Everything That’s Wrong With Kentucky Basketball

It’s been a historic season for the Kentucky Wildcats. Just not the kind of history the Big Blue Nation is used to. For the first time in almost two decades Tennessee swept the Cats, and Kentucky is barely treading  in the thick of the SEC. After falling to Tennessee at home Tuesday, John Calipari and company find themselves in unfamiliar territory. This team is barely .500 (6-5) in a above average conference at best. They made their way back in the AP polls the past two weeks after watching from the outside in. It was the first time the school was unranked since 2014.

So what’s going on?

You can blame youth, as this is Calipari’s youngest team of his tenure in Kentucky, and thee youngest group in the entire NCAA. That’s not a great excuse for a man all too familiar with a constant flow of faces fresh off the AAU circuit though. Big Blue Nation has been (barely) hanging on in recent weeks as their beloved Cats look like a shell of a team they can be on paper. The win in West Virginia was for sure a statement win, but the problem seems to be bringing the same style of play to the next game.
Inconsistency is the only consistent thing for the group. And it is apparent in games. Whether or not the green crop is lacking because of the big stage or not, fundamentals seem out of the window.

Their last win? It was a struggle against a team holding steady at the bottom of the conference in last place. How they got there? Two made free throws to force OT. It was a celebration and seeming miracle to force the extra play. At the end of the day it’s called a charity stripe for good reason. Nothing was done extraordinary, yet you would think it was a three ball with the clock running out.

BBN isn’t used to losing, but this too shall pass. And there are two different courses this team can take from here on out. Two different roads to season end points. Just six years removed since a title and three since their historic win streak…Kentucky’s season is far from over. It’s just the odds aren’t stacked in their favor.
Kentucky hits the road for its next two contest – a trip to College Station for Texas A&M Saturday before visiting a No. 8 ranked Auburn Wednesday in prime time.

7 Storylines in College Basketball This Weekend

Photo via SB Nation

It’s a big football weekend, with Conference Championship games being played on Sunday. Before you look forward to Sunday, here’s what you can look forward to this Saturday in college hoops.

Wichita State Tries to Avoid Back to Back Losses

Wichita State had the most embarrassing loss in program history under Greg Marshall on Wednesday, at home against SMU. As Rob Dauster pointed out on his College Basketball Talk Podcast, the Shockers gave up 1.38 points per possession, which is the worst by a Marshall coached team. The Shockers, while still one of the best teams in a weak AAC, need to up their defensive intensity if they want a long March run. On the flip side, Houston sits at 14-4 and 4-2 in the AAC. They hold above average wins against Arkansas and Providence. A win against the Shockers would really catapult them to a potential at-large bid come March.

Get Familiar with the Mountain West….Really

First place for the Mountain West Conference is at stake Saturday night, as Nevada hosts Boise State. If you haven’t paid attention, and I’m sure not many have, Nevada is a good basketball team. They are a Top 20 KenPom team, with a win against Rhode Island and close losses to Texas Tech and TCU. Nevada’s Caleb Martin is worth the watch, and is an under appreciated player in the country. The Wolf Pack sit at 6-0 in the Mountain West, hosting the 6-1 Boise State Broncos. Boise State is no slouch either, but needs a win to keep potential at-large or conference championship hopes alive. Senior guard has been the driving force between two close wins for Boise of late. He went for 44 a few games ago versus San Diego State. Offense is not an issue in this one. It will probably be the best late night game on Saturday night.

Can Notre Dame Finally Steal a Win

Notre Dame could use some comfort. The Fighting Irish lost a heartbreaker last Saturday, as a TJ Gibbs put back was halfway down before coming out. They followed up with a double overtime loss to Louisville earlier this week. Notre Dame no doubt got a boost with the return of Matt Farrell against the Cardinals, but they need to start winning some close games if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive. They won’t get punished for losses against good ACC teams without Bonzie Colson, but they need to steal some wins to keep their tournament dreams alive. For the Tigers, it could be a big weekend for them on and off the court, with Zion Williamson expected to make his college commitment.

