College Basketball Nation: Darnell Dodson

PITTSBURGH -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Thursday’s afternoon games at Pittsburgh:

No. 8 Kansas State (21-10) vs. No. 9 Southern Miss (25-8), 12:40 p.m. ET

Back when he was an assistant at Cincinnati, Frank Martin watched Larry Eustachy try to rebuild both his career and his life at Southern Miss.

The two schools then were Conference USA foes, and let’s just say it wasn’t a fair fight.

“I remember how bad his team was that year, how frustrated he was with that team,’’ Martin said.

Fast-forward and the two are prepping to face one another in the NCAA tournament, Martin as the head coach with Kansas State and Eustachy with the Golden Eagles team he’s cultivated from nothing to the school’s third NCAA tournament berth.

Eustachy, his struggles with alcohol and his ignominious dismissal from Iowa State well documented, returns to the Dance for the first time in a decade a different person, comfortable in his own skin and happy to share his story.

“There’s nobody that’s got more scars on their fanny than me,’’ Eustachy said. “I could do this blindfolded and backwards and every day. So I think my story is a neat story. I think it’s a great story. I think it inspires people.’’

Martin is usually one of those people who gets inspired. But not this week. This week he’s more worried about what the Golden Eagles present than what his peer has overcome.

“For me, to see his team play, especially over the last 72 hours studying his team, it’s hilarious because it’s like watching his old Iowa State teams play,’’ Martin said. “It’s got Larry Eustachy stamped all over it. A lot of folks say we’re the hardest playing team in America. Well, Larry’s teams were the hardest playing teams when he was at Iowa State.’’

Who to watch:

Southern Miss’ Darnell Dodson. Dodson initially signed with Pittsburgh, wound up in a junior college, transferred to Kentucky and is now with the Golden Eagles. He’s a high-major player who has added a much-needed scoring punch to Southern Miss, averaging 11.1 points per game.

Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez. The freshman point guard has given Martin a few gray hairs, averaging nearly as many turnovers (2.6) as he does assists (3.2). He’ll have to do more of the latter against Southern Miss’ tough group of guards.

What to watch: The Golden Eagles are not a very good shooting team -- they shoot only 40 percent from the floor -- which makes for tough sledding against a Kansas State squad that is tough-minded, particularly on the defensive end, and considerably bigger. Guards Angelo Johnson and Neil Watson need to be especially strong going to the basket.

No. 1 Syracuse (31-2) vs. No. 16 UNC-Asheville (24-9), 3:10 p.m. ET

More than a coach, Jim Boeheim is a basketball fan. He has a working knowledge of what teams are doing -- who’s good, who isn’t.

And while the seed line says his team is playing a walkover, the Syracuse coach knows better.

“They’re shocking to me to be a 16-seed,’’ Boeheim said. “I’m sure most people would say I’m just saying that, but I had seen them play already this year before we got the tapes in. I just think they’re a really good basketball team.’’

The Bulldogs certainly don’t look like a 16-seed, not with 24 wins, a huge cushion in the Big South Conference (winning by four games), an RPI of 91 and a more than respectable nonleague schedule, against the likes of North Carolina, Connecticut and Tennessee.

But the seed is the seed and the only stat that ultimately matters in the end is the obvious one: No No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 in NCAA tournament history.

It is the elephant in the locker room that every coach, who preaches that his team believes it can win every game, has to address.

UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach knows the history better than anyone. Just a year ago, his Bulldogs won in the First Four to set up a 1-16 game against Pittsburgh. The Bulldogs made that interesting, cutting the Panthers’ lead to six before eventually losing by 23.

That team, however, is now a year older and a year wiser. Biedenbach sports a veteran starting five -- four seniors and one junior -- who remember well what happened a year ago.

“All those things are neat, they’re fun and I love the talk shows and the reporters that write about that stuff,’’ Biedenbach said. “But being the first to do that is fascinating, too.’’

Who to watch:

Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas/Baye Keita All eyes will be on the replacement Syracuse big men, given the charge to fill in for Fab Melo. Both have played in spurts, but none significantly or certainly on such a big stage. Neither has to be huge offensively -- that’s up to Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine to get their swagger back -- but they have to be good defensively.

UNC-Asheville’s Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm You can’t say one without the other. The two classmates have achieved more at Asheville than anyone before them, part of the school’s winningest class. More critical to this game, the pair are the premier gunslingers.

What to watch: The pace. UNC-Asheville likes to go, averaging 80 points per game, and it has five guys who can score. All the starters average double figures in scoring. They prefer to get to the hoop or get to the free throw line, where they shoot a strong 76 percent. How that works against Syracuse’s zone, even without Melo, will be interesting.

Behind the box scores: Saturday's games

January, 29, 2012
A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of statistical oddities and standout performances. Here are some we found from Saturday:

Southern Miss 78, UCF 65
Neil Watson (23) and Darnell Dodson (22) each scored more than 20 points off of the Southern Miss bench. They are the first pair of teammates this season to eclipse the 20-point mark off the bench in the same game. By the way, USM's entire starting lineup combined to score 27 points.

