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Film Room: What went wrong for Kentucky against Evansville?

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We’re going to take a deep dive into Kentucky and what happened against Evansville in this space today, and we’re going to have a larger conversation about what, exactly, is going on in Lexington right now and how the No. 1 ranked team in the country can go out and lose a home game to a team that was picked eighth in the Missouri Valley.

I promise.

We’re going to get into that.

Every little bit of it.

But at the heart of the issue, the biggest problem that Kentucky is currently facing as we sit here today, on November 13th, in the year of our lord 2019, is that their players just aren’t good enough.

I know that sounds simplistic, and I know that we are only now just entering the second week of a five-month long season, and I know that Coach Cal’s teams tend to improve throughout the year.

Trust me.

I know.

There’s plenty of room for Kentucky to improve, and very specific areas that could end up solving some of these problems.

But the simple truth is that, as of today, Kentucky just is no where near good enough.

Here’s why:



It starts with the backcourt. Typically, John Calipari has had an elite, dynamic lead guard to build things around, but he just does not have that guy this year. Ashton Hagans has not yet taken that leap on the offensive end of the floor. As good as Tyrese Maxey has been in flashes, he’s still a 6-foot-3 combo-guard that’s shooting 30.3 percent from three with four assists and seven turnovers on the season. It looks like head coach John Calipari is trying to mold Immanuel Quickley to play the role that Tyler Herro, Kevin Knox, Malik Monk and Jamal Murray have played for him in the past, but he’s not the shooter – or, to be frank, near as talented – as those four.

But Kentucky doesn’t have a dynamic scorer on the wing, either. Kahlil Whitney has made a few threes, but beyond that, he hasn’t done all that much offensively. Keion Brooks shows some flashes, but he’s as raw as a frozen hamburger patty. Johnny Juzang just isn’t ready for this level.

In the past, when this has been the case, Kentucky has had a behemoth on the block to throw the ball into. Nick Richards is not that. Not even close. E.J. Montgomery is fine, but he’s been banged up and ineffective thus far as a collegian. Nate Sestina is useful in matchups where he won’t have to guard on the perimeter, but on Tuesday night he had to guard on the perimeter. He got lit up defensively and could not overpower a smaller defender on the other end of the floor. He was a net negative.

Those frontcourt issues are compounded by the fact that Kentucky has typically relied quite heavily on second chance points. In John Calipari’s tenure with the Wildcats, he’s never had a team grab fewer than 32.9 percent of their own misses and only three times has had a team finish outside the top 20 in offensive rebounding percentage. This year’s group currently ranks 212th, getting just 26 percent of their own misses. Small sample sizes and all that, but when you see the only 7-footer Kentucky has on the roster and their starting center do things like this against a team from the bottom of the Missouri Valley, you get worried.

Put another way, I think that fundamentally, Kentucky’s roster is flawed based on the way that Coach Cal wants to play.

But it was so much more than that on Tuesday night.

The number of lazy and sloppy mistakes that the Wildcats made was downright baffling.

I mean, just watch this:

These are totally unforced, self-inflicted errors, but the turnovers themselves aren’t the only issue.

Kentucky took a lot of bad shots by shooters that shouldn’t be taking them if they were good shots. Do you think that these are the shots that John Calipari wants to see his team take? What are the chances that pull-up 17-footers from Brooks with 22 seconds on the shot clock was Cal’s game-plan?:

I’ve seen some criticism of Kentucky’s defense from Tuesday night, and I don’t understand it. I thought they were good on that end of the floor. Really good, even. Yes, Sam Cunliffe caught fire for a five-minute stretch in the first half. He’s a former top 50 recruit that has played at Arizona State and Kansas. He’s good enough to do that, especially when allow him space:

Sestina was exposed on Tuesday, but this was also a tough matchup for him. Evansville played four guards and forced Sestina to guard out on the perimeter. He got blown by on more than a few times, and it certainly didn’t help that he was unable to take advantage of his size on the other end of the floor. He’s not alone in sharing this blame, however (hi, Nick Ricahrds), and Sestina also showed up on some of Kentucky’s most important stops in the second half, when the Wildcats forced a number of shot clock violations to put themselves in a position to win:

If E.J. Montgomery was healthy, he could have helped mitigate some of this problem. Later in the season, as the likes of Whitney and Brooks theoretically improve and earn more of Cal’s trust, they can play the four in smaller lineups as well. Hell, Kentucky more or less held Cassius Winston in check when they beat Michigan State. If you’re worried about what Kentucky is defensively right now, you’re worrying about the wrong thing.

Kentucky is fine – more than fine, they’re really good – on that end of the floor right now, and they’re only going to get better.

Where they need to find answers is on the offensive end.

There is a saving grace here.

