College Basketball Nation: Kentucky Wilcats

3-point shot: Ole Miss on upswing

December, 2, 2011
1. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy has had a hard time catching breaks since he arrived in Oxford. The Rebels have dealt with injuries, defections and early-entrants and an inability to be consistent enough to be an NCAA tournament team. Whether or not Ole Miss can get there in 2012 is still to be determined. But the Rebels finally closed out a game in a frenetic situation as they beat DePaul on the road on a Murphy Holloway layup. Holloway, who played at Ole Miss, transferred to South Carolina and then came back, had committed a silly foul the previous possession before coming up with a decisive steal and layup. The Rebels got blitzed by 30 by Marquette in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands but did finish off Miami in overtime last week. DePaul may be in the bottom fourth of the Big East but the win will still do wonders for the Rebels’ confidence. “It’s the first road win versus a Big East opponent ever in Ole Miss basketball history,’’ said Kennedy late Thursday night of a random fact that seems hard to digest. “Sometimes you’ve got to win ugly.’’ The Rebels aren’t going to be better than Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt or likely Mississippi State or Alabama. But can Ole Miss be more productive than Tennessee or Arkansas or Auburn? This squad has a shot to be a top-six SEC team.

2. The Colonial Athletic Association has been disappointing through the first month of the season. Drexel (2-3) was the preseason favorite but the Dragons haven’t been completely healthy and don’t have a quality win. Other contenders like George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion have either not had their full complement of players or simply are rebuilding and aren’t ready to win elite games. The best win by the CAA so far may be Northeastern’s victory at St. John’s, hardly a NCAA-bound victory since the Red Storm are likely a lower-half Big East squad. “We don’t have that juggernaut team that stands out,’’ said ODU coach Blaine Taylor. “But once we get our people back, the same with Drexel, George Mason and you’ll see VCU play better than people will see how good the (CAA teams are). Our teams have been up and down that doesn’t mean in the long haul that we won’t have real good teams once we get to January and February.’’ The CAA had its second Final Four team in six seasons when VCU earned a bid last April.

3. The MAC last had multiple NCAA tournament teams in 1999 when Miami was a 10-seed and Kent State was an 11. The league once had a flurry of NBA-level-talented players who for whatever reason didn’t make it to the Big Ten. But the MAC slump has been going on for a dozen years. That is, possibly, until now. The MAC has already picked up significant wins: Akron at Mississippi State, Ohio at Marshall, Kent State at West Virginia, Miami and Buffalo beat Dayton (which won the Old Spice Classic). Bowling Green beat Temple. Will any of those wins get the MAC an at-large berth? Probably not. But the MAC is at least proving that it is no longer a weaker comparison to the Horizon League, the Missouri Valley or the Colonial.

Video: West Virginia to the Big 12

October, 28, 2011

Robert Smith on the Big 12 formally inviting West Virginia to join and the impact that has on the Big East.

Friday's SEC tournament games

March, 12, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s hard to imagine Kentucky not getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament even if the Wildcats were to stumble Friday against Alabama.

But Kentucky coach John Calipari is using the No. 1 seed as motivation for his club.

“When you're playing a team like Alabama, you have to have the same energy and the same mentality. You have to be playing for something that's important to you,” Calipari said. “For us, it’s that [No. 1] seed in the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve done this a long time, and if anybody tells you the seed doesn’t matter, they’ve never coached in the NCAA tournament. Seed does matter. If that's more important than them playing their season beyond this, then we’ll be fine. If it’s more important to them to continue their season, then we’ll get beat.”

Here’s a quick glance at Friday’s quarterfinal games:

Game 1: Alabama vs. Kentucky, 1 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: The Wildcats want to leave little doubt that they’re a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and this is the first taste of the postseason for the freshman trio of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Alabama seems to be maturing at just the right time. The Crimson Tide rallied from an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat South Carolina 68-63 in the first round.

Scouting report: How interested is Kentucky to be playing in this tournament? If the Wildcats are knocking down shots, it really shouldn’t matter. With their size and talent, they’re good enough to beat anybody in this league when they’re making shots. Even though Kentucky’s dangerous in the transition game, look for Alabama to take its chances with the press and try to force the Wildcats into mistakes.

They said it: “It’s more than winning for us. It’s how we play. It’s about getting us in the right frame of mind for a postseason run.” -- Kentucky coach John Calipari

Game 2: Ole Miss vs. Tennessee, 3:15 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: Here’s the Rebels’ chance to state their case for an NCAA tournament bid. They’re playing well right now and get a Tennessee team that’s already in the NCAA field. A win over the Vols could be enough to punch Ole Miss’ ticket. The Rebels need a marquee win in the worst way. They haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since December.

Scouting report: Tennessee’s Wayne Chism torched Ole Miss in the teams’ first meeting, a 71-69 win by the Vols in Knoxville. He scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. The other thing the Vols have going for them is 6-foot-11 Brian Williams, who’s playing the best basketball of his career after being suspended the first time the teams played. Ole Miss counters with strong guard play. Tennessee doesn’t have a lot of answers for the Chris Warren-Terrico White tandem.

They said it: “Tennessee didn’t shoot the ball well [in the first round], but can we be fortunate enough for that to happen two days in a row? We feel like our backs are against the wall, but we still control our own destiny.” -- Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy.

Game 3: Florida vs. Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: The Gators can probably breathe a little easier after taking care of Auburn in the first round, although a second straight win in Nashville would probably lock up a trip to the NCAA tournament. There is no tomorrow for the Bulldogs unless they win Friday and keep winning. They probably need to win the SEC tournament championship for the second straight year if they’re going to go back to the NCAA tournament.

Scouting report: With college basketball’s top shot-blocker, Jarvis Varnado, roaming the interior, nothing comes easy against Mississippi State inside. It’s difficult to gauge where the Bulldogs are emotionally right now. They were awful on Senior Night in a resounding loss to Tennessee last weekend. The key for the Gators is getting off to a good start. They did that in the first-round win over Auburn after falling behind by double digits in their three straight losses entering the tournament.

They said it: “We had been getting off to slow starts, so we wanted to come out there and throw the first punch and come out with a hunter mentality.” -- Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons

Game 4: Georgia vs. Vanderbilt, 9:45 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: The Bulldogs proved they could win away from home on Thursday in the first round and now they try to carry that momentum into the semifinals. They have just enough athleticism and size to be a team that nobody wants to face right now. The Commodores are probably locked in as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, but would like to get that sour taste out of their mouths from losing to South Carolina on Senior Day last weekend.

Scouting report: Georgia was a tough matchup for Vanderbilt in both previous outings this season. The Bulldogs won 72-58 back on Feb. 6 in Athens, scoring 49 second-half points. The Bulldogs nearly made it a clean sweep of the Commodores on Feb. 25 in Memorial Gym, but couldn’t hold a five-point lead in the final 33 seconds of regulation. Vanderbilt staged a miraculous comeback and won 96-94 in overtime behind a career-high 28 points from senior point guard Jermaine Beal.

They said it: “We feel like we’re better equipped. We’re deeper. We’re bigger. We’re stronger. We’re more physical. We’re better, so we feel like we have a better chance to play well and have a chance to win this tournament. You would think there would be more success here and there. Nobody’s had success in it but Kentucky.” -- Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.