Will Trae Young Bounce Back

Trae Young had his worst game of his brief college career this week against Kansas State. Major props to the Wildcats, who game planned and defended Young and the Sooners magnificently. Young finished with 20 points on 21 shots and a glaring 12 turnovers. It was a blip on the radar for Young. He and Oklahoma will look to rebound against Oklahoma State. The Sooners trounced OSU at home earlier in the year. Young finished with 27 points and 10 assists. On paper, this looks like a favorable way to bounce back.

The Only Ranked vs Ranked Match-Up of the Weekend

There is only one game on Saturday that features two nationally ranked teams and that is #11 Xavier travelling to Jersey to play #19 Seton Hall. This game has two storylines to it. For Seton Hall, they need a win to stay in the race in the Big East. They’ve lost two of their last three, and the two losses were blowouts. Xavier needs to win to keep pace with Villanova. A loss here wouldn’t doom the Musketeers, but it would basically ensure that Villanova gets at least a share of the Big East regular season championship. You also get two senior led teams in this game, and great individual match-ups. Desi Rodriguez versus Trevon Blueitt would probably the best match-up within the match-up

First Place Game in the Pac 12

After non-conference play, the Pac 12 seemed like a two team race between Arizona and Arizona State. Three weeks into conference play, Arizona sits atop the standings, but they don’t share it with the Sun Devils. Instead it is Stanford that is tied with the Wildcats at 5-1 in Pac 12 play. The Cardinals were 0-4 in non-conference play against KenPom Top 50 teams. They’ve been strong in conference however, with wins over UCLA, USC and Arizona State thus far. They have one of the best players in the conference in Reid Travis. He will have his hands full against probable conference POY, DeAndre Ayton. Winner has sole possession of first place in the Pac 12.

Kentucky NEEDS a Big Win

You never want to throw around the words “must win” this early into conference play, but this is close to a must win for Kentucky at home against Florida. The Wildcats are just a game behind the Gators in the SEC and could either end the weekend potentially tied for first or sitting 4-3 with a number of tough games looming. The Wildcats have games against Tennessee, who beat them, at Texas A&M, who should have beat them, at Auburn, at Arkansas and at Florida to end the season. Also jammed in there is a trip to West Virginia, though not a conference game. Kentucky still controls their fate, but with what we’ve seen of them so far, they cannot afford to dig themselves too deep a hole.

In addition to these storylines, you also have other ranked teams such as West Virginia, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Auburn and Arizona State looking to rebound after losses during the week. Honestly, there probably isn’t as much flareas prior weekends. With the way this season has gone though, expect nothing to go according to plan, and a lot to talk about on Monday.

NBA Should Find A Home In Kentucky

It’s inevitable. An expansion in the NBA is coming. We could see two new teams in the mix in the near future. It’s just a matter of when and most importantly, where. 

Seattle is high on everyone’s list. Pretty easy to understand. All the city needs is the OK from the league and the SuperSonics would be able to start all over. The city, which has been void of a pro basketball team for almost a decade, would welcome its beloved SuperSonics. 

But we’re missing out on other states that are synonymous with hoops – Kentucky.

Kentucky is Hoops Heaven

Kentucky

Kentucky is a blank slate, waiting for a big league team to start roots.

Kentucky is one of 24 states void of a major sport, being the fourth most populous state behind Virginia, Alabama and South Carolina.

The last time basketball was on the big state in Kentucky was during the era of the American Basketball Association. So, why not now?

The Blue Grass State bleeds hoops. The fandom is faithful. If you’re not a University of Kentucky fan, you sport a Louisville gear proudly, waiting to debate with a big blue fan. And you can bet that you’ll see a sea of blue or Cardinal-red fill gyms on the road. They travel. They travel obsessively.

Yes. The SuperSonics would find instant success in the franchise’s revival, but can you imagine the type of following Kentucky would have?

Even with a passionate college basketball fan base, the NBA season works on a bit of a different season schedule. After March Madness, college basketball fans itch for more. The NBA stage will do, which sees its season extend three more months than NCAA. But who should the people of Kentucky invest in?

And let’s be real. The fan base in Kentucky, whether it be UK or Louisville, puts some pro team fans to shame.

Oh yeah, and there’s a pretty big talent pool in Kentucky.

There are currently 34 former Kentucky players playing professionally.

Rival Louisville boasts 18 in the pros.

