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- Trey Lyles has 17 points, Tyler Ulis goes for 9 points, 9 assists in Jordan Brand Classic
- Blue-White Game will be on live TV, delayed on Fox Sports South; Dusty Bonner, Freddie Maggard will join TV/radio call
- Marcus Lee to Return for Sophomore Season at UK
- Mark Stoops says offense “took a little step back” in Friday’s practice
- Cornerback Nate Willis needs surgery for sports hernia
- NCAA would not let John Calipari and wife set up fund to pay for education of players’ children
- NBADraftBlog.com’s Ed Isaacson on Julius Randle, James Young
- John Calipari admits he was “scared to death” of “rock star” Bill O’Reilly
By LARRY VAUGHT
ST. LOUIS — Perhaps nothing says more about the Kentucky-Wichita State matchup than UK freshman James Young admitting he could not name one player on Wichita State.
Not one player off a team that went to the Final Four last year. Not one player off the nation’s only unbeaten team. Not one player on the Midwest Region’s No. 1 team. He didn’t even know that Andrew Wiggins’ brother, Nick, played there after playing with and against Andrew Wiggins in all-star games last year when Wiggins was also being recruited at UK.
“I’ve seen clips of them every now and then on ESPN, but it feels like just another game that we just have to keep playing,” said Young.
But he doesn’t know even one Wichita State player?
“I have not really heard of anybody,” Young said.
Obviously, CBS-TV has a different approach to Sunday’s Kentucky-Wichita State game here. That’s why it is the marquee game in CBS’ Sunday schedule and will tip off about 2:45 p.m. EST. The network understands the drama of having the nation’s only unbeaten team going against a historic program like Kentucky that came into the season No. 1 and was projected by some as possibly going unbeaten. And a program where UK fans know players long before they arrive on campus — and opponents know the names as well.
Now UK goes into the game as an underdog because it has already lost 10 games this season.
“We have a chip on our shoulder. We are the underdogs right now. We use that as motivation and know we have to come in the game and fight,” Kentucky freshman guard Andrew Harrison said.
Harrison is no more used to being an underdog than Kentucky fans are.
“No, not really. That’s not how it has been for me. But it is making me become a better man to be honest. Just have to come every game to fight no matter what the outcome is. You just have to fight out there on the court and show that even though you are the underdog, you can still win,” Harrison said. “We want to show we are a great team, play together and love each other. This is a chance to do that.”
Maybe. But it’s also a chance for a veteran, relatively unknown Wichita State team to make a case for experience over highly-publicized talent as it did on its Final Four march last year or as Mercer did when it stunned Duke in this year’s NCAA.
Calipari can related to Wichita State. Remember he took UMass and Memphis both to the Final Four when his teams were not household names and had to beat bigger, more established name teams. He knows how dangerous Wichita State’s lack of notoriety can be and how that can motivate a team.
“I have been in a few of those. I only got a BCS job five years ago. I was at UMass and Memphis trying to take on the big dogs. So you have a chip on your shoulder,” Calipari said. “It’s us against the world and no one thinks we’re going to do this, and now you’re going against Kentucky who had a good season, but not a great season. And, you know, I’ve been there. I’ve been on the other side. I haven’t been on this side going against it.
“Believe me when I tell you folks, I had three or four teams start the season with 20 wins or more to start a season and I can’t begin to tell you how much you try to push it off as nothing, and you say it’s nothing. Oh, it’s something.”
He marvels at the way Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has made it a “blessing, not a burden” for the unbeaten Shockers.
“We had some teams who had a chance, 38‑2 a couple of teams and 35‑2. I mean we had a chance on a couple of different teams, but I’ll tell you, I felt it as the head coach, which I knew my team had felt it,” Calipari said about the pressure of being unbeaten.
Marshall gets almost giddy talking about his unbeaten team.
“I think it is really fun. It has been a great season,” he said.
But he said his team’s only goal is to “get out of the weekend” and keep advancing by beating Kentucky.
Sophomore Alex Poythress thinks the Shockers, who will have a huge edge in fan support based on attendance Friday when they routed Cal Poly 64-37, will feel the pressure just as the Cats have many times during his two seasons.