Colorado State 77, San Diego State 60
Colorado State hit all 23 of its free throws, matching the most free throws by a team without a miss this season (Jackson State, Jan. 21 vs. Grambling).

Tennessee State 91, Eastern Kentucky 85 (2 OT)
Eastern Kentucky’s Mike DiNunno and Jason Jones scored 33 and 30 points, respectively, in the Colonels’ double-overtime loss. They are the third pair of teammates to score at least 30 in a game this season (all three needed overtime to do so), but the first to lose. The last team to lose despite having two 30-point scorers was DePaul in the 2009 Big East tournament against Providence.

Saint Mary’s 80, BYU 66
Saint Mary’s won easily despite having four players commit at least five turnovers. It’s the first time this season four players on the same team each turned it over five times.

Wyoming 75, Boise State 64
Wyoming missed a total of 15 field goals and free throw attempts, the fewest number of misses by any team this season. Our trillions of the night also came from this game: Arthur Bouedo and Rob Watsabaugh of Wyoming played 6 and 5 minutes, respectively, without accumulating a stat. They are the sixth pair of teammates this season to pull off that feat, but the first to do it in a win.

Southern Utah 62, South Dakota 60
Southern Utah missed all four of its 3-point attempts in Saturday’s win. It is the 14th time this season a team has won without making a 3 and the third time the Thunderbirds have done so. No other team in the country has done it more than once. It’s also the 18th time a team has won while taking five or fewer 3s, and again Southern Utah is the only team in the country to do it more than once; the Thunderbirds have done it seven times.
Editor's Note: For Myron's recap of Saturday's afternoon action, click here.

More Saturday games. More drama. A weekend slate that wasn’t supposed to offer much ultimately produced an impressive collection of games. Saturday night only added to the excitement.

Washington 69, Arizona 67

This game might have been a preview of the vibe we’ll see in the Pac-12 tournament. Not one team in this league can feel secure about its NCAA tournament hopes, but the conference's collective downfall does make for plenty of must-win drama.

Consider this: Between the 14:16 and 2:28 marks of the second half, Arizona recorded exactly one field goal. And yet, with two minutes to play, this was just a six-point game. Solomon Hill’s 3-pointer with 9 seconds to play tied the game at 67. He was awesome, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. But while he made nine of his 10 shots, the rest of team went 12-of-40 (30 percent) from the field.

And after Hill's big bucket, Josiah Turner committed a huge foul on C.J. Wilcox, who hit a pair of free throws before freshman Tony Wroten blocked Turner’s layup at the buzzer. The Pac-12 is certainly down. But it’s also a very scrappy league right now because of the uncertainty. Arizona was bad for a chunk of this game, but the Wildcats kept coming -- because, well, it's UA-UW and these matchups are always dramatic.

The Huskies, who lead the Pac-12 at 7-2, scored a crucial road win, while Zona’s at-large hopes took another major blow with its third home loss of the season. Fun game.

No. 21 Virginia 61, North Carolina State 60

The Cavaliers led 55-45 with 6:37 on the clock, but barely held on here. The Wolfpack was sloppy for the bulk of this game and finished just 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. Near the five-minute mark, Alex Johnson missed three shots on one possession. He botched a layup on a fast break, then missed a contested follow-up and a 3-pointer. It was that kind of evening for the Pack.

But they bounced back and chipped away at Virginia’s lead. They outscored UVa 15-5 in the final six minutes of the game and Scott Wood hit a late 3 to close the gap to 1. The Cavs missed a jumper in the final seconds so NC State had a chance to tie on the last possession, but Virginia’s defense clamped down on Lorenzo Brown, whose 3-point attempt at the buzzer was way off.

The Cavs continue to find ways to win and force teams to play their grind-it-out style of basketball. Mike Scott (18 points) certainly helped, but Virginia was outrebounded 42-25 -- it gave up more offensive boards (18) than it had defensive boards (17)! -- and still pulled out the win. The Cavaliers' 17th victory gives them one more than all of last season.

That’s certainly something to be proud of, but I’m not sold on the Cavs as a team that will do damage in the NCAA tournament. Not with struggles against Towson, a bad home loss against Virginia Tech and other so-so efforts this season. Their finish against NC State on Saturday showcased some of this team’s flaws.

No. 20 Saint Mary’s 80, BYU 66

Wait, wasn't this supposed to be the weekend that the Gaels fell in West Coast Conference play? As impressive as SMC's 8-0 start in the WCC was, there was a palpable buzz that suggested the Gaels' success was directly linked to the fact that they played five of their first eight conference games at home, including routs of BYU and Gonzaga.

