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.

Big12/SEC Challenge: Predicting Saturday’s Winners

via SECSports.com

The Big 12/SEC Challenge is a nice break in conference play for both fans and players. After a couple weeks of battling out with conference foes, it gives teams a break from their treacherous schedules and provides fans with some marquee in-season match ups we are not always accustomed to. Last year the conferences tied at five wins apiece. Prior to that, the Big 12 won the first three challenges, with an overall record of 20-10 in those three seasons. This year looks to favor the Big 12 again, but the SEC has a number of exciting players and teams. It should lead to fireworks on Saturday.

Baylor at Florida

No one may be happier to get a break from Big 12 play than Baylor. The Bears are 2-6 and tied at the bottom of the Big 12. In typical Big 12 seasons, this team would be middle of the pack, but in this year’s Big 12, they are struggling to win the close games against stiff competition. They will head to Gainesville to face a Florida Gator team that finds themselves a half game out of first in the SEC. The Gators, while falling in and out of the Top 25, are still waiting for consistent play from last year’s leading scorer, Kevaughn Allen. If they get that, this team can be SEC champion good. I like the Gators at home; I don’t think they will drop two games at home in the same week.

Tennessee at Iowa State

This is not a favorable game for Tennessee. It’s easy to look at Iowa State’s record and say the Vols should role, but the Cyclones are at home. Iowa State’s two conference wins come at home, and one is against Texas Tech in a game where they walked all over the Red Raiders. Lindell Wigginton is one of the best freshman that no one is talking about. That said, I’m not letting my Big 12 bias get the best of me. I’m going with the Vols. I think Tennessee has the advantage upfront and Grant Williams could have a big game. Give me Tennessee, but it will be close.

Texas A&M at Kansas

This is the most challenging game to predict, in part because Texas A&M has been hard to predict. Kansas is at home, they don’t lose at home. Except this year they’ve already lost twice at home, three times if you include their loss to Washington in Kansas City. Texas A&M hasn’t been able to put a full roster together yet this year, so they’re hard to evaluate. Their biggest advantage is playing Robert Williams and Tyler Davis together down low. They are two legit post players, and Kansas really only has one, Udoka Azubuike. Their advantage down low will be a disadvantage on the other end, trying to guard Kansas’ four guard perimeter attack. I’ll take Kansas at home, coming off a loss.

Georgia at Kansas State

Kansas State has been one of the biggest surprises in the country. The Wildcats are tied for second in the Big 12, and sit 15-5 overall. Of all the Big 12 stars, Barry Brown flies under the radar more than anyone. The junior is averaging close to 18 points a game this year. Georgia has the best individual scorer in Yante Maten, but he has zero support. Brown, along with Dean Wade will be more than enough for KSU to win at home.

Oklahoma at Alabama

This is the premier ‘match-up within the match-up’ game. Everyone knows about Trae Young, but Colin Sexton is one of the most exciting freshman in the country as well. A week ago I would have leaned Alabama after seeing the Sooners struggle. Seeing Trae Young bounce back Tuesday night against Kansas though, is making me take Oklahoma. Young didn’t force anything. He shot only nine shots and took exactly what Kansas gave him. He also had role players step up. I think he takes more than nine shots in this one, but continues to efficiently distribute the ball. Oklahoma wins.

Oklahoma State at Arkansas

Oklahoma State has the best player on the floor in Jeffery Carroll. Arkansas has the major advantage in the backcourt with Jayln Barford and Daryl Macon. If this game was at home, Oklahoma State would fair a little better, but I’ll lean towards a seasoned Arkansas team at home here. Oklahoma State can score, but I think Arkansas is good enough defensively to lock down anyone not named Jeffery Carroll. With no support, it would be tough for the Cowboys to pull off a win. Chalk one up to the SEC here.

TCU at Vanderbilt

This game is tough. Vanderbilt’s home court is a big advantage for them. But TCU is the better team in this game. Even without guard Jaylen Fisher, the Horned Frogs were able to top West Virginia at home this week. Alex Robinson has been great in place of Fisher though, averaging nearly 13 points and 11 assists in three games. Give me the better team and the better coach on the road in this one. The home court advantage could make it closer, but not enough to overcome TCU.

Mississippi at Texas

This may be the most lopsided game of the showdown. Texas is a strong home team, with a record of 9-2. Their only losses are to Kansas and Michigan, not bad opponents. They have one of the nation’s best shot blockers in Mo Bamba. His presence in the paint will be effective in keeping Ole Miss’s trio of guards out of the paint. Texas has had their best wins of late when Kerwin Roach is scoring. At home, I think Roach can tally 15+ and Bamba will protect the rim. Texas at home.

Texas Tech at South Carolina

Texas Tech is another team that has cooled off slightly after routing Kansas in Phogg Allen earlier in the year. The Red Raiders still have one of the nation’s best defenses, but have struggled at times to put the ball in the basket. It seems as if Keenan Evans isn’t scoring 20+ a game, TTU doesn’t have much on offense. South Carolina is similar in the sense that Chris Silva is the focal point of their offense. Whoever has the better game between Silva and Evans, their team has the edge. I think Silva will have a strong game, but Evans will be just a bit better. He will get just enough support and Texas Tech will squeak out the road win.

Kentucky at West Virginia

This game has potential to be the ugliest game, but knowing this Kentucky team, they’ll step up just enough to keep it close. This game comes down to one thing. Kentucky is still looking for that point guard play that makes a Joan Calipari team thrive, and West Virginia has the best defensive point guard in the country in Jevon Carter. West Virginia is a scary place for any team to play, let alone the youngest Kentucky team Calipari has ever coached. I think Kentucky comes out with an edge coming off a loss, but this is too tall of a task for a young team on the road. I’ll take West Virginia.