Every team in the country has issues right now. Kansas is trying to figure out what they hell they are going to do at the four. Louisville has point guard concerns. Duke still can’t really shoot. Michigan State is younger than anyone realized. Florida just got waxed at home by a team that lost to Pitt, who lost at home to Nicholls State.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t put this game into context. This was Kentucky’s third game of the season. The first was the Champions Classic. The second was their home opener on a Friday night. There are reasons to be jacked up for both of those games. On Tuesday, it was frigid and snowing in Kentucky. Rupp Arena was as raucous as a retirement home on board game night.

I get why Kentucky was sleepwalking to start.

It happens.

Now the question that Cal has to answer is whether or not he can get this team to the point where they’re good enough to win on those nights.

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

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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

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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.

Monday Overreactions: The Pac-12’s start, Texas is a contender, Florida’s overrated

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky

Maxey was the best player at the Champions Classic last week, scoring 26 points in the final 30 minutes as the Wildcats picked off then-No. 1 Michigan State.

I wrote about it from Madison Square Garden. Kentucky was looking for a star heading into this season. We didn’t know who their best player was going to be this year, and to be frank, we don’t know for sure if it actually is Maxey or if he just got hot at the right time in the right building.

But if Maxey can end up being something close to the guy that we all saw in the World’s Most Famous Arena on Tuesday night, it is unquestionably a difference-maker for the Wildcats. The knock on this group was that there was no clear answer about who is the go-to guy, who is going to be asked to have the ball in their hands, who is going to be capable of making plays at the end of a clock.

Well, now it seems that we have an answer.

It’s Tyrese Maxey.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Longhorns

Texas went into Mackey Arena on Saturday evening and knocked off No. 23 Purdue, 70-66. There are a number reasons why this performance was impressive, from the emergence of Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell to how well Matt Coleman played to the toughness shown by Andrew Jones in grabbing the game-sealing rebound and knocking down four straight free throws in the final minute.

But to me, what was so impressive about this win was that Texas actually looked like a competent offensive team. We knew this group was going to be able to guard. They’ve always been able to guard under Shaka Smart, and this season they added defensive mastermind Luke Yaklich to the coaching staff. No, the reason to be bullish on Texas – the reason I think that they are the second-best team in the Big 12 – is because they sliced and diced a good Purdue defense.

There are shooters on this roster. There are multiple playmakers on the floor at any given time. They may not have the lottery pick, but Jericho Sims can do a lot of the same things.

Watch out for the Longhorns.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

THE PAC-12 IS ACTUALLY GOOD

Last season, the Pac-12 was an utter disgrace. The league put three teams in the NCAA tournament because Oregon found a way to win the automatic bid. They got their brains beat in during non-conference play, and there wasn’t a single team from the conference that finished higher than a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

This year is an entirely different story.

Five days into the college basketball season, the Pac-12 is 18-1 overall, and there are some pretty good wins in the mix. Arizona smacked around Illinois. Washington beat Baylor on a neutral court. Oregon has a couple of impressive wins over Mountain West teams. Oregon State beat Iowa State. Utah beat Nevada. Hell, the only loss any team in the Pac-12 suffered came when Arizona State lost to Colorado, another Pac-12 team, in China in a non-league game.

At this point last season, the Pac-12 only had three losses to their name. But they had not won a single game against a high-major opponent had seen Washington get blown out by Auburn, Cal get blown out by Yale and USC to lose to a Vanderbilt team that went winless in the SEC.

ARIZONA IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE PAC-12

I came into the season thinking that Oregon would probably be the best team in the conference. After watching them comeback against Baylor on Friday, I thought that Washington would be the best team in the league.

But at this point, I think I’ve come around to the idea that it’s Arizona. Nico Mannion looks like he is going to be the real deal. He put 23 points and eight assists on Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois, who forced Cassius Winston into a nine-turnover game last season. Josh Green is making shots from the perimeter. Zeke Nnaji has been one of the biggest surprises of the early season.

I’m buying this Arizona team early. Get on board while you can.

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JADEN MCDANIELS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE

To be clear, I don’t think he’s the best player in the league. I don’t think he’s the most valuable player in the league. Hell, I don’t think that he is either of those things for his own team.

But McDaniels is the guy that is going to determine who wins the Pac-12 this season. He’s just such a weapon in this zone because of his length. Mike Hopkins has been using him at the top (in the two) of his 2-3 zone, and that created a lot of problems for Baylor shooters getting used to his 6-foot-10 frame. And then there are the things that he can do offensively, where he has so much more skill and polish than I initially thought he would.

Put another way, McDaniels was just fantastic during the comeback against Baylor. If the plays like that as opposed to playing like a 195 pound wing that hasn’t quite grown into his height, the Huskies are going to be a nightmare.

FLORIDA IS OVERRATED

I was very surprised by just how slow and small Florida looked when they took on Florida State in Gainesville on Sunday afternoon. Granted, this was a tough matchup for the Gators. The Seminoles overplay passing lanes and switch everything, and that basically dares opponents to try and beat them 1-on-1. That’s tough to deal with for anyone.