A rematch with Brigham Young on the road -- the Marriott Center is one of the most challenging venues in the country -- spelled doom. Right? But Saint Mary’s truly separated itself from the rest of the league with a 14-point victory that really wasn't even that close, despite SMC's heavy turnover total (24). It was a scrappy game both on the floor and off it -- fans threw things onto the court at one point as the Cougars lost back-to-back home games for the first time ever under Dave Rose. Four Gaels recorded double-figure point totals, led by Brad Waldow (19 points, 8 rebounds). I already can't wait for that Saint Mary's-Gonzaga game in Spokane.

Some more observations from Saturday night ...
  • Oh Dayton, you confusing Atlantic 10 contender (pretender?). From Dec. 7 through Jan. 7, the Flyers won seven of eight games, including victories over Alabama, Ole Miss, Saint Louis and Temple. They’ve now lost three of five after Saturday’s 86-81 home loss to … wait for it … Rhode Island (4-18, 1-6 Atlantic 10). That’s not OK. What a wacky league. Xavier, Saint Louis and Dayton, three teams expected to emerge from the crowd, all have three conference losses as La Salle, St. Bonaventure and UMass (a very impressive winner over the Billikens on Saturday) share the conference lead. The A-10 seems as wide open and as unpredictable as any league in the country. Who can call it right now? Not me.
  • The last time Minnesota and Illinois faced off, the Gophers lost to the Illini in double overtime in Champaign. On Saturday, Minnesota got its revenge with a 77-72 OT win at the Barn. After losing their first four conference games, the Gophers have won four of their past five. They’re a young team with limited depth, but Tubby Smith has coached this team extremely well in this five-game stretch.
  • It was a huge night in Conference USA as the league's top four teams squared off. What we learned is that Memphis and Southern Miss, which play each other Wednesday in Hattiesburg, are the conference's co-favorites. Behind a career-high 29 from Will Barton, the Tigers rallied in the second half for a hard-fought home win against Marshall. The Golden Eagles also had a huge second half to win in Orlando, where UCF had won 16 straight (including a recent victory over Memphis). Neil Watson and Kentucky transfer Darnell Dodson combined for 45 points as Larry Eustachy's underrated squad improved to 19-3. Yes, 19-3.
  • Think the Mountain West is a pushover? No. 15 UNLV needed overtime to dismiss Boise State on the road and the Rebels needed an extra period again Saturday, when they beat Air Force 65-63. AFA is ranked 156th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings and Vegas is 17th, but these two squads were even on the scoreboard until the closing seconds. But the Falcons committed two turnovers in the last 15 seconds of the contest and squandered their chances to win this one late. Still, it was more evidence that the Mountain West is deeper than it appears to be on the surface. Mike Moser continued his destructive streak with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Oklahoma scored a key road when it beat No. 24 Kansas State 63-60. The Sooners pressured the Wildcats, who committed 20 turnovers. Frank Martin has been preaching defense, but K-State didn’t have much against Steven Pledger, who scored 30 points. The Wildcats have lost three of their past six. Meanwhile, this had to be a satisfying win for Lon Kruger, who used to play and coach in Manhattan. What a great job he's done in his first year in Norman.
  • Seton Hall looked like an NCAA tournament team after it followed a blowout road loss at Syracuse with a four-game winning streak. But the Pirates have lost their past four and looked lackluster in a 60-51 home defeat to Louisville. Boy, that surprising season turned sour really quick, didn't it?
  • Speaking of New Jersey, how strange is this Rutgers season? After Saturday's victory over Cincinnati, the young Scarlet Knights now have wins over Florida, Connecticut and the Bearcats ... and losses to DePaul, Illinois State, Princeton and a down Richmond team.
  • Wichita State and Drake took a combined 149 shots in their triple-overtime thriller Saturday night. The Bulldogs outplayed the Shockers and deserved their 93-86 victory. Kraidon Woods’ layup for Drake sent the game into the first extra period and Rayvonte Rice hit a pair of late free throws to take the game into a second overtime. Drake’s Kurt Alexander and Wichita State’s Ben Smith traded late 3s in the second extra period to send the game into a third OT. In that third overtime, Drake scored the first five points and WSU couldn’t close the gap. The Shockers suffered their first loss since New Year’s Eve, but this is still a quality team. Wichita State is now one game behind Creighton in the MVC. Let's all count down to that Feb. 11 rematch in Omaha.

3-point shot: Southern Miss gets help

December, 21, 2011
1. Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy boasted that he has his best team yet with the 9-2 Golden Eagles. It’s still hard to project if that is true. But adding Kentucky transfer guard Darnell Dodson in the past week will certainly help, especially when Dodson goes for 17 points while Angelo Johnson went 1 for 12 in a punch-marred (Torye Pelham and ASU’s Ruslan Pateev were ejected for fighting) last-second win for the Eagles at Arizona State. Dodson hit the winning 3-pointer in the final possession. Eustachy said there was no way he could have predicted Dodson would be that productive since had practiced just two days in the last 10 months. “It was unbelievable,’’ Eustachy said.