“They have veteran players and a lot of talent,” Poythress, who had watched Wichita State play, said. “But the record doesn’t mean anything to us at this point. It’s going to be a big test for us and we’ll be pumped up to play. I feel like the target is on their back, not ours. They have all the pressure on them to keep winning every game. The pressure is off us.
“We just have to go play. We can show all those doubting us what we can do. I am sure there are plenty of doubters, but people doubt everybody. But we don’t doubt ourselves and we know we can do this.”
ST. LOUIS (USBWA) – The U.S. Basketball Writers Association has selected 15 outstanding players as finalists for its Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Trophy and six standout freshmen as finalists for the Integris Wayman Tisdale Award.
Members of the association’s board of directors chose the finalists and the entire 975-member USBWA will vote on the awards as well as the annual All-America and All-District teams. The ballots will be distributed Sunday evening and USBWA members may still write in candidates for the three individual honors.
The Oscar Robertson Trophy recipient will be announced on Friday, April 4, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, at a press conference in conjunction with the NCAA Men’s Final Four. Prior to that, on Mon., March 17, the Integris Wayman Tisdale Award winner will be announced and the following Monday, the winner of the Henry Iba National Coach of the Year Award will be revealed. All three award winners will be formally presented their awards at the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards on Mon., April 14, at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Following are the finalsts for the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Trophy:
2014 OSCAR ROBERTSON TROPHY FINALISTS
G/F Kyle Anderson, UCLA, 6-9, 230, So., Fairview, N.J.
F Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico, 6-9, 250, Sr., Brisbane, Australia
F Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, 6-8, 219, Sr., Middletown, N.Y.
F Melvin Ejim, Iowa State, 6-6, 220, Sr., Toronto, Ont.
G Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6-2, 180, Fr., Brampton, Ont.
F C.J. Fair, Syracuse, 6-8, 215, Sr., Baltimore, Md.
G Nick Johnson, Arizona, 6-3, 200, Jr., Gilbert, Ariz.
G Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati, 6-4, 210, Sr., Yonkers, N.Y.
F Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6-8, 225, Sr., Ames, Iowa
G Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, 6-1, 180, Sr., Roxbury, Mass.
F Jabari Parker, Duke, 6-8, 235, Fr., Chicago, Ill.
F Casey Prather, Florida, 6-6, 212, Sr., Jackson, Tenn.
F Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6-9, 250, Fr., Dallas, Texas
G Russ Smith, Louisville, 6-0, 165, Sr., Brooklyn, N.Y.
G Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6-8, 200, Fr., Vaughan, On t.
Following are the finalists for the Integris Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award:
2014 INTEGRIS WAYMAN TISDALE AWARD FINALISTS
C Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7-0, 250, Fr., Yaounde, Cameroon
G Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6-2, 180, Fr., Brampton, Ont.
F Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6-9, 225, Fr., San Jose, Calif.
F Jabari Parker, Duke, 6-8, 235, Fr., Chicago, Ill.
F Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6-9, 250, Fr., Dallas, Texas
G Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6-8, 200, Fr., Vaughan, Ont.
By LARRY VAUGHT
With Kentucky now 15-5 — remember all the preseason speculation about the team maybe going 40-0 with perhaps the all-time best recruiting class — is it time to admit the Wildcats were overrated going into the season? Or is it time to acknowledge that the team has just underachieved going into Saturday’s game at Missouri?
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy, who knows UK coach John Calipari well, thinks it might be a combination of both factors that have led to unexpected defeats and sometimes uninspired play.
“I did think Kentucky would be a lot better, and John (Calipari) did, too,” DeCourcy said. “Defensively, they are not playing with great energy or passion. Offensively, they don’t have a lot of cohesion. They do not always play with each other. There has been a little progress from when I saw them against Louisville.
“James Young has gotten better, but I would just like one time to see him pass up an okay shot to see if a great shot was available. I have never seen him pass up an open shot ever. If he has a shot, he shoots it. If he was Pistol Pete Maravich and there were not a lot of guys to throw the ball to, that’s one thing. But he’s often playing with four future NBA players.”
