps up, we’re just not that good. We don’t have much ‘superstar’ on our team, so if a couple guys aren’t performing at a high level, there’s not a lot of margin for error.”

That was evident in the second half.

As good as Gaddy was for the first 20 minutes, he was that bad in the second 20. Well, maybe bad is the wrong term; nonexistent is probably more accurate. He took just three shots from the floor. He didn’t score a single point or notch a single assist. He turned the ball over twice, but that’s not really an outlandish number.

Perhaps the biggest sign of Gaddy’s struggles were Washington’s struggles, as they blew that entire 16 point halftime lead. Seton Hall made went on a 31-9 run, eventually taking a 66-60 lead, as the Huskies struggled to get open looks and, at times, to simply get the ball across half court.

And that’s where Gaddy’s importance lies.

It’s not simply the points or the assists; it’s initiating the offense and getting the ball to the right people in the right spots at the right time. It’s facilitation more than simple production. And when he’s doing that effectively, the points and the assists are going to be a by-product.

The Huskies need him to be a leader, to be able to reliable on his consistent production.

It’s the difference between being a tournament team and a team that blows 16 point leads to Big East also-rans.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

We have a new Florida State this year, but will they be improved?

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BROOKLYN – Florida State’s venture into ACC relevancy the last four seasons has centered around their front court. Big bodies; athletic shot-blockers; tough, physical, grind-you-down defense.

You should know the names: Solomon Alabi. Chris Singleton. Ryan Reid. Most recently, Bernard James, a 27 year old veteran who was, quite literally, a man amongst boys. For the past four seasons, every athletic trainer in the ACC has known that a trip to Tallahassee meant packing extra ice packs and advil for the trip home.

The Seminoles are a much different team this season, however, and it’s not necessarily because they lack size. Boris Bojanovsky is 7-foot-3. Michael Ojo is 7-foot-1. Kiel Turpin, who starts at center, is 7-foot. But what all three of those guys have in common is that they are young, raw, and not quite ready to compete at this level. In 61 combined minutes in the first two games, they had a grand total of three rebounds. The seven rebounds they added in Friday’s 88-70 win over BYU wasn’t really an explosion in production.

This season, Florida State’s strength is on their perimeter, and it starts with Michael Snaer.

Snaer isn’t exactly a secret at this point in his career. He was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. He was Florida State’s leading scorer last season. As a senior, he was named an NBCSports.com Preseason First-Team All-American, thanks to his three-point marksmenship, his penchant for clutch buckets and the fact he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

But Snaer’s got plenty of help this season.

Talented junior Ian Miller is finally ready to play an entire season, and freshman Devin Bookert, who the Florida State coaching staff loves, looks to be recovered from a preseason knee injury that kept him out of action for about three weeks. That trio combined for 45 points, 11 assists and 16 boards in Friday’s Coaches vs. Cancer semifinal matchup, finishing 15-24 from the floor and 9-14 from three. That kind of efficiency isn’t likely to be repeated on a nightly basis, but BYU is a good basketball team; this isn’t a bad indicator of how good that group can be.

“They’re really skilled on the perimeter,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “In the past you see a front line that’s really athletic and dominant, but their guards are really terrific.”

Throw in Montay Brandon — a 6-foot-7 slasher that is versatile enough that Hamilton used him at the point late in the game, although that resulted in BYU making a run down the stretch to cut into a lead that bordered on 30 — and a pair of quality forwards in Okaro White and Terrence Shannon, and the Seminoles have a chance for success with their rebranded roster.

They do have some issues that need fixing. The 20 turnovers they had on Friday are way too many, even if they were augmented by 20 assists. And the 22 offensive rebounds they gave up are unacceptable. But when taken in concert with the increased pace that Florida State is playing at this season — they had 74 possessions in their first two games, one of which was a loss to South Alabama, and 71 in the win on Friday — you can see the shifting tides.

Florida State’s a new breed this season.