2. LSU (8-3) is not a fluke. The Tigers were the better team in Baton Rouge, at least for one night, against potential Big East champion Marquette. “They are a very good defensive team and they have four quality big guys and if their guards are making shots they can beat a lot of teams,’’ said Marquette associate head coach Tony Benford. “They are very physical and they do a great job on the offensive glass.’’ Remember, Trent Johnson didn’t have the same talent after his first year in Baton Rouge. He didn’t forget how to coach at LSU after being a success at Nevada and Stanford. LSU’s next big challenge is hosting Virginia on Jan. 2.

3. The decision by Miami to let DeQuan Jones play should help clear former Miami coach and current Missouri coach Frank Haith of any knowledge of wrongdoing. Haith has denied knowing about any alleged payments to a Jones rep by former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro -- allegations that were published in a Yahoo! Sports report. Jones was initially held out by the school during the NCAA and Miami investigation as a result of the report. Jones being cleared to play doesn’t mean the investigation is over since the football and basketball cases are being folded into one. But if Jones is cleared to play without any fear that Miami would have to forfeit games, that could mean the case could be soft against him. No one at Missouri has been worried that there is any reason to believe Haith will suffer a penalty based on the investigation, according to a source.

Darnell Dodson might get another chance

September, 28, 2011
On April 28, Southern Miss issued a one-sentence news release stating: "Southern Miss head men's basketball coach Larry Eustachy has announced that Darnell Dodson has been dismissed from the team." Dodson had apparently run into trouble again after transferring to the school following his lone season at Kentucky.

Now according to Andy Katz, Dodson might get another chance to continue his career at Southern Miss.
In addition, a source said a decision was due soon on reinstating Kentucky transfer guard Darnell Dodson by mid-year. Dodson had been booted off the Wildcats team after the 2009-10 season by coach John Calipari, who did not give a reason.

Dodson transferred to Southern Miss and was enrolled this past January, but in late April, Eustachy announced Dodson had been dismissed from the Golden Eagles as well, and also did not give a reason.

According to the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American, Dodson was charged with felony burglary for allegedly stealing items from a fraternity house in April.

Eustachy, who Katz reported has agreed to a new three-year contract, hasn't been shy about offering second chances considering he needed one himself. After his problems with alcohol cost him his job at Iowa State, he came to Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles won 22 games last season.

With Dodson, the team would get back a player who once led Kentucky in made 3-pointers and helped John Calipari's Wildcats reach the Elite Eight in 2010.

In April, Eustachy appeared to have ended Dodson's career at Southern Miss before it began. But after a change of heart, Dodson might very well get one more opportunity.

Canada gives Kentucky a head start

August, 2, 2010
Kentucky coach John Calipari scheduled this month’s trip to Canada and the 10 practices preceding the sojourn to get his heralded newcomer class adapted to his dribble-drive motion offense, increase the roles of his returning players and have the team bond.

Two days into practice down in advance of the three-day trip Aug. 15-17 to Windsor, Ontario, and Calipari can claim that at least two of the three goals will likely occur.

The one in doubt is how many of the newcomers will be able to play in Canada due to injuries and eligibility issues.

[+] EnlargeCalipari
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari is taking his Kentucky team to Canada this summer.
Calipari said freshman forward Terrence Jones is out with an ankle injury and might not be able to play in Canada. Jones would still go on the trip. The 6-9 Jones was a huge get for Calipari after Jones initially committed to Washington out of Jefferson High in Oregon. Jones will likely be one of the top producers from the wing.

Enes Kanter, a heralded 6-9 center out of Turkey, was “more skilled than I thought,’’ Calipari said. Kanter is academically eligible, according to Calipari, but is still going through his amateurism clearance. Calipari doesn’t expect a hiccup for the season but Kanter might not be cleared to play prior to the trip.

The good news for Kentucky is that the other likely contributing newcomers -- freshmen point guard Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Stacey Poole and JC transfer Eloy Vargas -- are all good to go.

Calipari said Poole, like Kanter, was more skilled with the ball than he had projected. He said Knight was a better athlete than he had predicted and Lamb had a great feel for playing how fast the Wildcats want to play this season.

“But it’s been just two days so I’m throwing a lot of stuff at them,’’ Calipari said.

Calipari singled out his returnees in rising junior wing Darius Miller (6.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 33.6 3s), junior wing DeAndre Liggins (3.8 ppg, 31.8 on 3s), sophomore forward Jon Hood (1.2 ppg, 0.7 rpg) and senior forward Josh Harrellson (1.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg), who have all improved over the summer. They’ll have to contribute quite a bit after the Wildcats lost five players early to the NBA draft following an SEC title, 35 wins and an Elite Eight appearance.

Calipari announced on his website Sunday night that rising sophomore Darnell Dodson wouldn’t return this season. That shouldn’t come as a shock since Calipari was non-committal on Dodson in the spring. Dodson was the sixth-leading scorer at six points a game and shot 34.7 on 3s, making a team-high 50 last season. The Wildcats were only 33.3 percent on 3s last season.