So there are the ten games. My predictions have the Big 12 winning at 7-3. Couple games wouldn’t surprise me if they went the other way, but we’ll see how it pans out this weekend. It stinks that Auburn was left out, but it’s tough to anticipate them having the season they are when this schedule was made. It’s also unfortunate to see Tremont Waters left out of the challenge. He’s one of the most exciting players in the country. He’s also a Hoop Group alumni. Nonetheless it should be another fun day of basketball.

7 Teams That Have Surprised Us This College Basketball Season

By now it’s pretty widely agreed upon that this season has been crazy in college basketball. Upsets all over, blue chip programs struggling to put it together, and teams that were overlooked, turning heads. You often see teams start hot and fade away once conference play begins, but let’s look at seven teams who appear to be legitimate here in mid January.

Auburn

Take a second to realize just what Bruce Pearl has done this year at Auburn. His program was linked to the FBI report that was released in the Fall. He lost one of his assistant coaches just before the start of the season. And, his two best players are out for the entire season. Recipe for success? For sure not. However, the Tigers have a 16-1 record, and a perfect 4-0 record in SEC play this season. While they played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, Auburn has two strong SEC wins at Tennessee and against Arkansas. This team is playing with confidence and their head coach is coaching with a swagger. Auburn may be the most surprising team so far this season.

Ohio State

Speaking of non-ideal scenarios, take a look at what Chris Holtmann inherited at Ohio State. In June, he took over a team that won just six Big Ten games, and were losing their top four leading scorers. His only option would be to weather the storm and begin making serious changes after what was expected to be a rough first season, right? Wrong. Although they got off to a shaky start, failing to secure any signature non-conference wins, what Holtmann has done at Ohio State so far is fantastic. Behind the All-American play of Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes already have six conference wins, and are tied with Purdue at the top of the standings. And while they may not have been able to secure any resume boosting non-conference wins, they announced themselves as contenders with an absolute drubbing of Michigan State a few weeks ago.

Clemson

The Clemson Tigers were supposed to make the NCAA tournament last season, at least that’s what their expectation was. Jaron Blossomgame was finally a senior and be was going to lead them to the Big Dance before he left. Unfortunately that story never panned out, but Clemson appears to be on their way this season. What losing Blossomgame did was turn them into one of the more balanced scoring teams in the country. They have five players who average 11 points a game or more. They hold wins over Ohio State, Florida, Louisville and Miami. Three of those four wins were at home, a place they defended pretty well this season.

Oklahoma

If you watch a lot of college basketball, you know the Oklahoma Sooners are a lot more than Trae Young. Sure, Young is a sensational player and well on his way to being named Player of the Year, but this team is blossoming after going through many growing pains last year. After being extremely young last season, Oklahoma is seeing a lot of players make big jumps in their game, year over year. Young might be a straw that stirs the drink, but his strong supporting cast is the reason the Sooners are a top 5 team in the country.

Arizona State

Arizona State has had a humbling start to Pac 12 play, but they are still light years ahead of where anyone thought they would be. They have a top 10 offense in the country, though that has slowed down some as well. Despite their conference struggles, the Sun Devils still have wins against Xavier and at Kansas to hang their hat on. They have a favorable stretch coming up that should (hopefully) be what this team needs to get back on track. Regardless, this team is 14-3 and a real threat to win the Pac 12. That is something not many people expected coming into the season.

Texas Tech

If you are unaware, the Big 12 Conference is really, really good. One reason why is the ridiculous play of Trae Young. Another reason is the emergence of Texas Tech and the tenacious defense Chris Beard has instilled in this team. While they don’t generate the turnovers that West Virginia does, the Red Raiders defense is Top 10 in the country in terms of points per game. A mix of strong senior leadership and tough defense can take a team far. This Texas Tech team is good enough to reach a Final Four, just ask Kansas, Baylor, Nevada and West Virginia.

Purdue

The Purdue Boilermakers are tied for first place in the Big Ten. They haven’t lost since the day after Thanksgiving. In that time they’ve beaten Arizona (albeit without Rawle Alkins), Louisville, Michigan and Butler. The Boilermakers made a statement in a 34 point slaughter of a Minnesota team that has some problems. With Purdue, you have another rare exception of a team losing an All-American (Caleb Swanigan) and seemingly being better without him. Despite the departure of Swanigan, Matt Painter still had the pieces to have a successful season. Right now he is getting the most out of all those pieces, with three upperclassmen averaging over 13 points a game, and a sophomore, Carson Edwards, leading them with 16 a game. The Big Ten was supposed to be a bad league dominated by Michigan State. Three weeks into conference play however, it is Purdue that looks dominant.

We’re still a long way from March. That is fortunate and unfortunate news for some teams. And as I mentioned before, there are plenty of teams who have played better than expected. Right now though, these seven teams and coaches deserve a lot of credit for the the job they’ve done in the first half of the season.

Javonte Smart Looks Happy To Be Playing with Naz Reid Next Year

#MakeLSUGoodAgain

Will Wade has hit the ground running in Baton Rouge. His first recruiting class for LSU already has the 18th, 32nd and 61st ranked players in the country in it. This is on top of landing a late commitment from Tremont Waters this year. In a world where the entire SEC is trying to take down Kentucky, recruiting classes like Missouri and Alabama’s this year and LSU’s next go a long way in making the conference competitive from top to bottom.

Let’s hope Smart and Reid have as much chemistry on the court as they do on social media.