He’s not picking on Young, either, because he acknowledges that guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both projected as the top players at their positions in the 2013 recruiting class, have struggled. Andrew, the point guard, was ranked as the third best overall player in the 2013 class. But in the last five games, he has 19 assists, including just one in Tuesday’s loss at LSU, and 13 turnovers while shooting just over 30 percent from the field.
“Andrew is 6-5 but he is not a commanding point guard presence like you would think the second or third best overall player in a recruiting class would be,” DeCourcy said. “This year Emmanuel Mudiay (who picked SMU over Kentucky) is a phenomenal athlete but I am not sure about him being the next great point guard.
“Andrew and Aaron are both fine players, just maybe not the players they were promoted to be. They were ranked in the same neighborhood as (Andrew Wiggins), (Julius) Randle and (Jabari) Parker and you’ve got to be extraordinary to be in there with those guys. But they are still future NBA players. Don’t get me wrong. They are still excellent players.
Randle, once considered a potential No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft, has had his stock, too. He’s scored 20 or more points in just one of the last five games — with 16 turnovers — and had just six points and five rebounds at LSU while being outplayed by freshman Jordan Mickey.
“Julius’ problem is somewhat that he doesn’t get access to the ball as regularly as he would like or should be,” DeCourcy said. “Then when he gets the ball, he tries to do more than he should. When LSU played that zone, he tried to go through it instead of around it. If you try to take on a zone and go through it, you are going to lose every time. Even a bad zone beats you if you try to go through it. If you go around it, you have a chance.
“Julius tried to go straight through the heart of the zone and struggled as a result. That’s been his problem. When teams play man and rotate help on him, he can fight through that. He has momentum to beat his man and the other guy is coming late, so he’s just beating on man and making plays before the other arrives. In the zone, he’s trying to do the same thing facing two or three guys who are where they want to be and that doesn’t work.”
Perhaps the most puzzling player, though, has been Willie Cauley-Stein. Once on pace to challenge the blocked shots exploits of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Cauley-Stein has become a non-factor in recent games. He was manhandled by LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant much like he was by Tennessee’s inside player. He has blocked one shot or none in four of the last five game and played less than 20 minutes in all four games — and without him UK has not had a rim protector.
“I don’t know why he is not competing. I don’t understand why he has become less competitive,” DeCourcy said. “When you see something like that, there is usually a reason behind it. Maybe he has a pain he’s hiding and playing through. It could be something personal. It just doesn’t make sense and is not typical for someone who has been competitive like he has.”
Los Angeles (January 22, 2014)— The Los Angeles Athletic Club has announced its Midseason Top 25 today on ESPN. Chosen by the Wooden Award Advisory Board, the list is comprised of 25 student-athletes who are the front-runners for the sport’s most prestigious individual honor based on their play so far this season. ESPNU will follow up at 6pm EST with a half-hour show focusing on the candidates.
The players on the list are considered strong candidates for the official voting ballot, which will consist of approximately 20 top players who have proven to their universities that they are making progress toward graduation and maintaining at least a cumulative 2.0 GPA. However, players not chosen to the midseason list are still eligible for the ballot. The Wooden Award All American Team, consisting of the nation’s top 10 players, will be announced the week of the “Elite Eight” round of the NCAA Tournament. Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott, a Wooden Award All American in 2012 and 2013, looks to become the first three-time selection on the men’s side since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough (2007-09). McDermott is the nation’s No. 2 scorer at 24.9 ppg (through Jan. 19), and averages 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 50.2% from the field for the 16-3 Bluejays. He is the only returning Wooden All American this season.
Other Midseason Top 25 picks with impressive statistics of note include Kentucky’s Julius Randle, who ranks No. 10 nationally at 10.5 rebounds per game; and two of the nation’s top playmakers, Chaz Williams of Massachusetts (No. 3 in the nation in assists, 7.4 apg), and Kyle Anderson of UCLA (No. 10, 6.6 apg).