Kentucky has been tossed around, and it’s one of the prospects on a short list. Other candidates in question include Las Vegas, Mexico City, Kansas City and Vancouver.

Kentucky is already a state that draws hype over hoops. It’s where high school athletes would love to play. A possible pro team would give the state 10 times an appeal.

Pooley Picks – Top New Jersey Basketball Players by Productivity

Pooley Picks

Top New Jersey Basketball Players: 10 Most Productive

Qualifications: There are a lot of ways to discuss Top New Jersey Basketball players, here we are talking strictly production.  The players below aren’t necessarily the Top 10 players in New Jersey, but rather players I’ve projected to put up the biggest numbers adjusted for competition. You cannot be on the list if you’re projected to average less than 10 points per game or if your only strength is scoring the ball (players who are projected for low assist AND rebound totals don’t qualify).  Lastly, we have adjusted for competition: Big numbers against a weaker schedule won’t get you in over someone with comparable numbers are against top teams.

Players are in no particular order. Please enjoy the first installment of Pooley Picks.

Nate Pierre-Louis: Nate’s an extremely physical guard who has the keys to the kingdom at one of New Jersey’s top schools.  Look for Nate to have big scoring nights on top of his ability to creep up near double digit assists and rebounds on some outings.  In addition to the situation being right at Roselle, Nate can also flat out play.  This guard can score from all three levels, distribute, and get big buckets in big games. It will be fun to watch the Temple commit this season as he proves he’s one of the top New Jersey basketball players.

Most productive when: He out hustles all competition and gets teammates involved consistently

Least productive when: Teams pack the lane and jumper doesn’t fall

Stat Line Projection: 21.1 ppg / 4.7 apg / 6.1 rpg / 3.4 spg / 0.8 bpg

 

Justyn Mutts: Big man for St. Augustine’s has the potential for some monster nights in 2016-17.  Proving himself with one of the best teams in NJ last year, Mutts had a 22-10-7 game against undefeated St. Anthony’s; along with multiple double-doubles and plenty of 5+ block games. High Point is getting a stat-stuffer with Mutts.

Most productive when: He plays inside then out and stays aggressive on the O-boards

Least productive when: Teams can force him to 15 feet plus and box out.

Stat Line Projection: 17.9 ppg / 1.7 apg / 10.1 rpg / 1.4 spg / 3.1 bpg

 

Scottie Lewis: Scottie has the chance to have the best stat sheet in New Jersey both in an individual game and over the course of the season.  A human highlight reel, he can also do everything and will be in a situation at The Ranney School where he has to for them to be successful.  He’ll get plenty of shots and even more rebounding and assist opportunities.  Even with adjusting for competition, Scottie will have such good numbers he is a no-brainer for this list. Looking ahead, watch for him to start creeping into one of the top New Jersey basketball players ever.

Most productive when: When he’s in the open floor and help-side defensive situations

Least productive when: Teams slow the game and play triangle and two against him and teammate Bryan Antoine

Stat Line Projection: 19.4 ppg / 5.1 apg / 11.1 rpg / 4.7 spg / 2.8 bpg

 

RJ Cole: Tough for anyone on a Coach Hurley team to make the list, as his teams often feature extremely well disciplined and balanced teams.  However, this seems like a year where one player may be required to do a little more for them to be as successful as they’ve been in the past.  Lucky for the Friars, Cole, a top New Jersey basketball player, is set up for one of those years.  RJ is a heady point, whose jump shot has turned a corner.  The lefty, committed to Howard, should have some big games against some of the best teams the Northeast has to offer.  May not boast the stats of some of the other players on the list but will score or assist on a huge % of his teams buckets.

Most productive when:  He’s given space on the perimeter or in ball screen situations

Least productive when: His team needs to grind out wins in the 40s and 50s

Stat Line Projection: 15.4 ppg / 5.7 apg / 3.4 rpg / 2.9 spg / 0.4 bpg

 

Elijah Barnes: Looking to repeat as Shore Conference Champs, Mater Dei’s 6’7” big man can do a little bit of everything.  Most importantly, Barnes can do a lot of rebounding and scoring.  Elijah put up decent numbers on an extremely well-rounded, well-coached team last year.  Barnes is poised for a huge individual season (along with teammate Kenny Jones) in 2016-17. Princeton looks to be getting a tough big man who can do a little bit of everything.

