Game Preview: Texas A&M Aggies

Up next for UK…the Texas A&M Aggies!

The Kentucky Wildcats hit the road to face the Texas A&M Aggies tonight at 6:00 on ESPN.  UK will be looking to get revenge from an embarrassing home loss several weeks ago where Elston Johnson went dropped 40 points.  Johnson has really cooled off since stunning the Cats at Rupp Arena and I anticipate a defensive game plan to stop him tonight.  This is a validation game for the Cats to prove that they really are improving after beating the Ole Miss Rebels on the road earlier in the week.  If the Cats are able to pull out a win in College Station today, they return home for two straight match ups against subpar opponents (South Carolina- Tuesday, Auburn – Saturday).  A win today could springboard UK to a higher seed and help piece together a potential winning streak.  7’0″ freshman Willie Cauly-Stein will be a gametime decision as the big man has missed the past 3 games with a knee injury.  Regardless of his return, I am anxious to see how Kyle Wiltjer responds fresh off a career-high 26 points against the Rebels.

  • Record: 13-7, (3-4 SEC) ranked as the 87th team in Division I (Ken Pomeroy)
  • Strength of Schedule: 57rd toughest in the country
  • Notable Wins: @ Kentucky (W 83-71), vs. Washington State (55-54)
  • Notable Losses:  vs. Oklahoma (L 64-54), @ Alabama (L 60-59)
  • Auburn Points Per Game: 62.3  (Ranked 273rd)
  • Kentucky Points Per Game: 76.4 (Ranked 30th)

Billy Kennedy did an excellent job at Murrary State and is looking at building a solid program at A&M.

  • Head Coach: Billy Kennedy (2nd year)

By all accounts Billy Kennedy is a bright basketball mind and an up-and-coming coach in college basketball.  He won Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2011 as he lead the Racers to one of the best seasons in the school’s history.  After five years of success at Murray State, Kennedy took over the A&M program in 2011 where he has had limited success.  Now that Texas A&M is transitioning into the SEC, he looks to build the Aggies into a contender for the NCAA tournament year in and year out.

Billy Kennedy’s Coaching Career

  • KENNEDY’S COACHING CAREER
    • 2011-: Texas A&M (Head Coach)
    • 2006-11: Murray State (Head Coach)
    • 2005-06: Miami, Fla. (Assistant Coach)
    • 1999-05: Southeastern Louisiana (Head Coach)
    • 1997-99: Centenary (Head Coach)
    • 1993-97: California (Assistant Coach)
    • 1991-93: Creighton (Assistant Coach)
    • 1990-91: Texas A&M (Assistant Coach)
    • 1989-90: Tulane (Assistant Coach)
    • 1988-89: Northwestern State (Assistant Coach)
    • 1987-88: Wyoming (Graduate Assistant Coach)
    • 1986-87: New Orleans (Volunteer Assistant Coach)
    • 1985-86: Southeastern Louisiana (Student Asst. Coach)


    Elston Johnson had the game of his career the last time he faced the Cats.

 Best Player:  #31 Elston Johnson (Senior Guard, 6’5″. 209lbs.)

  • 15.5 points per game
  • 3.5rebounds per game
  • 2.7 assist per game
40 points! That’s all you need to know about Elston Johnson.  He absolutely torched the Cats in their first meeting and UK should take this game as a personal challenge to shut him down.  In the games since the 40 pts he dropped on UK, Johnson has been virtually non-existent in the games as opponents have started keying in on him.  Priority number one for the Wildcats is Mr. Elston Johnson.  Take care of him and UK is on the right path to winning this ballgame.

Vegas Spread: Kentucky 7.5 favorite

In the first meeting at Rupp, UK was a 14.5 point favorite so the spread doesn’t mean much in a game like this but I tend to agree with Vegas.  I would take the Cats to cover the 7.5 as I believe the Cats have revenge on their mind as they enter this game.  They were embarrassed in the first A&M game and I think they will take this one personally.

My Pick:  UK 74 – Texas A&M 62

Game Preview: The Auburn Tigers

Up next for Kentucky is the Auburn Tigers. Fans should expect a tough contest.