Five freshmen were chosen to the list: Tyler Ennis of Syracuse; Aaron Gordon of Arizona; Jabari Parker of Duke; Randle of Kentucky; and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas.
Arizona (Gordon, Nick Johnson), Duke (Parker, Rodney Hood), Michigan State (Adreian Payne, Keith Appling) and Syracuse (Ennis, C.J. Fair) were the only schools with two players named to the Midseason Top 25. The Wildcats, Orangemen, and Spartans are ranked 1-2-3 in this week’s AP Top 25.
In terms of conferences, distribution of players was fairly even atop the top traditional conferences. The ACC had five selections from three schools, followed by the Pac-12 and Big Ten with four selections each, the Big 12 and SEC with three each, The American with two; and the Atlantic 10, Big East, Missouri Valley, Mountain West with one each.
2013-14 John R. Wooden Award®
Presented by Wendy’s®
Midseason Top 25
If he had his way, Huntington (W.Va.) Prep junior Montaque Gill-Caesar says he would “stay in the gym because that’s the only way you get better.”
No one can vouch for that better than Norrie (Clevenger) Price, a former Mercer Countian and part of the host family for Gill-Caesar in Huntington now.
“He came to Huntington Prep and began living with us last year. He’s a very mature, respectful young man. He works harder on his game than anyone else that has lived with us,” said Price. “He comes in from practices and games, eats and goes back to the gym. He’s very devoted to his family at home. He’s just really a great kid.”
The 6-6 Gill-Caesar is a top 20 recruit in the 2015 class who could reclassify to 2014. He’s on UK’s radar — Kentucky coach John Calipari went to watch him play earlier this month — but has been receiving attention also from Duke and numerous other top schools such as Michigan State, Kansas, Marquette and West Virginia.
Gill-Caesar, a Canadian, enjoys living with Price, her husband and children.
“They have been really, really good to me,” Gill-Caesar said at the Marshall County Hoop Fest earlier this month. “They give me my privacy and they are cool people. They make me feel welcome and treat me as one of their own. They are strict, which is a good thing. It helps when you are out here and they provide such a good environment for me.
“We talk basketball occasionally, but not all the time. She talks about Kentucky a lot because she likes them. Whenever there is a Kentucky game on, we will be watching it. I know her dad (Steve Clevenger) played there, but she doesn’t push that on me.”
Gill-Caesar says the Price’s house is often a “hang-out spot” for Huntington Prep players.
“They are cool people, so you get comfortable because they are welcoming … and she is really a good cook, too. It can be kind of stressful for her, but she enjoys it and keeps everyone busy and occupied when we are around,” Gill-Caesar said. “She is very big on homework and making sure we stay up with our grades. Our grades are our future if basketball does not work out and will give us something to fall back on.”
Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford says having parents like Price and her husband house players is what makes his program different from other prep schools.
“Our school is not for everyone, but the parents love it because we have families that are family away from family. It’s hard to put a price tag on it, but people like them are so valuable. It is a great situation and to have people like Norrie and Dane (Price) involved with our program is why it is successful,” Fulford said. “Norrie relates to the kids. She has a daughter who is their age, and she is cool. She is sports-minded. Obviously, her dad played at Kentucky. They are sports-minded people and I just think it is one of those scenarios with them where they are outgoing and easy to like,
“But you are not coming here just for basketball and the kids know that coming in here. People like Norrie and Dane literally take that serious. They don’t want me calling because if he doesn’t turn in homework assignments, I am going to call and ask them why he’s on this homework assignment list. Everybody works together to make this work.”
It’s working for Gill-Caesar, who had 56 points in a game earlier this year.
“Last year he was just a sophomore and the team had Xavier (Rathan-Mayes) and Andrew (Wiggins) and other seniors who were the recognized leaders,” Price said. “This year he is the only returning player from last year’s team and he is the recognized leader on the court and off. He’s grown into that and he’s handling it well. It’s a role that fits him.”
Going against Wiggins, who now plays at Kansas, daily in practice last year made Gill-Caesar improve.