Calipari said Knight, Miller and Liggins are making 3s in practice while Lamb is hitting runners. It’s early, way early, but Calipari doesn’t seem too fazed with the departure of the 3-point shooting Dodson. He has replacements, albeit inexperienced ones on the wing.

“Teaching the dribble drive goes against everything these guys have learned,’’ said Calipari, who didn’t run it as much last season with the quick-footed John Wall pushing the offense from one end to another. “When they’re driving they have to look at a few things. It’s not just beating your man. That’s a given. What am I doing? Am I scoring and if not where are they coming from and how is the shifting defense going to affect me?’’

Calipari said he’s also putting in a fair amount of his defensive approach to get ahead in the fall.

“As much as anything I want to see them compete and come together,’’ Calipari said of the practices and the trip. “I want them to respect each other and see the veterans take on leadership.’’

The Wildcats will be down nine players from last season now that Dodson is gone. Kentucky will play the University of Windsor on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. at the St. Denis Centre in Windsor, followed up by a 7 p.m. game against the Western Mustangs on Aug. 16 with the trip concluding against Windsor again at 11 a.m. on Aug. 17.
John Calipari's second batch of Kentucky Wildcats was already going to be startlingly young. Sunday night, Kentucky accomplished something rather impressive. It got even younger.

[+] EnlargeDarnell Dodson
Mark Zerof/US PresswireDarnell Dodson won't be playing for the Wildcats this season.
That's the result of Calipari's announcement (via Facebook, of course) that junior Darnell Dodson would not be playing for the Cats in 2010-11. Calipari's brief news flash allows for the possibility of Dodson's return and notes that Dodson is, in fact, academically eligible:
I do want to let you all know that junior Darnell Dodson will not be playing for UK this season. If Darnell, who is academically eligible, decides to return, he could practice with the team if he meets our standards.

No reason is given for Dodson's quasi-expulsion from the team, but by ruling out academics, the announcement likely means Dodson has had some internal behavioral issues that got him in hot water.

Whatever the cause of the decision, the result is that Kentucky will lose one of its few returning players from last year's 35-3 team. Dodson scored 6.0 points in 14.5 minutes per game in 2009-10, and his role as an outside shooter on Calipari's freshman-laden squad was expected to be much larger in the coming year. Without him, the Wildcats lose a chunk of experience, one of the few remaining after this year's talent exodus -- to say nothing of Dodson's ability to shoot the basketball from deep. It's a tough blow.

The good news for Kentucky is, well, pretty much the same as it's been all offseason: Those freshmen are going to be really good. But if there were two things the Wildcats couldn't afford to sacrifice, they were experience and shooting. Without Dodson, they lose a bit of both.

Where does Kentucky go from here?

May, 10, 2010
Kentucky head coach John Calipari said he never thought he would lose five players to the NBA draft when the season started, saying he only anticipated losing freshman point guard John Wall and junior forward Patrick Patterson.

"I thought Eric Bledsoe would stay,'' Calipari said. "I wasn't sure about Daniel Orton because of his knee injury and I wasn't sure DeMarcus Cousins would grow as a person and be ready to leave. Once the season ended, I knew I'd lose all five.''

Wall, Cousins and Patterson left no doubt in their cases once they declared with an agent by the initial April 25 deadline. Bledsoe and Orton left the window open slightly by not hiring agents, but then on Friday informed Calipari, as expected, that they too were staying in the draft. All five could go in the first round.

Calipari didn't plan in the early signing period to lose all five underclassmen. That's why once again he had to go through a furious spring to secure elite players. Expect incoming freshmen point Brandon Knight, guards Doron Lamb and Stacey Poole and center Enes Kanter to be in the rotation immediately. Knight and Lamb were late signees.

Calipari will also have wings Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins and forwards Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood in the rotation.

"We're going to be good, we're just going to be a different kind of team,'' Calipari said. "We do need a few more guys, maybe one more forward.''

Calipari said he will be studying how the New York Knicks play and is considering going with four guards and one forward or at times having five players out to use more of his dribble-drive-motion offense.

"We have enough good players,'' Calipari said. "I'll spend the next few months trying to figure it out. I'd like to have four perimeter guys who are 6-3 or taller and one big guy defensively, who can set ball-screens, trail and run to the post and elbow and play. Hopefully if we face a 1-3-1, we'll make more 3s."

Clearly, UK's woeful 4-of-32 performance from 3 in an Elite Eight loss to West Virginia hasn't strayed far from Calipari's mind.

Kentucky 74, Tennessee 45

March, 13, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The 3-point shots started to fall for Kentucky in the second half, thanks to Eric Bledsoe and Darnell Dodson.

But the defense, the rebounding, the endless pursuit of the 50-50 balls … they’ve been a constant all season.

The No. 2-ranked Wildcats had to work for it, but they were just too physical, too big and too talented for Tennessee and pulled away in the second half for a 74-45 semifinal romp in the SEC tournament.

