College Basketball Nation: Kentucky Wildcats

John Calipari gets his daughter's birthday wrong

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
12:48
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Ever mix up someone's birthday? A friend's? A relative's? Hey, it happens. Apparently it happened with Kentucky coach John Calipari. The Wildcats coach wished his daughter a happy birthday on Twitter. Nice, right? Problem was, he got the wrong day.


Afternoon Links: The UK question

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
4:20
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What we're reading while we ponder the utopian benefits of a 3-hour work week. Submit links via Twitter.
  • As of this writing, 52 percent of SportsNation respondents believe the Kentucky Wildcats would beat the Philadelphia 76ers in a game of basketball. In case you're among that 52 percent, Rob Dauster is here to set you straight.
  • That said, Mike DeCourcy has some interesting thoughts on the topic, not so much a counterpoint as a dash of appropriate context:
    Here was my plan: Fed up with the constant assertions the Kentucky Wildcats could defeat an NBA team, and prompted by my editors to address this particular nuisance, I was going to search through the D-League and find a group of players not even good enough for the NBA who would defeat this UK squad. The hitch was, I’m not sure I could find 5 — or, given the whole two-platoon biz, 10 – D-League guys I could comfortably argue would defeat this Kentucky squad. … And thus we have the central problem with the debate over, “Could the Kentucky Wildcats defeat an NBA team?” — What constitutes an NBA team? If it’s merely that they wear the uniforms of an NBA team and are paid relatively handsomely to play the game, even if they bear no particular resemblance to any competitive team ever fielded in the NBA – in other words, if we’re talking about the 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers – then it’s not ridiculous to assert Kentucky would have a chance to beat that team. It’s far more ridiculous to assert that these Sixers are, in fact, an NBA team.
  • Last week, Myron brought you the story of J.P. Honsinger, an 11-year-old member of Albany's 2014 recruiting class. Honsinger, a sixth-grader from Clifton, New York, is diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C disease, a extremely rare form of childhood Alzheimer's afflicting just 500 known sufferers worldwide. The program's release made Honsinger's dream come true, and Albany coach Will Brown's effusive praise ("As our point guard of the future, we are going to rely on his exceptional leadership qualities. Nobody in the country will be signing a player with JP’s toughness.") was enough to make at least one writer's apartment unusually dusty. On Thursday, DePaul unveiled a similar gesture, inking 11-year-old Brendan McMahon, who was diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy when he was six, to a national letter of intent. "We are tremendously excited about announcing the addition of Brendan McMahon to our program," coach Oliver Purnell said in a release. "We have every confidence that bringing Brendan on board will strengthen the grit, the determination and the heart of our team." This is the best signing day trend in decades.
  • In advance of tonight's Indiana-SMU matchup Indiana freshman Emmitt Holt spoke exclusively to ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil about the Nov. 1 accident that left IU forward Devin Davis hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury: "It was just an awful night, to be honest, that probably changed my life forever. It did actually change my life forever. When I went to visit him in the hospital for the first time it was like ... it was ... crazy. Then when we talked the first time, I don't want to go into great detail, but he was trying to comfort me, telling me it wasn't my fault. But deep down, I'll always feel like it was my fault. It was one of those moments where you realize you have to be a better person."
  • The best game on Thursday night's schedule is undoubtedly No. 10 Texas's matchup with a deep, experienced and -- thanks to last season's collapse -- probably underrated Iowa team. Our old friend Ryan Clark may not be in Madison Square Garden, but he's still got a totally thorough preview for your pregame consumption.
What we’re reading while we wish the new Dragon Age could have come out in July. Submit links via Twitter.
  • As a veteran of several 24-hour tip-off marathon chats -- the archives of which are still available, if you're interested in watching one man's descent into Colonel Kurtz-level madness -- let us offer one piece of advice: Drink lots of water. Oh, sure, you think caffeine is your friend. And for a while, it is. But if you don't stay properly hydrated, there comes a point when your brain will rebel against you, and by the time you realize it you'll be waking up on the couch with the laptop on your stomach wondering how it got to be 10 a.m. so quickly. Heed my warning as you peruse the full schedule for ESPN's seventh annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.
  • With that out of the way, the best game in the early marathon docket begins at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2, when Gonzaga hosts SMU. The Mustangs are without Markus Kennedy, the centerpiece big man recently ruled academically ineligible, not to mention top-five recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, who chose Chinese money over potential NCAA issues this summer. But it's still a sound defensive team and a decent test for a high-octane Bulldogs squad. The Slipper Still Fits has your preview needs covered.
  • Harvard entered this season with the momentum, if not the consensus ranking, of a top 25 program. If you know anything about the history of Harvard basketball, that statement might still seem ridiculous. But it was true: The Crimson returned a dynamic core of players from a team that toppled Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament last March (and seriously troubled Michigan State in the round of 32), and Tommy Amaker has established his team's Ivy League hegemony three years running. Even so, the Ivy is a one-bid league, and the Crimson needed to do a bit of work in their nonconference schedule to make sure a random loss or two in regular-season play didn't rob them of a tournament bid down the line. Instead, on Sunday, they lost to Holy Cross. Two days in to the 2014-15 season, the Crimson's margin for error has drastically thinned.
  • "Let’s say Kentucky is facing Ole Miss, and Calipari puts one of the Harrisons on Jarvis Summers to start the game. Summers rattles off seven quick points, but when the line change comes, Dominique Hawkins shuts Summers down. Then Hawkins comes out and Summers abuses Harrison again. Is Calipari going to stick with his platoons at that point? Is he really going to remove a player who’s making a positive impact just because the schedule says so? And what about when a Kentucky player has a hot hand? What about foul trouble? What about crunch time? What happens when Cal’s schedule says to leave in Alex Poythress for an important possession, but Poythress’ schedule says he’s due for one of those games in which he just goes through the motions?" In his lengthy SEC preview, Grantland's Mark Titus wonders how long John Calipari can stick with his proposed platoons. On Sunday, the Wildcats got a first-half bruising from Buffalo before eventually pulling away.
  • And, last but not least, your Canadian women's 60-foot buzzer-beater of the day.
On Monday morning, we revealed ESPN's 2014-15 Preseason Top 25. Topping the list was, surprise surprise, none other than the Kentucky Wildcats, who edged out (No. 4) Duke's own highly touted talent freshmen, (No.3) Wisconsin's experienced returners, and (No. 2) Arizona's combination therein.