“It helped me a lot, physically, defensively and having to adjust to react quicker,” Gill-Caesar, who went to the same elementary school in Toronto as Wiggins, said. “He is a quick player on the offensive end, so I had to work to score on him because he is also a lockdown defender. I had to find other ways to score. I think I am more assertive this year. Last year I was more of a shooter. This year I have more freedom to post up, shoot pull ups, get to the foul line and score.
“Andrew made me learn to push hard because he has such high expectations for our team and made you have to play at a high level every day. He was just special. He had so much athleticism. I have never seen that before. He is probably the most humble guy. He doesn’t get cocky. He plays to the crowd, but he always played hard and it benefitted the team. He was the No. 1 player in the country and he showed us all how to deal with it. I think if you model yourself after a guy like that, you will be fine. Everybody also got the opportunity to be seen because of him.
Gill-Caesar says coaches like his “body size and how physical and aggressive I am” when they talk to him.
“I know I am getting better because that’s what happens you work hard on something every day,” Gill-Caesar said. “That’s something Andrew also showed me was that I had to get quicker and stronger.”
Norrie Price says he prefers working on his game to anything else he does.
“He really works hard at his game all of the time. He’s wonderful about taking my son with him to the gym. He likes to hang out with his friends and teammates. He enjoys listening to music … loudly,” Price said. “He’s a solid kid on and off the court. He shoots the ball really well but he also surprises people with his ability to drive and get to the rim. He had 56 points in a game and I could not have been happier for him. His Mom and little brother were here visiting, so it was special.”
She doesn’t know if he will reclassify to the 2014 class, but if he does, she will miss having him around.
“He’s a part of the family, so it will be just like one of my own kids going to college. Hopefully he will end up some place where we can still visit,” Price said. “We had two former players with us for Thanksgiving, so hope to remain close to Teki as well.”
And when will he decide about reclassifying?
“It will just be a spontaneous thing. There’s no set time at all. It will just be a feeling,” Gill-Caesar said. “I’ve got everything I need to graduate.’
He says Kentucky would like him to reclassify and that he feels UK’s 2014 recruiting class of Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl Towns “is really talented and will make noise” with their play.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Five-star guard Montaque Gill-Caesar plays in some of the nation’s premier events against some of the nation’s elite talent. Yet the Huntington (W.Va.) Prep junior, who recently scored 56 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a win, says he’s especially excited about playing in the Marshall County Hoop Fest this weekend.
“Just the atmosphere is crazy,” Gill-Caesar said. “It’s one of the most fun tournaments and games we play in. I am definitely looking forward to it. The crowd really gets into it.”
That was certainly true last year when the pro-Kentucky crowd watched UK target Andrew Wiggins playing for Huntington Prep. Gill-Caesar remembers that well and now he could be the fan favorite since he’s a potential UK target in the 2015 class, or 2014 if he does reclassify as expected.
“It will be fun if that happen with the fans, but I can’t let that distract me, and it won’t,” Gill-Caesar said. “I will just focus on the game and do what it takes for us to get a win.”
UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua watched Gill-Caesar play in Hazard last month, and the 6-6 forward took an unofficial visit to see a Kentucky game in November. Huntington Prep will play Atlanta Sports Academy at 6:30 EST Friday and then take on UK-signee Trey Lyles and Indianapolis Arsenal Tech Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Gill-Caesar says UK has “not formally offered” him a scholarship, but it’s clear one would be available if he wants it.
“They have basically made it clear the opportunity to recruit me is there,” Gill-Caesar said. “I know a lot of people are already saying I am going there, but I am still wide open and I am not sure where I am going. I like them and their winning tradition.”
He likes “how real” Kentucky coach John Calipari is with players.
“He doesn’t sugar-coast anything,” Gill-Caesar said. “He tells you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear. As a player, that helps you grow. You need to hear what you need to improve on rather than just what you are good at. He’s a funny guy, too. Even in drills, he can be funny.
He says his “ultimate goal” is to make the NBA and he likes how Calipari puts players into the league.
“I think you can get to the NBA from anywhere, but his track record getting people to the league is impressive,” Gill-Caesar said.