Most productive when:  He’s attacking the glass, inside of 15 feet and then steps out

Least productive when: He falls in love with perimeter game or floats on the floor

Stat Line Projection: 18.7 ppg / 2.7 apg / 11.4 rpg / 1.6 spg / 2.4 bpg

 

Jalen Carey:  With Immaculate Conception getting better and deeper there may be a few less opportunities to score, but Jalen’s overall game should flourish.  Arguably the best scorer in New Jersey (I wouldn’t argue against it), Carey is an explosive athlete, with some of the best downhill moves in high school basketball as well as a consistent mid-range shooter with a developing 3-pt jumper.  Expect some games in the 30’s and a lot of wins for his high school team this year, led by the only junior on the list.

Most productive when:  He has the ball in his hand. Period.

Least productive when:  He’s forced off the ball and required to only shoot long jump shots.

Stat Line Projection: 22.6 ppg / 3.9 apg / 7.1 rpg / 3.6 spg / 0.9 bpg

 

Bryan Antoine: Bryan is a scoring PG who just happens to be 6’4” with an unbelievable feel for the game.  Considering he’s going to touch the ball every possession this season I know big games are on the way.  Huge scoring and assist numbers are a certainty from Bryan, in a league where guys will not be able to stay in front of him.  Along with teammate Scottie Lewis, and an older and stronger supporting cast, look for these big numbers to translate into wins against tougher teams deep into 2017.

Most productive when:  He can get going from deep and consistently get to the line.

Least productive when:  Teams can force contested jump shots and guard w/o fouling.

Stat Line Projection: 24.6 ppg / 6.1 apg / 6.4 rpg / 3.8 spg / 1.1 bpg

 

Gabe Stefanini:  The Italian import had a breakout 2016, both in HS and AAU.  The 6’3” Columbia commit, can play three positions and is hard to stop at all of them.  Not the fastest guard, Gabe’s game is built on deception, a high basketball IQ, and an ever improving jump shot.  His numbers may not be as gaudy as some of the others on this list, but with an extremely deep Bergen Catholic roster and tough schedule, look for Gabe to be balanced in all 5 major categories and lead the crusaders to a lot of wins.

Most productive when:  He plays under control, with his head up, and gets to the foul line.

Least productive when:  He forces early in games and gets into his own head.

Stat Line Projection: 14.1 ppg / 5.1 apg / 6.3 rpg / 2.7 spg / 0.6 bpg

 

Nick Richards: From a production standpoint, I was close to leaving Nick off the list.  For years, Nick has been a top recruit in the nation, and currently holds the number one spot in New Jersey; however, the statistics and impact on the game up until now hasn’t always been there.  That is about to change though.  With this being his senior year, his team playing perhaps the toughest schedule of any team in New Jersey, a recent commitment to Kentucky, and Pat’s losing inside factors Fatir Hines and Cyril Langevine: Nick will be up for more minutes, blocks, rebounds, and points. Not to mention the fact his game has made great strides the last few months.

Most productive when:  He stays out of foul trouble and runs the floor rim to rim.

Least productive when:  He gets caught in that middle 8-15 ft. range

Stat Line Projection: 12.6 ppg / 0.9 apg / 12.1 rpg / 1.6 spg / 4.1 bpg

 

Elijah Olaniyi is one of the top New Jersey Basketball Players

Elijah Olaniyi is one of the top New Jersey Basketball Players

Elijah Olaniyi: Definitely a surprise to some on the production list, but Elijah has begun to separate himself from other NJ wings.  The Stonybrook commit has taken a below average jumper and turned it into a strength.  The energizer bunny, he not only plays hard every second, but he has a nose for the ball.  Never afraid to attack the rim or take tough shots, Elijah will jump about 50% in scoring and slightly improve on an unreal rebounding campaign in 2015-16, which include five consecutive double-doubles. If you watch him play he’ll convince you he’s a top New Jersey basketball player.

Most productive when:  He takes and makes good shots and gets to the foul line

Least productive when:  Opposing Teams can keep him off the glass and out of transition

Stat Line Projection: 15.1 ppg / 2.3 apg / 10.9 rpg / 2.1 spg / 1.1 bpg

 

Top 5 Snubs:

Tavon Jones – Unbelievable competitor and scorer.  Will lead Linden to another long playoff run.