But as we wrote in the power rankings, our interest in the Wildcats lies not just in whether UK will be good, but how. How do you get so much talent -- not only a swath of returning stars but a loaded 2014 class, too -- into a five-man basketball rotation? John Calipari's answer was predictably radical: He would sort his players into two platoons. Each group would play roughly the same number of minutes. The Wildcats would attack their opponents in waves.

There are plenty of questions worth asking about this idea, chief among them whether so many NBA-hungry talents will be eager to play role-player minutes. There's also the issue of general flexibility. What happens in late-and-close situations? What if one group vastly outperforms the other? And then there's the matter of the groups themselves: Who will play with whom?

The latter query now has an answer. On Monday night, Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White Scrimmage, and on Monday afternoon, via Facebook, Calipari officially assigned hotkeys to his Starcraft-ian Control Groups. They are:
and
It's worth noting, of course, that this is a first draft, Monday night is just a scrimmage, these teams are subject to change, etc. Still, there are some interesting thoughts here. For starters, no pun intended, it's clear that Calipari wants to mix his returning players with newcomers. Publicly, the coach would likely argue that these configurations simply work better; privately, it's fair to wonder whether avoiding some emergent freshmen-versus-veterans narrative is also a priority.

It's also interesting, though not especially surprising, to see the Harrisons in the same lineup. Earlier this month, Calipari told the ESPN College Basketball Podcast he had considered splitting the duo, to give each a chance to prove themselves as individuals to NBA scouts. "But," Calipari eventually concluded, "for me, to win now, it's best if they play together."