Michigan State, Kansas, Ohio State, West Virginia and several other top schools are recruiting Gill-Caesar.
He said it was nice to have Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who has his Spartans No. 1 thanks to a win over Kentucky, watching him play recently.
“Just having him in the gym made me work harder and stay focused on what I need to do,” Gill-Caesar said.
The Huntington Prep junior, who is from Canada, said it will be a “spontaneous thing” when he decides about his future.
“There is no set time at all. It will just be a feeling,” Gill-Caesar said.
He says he already has all the credits he needs to graduate this year since he went to high school in Canada two years before he came to Huntington Prep. But he says it’s still not certain he will reclassify to the 2014 recruiting class.
“It will just depend on the school and it will have to be a fit where I know I will excel and make an immediate impact,” Gill-Caesar said. “That’s the reason I will wait until spring to decide probably unless something just feels really right before then.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Huntington (W.Va.) Prep wing Montaque Gill Caesar be a piece of Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class and help offset the expected decision by Stanley Johnson to pick Arizona over UK in a few hours?
The 6-6 Gill Caesar, one of the nation’s top 20 juniors, recently had UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua watch Huntington Prep’s intrasquad scrimmage and then he made an unofficial trip to watch UK play Northern Kentucky.
“Lots of schools are showing heavy interest in him,” said a person who knows Gill Caesar.
He could reclassify to the 2014 class — last year Huntington Prep’s Andrew Wiggins did the same thing and picked Kansas over UK — and join UK’s recent signees in John Calipari’s next class.
“He has the option to do that similar to Andrew. He would be an age appropriate 2014 in the (United) states. He’s talking with his coaches about it now,” the source said. “He’s a big strong kid, very talented and a very hard worker.”
That’s why with the 2014 options he would have — he’s also being recruited by Louisville — it would seem logical that he could reclassify just as Wiggins did last or Karl Towns, who signed with UK Wednesday, did in this recruiting class.
Gill Caesar and a bevvy of future Division I college basketball players will be in Frankfort Sunday playing Ezell Harding Christian Academy of Tennessee at Frankfort High’s F.D. Wilkinson Sports Arena at 2 p.m. Admission is $5.
Huntington Prep features three 5-star players and four 4-star players. Ezell Harding has been a fixture recently at the Tennessee state tourney the team’s assistant coach is former Vanderbilt star Shan Foster.
Huntington Prep features Gonzaga commit Josh Perkins, a 6-3 guard who is a top 50 player; Seton Hall commit Angel Delgado, a 6-9 forward and another top 50 player; and Providence commit Jalen Lindsey, a 6-8 top 100 player. The team also has JaQuan Lyle, a 6-5 top-50 player who was committed to Louisville but it now considering other schools.
Levi Cook, a 6-10 junior and another top 100 player, has already committed to West Virginia.
Thomas Bryant, a 6-10 junior and another top 20 player, also has numerous schools, including UK, recruiting him. Kentucky is also interested in 6-8 sophomore Miles Bridges, a top 20 recruit, with interest from Indiana, Michigan State, Kansas and Kentucky.
Huntington Prep will also play in the Marshall County Hoop Fest Dec. 6-7 that features UK signees Trey Lyles and Devin Booker along with the McCracken County Festival of Hoops Jan. 11 that features UK signees Tyler Ulis and Lyles.
By NANCY ARMOUR, AP National Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — If the Champions Classic is any indication of what’s in store for the rest of the season in college hoops, it’s going to be a fun year. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle were as good as advertised, if not better, and Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas all showed the makings of Final Four teams.The only bummer? The incessant whistles that often made the highly entertaining games look as if they were being played in slow-motion.
It may only be a few days into the season, but here are five things we learned from Tuesday night’s Champions Classic:
GROWING PAINS: NBA scouts and coaches may be drooling over the young Wildcats, but Kentucky coach John Calipari was right to be concerned about how they’d fare against a tough, experienced Michigan State team. After steamrolling two nonconference patsies, the top-ranked Wildcats were humbled early and often by the No. 2 Spartans. Smothering the Wildcats defensively and leaving them flat-footed with their surprising speed on offense, Michigan State had a 10-0 lead before Kentucky got its first bucket. The ‘Cats had seven turnovers before the midway point of the first half, and would finish with 17. They made just 20 of 36 free throws.
