2011-12 College Basketball Preview Series – Kentucky Wildcats

[EJSIC is previewing several college basketball teams. Check out our Duke, Memphis, and Kansas previews.]

The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats already have a lot to live up to. They’ve been billed as a Final Four lock, a top 2 team, and perhaps John Calipari’s best shot at a title. No pressure, though…

Last season’s results:
29-9
SEC Tournament Champions
NCAA Tournament East Regional Champions
Lost 56-55 to UCONN in the Final Four

Key departures:
Brandon Knight (35.9 mpg, 17.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 38% 3PT)
DeAndre Liggins (31.6 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 2.5 apg, 39% 3PT)
Josh Harrelson (28.5 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 61% FG%)

Key returnees:
Terrence Jones (31.5 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg)
Doron Lamb (28.4 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 49% 3PT)
Darius Miller (31 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg 44% 3PT)

Notable non-conference matchups:
Kansas (at MSG)
St. John’s
UNC
Louisville

New Faces

As has become the norm at UK under John Calipari, the Wildcats will look to replace last year’s crop of NBA draft picks with another class of highly touted freshmen. Kentucky’s group of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer has been rated as the #1 class in the country by most services, giving Calipari his third straight class with that distinction.

Fear the Unibrow.

Anthony Davis has been billed as the possible #1 pick in next year’s NBA draft, with his game being compared to Kevin Garnett and Marcus Camby. Davis can thank an unusual growth spurt for his meteoric rise to the top. The lanky forward has grown an astonishing 7 inches since his junior year of high school, and has transformed from an also-ran guard into a one-in-a-million big man. Davis’ combination of center size and guard skills are likely unmatched on the college level.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the distinction of being one of the few highly rated recruits in this year’s class that is as relentless on defense as he is on offense. The do-everything forward should pick up right where DeAndre Liggins left off, as the Wildcats’ go-to defensive stopper. He’s the type of player that may seem to fade into the background a bit during the course of a game, only to flirt with a triple double by the time it’s over.

Marquis Teague has the ability to drive to the basket at will. The 6′ 2″ point guard’s speed has been compared to that of John Wall. While he’s much more raw than Wall or Knight at this stage, he has all the physical tools to be successful in John Calipari’s system.

Kyle Wiltjer is a true throw-back. While most highly touted recruits have their games compared to one-and-dones, the 6’9″ Wiltjer has had his game compared to Kevin McHale. The versatile forward is an anomaly in Calipari’s recruiting history in that he’s more known for his highly polished skill set than his athletic prowess. It will be interesting to see how his offensive range is utilized in a system predicated on driving to the basket.

The Right Mix

Highly rated rookies are nothing new for John Calipari. What separates this team from the previous two is the blend of diaper dandies and grown mandies (Hey, it rhymed). The Wildcats returning core of Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and senior Darius Miller should mesh well with this year’s freshmen.

Miller’s practice battles with Kidd-Gilchrist have already become the stuff of legend around the Bluegrass. These two should push each other for a starting spot all season long, with both seeing comparable minutes.

Terrence Jones has been a force of nature thus far.

We may also be witnessing the metamorphosis of Terrence Jones. I’ll admit that I was among those who wouldn’t have been sad to see the often erratic forward head off to the greener pastures of the NBA. His poor shot selection and inability to finish around the rim were a source of frustration for Cat fans last season. What we’ve seen so far has been nothing short of a complete transformation. Gone is the awkward kid who was as happy with a fade-away as a flush and in his place is a “man on a mission”. Jones has been aggressive and accurate thus far, pouring in 53 points and 16 rebounds in the annual Blue/White scrimmage.

The Wildcats’ combination of perimeter scorers, interior finishers, speed, and versatility should be unmatched outside of Chapel Hill this season.

Where’s the D?

The biggest question mark with this team appears to be whether or not they can mesh their parts into a defensive unit on par with their offensive ability. While the potential is obviously there, we’ve yet to see the intensity without the ball that has become a trademark of Calipari’s teams.

The Wildcats do have a great overall defender in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a phenomenal shot-blocker in Anthony Davis. It will be interesting to see who else steps up to give this team a chance to be truly special.

Alone On Point

Marquis Teague is currently the only eligible scholarship point guard on Kentucky’s roster. Mississippi State transfer Twany Beckham will not be eligible until the second semester and former NC State guard Ryan Harrow will not be available until next season.

Should Teague run into problems early, Doron Lamb will be called upon to move from his natural position of shooting guard to run the offense. While Lamb is definitely capable, he has shown weaknesses in the ballhandling and turnover departments.

It will be interesting to see if a lack of depth at the 1 spot causes the Wildcats problems early.