Something just seems right in the world when the Wildcats are back in the SEC tournament championship game. Think about this: They’ve now played in the semifinals of this tourney 36 times and have failed to make the final only twice.

Kentucky (31-2) will face the winner of the second semifinal between Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in Sunday’s championship game. The Wildcats will be gunning for their 26th tournament championship.

It was a rugged game and void of much finesse. There was a double technical foul called on Tennessee’s Wayne Chism and Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins, and Tennessee guard Melvin Goins was ejected a few minutes later for a flagrant foul after replays showed that he delivered a shot to Cousins’ midsection.

Kentucky couldn’t buy a jump shot in the first half and struggled from the free-throw line all game, but Bledsoe connected on two straight from 3-point range early in the second half to open up the game. Dotson opened it up even more with just under eight minutes to play when he knocked down back-to-back 3’s.

In the second half, Bledsoe and Dodson combined to go 6-of-9 from 3-point range, a scary thought for anybody who has to face these guys in the NCAA tournament.

If they're hitting from the perimeter, coupled with Kentucky's muscle inside and John Wall's ability to get to the glass, the Wildcats are as good a pick as any to win the NCAA tournament.

The Vols (25-8) got nothing easy on offense and shot just 30.9 percent from field.

Cousins had his problems at the free-throw line (7-of-17), but he was a beast inside with 19 points and 15 rebounds, his 19th double-double of the season. That's after he looked disinterested in the Wildcats' quarterfinal game.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Quick halftime thoughts from Rupp Arena, where No. 3 Kentucky leads Florida 41-31 at the break:

  • It looked like the Wildcats might blow this one open after a 14-0 run midway through the half made the score 34-16. But Florida did good work to get the deficit back to a manageable margin before intermission as Kentucky got careless with the ball and with its fouls.
  • John Calipari honored the seniors by starting Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris and former walk-on Mark Krebs. All three played until the 14:37 mark and left with a 7-3 lead.
  • The best news for Kentucky, other than having the lead, has been the play of Darius Miller and Darnell Dodson. The Wildcats have been looking all year for consistent outside shooting and production from the 3-spot. Miller and Dodson each have eight points at halftime and are a combined 4-for-5 on 3s. Just what Calipari wants to see in March.
  • Erik Murphy has given Florida a nice boost off the bench with seven first-half points. Murphy has scored double-digit points in just one game all season.

Final: Kentucky 80, Georgia 68

March, 3, 2010
ATHENS, Ga. – There might have been a hangover for a while, but it didn’t last long.

Still smarting from its loss at Tennessee last weekend, No. 3-ranked Kentucky toyed with Georgia for much of the first half Wednesday night in Stegeman Coliseum.

But when the second half began, the Wildcats were a Big Blue blur on their way to a 12-0 run that took the crowd out of the game and sent John Calipari’s club to an 80-68 victory.

Kentucky (28-2, 13-2) clinched at least a share of its 44th SEC championship and also locked up the Eastern Division’s No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC tournament.

After leading 40-36 at the half, Kentucky turned on the jets and raced out to a 52-36 lead. It was all the Bulldogs (13-15, 5-10) could do during that stretch to get off a pass, let alone a shot.

The bench came up big for Kentucky after producing just five points in the 74-65 loss to Tennessee. Darnell Dodson led the way with 11 points and was 3-of-6 from 3-point range.

Freshman point guard John Wall was more than the Bulldogs could handle. He finished with 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting and also had six assists and three steals in 37 minutes.
March is an awesome month. The weather in my adopted town has a lot to do with this; in many ways, March 1 is a huge mental marker for the imminent return of days when you don't have to encase your body in 30 pounds of Gore-Tex just to step outside the house. But forget the weather: March is really awesome for the basketball it promises -- the final week of conference play, the 31 conference tourneys, and the rapturous glory that is the NCAA tournament. Welcome, one and all. The next 30 days are going to rule.