Anyway, platoons! They're totally a real thing, the No. 1 team in the country is totally unveiling them tonight, and you can now totally point to specifics in your arguments against them. So: What do we think?
At first glance, Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari has two problems with his 2014-15 roster:

  1. He has too much size.
  2. He has too many players.

That's the closest you can come to criticizing the 2014-15 Wildcats, which should tell you everything you need to know about Kentucky under Calipari. These are not real criticisms of actual problems. They're godsends any coach in college basketball -- or in the NBA, or in your local under-30 league -- would happily sign on for. Wait: You're telling me my team is too good?

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAs the season approaches, fans are left wondering how Wildcats coach John Calipari will find playing time for nine McDonald's All-Americans.
Still, UK's embarrassment of roster riches does pose a tricky question for the inventive man in charge: How can everybody play?

First, we should remind you who "everybody" is. Last spring, fresh off a run to the national title game, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress all decided to return to Lexington for another season. If those players had left, Kentucky would still have been fine. That's because, as is tradition, four five-star players arrived this summer. They are: Trey Lyles, Karl Towns Jr., Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. Respectively, they rank Nos. 6, 9, 18 and 25 in the 2014 ESPN 100. In any other year, they would form the backbone of another freshmen-led Wildcats lineup. In 2014-15, on a team with nine McDonald's All-Americans, they'll be fighting for playing time.

Which brings us back to the original question. There are, after all, only so many minutes to go around. Lineup calculus can be the most difficult, nuanced knot a coach must untie; NBA franchises spend god-knows-how-much on advanced plus-minus metrics alone. Simple tweaks can produce surprising results. Who play well with whom, and why, are the enduring mysteries of modern basketball.

In Lexington, Calipari has at least 10 potential starters. Of them, five of the most talented -- Cauley-Stein, Johnson, Lee, Towns and Lyles -- are forwards taller than 6-foot-10. Seriously: How on earth do you get everyone on the court?

Last week, during Kentucky's exhibition run in the Bahamas, Calipari unveiled his answer: the platoon. It is an obvious but still mind-blowing idea -- an Alexandrian solution for the modern college hoops empire. And it's really, really exciting.

On Sunday, when the Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker asked him whether the two-platoon system could really work, Calipari said:
"I think so. I think so. There may be games it's difficult to win [doing that]. The only ones that are the most important to win are those last six. So, yeah. And I think what happened here was, the greatest thing is everyone had a chance to show they should be playing more or less, they should be playing or not playing. You can't say, 'Well, I've never had an opportunity.'"

He continued:
"I also think that when you two-platoon and you have guys playing 20 minutes, which is plenty of time, the reality of it is three or four more minutes a half [in a normal rotation]. Just play harder. You get more done, you're more efficient. So playing 20 minutes a game, everybody had their time. And I think every guy shined."

The Wildcats finished their Bahamas trip 5-1 overall. After five mostly convincing blowouts, they took a late and exhausted loss to the Dominican Republic on Sunday. They managed that without Cauley-Stein and Lyles, who both sat out to nurse minor injuries. The mood was appropriately light, and the reviews of just about every player in the Wildcats' orbit -- all the way down to Ulis, who is 5-foot-9 and thus an oddity on an extremely tall team -- were positive. These were exhibitions, which means it is worth withholding sweeping conclusions.

And even so: At this early date, it's clear Kentucky really does have 10 totally starting-spot-worthy players on its roster. Back in April, the idea was more like a funny concept for a video-game simulation. It couldn't actually work in the real world, at a conventional Division I (read: not Grinnell) college basketball program, with genuine NBA talent. Eventually, Calipari would settle on a starting lineup, because that's what you do. You try to untangle the knot. We should have known better.

"Who gets to platoon?!" ESPN's Jay Bilas said to a Kentucky radio station last week. "You just don't do that. [Calipari] can legitimately platoon and not take a drop off at all."

So yeah, as of mid-August, that's what I'm most excited to see in 2014-15: a real, legitimate five-in-five-out platoon, a team so big and talented that its coach can split it into two discrete groups and still almost always have the five best players on the court.

Too much size? Too many players? Why untie a knot when you can slice it in half?
The 2014-15 campaign, believe it or not, will begin in a few months. Don't worry, college basketball fans. It's coming.