Predictions

This team truly has no ceiling in terms of success. Their unique combination of talent and experience should be enough for a return trip to the Final Four and beyond.

27-3, 14-2 (SEC)
SEC Regular Season and Tournament Champs
NCAA: 1 seed, advancing to the Final Four and Championship Game

Former Seton Hall Coach Bobby Gonzalez’s Sister Releases Tell-All Blog

Bobby Gonzalez is the now disgraced former coach of the Big East’s Seton Hall Pirates. A controversial figure, Gonzalez’s on-court results never matched his sideline and off-court bravado. He was eventually fired, and then continued to make headlines after being charged with theft.

Now Gonzalez’s sister, Linda, who is known for absolutely nothing as far as I am aware, wrote a “top ten” on her blog of the worst college basketball writers in America.

Bobby Gonzalez

Not just any ole “top ten” list, this one includes the “WORST, LEAST CREDIBLE, MOST CONFLICTED SPORTSWRITERS [sic].” Enter Grammar Nazi mode: “least credible, and most conflicted sportswriters,” Exit Grammar Nazi mode.

And according to Linda, the top ten (drum roll please) is: (1) Pete Thamel of the New York Times, (2) Pat Forde of ESPN, (3) Jeff Goodman of CBS, (4) Lenn Robbins of the New York Post, (5) JP Pelzman of the Bergen Record (New Jersey), (6) Gary Parrish of CBS, (7) Mike Francessa of WFAN New York, (8) Dana O’Neil of ESPN, (9) Sean Brennan of New York Daily News and Eammon Brennan of ESPN.com (tie), and (10) Dick “Hoops” Weiss of New York Daily News.

It gets better though. For each writer, she includes paragraphs of varying lengths explaining her reasoning which ends with a bolded (just in case you lose your place in the wall of text) “Prediction Fantasy.” The prediction fantasy is her desired end result for each writer which ranges from physical pain to emotional embarrassment to new professions outside of the media.

It is quintessential Gonzalez: a little in your face with just a tad too much crazy mixed in. Linda is not all bad, it seems. She makes a quick list of her five favorite writers at the end of the blog entry. That list is not nearly as fun as her main one, however.

If you thought Linda was done with her flaunting opinions, you were wrong. The Big Lead, a sports blog / website, Tweeted the blog entry which found its way to many of Linda’s “victims.”

Linda then attempted to refute The Big Lead’s quick write-up on the blog. Again, not nearly as entertaining as the top ten list. The subsequent entry is basically a defense of her brother.

The timing of this blog is odd given that Gonzalez has been out of the news for a while since his firing. Perhaps, a spur of the moment thing. Or maybe Linda’s been sitting on it for a while. Regardless the motive, you mess with a Gonzalez, you get the Linda.

Al’s Completely Biased NCAA Tournament Bracket Thoughts

Never one to quibble about originality, I am hot on the heels of Small Arms McGee with my thoughts in the aftermath of a SethNonSelection Sunday I am now calling “Weakest Year Ever Day Brought to You By Weakest Committee Ever.” In my mind, this has been one of the ugliest years in basketball, with everyone swimming in a sea of mediocrity that was most notable for the number of dolphins identified as sharks (aka the Big East teams). In keeping with the season, one of the ugliest selection committees in basketball created a truly lopsided bracket that puts the hammer down on OSU, the supposed No. 1 overall seeds. (I was going to link to the Meet the Committee page to laugh at how ugly they are, but apparently they’ve taken that page down due to fear of backlash or personal threats to their families made by Seth Greenberg. So now I’m laughing at them.)

Seth Greenburg's Tears for Fears

So, here are my thoughts on the brackets.

East
I was worried that Gene Smith’s ties to Ohio State would mean that their road to the Final Four would be strewn with rose petals ala Duke last year, so I was shocked to see how difficult that bracket is. However, it’s difficult for everyone, I think. I used to wonder why UNC always gets put in these difficult brackets until I saw that one of the committee members is from Wake Forest, and their feelings about UNC border on some sort of psychotic pathos. I’d almost rather have someone from Duke be in charge of our seeding. UNC might end up playing Ohio State, but I’m not optimistic. Unless Roy told the team to hold back and not wear themselves out in the ACC Tournament (knowing that Duke had the Number 1 seed once they made it to the ACC Tournament final, just as I had expected–not even a loss would have stripped them of that seed), UNC looked wretched in all three of its ACC Tournament games. A fall before the Sweet 16 is looking likely for the Tar Heels.