To celebrate, how about some links? OK then:
  • Hoyas fans are none too pleased with the effort Georgetown gave in Saturday's not-really-all-that-competitive loss to Notre Dame, a loss that will likely hurt Georgetown's seed and has put Notre Dame right back in the bubble conversation.
  • Georgetown's shame had a lot to do with the suddenly off-the-charts play of Ben Hansbrough, who, yes, is Tyler Hansbrough's brother and who, yes, heard plenty about being Tyler Hansbrough's brother throughout his first season for the Irish. Hansbrough doesn't have the sheer talent or raw strength of his older sibling, but on Saturday he displayed several of those vaunted Hansbrough-y qualities: basketball intelligence, will, and boundless energy. Oh, and it helps that he can stroke the outside shot; that's at least one thing Tyler never quite mastered.
  • If you were a Kansas fan, would you be upset about Saturday's loss at Oklahoma State? The Jayhawks are 27-2, after all, and the loss doesn't demonstrably effect Kansas' accomplishments this season -- they'll still be the Big 12 regular season champs and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Still, though, something more was lost on Saturday, as the Kansas City Star's Martin Manley wrote this weekend: "If you stop and think about it, this is one of the most disappointing regular season losses in KU’s 500 years of basketball. How can I make such a radical statement? Well, first of all I don’t care about a loss. For crying out loud, they are 27-2. But, here is what got flushed down the toilet Saturday. 1) They probably will not beat North Carolina to 2,000 wins. 2) They will not make 2,000 wins on March 6th, the last regular season game and on the road against their primary rival – Missouri. 3) They will not hit 30 wins on March 6th. 4) They will not be 16-0 in the conference. 5) They are no longer chasing the best beginning in KU history of 34-1. 6) They no longer have a chance at 39 wins – which would be an NCAA record. 7) They likely will not be #1 in the polls. 8) It was only the second game in the last 103 that a KU opponent has hit over 50% from the field and they were at 60.4%!..." OK, so none of these are reasons to freak out -- but for fans interested in historical markers and statistical quirks, the loss will still be disappointing.
  • For now, though, Rock Chalk Jayhawk is more concerned with honoring Sherron Collins, who will play his final game at Allen Fieldhouse when Kansas State comes to town on Wednesday.
  • Ballin' Is A Habit praises Tennessee's win over Kentucky Saturday, and asks the question: Just how good are the Volunteers? Here's my short answer: Good, not great, but with Bruce Pearl at the helm, the Vols will always be a dangerous tourney team. Fair?
  • Meanwhile, John Calipari claims that two of his players "sleepwalked" against Tennessee, though he wouldn't name names. The Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton does a quick elimination process and comes up with Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins -- and perhaps forward Patrick Patterson -- as the prime suspects of Cal's postgame scorn.
  • The Only Colors takes a long look at Durrell Summers' inconsistency, finding that Summers is actually pretty peerless on offense so long as he stays inside the three-point line. Defensively? That's a slightly less complimentary story.
  • As is the case every March, there's been plenty of discussion lately about the methods the selection committee uses to pick its field of 65; I could link all of these posts separately, but since Mike Miller went ahead and rounded them all up, head over and peruse accordingly.
  • Adam Zagoria asked former Pitt players whether they were surprised at the success of the star-less 2009-10 team. The answer is unlikely to surprise.
  • The New York Times' Pete Thamel remains on top of the Binghamton beat, where there is concern the school hasn't entirely shifted its focus from the win-at-all-costs attitude that got Kevin Broadus suspended and upended the team in the offseason. The key graph: "Even though the university president, Lois B. DeFleur, has announced she will retire in July; the athletic director, Joel Thirer, has resigned; and the men’s basketball coach, Kevin Broadus, has been placed on paid administrative leave, faculty members and administrators are concerned that those who carried out the orders in building a big-time basketball program remain. They worry that when the SUNY chancellor, Nancy L. Zimpher, makes recommendations to the board March 23, she will focus on Binghamton’s athletic problems, not its academic troubles."
  • Are officials overworked? They would tell you no. The reality seems otherwise.
  • The Big 5 title -- the yearly championship awarding the Philadelphia area's best team -- will go to Temple for the 26th time in 2009-10.
  • Finally, everyone's probably familiar with the basketball odyssey taken by Wes Johnson before he ended up at Syracuse, but this story from the Post-Standard lays out the recruiting pitch given to Johnson and his brother by assistant coach Rob Murphy: “I said ‘OK, if you guys want to waste time, go ahead, but I’m telling you in the next couple days, you’ll call me back and say I’m going to Syracuse,’” Murphy said, recalling the final conversation of the trip. “‘You’re not going to find any place like this. We’ve got everything you want. You want to be a professional. You’ll work hard and play against Paul Harris and all these guys next year in practice and then next year, you’ll probably start for us, we’ll have a good year and you’ll go pro. It’s just that simple.’" Not bad, right?

Final thoughts from Ole Miss-Kentucky

February, 2, 2010
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Quick reactions from Kentucky's 85-75 victory over Mississippi in Rupp Arena:
  • John Wall passed, shot, drove, defended -- and smiled. The freshman point guard, who said Saturday he wasn't having much fun lately, looked like his normal self against the Rebels. With Ole Miss unafraid to play a full-court game that suits Wall's strengths, he fluidly flew around Rupp while producing 17 points and seven assists.

  • "I'm happy again," Wall declared. "It feels good, hopefully (the mini-controversy) will go away now."

    Wall said the lesson learned from the past couple days of dithering about his comments was "just keep your mouth shut." But he also acknowledged he was trying too hard to live up to his considerable hype.
  • Coach John Calipari loved what he saw out of Wall Tuesday night.

  • "John Wall ran our team as well as he has all year," Calipari said.
  • The Rebels went with conventional wisdom and zoned the Wildcats, figuring the only way to test them offensively was to clog the lane and challenge John Calipari's crew to make 3-pointers.