Today, we'll take a look at next year's top offensive teams -- and a few programs that could use some help -- entering the upcoming season.

Teams to Watch

Duke -- Yes, Jabari Parker is gone. The No. 2 pick in last month's NBA draft, the new star for the Milwaukee Bucks, averaged a ridiculous 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds, while making 36 percent of his 3-pointers for Duke in 2013-14. With Parker in charge, the Blue Devils averaged 79.1 points per game (26th nationally) and finished second in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. But they could be even better next year. And that plan starts inside.

Jahlil Okafor, the 6-10,265-pound center who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class per RecruitingNation, will be a force in the post for Mike Krzyzewski. As teams collapse on him, he'll have plenty of options. Rasheed Sulaimon moves back to a full-time role on the perimeter. Freshmen Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen will contribute immediately. Veterans Quinn Cook, Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson are back, too.

Duke will have the benefit of being led by the top point guard in the incoming class: Tyus Jones. Jones was born to be a Duke point guard. His efficiency and poise could transform Duke into America's best offensive unit next season.

Wisconsin -- Remember when Wisconsin couldn't score? That wasn't true, but it was the perception. Under Bo Ryan, the Badgers had been pegged as a grind-it-out squad that couldn't run with the top offensive teams in the country. But last year's Final Four run dismissed that idea.

Wisconsin faced Oregon, Baylor, Arizona and Kentucky in the Big Dance. All four opponents were top-20 in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings last year. The Badgers were the better offensive team against three of those teams -- vs. Oregon (1.31 points per possession), vs. Baylor (1.11 PPP) and vs. Arizona (1.05 PPP) -- and the Wildcats beat the Badgers (No. 4 in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2013-14) on Aaron Harrison's big 3-pointer in the final seconds.

The key players from that run and a team that scored 75 points or more in eight of its 12 Big Ten wins are back. Frank Kaminsky will be a preseason All-American and national player of the year candidate. He's the toughest one-on-one matchup in the country. Sam Dekker is an NBA prospect and one of the best small forward's in America. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are ready for bigger roles next year. Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson are the leaders in the backcourt. Ryan has the offensive firepower to tussle with America's best again.

Kentucky -- Many predicted the Kentucky national title game run before the 2013-14 season began, questioned that prediction throughout the bulk of the year and lauded it as the Wildcats improved each night in the final weeks of the season. It all came together for John Calipari's squad at the right time. Those young NBA prospects who couldn't get past Arkansas and South Carolina weeks before the tourney began ended the year as the national runner-up and likely No. 1 team in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the second consecutive season. Once the Big Dance began, Kentucky's fiery offense helped the Wildcats storm through the toughest gauntlet in the field. Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin all fell.

They scored 78 points against the Shockers. They bounced back from a 13-point deficit against their rival Cardinals. They hit big shots late against Michigan and Wisconsin.

And now, they're back with NCAA tourney stars Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison. Willie Cauley-Stein will be healthy. Alex Poythress will be a junior. Plus, they'll boast the nation's most powerful frontcourt (Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl Towns). The Wildcats will also add Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, a pair of guards who will enhance Kentucky's backcourt.

These Wildcats will have more inside-outside balance and depth than last year's team. They'll spread the floor. And defenses will be perplexed by their collection of offensive weapons. It'll be a more fluid offense led by a confident Andrew Harrison, who runs this squad now as both a point guard and a leader.

Teams that Might Struggle

Creighton -- It's not necessarily fair to list Creighton here. Every team has to rebuild at some point.

But the Bluejays will enter their next phase after losing Wooden Award winner Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat. McDermott's magical three-year run positioned the Bluejays in the top-eight slots of Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.

The team's departures accounted for 51.3 points per game last year. Austin Chatman, 8.1 PPG, is the top returning scorer and a significant player in this transition. Devin Brooks and freshman Ronnie Harrell Jr. will be asked to help too. And Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow is a solid addition.

But it's not reasonable to expect anything resembling what we've witnessed from the Omaha-based program the last three years. This young team will grow. It will struggle early, however, as it adjusts to new roles and life without Dougie McBuckets.