They’re running the floor, they’re spreading the court offensively, they’re shooting threes and, perhaps most importantly for their fans, they are scoring a lot of points.

Whether or not that turns into wins and a trip to the NCAA tournament, we are yet to see.

But if they continue to play like they did on Friday, I don’t think it will be much of a problem.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Bill Self: ‘This will all be a pretty good teaching tool for us.’

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ATLANTA – With 5:07 left on the clock against Michigan State on Tuesday, Kansas was firmly control of the opening game of the Champions Classic.

Travis Releford and Jeff Withey combined to score six straight points as the Jayhawks opened up a 59-54 lead, and with the momentum fully in their favor, Bill Self’s club looked like they were on the verge of handing Sparty their second loss in five days to kick off the season.

Kansas had the ball eight times in the final 5:07. One possession ended in a pair of Elijah Johnson free throws. Another ended with an and-one layup in transition by Ben McLemore off of a (foul-assisted) Keith Appling turnover. The other six possessions, which resulted in four missed jumpers and two turnovers, were just as ugly aesthetically as they were in the box score. In the end, the Jayhawks lost, 67-64.

No one wanted the ball in crunch time for Kansas. No one was ready, willing, or capable of demanding the ball and saying, ‘Clear out, I got this’. And that, more than anything, is where Kansas truly misses Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson.

“The thing about playing a game this early is somebody is going to lose,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said after the game. “If you look at it, I thought we were pretty good for about 35 minutes. I thought we played probably about as I good as I thought we were going to play.”

“But games are decided in the last five, and they were much better in the last five.”

The conundrum for Kansas lies in their roster makeup. They are one of the more experienced teams in the country. Three seniors start, two of whom are in their fifth-years. Another fifth-year senior comes off the bench. With the exception of Perry Ellis, every member of the Kansas rotation was part of the program last season when they made the national title game.

The problem is that all of those veterans are role players. Jeff Withey is arguably the most intimidating defensive force in the country, but he’s still not much of a threat on the offensive end of the role. Johnson is a nice complimentary scorer, nut he’s yet to prove he can handle being the focal point offensively. Releford is a glue guy, a defender that will hit open threes, and not too much more.

The stars?

The supreme talents?

The potential first round draft picks?

They’re all freshmen.

“Our freshmen are going to be good, but they’re pretty green and naive,” Self said. “They’re not your typical heralded freshmen that have had a lot of exposure. They’ve been pretty sheltered as far as experiences.”

McLemore is the guy expected to be the star for this group, but he still has to learn about to play that role. He may have been a top 25 recruit, but he wasn’t even the go-to guy when he played at high level events in high school. In AAU ball, he deferred to Bradley Beal, last year’s No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft. There are things that McLemore, who played just his second collegiate game after redshirting last season, has to learn to be able to do to thrive in that role.

“Plugging himself in where he knows where his shots are coming from, putting himself in the game where he’s more of an impact guy,” Self said of what McLemore needs to develop. “He’s a pretty efficient player, but seven shots for him is not enough. He needs to take more shots. He’s just so talented and he’s going to learn. It’s just all new to him. He’ll get. It’s going to take a while, but he’s going to get it.”

Ellis is a finesse player at this point in his career, and while nothing has changed about his ability to put up points, finesse power forwards aren’t exactly the ideal. Traylor showed off some unbelievable athleticism, with a ridiculous put-back dunk and one of the best fast-break blocks you’ll ever see, but right now he has Thomas Robinson’s motor without his skill set.

Those guys will learn and they’ll develop and they’ll get better as the season goes along, but throwing them into the fire in a nail-biter against a Big Ten contender on national television in the Georgia Dome isn’t exactly bringing them along slowly.

Give them time.

“I thought this was a good game for us,” Self said. “I’m not leaving out of here discouraged at all. I’m not happy we lost because you’re up in that situation, you’ve gotta close, and we didn’t close. But there were some good things that happened.”

“I think this will all be a pretty good teaching tool for us.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.