West
I don’t expect Duke to be challenged in the West. They put some teams that on paper look like they could challenge Duke, but Duke should come through all that unscathed and make it to the Final Four. If Texas makes it past the second round, I’ll be shocked. If Arizona and Tennessee make it past the Sweet 16, I’ll be even more shocked. Pearl is too out of control and Arizona has the same problem that UNC does – youth and inconsistency. Duke has gotten their second wind now and should be able to beat any of them. And, of course, one of the weaker 2nd seeds, SDSU, will be right there to fall apart in the face of Singler’s nipple twisting intimidation and Seth Floppy.

Southwest
This could be the most exciting bracket of them all. I don’t have a lot of confidence in Kansas this year, which probably means they’ll win it all. Why? Because I stopped being able to make decent predictions about the NCAA Tournament in the mid-1990s. I hate Pitino, but Louisville always makes whatever bracket they’re in exciting. I don’t think Florida State will make it out of the first round because they have no offense to counter their defense. Sure, they beat Duke, but that’s because Duke went in there overconfident. After they beat Duke, they got scouted more and people began to see that defense doesn’t always “win championships.” If Singleton plays and is healthy, they might make it to the Sweet 16, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Southeast
Could the announcers on CBS yesterday have been more scathing about Pitt’s number 1 seed? I couldn’t help laughing. I think they were upset that it wasn’t Notre Dame. No one thinks that Pitt can make it to the Final Four, and I agree. The Big East really needs to put its money where its mouth is in this tournament, but I don’t see Pitt as being the one to do that. I think Wisconsin will have no trouble with Belmont – unlike lots of UNC fans, I don’t think that “almost beats” count as wins. I’m hoping St. John’s takes out Gonzaga so we don’t have to put up with them after the first round. They always mess up my bracket. ODU could make some noise this year; they’re the sleeper of the CAA but they haven’t had many tough opponents.

Overall
I still can’t decide who’s going to win it all, though. I don’t feel as strongly about Kansas as everyone does and I fear that if Singler is out of his slump, Duke could beat any one of the one seeds. OSU would be most likely to challenge them, but by virtue of their being in the toughest bracket, they could lose before they face Duke or be so exhausted that they just lay down and die in the face of a Duke that will have cruised into the Final Four (even with out Kyrie “The Toe” Irving). Of course, if Duke loses early, we’ll hear nothing but wails that there should be an asterisk on the game because they didn’t have the point guard on the All-Galaxy team–otherwise they would have beat all their opponents by 40+.

So, there you have it. My completely biased and basically irrelevant thoughts on March Madness. See y’all in Houston (I wish).

An Unexpected Consequence of the One-and-Done Rule

On Wednesday, Rivals.com college basketball writer Steve Megargee published an article at the recruiting website titled, “Is Butler’s run proof that mid-majors are closing gap?” The article looks at the improbable Final Four runs by George Mason and Butler in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Megargee asks a simple question: Are mid-major college basketball programs catching the Big-6 ones who have seemingly limitless resources and talent?

Better yet, are two occurrences within five years of one another enough to consider the feat more than coincidence? Megargee sets some guidelines in determining who is and who is not a “mid-major” in the sport. He dismisses Gonzaga, Xavier, and Memphis for their continued success in the tournament as well as on the recruiting trail.

I accept that, as those teams clearly operate on a level above the rest of the non-Big 6 teams. Megargee even dismisses the Final Four runs of Marquette (2003) and Louisville (2005) who both played in a strong Conference USA and operated like Big-6 teams.
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A Revolution in College Athletics

The current set-up in college sports that you and I grew up with is soon to be a thing of the past. We will look back upon them with fond memories and a little drool on our chins, saying, “Back in my day…” College athletics are set to undergo a radical transformation.

It will begin with the two biggest sports: football and basketball. For much of the now departed college basketball season, rumor swirled of the NCAA’s impending opt-out. In other words, they can void the current contract with CBS and put the men’s tournament on the open market for the highest bidder. But with the new TV deal will likely come an expansion of the tournament from its current 65 team format to a 96 one, eliminating the National Invitational Tournament in the process.
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The big money in college athletics is on the gridiron. The basketball change may leave some ripples across the land, but a major shake-up in football will affect all other collegiate sports. The rumor mill began last year when the Big Ten, the NCAA’s richest conference, publicly stated its desire to add at least one new member. In doing so, the Big Ten would have twelve members and would be able to play that all important conference championship game.

However, the Big Ten may be looking to add more than one team. Tony Barnhart, aka Mr. College Football, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in a recent blog post, “The Big Ten is looking at three plans: Stand pat with 11 teams, add one team (hopefully Notre Dame) or make a blockbuster move and go to 16.”

It seems unlikely at this point that the Big Ten would not expand. They’ve announced intentions to do so which would lead us all to believe they will follow through with those plans. Adding one team would give them the minimum number to have the coveted championship game. And every one loves to say Notre Dame is the obvious choice because they are. But the Irish have been reluctant to join in the past. This is what leads many, including me, to believe that a “superconference” is in the making.