UCLA -- Steve Alford had a multitude of offensive options last season. Jordan Adams (17.4 PPG) could slash and score or hit jump shots. Kyle Anderson, a 6-foot-9 point forward, was the matchup nightmare. And Zach LaVine, Travis Wear and David Wear provided the balance that helped the Bruins reach the Sweet 16 last year.

But they're all gone. Bryce Alford, Tony Parker, Norman Powell, former UTEP signee Isaac Hamilton and a top-10 recruiting class led by Kevon Looney don't have the same punch (on paper, at least) as last year's crew.

Adams announced that he'd decided to return to UCLA before reversing that decision and entering the NBA draft, where he was selected in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies.

Adams' return would have answered a lot of questions about this UCLA offense. His departure creates questions. Alford might have a group that builds chemistry quickly and becomes a top offense in the Pac-12. That's no guarantee, though. They were 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season.

They'll need freshmen to shine early and returnees to make major strides to regain that slot in 2014-15.

#ThingsTimHowardCouldSave: The B1G?

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
1:55
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After goalkeeper Tim Howard's record-setting performance in Tuesday's USA loss to Belgium, the hashtag #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave has been all the rage on Twitter.

Even college basketball has joined in on the fun. The official Twitter feed of Wisconsin basketball, which was knocked out of the Final Four on a late 3-pointer by Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, dreamed of a scenario in which America's new hero saved the day at JerryWorld.

A Big Ten rival, which suffered the same fate at the hands of Harrison a week earlier in the Elite Eight, found itself playing the "what-if" game as well.
 

Class of 2014's best shooters 

May, 6, 2014
May 6
10:30
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Though the top three prospects in the Class of 2014 are big men who control the paint, there are several outstanding shooters in the class. Let’s examine the five best shooters among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
He started out as a 3-point shooter but has developed into a master of the mid-range jump shot. Most outstanding shooters are confident and comfortable from a certain spot on the floor, but that’s not the case with Jackson. He is equally effective and productive from a catch-and-shoot scenario as he is putting the ball on the deck and rising up to finish inside the arc or in the paint. A combination of length, balance and extension with a feathery touch will make him hard to defend.

This week ESPN.com will feature a position-by-position look at players to watch for the 2014-15 season.

The term "shooting guard" has never been so meaningless.

[+] EnlargeRon Baker, Jeremy Morgan
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWichita State guard Ron Baker averaged 13.1 points per game in 2013-14.
This is true of all of the game's positional designations; the traditional responsibilities associated with each spot on the floor have become less and less helpful in describing what players actually do. The old traditional conception of the shooting guard is the most outdated. The Reggie Miller/Rip Hamilton run-off-screens-and-get-open model is gone. The NBA is now a league full of small guards who drive and shoot first; perimeter shooting is considered a must-have tool in a pro guard's total package; off-guards must handle the ball; small forwards are knockdown shooters. The Venn diagram of perimeter skills looks more like an eclipse.

Everything in the NBA trickles down, which makes today's exercise -- an early list of shooting guards to watch in the 2014-15 season -- a difficult one. There might be some slight cheating involved (you'll see). Some of the below are traditional shooting guards; some are just guards. All will be fascinating to watch in 2014-15 for a variety of reasons.

Top returnees to watch

Ron Baker, Wichita State: The Shockers return both members of their starting backcourt from 2013-14, and Baker and Fred VanVleet actually do fit the traditional mold. VanVleet was a masterful pass-first point guard who steadily anchored WSU's offense; Baker attempted 179 3s and 141 2s and finished with a 120.9 offensive rating. If you're wondering why the Shockers can lose Cleanthony Early and still be the subject of huge expectations going forward, look no further.

Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: It's a bit hard to believe that after a stellar freshman campaign Sulaimon found himself so deep in Mike Krzyzewski's doghouse that, in early December, Coach K buried him on the bench in the equivalent of a DNP-CD. Transfer rumors and status questions abounded. Sulaimon eventually earned his way out of purgatory and back into regular minutes, and when he did he flourished. In his junior season, Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will have to take on leadership roles alongside the most talented Duke class in decades -- one with Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow ready to gobble up perimeter minutes. It's a huge season on deck for Sulaimon.