The UK Wildcats hit the road to face the Auburn Tigers tonight at 9:00 on ESPNU.  While this game may not have the glamour of a big match-up, this is an important game for Kentucky.  The Cats have struggled on the road this year (Notre Dame blowout and Vandy nailbitter) and while Auburn is a subpar opponent, I still anticipate a tough contest.  With news breaking yesterday that Willie Cauley-Stein will miss the next few game with a nagging knee injury, the already short rotation gets even tighter for Calipari.  This year’s team has a small margin for error, particularly on the road, so I found this game to be critical in the season’s progression.

  • Record: 8-8, (2-1 SEC)
  • Strength of Schedule: 53rd toughest in the country
  • Notable Wins: vs. Florida State (W 78-72), vs. LSU (68-63)
  • Notable Losses:  vs. Murray State (L 59-79), vs. Dayton (L 63-73)
  • Auburn Points Per Game: 69.9  (Ranked 124th)
  • Kentucky Points Per Game: 77.3 (Ranked 30th)

  • Head Coach: Tony Barbee (2nd year)

Tony Barbee was an assistant for Coach John Calipari for 8 total years, two years at UMass (`96-`98) and six years at Memphis (`01-`06) and was a key member of the staff that saw great success at both programs.  Barbee then took over a struggle University of Texas-El Paso team and turned them around in Conference USA where he was voted Coach of the Year.  After his time at UTEP, he was hired as the Tigers’ head coach where he has done a “so-so” job thus far.

Tony Barbee’s All-time Record

  • Head Coaching Record
Year School Record Pct. Conf. (Finish) Postseason/Notes
2006-07 UTEP 14-17 .452 6-10 (10th)
2007-08 UTEP 19-14 .576 8-8 (t-6th) College Basketball Inv. semifinals
2008-09 UTEP 23-14 .622 10-6 (t-4th) College Basketball Inv. runner-up
2009-10 UTEP 26-7 .788 15-1 (Champions) NCAA (First Round)/C-USA Coach of Year
2010-11 Auburn 11-20 .355 4-12 (5th, Western)
2011-12 Auburn 15-16 .484 5-11 (10th)
Total .551 48-48 (.500)

 Best Player:  #23 Frankie Sullivan (Senior Guard, 6’1″. 206lbs.)

  • 17.8 points per game
  • 4.4 rebounds per game
  • 3.3 assist per game
While the average college basketball fan may not be able to name a single player on the Auburn roster, the Wildcats better learn the name of their star guard Frankie Sullivan.  He is scoring 17.8 points per game and can fill it up.  For the Wildcats defense, shutting Sullivan down must be the first priority.  UK cannot have Sullivan go for 40 points like Elston Johnson from Texas A&M did or it’s going to be a long game for the Cats.

Vegas Spread: Kentucky 8.5 favorite

In my opinion I believe the Wildcats will have a tough test with the Tigers but I do think they will eventually pull this one out in the second half and they may even cover the spread.  I am taking the Wildcats by 9 points.

My Pick:  UK 71 – Auburn 62

IMG_0338
UK Beats Vols 75-65 in Scrappy Contest

The Wildcats bounced back to get a tough win over SEC rival Tennessee by a final tally of 75-65.  In what has proved to be a lopsided rivalry, the Wildcats have won 9 out of the last 10 games against the Volunteers.  UK had four players score in double figures and Kyle Wiltjer had 17 points after only scoring 2 points in his last two games.  Nerlens Noel continued show why he is a projected top draft pick with another stellar performance.  The lanky big man had another great overall game and finished with 12 pts, 9 rebs, 6 blks, 4 stls, and 2 asts.  The Wildcats shot the ball well from the field (25-51, 49%) and 3 point range (6-15, 40%) but continued to struggle from the free throw line (19-31, 61%).  Tonight was a tough ball game that got scrappy with both teams receiving technical fouls for players throwing high elbows.  Jarnell Stokes, who guaranteed a UT win, was a non-factor as he struggled with foul trouble all night (4 points, fouled out).  There was a point midway through the second half  where I thought the Wildcats were one basket away from putting the game out of reach but let the Vols climb back into the game.  This team has consistency issues and has difficulty putting separation between them and their opponents.  With 4 of the next 5 games will be on the road (@Auburn, @Alabama, LSU, @Ole Miss, @Texas A&M), winning tonight’s game was extremely critical for the Wildcats.  The Cats should be favorites in their next three games but they have struggle against inferior opponents and have show a weakness on the road.  This one victory does not fix all UK’s problems but it is a positive step in the right direction.