Reason: I’m only allowed to have 10 players on the list.

Bourama Sidibe – Big time prospect who will rebound and block shots with the best of them.

Reason: Very difficult schedule will limit scoring opportunities; aggressive play will lead to foul trouble.

Deng Gak – Top level prospect, who developed a ton last year with Blair and PSA.

Reason: Don’t see him cracking 10 pts or reb with a great five at Blair who can all score and rebound.

Ja’Quaye James – One of the best scorers in the state in 2015-2016 and a good enough distributor.

Reason: Teams will start to key on little guard, assist and scoring numbers could dip.

Justin Minaya – Originally on the list, great all around guard with a bright future.  Major sleeper!

Reason: He’ll have better numbers than a couple on the list, but adjusting for competition hurts.

 

Other Notes:

Difficult to leave Jordan Pierce off a list of top New Jersey basketball players.  However, when it comes to productivity I don’t know if he’ll have the other stats.  Jordan plays hard and records a lot of double-doubles.  The big three at Hudson (Quinerly, Muhammad, King) are all unbelievable talents.  However, for Marinello’s team to win they will share many of the stats needed to be on this list.  Isaiah Wong will be a front runner for this list next year, Notre Dame guard is great.

Patrick School guards (Harris, McClary, Walker) will be in a Hudson Catholic like scenario: talented backcourt, with only one ball. Big nights but not enough counting numbers for Rice’s big three.  George Visconti, crazy scorer who had 5 30 point games last year, just doesn’t quite have the strength of schedule but could average 25+ again this year. Finally, Nazreon Reid, a top 10 player to watch for certain but I don’t expect consistent enough numbers to justify jumping one of the other candidates.

Hoop Group Alum Shine on the Big Stage

SONY DSC
The Kentucky Wildcats were the talk of the town yesterday after they put a beating on the Kansas Jayhawks Monday night on national television. There was not a more talked about team this summer than John Calipari’s Wildcats; having a roster that consists of nine McDonald’s All-Americans will do that for you. All the hype and speculation was answered Monday night, at least momentarily, when they took down the #5 Jayhawks 72-40 in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. The result of this highly anticipated match up was never really in question, as Kentucky took control of the game early and never looked back.

Much of the talk last night revolved around the “platoon squads” that Coach John Calipari has implemented. Taking a hockey-esque approach to their substitution method, Kentucky sends five in and five out every four to five minutes, maintaining fresh legs and causing problems for the opposition. Playing on these platoon squads were four Hoop Group alumni, all of whom had an impact on the outcome Monday night.

Andrew Harrison (pictured) and brother Aaron both took part in the Hoop Group Pitt Jam Fest in 2012

Andrew Harrison (pictured) and brother Aaron both took part in the Hoop Group Pitt Jam Fest in 2012

From the get-go, Kentucky, who plays seven players 6-8 or bigger, dominated the game by owning the paint and the glass for 40 minutes. They owned Kansas inside and wore them down with blocked shot after blocked shot, tallying 11 for the game. Leading the way with four of those 11 was Hoop Group alumni Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns, who finished the game with nine points, eight rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes, was a stand out at St. Joseph Metuchen High School and a member of the Hoop Group Tip Off Showcase last winter.

In addition to Towns, the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew), as well as Dakari Johnson, were the other players to suit up for UK that both were #HGAlumni and had a big impact on game. Johnson, who was a Hoop Group Elite alum, led the balanced scoring effort with 11 points. Andrew Harrison chipped in ten points and dished out four assists while brother Aaron had eight.

One game does not define a season, but it can make a statement. Skeptics will continue to question Coach Cal and his platoon “line change” method and the buzz surrounding Kentucky will continue to grow as the season marches on. But for one night at least, thanks to a little help of four Hoop Group alumni,the critics were quieted.

Game Stats of all 4 Hoop Group Alumni:
Karl-Anthony Towns: 9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks 18 minutes
Andrew Harrison: 10 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 19 minutes
Aaron Harrison: 8 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 21 minutes
Dakari Johnson: 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 20 minutes