“You got guys crying in there, which is a good thing,” Calipari said. “I want it to hurt like that. I knew this would get their attention.” And if the Wildcats take this loss to heart, look out. Julius Randle nearly pulled off the comeback on his own, scoring 23 of his 27 points in the second half, including a jumper with 42 seconds that pared Michigan State’s lead to 2. The Wildcats also outrebounded the Spartans 44-32 — yes, you read that right.
“They’ll get better because of this game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
SPARTY CAN RUN: Michigan State is often dismissed as a football team on hardwood because of its stingy, relentless defense. But these Spartans can run with the best of ‘em. Really. Michigan State had 21 fast-break points, and the Wildcats will be having nightmares about all the times Gary Harris and Keith Appling left them in the dust.
“We’ve been trying to run since last year,” Harris said. “This year, we’re actually doing it. We put a bigger emphasis on it this summer, and we have the guys to do it.”
WIGGINS VS. PARKER: Watching the wunderkids, it was easy to forget they’re only two games into their college careers. Limited to only nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, Andrew Wiggins was simply dazzling in the second. After badgering coach Bill Self all day to guard Jabari Parker, he simply did it, essentially shutting Parker down over the last 10 minutes. Wiggins finished with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including a long jumper and dunk that turned a tense, 2-point game into a Kansas victory. “It’s just all pride. You take pride in what you do, if it’s offense or defense,” Wiggins said.
Parker was equally impressive, finishing with 27 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block before fouling out with 1:16 left. “He was best player in the game for a big stretch tonight,” Self said.
SWALLOW THE WHISTLE: New rules this season are intended to increase scoring and open up games that were little better than slugfests. So far all they’ve succeeded in doing is turning exciting games into tractor pulls. The Michigan State-Kentucky game was an excruciating 2 1/2 hours, with 46 fouls called, including four in a 12-second span. The Duke-Kansas game was a little better, coming in around 2 hours, but with a whopping 53 fouls. No wonder there were groans and chants of “Let them play!” from fans.
“To be honest, I don’t like it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It just takes away all aggressiveness defensively. … We’ve got to adjust because that was a pretty fragmented game.”
But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he’s tired of hearing everyone whine about the fouls. “The officials are doing what they’re supposed to do. Everyone just has to keep adjusting,” he said. “Too much is being said about it. Start playing the way we’re supposed to play.”
KEEP IT COMING: Games hyped as much as these were — “Sneak preview of the Final Four!” — often fall flat, particularly when they come so early in the season. But Michigan State-Kentucky and Kansas-Duke more than lived up to their billing, as did the individual matchups. With defending champion Louisville, Arizona, Michigan and about a dozen others looking like they’ve got the potential to go deep into March, this could be a heck of a season.
“I think it’s going to be an unbelievable year for college basketball,” Self said. “There’s the potential for more great teams than what we’ve had in recent memory.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
CHICAGO — From what ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has seen, he believes freshmen Julius Randle of Kentucky, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Jabari Parker will be the top three picks in the 2014 NBA draft.
“I don’t know the order. I don’t think anybody does,” Bilas said two hours before the Champions Classic in Chicago that featured those three teams along with Duke.
The consensus has been that Wiggins would be the No. 1 pick. Bilas isn’t so sure and says he’s not hearing so much about Wiggins being a clear No. 1.
“He (Wiggins) was the No. 1 rated player coming out of high school. The draft isn’t today. Wiggins is really talented,” Bilas said. “I don’t think he is as prepared to take a game over now as the others. I think Parker and Randle are better right this second. Right this second won’t determine very much. It won’t determine anything in the draft.
“The winners of the game tonight will be great. But it won’t determine a championship. You don’t get a trophy for this. In perpsective, you can lose this game by 20 and still win the national championship. It’s important but not an end all.”
Bilas liked Randle’s ability before the season started and has seen nothing to change his mind.