Box Score

Line Score 1st 2nd Total
Tennessee(8-7, 0-3) 31 34 65
Kentucky 34 41 75

 Player Stats

Player Stats PT RB AS BK ST TO MIN
Wiltjer, Kyle 17 5 2 2 0 1 26
Polson, Jarrod 0 0 0 0 0 0 7
Noel, Nerlens 12 9 2 6 4 3 38
Harrow, Ryan 12 3 4 0 1 0 33
Poythress, Alex 10 8 1 0 0 2 24
Mays, Julius 9 0 1 0 0 1 27
Goodwin, Archie 8 2 3 0 1 2 30
Cauley-Stein, Willie 7 5 0 0 0 2 15
Total 75 34 13 8 6 13 200

 

The 'Power' T as the Volunteers describe it makes me sick.  I think its the terrible color that causes me to become ill every time the Wildcats play the Volunteers.
Tennessee Volunteers Preview

 

The ‘Power’ T as the Volunteers describe it makes me sick. I think its the terrible color that causes me to become ill every time the Wildcats play the Volunteers.

Time for Kentucky to put that disheartening Texas A&M game in the rear view mirror and bounce back in Tuesday’s match-up with SEC rival Tennessee. To help prepare you for the game, we’ll do a quick run down of the “low-down dirty snitches” from the Big Orange.

  • Record: 8-6, (0-2 SEC)
  • Strength of Schedule: 58th toughest in the country
  • Best Win: vs. #23 Wichita State (W 69-60)
  • Notable Losses:  vs. #20 Georgetown (L 36-37), vs. Memphis (L 80-85)
  • Ken Pomeroy Ratings: Ranked 93th Overall in NCAA Division I
  • Tennesse Points Per Game: 65.2  (Ranked 236th)
  • Kentucky Points Per Game: 77.4 (Ranked 31st)

From the looks of this picture, I would guess that Kenzo Martin does some amateur modeling in the Knoxville area during the offs-season.

  • Head Coach: Kenzo Martin (2nd year)

Cuonzo Martin became Tennessee’s 18th men’s basketball coach after leading Missouri State to the Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship in 2010-11.  Martin is 27-21 in his second year as the head coach at UT.

Coaching Highlights:

  • Tennessee, head coach, 2011-Present
  • Missouri State, head coach, 2008-11
  • Purdue, assistant, 2000-08

Stokes had solid games against a better Kentucky team last season. Expect Stokes to give the Wildcats problems.

 Best Player:  #5 Jarnell Stokes (Sophomore, 6’8″. 270lbs.)

  • 11.2 points per game
  • 7.7 rebounds per game
  • 1.1 assist per game
Fans may remember Stokes from last season as he graduated high school early to join the Vols mid-season and had an impact performance in both of UT’s losses to the Wildcats in the 2011-12 season.  He is a big body inside with a surprising amount of skill and touch around the rim.  Many may remember Jimmy Dykes talking about his size 20 shoes, which resemble the shoes worn by Ronald McDonald.  Stokes could easily give the Wildcats difficulty in the post with his play-making ability.  I look for the Vols to pound it inside with Stokes early and often.

Vegas Spread: Kentucky 14.5 favorite

In my opinion, that is an incredible high spread considering the Cats have had difficulty putting away opponents.  I anticipate a close game in the first half with UK pulling away in the second to a 8 point victory.

My Pick:  UK 67 – UT 59

Texas A&M Debacle

Elston Johnson balled out against the Cats, finishing with 40 points and leading the Aggies to a big victory at Rupp Arena.