A superconference of 16 teams forces Notre Dame to join. Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick even admitted so at a press conference for the Big East basketball tournament (of which Notre Dame is a member): “The college landscape is as unstable as I’ve seen it… You could each invent a scenario that would force our hand.” He went on to say that Notre Dame would like to maintain its football independence.

But the question is, can they? With the possible realignment of 16 teams in the Big Ten, Notre Dame would have to join out of necessity. For one, adding five teams most likely means at least one and probably more Big East teams would be absorbed. Frank the Tank, a blogger who writes about Chicago and University of Illinois sports as well as other topics, states that “Syracuse and Rutgers (along with the Irish) are virtual locks” for a 16 team Big Ten. Both universities bring the New York City market with them which is one market the Big Ten has yet to fully penetrate (especially with the Big Ten Network television channel).

And if the Big East is torn apart (again), that leaves the question of automatic bids to the NCAA tourney and a BCS bid in football. Notre Dame is basically given a BCS bid without conference affiliation as long as they finish in the top 12 of the standings. But it could still force their hand in other sports. And we cannot discount the possibility of a change in the BCS format if the rest of college athletics transforms. I do not specifically mean a playoff, but it is logical to think that a seismic shift in conferences could result in changes to the current format.

Frank the Tank goes on to look at possible Big Ten candidates sans the three locks mentioned earlier. One such scenario involves bringing in Maryland and Boston College to “capture the entire Northeast, while, at least on paper, adding New York, Boston, and Washington markets.” Another possibility is to get Nebraska and Kansas from the Big XII which adds a basketball and a football power for balance as well as adding new markets. Finally, Frank writes Texas and Texas A&M could come together as a political package (one couldn’t go without the other).
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While I am not willing to discuss every possibility, it seems logical one of these three moves is going to happen. But whatever the Big Ten does, it will force the other conferences to react. The SEC stands next to the Big Ten in terms of economic superiority. Do they expand as well? If the Big XII, ACC, or Big East is ransacked, what becomes of those conferences and their automatic bids? Does the Pac 10 answer?

It is clear that a revolution in college athletics is in the immediate future, possibly as early as the 2012 football season if the decisions are made soon. At this point, the Big Ten holds the key to everything. They could add only one team and the landscape would probably remain similar to how it is. Or they could make a tidal wave and transform college athletics to something we’ve never seen before. Eventually, the superconferences will come to fruition, so why not start now?

Why I hate Duke

As part of the “Hate on Duke” week, Flop proposed to the contributors a single question: Why do you hate Duke? I did not immediately answer, rather I allowed the question to flutter in the gray matter. The question seems easy enough, but it gets deeper.

I could sit here and type about all of the perceptions of Duke basketball. They get every foul call at the crucial stages of the game, their coach looks like a rat, they teach players to flop on purpose, Scheyer has a weird face, they win all of the time, rich snobs, etc. I do not think my dislike of the Blue Devils comes from a combination of the above.

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It’s not the luck of hurling the ball 90 feet to a waiting Christian Laettner who turns and hits the fade-away. And it’s not Greg Paulus sliding under someone’s feet at the last second and getting the charge call.

I can appreciate those plays. They are not my reason to hate Duke. My hate derives from ESPN. They shove the Blue Devils down our throats. Duke deserves it too. They’ve been winning big games for most of ESPN’s life. And what is a television station most concerned with? Ratings.

Duke brings in the ratings. They bring in the ratings just like the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, and the L.A. Lakers. Duke is all of that. And that’s why we hate them. We hate the big teams with the large fan bases who win all of the time. It is human nature. It’s a bit of envy mixed with emotion (and the damn refs don’t help either, see the video below).

But ESPN doesn’t stop there. No, they have to put Mike Patrick on Dick Vitale as the broadcast duo for Duke games. It is two straight hours of “Holy cow, are you kidding me?” followed by “Awesome with a capital A, baby!” Then they slobber all over the coach whose name I cannot spell without Google. And, again, all of it is deserved with their success.

But Duke suffers from the same thing the rest of the big name teams do: overexposure. The average fan sees the Duke highlights on SportsCenter and just wants them to lose. The university puts itself on a pedestal with their academic standards and, even though academics have nothing to do with sports despite what anyone ever says, they carry over to the hardwood. Duke comes across as this elitist organization seeking to keep its membership exclusive (apparently exclusive to whites and Asians, but that’s another post for another day).

And when the perception exists, people want them to lose. They want to Duke to lose badly. But Duke doesn’t get blown out often which fuels the fire of hate. So Saturday night when you’re sitting on the coach rooting for West Virginia, you will now know why.