“He is doing a pretty good job, but he can get better. He is so physically imposing and is such a strong rebounder. When I have watched him, two dribble or less it is hard to deal with him. He is really, really good,” Bilas said. “He can expand his game. He can shoot a little bit. He really has not gone down in the post very much, and he can do that. He has a lot of versatility.”
Bilas said he’s not knocking Wiggins’ ability by noting Randle and Parker — “Parker is really good and versatile, too” — are better players today in terms of taking over a game.
“That doesn’t seem to be his (Wiggins’) personality of being a lead guy right this second, demand shots, to be the man. That’s something he will evolve into. I don’t see him right now being a guy who is going to get 30 tonight,” Bilas said. “Well, Randle can get 30. Parker can get 30. Both of them have scored more points in a game than Wiggins has (this year).
“Wiggins is tremendous. You are not saying when you say Randle might be a little bit better, you are not saying that Wiggins can’t play. That dude can play. What you are saying is that if I had to pick a player right now that I needed to go out and score 30, I would pick Wiggins third of those three right now. By the end of the year, it could be different.”
Bilas said the Champions Classic was good for all players, but especially young players like Kentucky has.
“You are going to be put in a Final Four atmosphere. This will probably be more powerful given that only four No. 1 seeds (Memphis, UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina in 2008) have made it to the Final Four once. These are all No. 1 seed caliber teams,” Bilas said. “This will probably be better than the Final Four. Maybe the level of play won’t be as good as it will be at the end because these teams are all going to get significantly better.
“We would be lucky to have a Final Four this good. It makes it more interesting in a way because it is in a smaller arena. The Final Four (in Dallas) is in this 80,000 behemoth. This is kind of old school. It is pretty neat.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Not often does college basketball have an early November matchup that could be a Final Four, or even a national championship game, preview. Yet many believe that’s what the Kentucky-Michigan State game Tuesday night in Chicago could be.
Kentucky is ranked No. 1 in many preseason polls, but Michigan State has also been ranked No. 1. Both are consensus top three teams going into the season.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas says the game is not a “traditional basketball rivalry where those two have played each other a number of times” like UK-Louisville or UK-North Carolina even.
“Last time I remember them playing in a barn burner game, didn’t they play at Texas in the NCAA tournament when — was that the one when Patrick Sparks made some shot?” said Bilas.
But Bilas said the matchup, along with Duke-Kansas in the second game of the Champions Classic, will answer questions, especially with so many freshmen expected to play key roles in the national title chase this year. Three of the best — Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker — will be playing in Chicago Tuesday night.
“We’ve had the same teams in it every year with Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and Kentucky. But this year you’ve got — you’re looking at maybe the top four teams (in the country),” Bilas said. “And we’d be hard pressed to have a Final Four that good. Maybe we’ll get it.
“But that early in the season — this is the kind of thing that college basketball needs, because too many people have bought into this narrative about football, in football every game counts. Well, it does in basketball, too. In fact, more teams have a chance to win a championship in basketball than in football. By that definition hardly any of the games in football count, and they’re still great games.
“I think this is the kind of thing we need more of, where top teams play earlier in the season, because they’re games that you can learn from and recover from, and it’s good for the game overall. So I think having the contrast of the tremendous talent, young talent, that Kentucky has got, with the — sort of the older, more more experienced players (at Michigan State), it would be fun to watch.”
Bilas is also anxious to see how the new rules designed to stop hand checking and physical play on defense impact a game between top teams.
“This game is in trouble. It has become unwatchable because we have made it a hockey game,” he said. “And, look, I love college basketball, but I love it enough to tell the truth about it. And if you prefer college basketball right now to the NBA for quality — it’s not because of the basketball. It’s because of something else. It’s because the quality of play has taken a huge nose dive because we have not been vigilant in policing our game.
“Now, if some coaches want to complain, I’m willing to listen, but these complaints are unreasonable. We haven’t even started yet. And now we can’t hold and grab, you can’t play? If you can’t move your feet, you can’t play. And if you can’t guard without grabbing somebody, then what you’re saying is you can’t guard. So give a guy some space.”