Dear Kentucky Fans,

Things are not going well. I don’t think any of the Big Blue Nation expected to be at this point (10-5, 1-1 SEC) in the season. Teas A&M is not supposed to come into Rupp Areana and take UK to the woodshed 83-71. # 31 Elston Johnson dropped 40 points in a dominating performance.  I now know how Volunteer fans felt after Jodie Meeks poured in 54 on Tennessee a few years back.  Nerlens Noel played his heart out and finished with an impressive stat line.  (15 pts, 11 rebs, 7 blocks, 6 assist, 4 steals).  Kyle Wiltjer did his best disappearing act en route to scoring 0 points.  Harrow continues to improve but even with his improvement it’s not where it should be. Alex Poythress has tons of talent and potential but is too soft.  The individual pieces of the puzzle are there but for a mixture of reasons these pieces are not fitting together so far.

While you certainly must tip your hat to the Aggies for executing their game-plan  I think it’s time this Wildcat team take a good long look at themselves in the mirror.  This team is highly inconsistent and extremely frustrating and if the season ended today they would be a bubble team.  The latest Bracketology has UK as a 7 seed and with yesterday’s loss the Wildcats will continue to drop.  The SEC is down this year so the conference schedule doesn’t offer much in the way of highly ranked opponents to help build their tournament resume.  The Cats are a three point basket at Vandy away from being 0-2 in conference play.  The final verdict on this team is yet to be determined but judging on how things have gone thus far, I think it is fair to say that UK is underachieving and performing well below expectations.

Below is the current tournament resume for the 2012-2013 Wildcats.

AP RANK CONF. W-L 1-1
RPI 67 NON-CONF. W-L 9-4
vs. D-1 10-5 NON-CONF. SOS 62
vs. NON-D-1 0-0 NON-CONF. RPI 98
SOS 39 SCORING MARGIN 15.30
OPPONENT SOS 68 NEUTRAL W-L 1-1
ROAD W-L 1-2
Wins (RPI 1-50)
RPI DATE OPPONENT SCORE
No Wins against teams ranked in the top 50 RPI
Losses (RPI 1-50)
RPI DATE OPPONENT SCORE
1 Nov. 13 Duke* 68-75
44 Nov. 29 Notre Dame 50-64
40 Dec. 1 Baylor 55-64
9 Dec. 29 Louisville 77-80
38 Jan. 12 Texas A&M 71-83

Cats Survive a Scary 2nd Half, Win 60-58

This year’s team may drive Calipari crazy.

Welcome to the conference portion of the Kentucky basketball schedule- the unofficial second stage of the season.

UK opened their 18 game SEC slate with a 60-58 road victory against the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Wildcats controlled the game from the tip and there were many positives that fans can take away from the contest…for the first 30 minutes of the game.  The Wildcats lead by 16 points and looked like they would cruise to an easy win AND then the Wildcats laid an egg for the remainder of the game but held on for a 2 point victory.  This game perfectly sums up the entire season for the UK basketball team thus far this season.  The team showed flashes of dominance as they imposed their will on the opponent but then show a lack of composure by letting a terrible Vandy team fight back.  If it had not been for a Nerlens Noel lay-up after the shot clock buzzer, the Wildcats could have easily lost.  Coming off the winter break where they had extensive practice time (aka- Camp Cal), I fully expected the team to take great strides of improvement.  The last three games before this (Marshall, @UofL, and Eastern Michigan), the Wildcats have continued to compete and play at a high level but this game could be considered a step in the wrong direction.  The good news for the team is that they were able to leave Nashville with a ‘W’ and hopefully the quick turnaround for Saturday’s Texas A&M game will give the team an opportunity to bounce back.  Maybe the friendly confines of Rupp Arena will allow Kentucky to regain that momentum they had started to build prior to this game.  At some point though, the Wildcats must prove that they can play with the composure to win on the road.  The SEC is a very bad league this year and show provide many winnable games for Kentucky but if they cannot play better on the road then they will certainly take their lumps.

In closing, I think the best thing to do is just move on as quickly as possible.  The fans shouldn’t overreact to their poor performance but that may be difficult for fans considering how awful UK looked in the last 10 minutes of the game.  Texas A&M is next and it’s time to focus on getting back on track.  Only time will tell what will become of this year’s Kentucky basketball team.