But it’s particularly problematic for a Florida team that lacks playmaking and features a point guard that is, relatively speaking, slow and unathletic. Nembhard couldn’t create off the bounce, and when he couldn’t create, Florida’s offense slowed to a crawl.

There aren’t many teams out there that can guard the way Florida State can, and the Gators were certainly not aided by the fact that their good three-point shooters spent Sunday firing up brick after brick, but I’m much more concerned about Florida’s future now than I was before Sunday.

AUBURN’S WIN SAID MORE ABOUT DAVIDSON THAN IT DID ABOUT AUBURN

I really thought Davidson was going to have a chance to win the Atlantic 10 and make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. I’m not sure I believe that anymore, not after they were completely taken out of anything they want to run by Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers. Davidson just could not deal with that level of athleticism. They missed roughly 800 layups  on Friday, they committed head-scratching, self-inflicted turnovers and they couldn’t keep out of foul trouble thanks to a lack of size inside.

And yet, they were a bucket away from having a chance to win this game on the road.

That’s not a good sign for Auburn.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Kentucky’s No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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There was definitely some shuffling at the top of the rankings this week.

Kentucky jumped up to No. 1 after they, as the No. 2 team in the country, knocked off then-No. 1 Michigan State. The Spartans fell to No. 4, behind No. 2 Louisville – who looked awesome in two wins, including a road win against Miami – and No. 3 Duke – who knocked off No. 5 Kansas.

To be perfectly frank, I don’t really see all that much difference between the teams in the top five, and if you were going to tell me that any one of them actually was the best team in college basketball, I might believe it.

Hell, I think that Villanova and Gonzaga probably belong somewhere in that conversation, too. Maybe even a team like Arizona or Washington as well.

It’s early in the year so these things are going to constantly change, but this is where I currently stand.

1. KENTUCKY (2-0, Last week: 2)
2. LOUISVILLE (2-0, 4)
3. DUKE (2-0, 6)
4. MICHIGAN STATE (1-1, 1)
5. KANSAS (1-1, 3)
6. VILLANOVA (1-0, 5)
7. GONZAGA (2-0, 8)
8. MARYLAND (2-0, 9)
9. VIRGINIA (2-0, 10)
10. TEXAS TECH (2-0, 11)
11. OREGON (2-0, 12)
12. SETON HALL (2-0, 13)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (2-0, 14)
14. ARIZONA (2-0, 16)
15. UTAH STATE (2-0, 15)
16. SAINT MARY’S (1-0, 17)
17. XAVIER (2-0, 18)
18. LSU (1-0, 19)
19. FLORIDA (1-1, 7)
20. MEMPHIS (2-0, 21)
21. WASHINGTON (1-0, NR)
22. AUBURN (2-0, 22)
23. TENNESSEE (1-0, 23)
24. OHIO STATE (2-0, 25)
25. TEXAS (2-0, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 21 Washington, No. 25 Texs
DROPPED OUT: No. 20 Baylor, No. 24 VCU

No. 2 Kentucky handles Eastern Kentucky 91-49

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Nick Richards had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Immanuel Quickley added 16 and No. 2 Kentucky scored the game’s first 14 points to cruise past Eastern Kentucky 91-49 on Friday night.

Seeking to follow up Tuesday’s victory over top-ranked Michigan State, the Wildcats (2-0) made six of their first 10 shots, including a couple of baskets by Richards. The Colonels, meanwhile, missed their first nine attempts before Darius Hicks’ three-point play with 12:57 remaining in the first half.

Kentucky had some sloppy stretches that allowed EKU (1-1) to get within 37-23 before regrouping to lead 46-25 at the break. The Wildcats led by 44 in the second half and finished 34 of 62 from the field (55%) and dominated the boards 54-25.

Richards’ point total was just four off his career high against Fort Wayne as a freshman. The junior forward also had four blocks.

Nate Sestina had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Kentucky. Ashton Hagans, Keion Brooks Jr. and Kahlil Whitney each added 11 points.

Michael Moreno had 14 points for EKU, which shot 25% and committed 21 turnovers.

The Wildcats played without sophomore forward EJ Montgomery, who was declared out before the game with a right ankle injury sustained against Michigan State.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky’s second win this week should earn the nation’s No. 1 ranking when the poll is released Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: Other than a first-half stretch in which the Colonels’ shooters found their stroke, it was a generally rough night from the floor. They made just 8 of 33 from beyond the arc and only 8 of 31 from inside.

Kentucky: The Wildcats didn’t need big baskets from freshman Tyrese Maxey, who had nine points in 26 minutes after scoring 26 against the Spartans. Plenty contributed to their improved shooting performance and a dominant effort on the glass. The Wildcats improved to 13-0 over the neighboring school, a half hour south of Lexington.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: Hosts Ohio-Chillicothe on Tuesday.

Kentucky: Hosts Evansville on Tuesday.