  • Challenge answered. Kentucky made 9 of 19 3s.

    The past two games have showcased a developing weapon for Kentucky, shooting guard Darnell Dodson. With emphasis on shooting. Against Vanderbilt, Dodson got his first start since the season opener and responded with 16 points, hitting 4 of 8 3s. He started again tonight and was 4 of 5 from 3-point range, scoring 14 points in 16 minutes of playing time.

    If Dodson keeps shooting this way, the junior college transfer will be the antidote to the zone strategy.

    "Big," was Calipari's description of Dodson's contribution.
  • Junior Patrick Patterson was the only starter who predates Calipari. He had some nice contributions, including a couple of excellent defensive possessions, but his offensive output continues to decline as the newcomers assert themselves. Patterson had 12 points and six rebounds. His scoring average has decreased six straight games (from 16.7 to 15.1) and his rebounding average has decreased five straight (from 8.1 to 7.6).

  • Calipari praised Patterson but is still seeking more assertiveness from his most veteran player.

    "He's still not there yet," Calipari said. "You'll see it in another week to 10 days, two weeks, and you'll say, 'This is him.'

    "He helped himself today, but let me say this: He's still 30 percent better than he played today."
  • Cousins continues to amaze. He swallowed up seven rebounds in the first six minutes and 15 seconds, and finished with his 13th double-double of the season (18 points and 13 rebounds). And although the freshman was slow getting back on defense several times, he also stepped in and took three charges. If he's not blocking your shot, he's stopping your drive with his body.

  • Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was asked to compare Cousins to someone from his playing days and came up with Chris Washburn -- a great college talent at North Carolina State.
  • Despite all the impressive performances and spectacular plays, Kentucky played another ebb-and-flow game. The Wildcats hit Ole Miss with a 12-2 run to start -- then relaxed. The next run was 15-0 -- then the Cats relaxed and Ole Miss crept back within three. Kentucky led by 18 in the first half and 17 in the second half but never threw the knockout punch. That's been a recurring theme this season for this young, 21-1 team but it hasn't derailed anything yet.
  • Mississippi sophomore Terrico White showed off a bit for the two-dozen NBA scouts in attendance, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds. But he was shut out in the last 14 minutes.

Downey downs Kentucky

January, 27, 2010
Darrin Horn was downright giddy when Devan Downey said he was withdrawing from the NBA draft this summer.

And that was before the South Carolina coach lost Dominique Archie to a knee injury and Mike Holmes to a broken bone near his eye in November. Holmes was booted from the team just this month for repeated violation of team rules.

Imagine how Horn felt on Tuesday night. The 5-9 Downey, the ultimate David in a big man's sport, took down Goliath practically all by himself. With John Calipari throwing everything and everyone at Downey, the SEC's leading scorer still scored 30 points as South Carolina stunned No. 1 Kentucky, 68-62.

And I'll admit it: South Carolina stunned me, too. I didn't think Kentucky would get through this season unscathed. It's just too hard. But after assuming the ring-grabbing demeanor of their coach and unabashedly aiming for that No. 1 ranking, I didn't see the Wildcats surrendering it so quickly. The Cats' hot-potato treatment of the top spot matched Texas' cootie reaction to No. 1, ranked at the top in the afternoon only to lose the same evening.

But I especially didn't see Kentucky losing to a team like South Carolina, a preseason NCAA tourney team that instead rode a three-game losing streak into the meeting with UK and has struggled to regain its footing since losing Archie and Holmes.

But Downey, who so long has been criticized for what he's not (namely tall), showed speed and moves to rival that of John Wall and a poise that the Kentucky rookie simply didn't have on Tuesday night. Downey took a lot of shots -- 29 in all -- but he has to. And Calipari and the Wildcats knew Downey had to and still couldn't stop him.

Of course this is as much about Kentucky as it is South Carolina. The Wildcats, who had survived by a whisper five times this season, did not play well from the opening tip. They were disjointed and sloppy. Wall finished with 19, but as the game got close and you kept expecting him to take over, it never happened.

Perhaps more telling, this team of overachieving freshmen were left on an island by their upperclassmen and drowned. The Kentucky newcomers, which includes JUCO transfer Darnell Dodson, scored 57 of Kentucky's 62 points. Patrick Patterson represented the older generation with the other five.

The guys with experience, the ones presumably more equipped to handle hostile gyms and the newly minted No. 1 ranking, were absentee parents, leaving the kids to figure out everything on their own.

It's been the one question dogging these uber-talented players since the year started: are they savvy enough to handle what comes at them in wave after wave after wave? For 19 games they were, so it's a little foolish to say they'll unravel altogether now.

But things aren't exactly going to get easier for the Wildcats from here. Vanderbilt comes to Rupp Arena on Saturday, followed by Ole Miss, with Tennessee and Mississippi State still looming down the road.

With a small chink in their armor exposed, how Kentucky responds will be monitored closely.