Michael Frazier II, Florida: Frazier is that rarest of modern college hoops birds: a traditional, almost literal, shooting guard. In 2013-14, Frazier shot 264 3s and made 118 of them, good for 44.7 percent -- a sterling percentage at that volume. He attempted exactly 79 shots from inside the arc. Frazier is an old-school, lights-out catch-and-shoot guy, albeit one who might need to expand his game in a Florida offense that will lose Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young. But he's already the college game's best pure shooter, and that's a hugely valuable skill to have.

Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Harrison, on the other hand, is a fantastic example of a player for whom the term shooting guard doesn't always quite fit. Despite a torrid postseason pace -- and those big-time clutch shots in Kentucky's surprise runner-up run -- Harrison finished the season having made just 62 of his 174 3s. That's not terrible, but it's not great, either. The presence of Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, as Kentucky's ostensible point guard drives the lack of distinction home. Still, Harrison's fundamental productivity -- and the odds of him improving his shot, and keeping defenders off balance, after a summer spent drilling in Lexington, Kentucky -- makes him as frightening a sophomore prospect as any player in the country.

Caris LeVert, Michigan: Was Nik Stauskas a shooting guard? Not really, which is why NBA scouts love him so much: As a sophomore, Stauskas flashed all of the Stephen Curry-esque tools (lights-out shooting, penetration work, athleticism and great passing) in a 6-foot-6 frame. Stauskas has NBA people all worked up, and understandably so. LeVert is a similar player. He's an excellent shooter whom coach John Beilein loves to run through pick-and-roll sets; according to Synergy an almost identical number of LeVert's possessions came in spot-ups (24.5 percent) as screen-and-roll plays (24.3). LeVert shot 40.8 percent from 3, 46 percent from 2, didn't turn the ball over often, and will get a ton of shots without Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III around this season. He has huge, Big Ten Player of the Year-level potential in his third year in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Top newcomers to watch

[+] EnlargeD'Angelo Russell
Kelly Kline/adidasTop-ranked shooting guard D'Angelo Russell, who is ranked No. 13 in the ESPN 100, could provide instant offense for the Buckeyes.
Rodney Purvis, Connecticut: OK, so this is kind of cheating: Purvis is a transfer, not a recruit. But I had to sneak him in here somewhere, because he might end up being the most important player on the list. With a post-national title Shabazz Napier graduating this spring, a suddenly starry Ryan Boatright can slide over to the point guard spot, allowing plenty of room for Purvis -- whom UConn coach Kevin Ollie called a "Ferrari sitting in the garage" at the Final Four in April -- to get big minutes and lots of touches in his first season in Storrs, Connecticut. How that configuration works may be the difference between another scrappy national title contender and an understandable step back in Ollie's third year.

D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The top-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2014 arrives at OSU with a reputation for sweet shooting and deep range. The timing is perfect, because another offense-free season like last season might drive coach Thad Matta over the edge.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The best recruit Seton Hall has signed in … wait, don't answer that … Whitehead is a physical scorer who explodes to the rim and absorbs contact while there. He could make Seton Hall's season really interesting for the first time in a while.

Devin Booker, Kentucky: The return of the Harrisons shrank Booker's minutes by a big margin; the fact that he might be the fourth guy off Kentucky's bench tells you all you need to know about next season's Wildcats.

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Indiana's wealth of perimeter talent gets Lannister-esque with the addition of Blackmon; whether the Hoosiers will have anybody to play on the low block is a different and more pertinent question.

Top stats to know: UConn vs. Kentucky

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
2:30
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The seven-seed Connecticut Huskies and eight-seed Kentucky Wildcats are set to meet in the men’s basketball National Championship Monday. It’s the highest combined seeds ever in a National Championship.

UConn is trying to become the first seven seed to win the National Championship and the only team to be 4-0 in National Championship games. Kentucky is trying to become the second eight seed to win it, matching 1985 Villanova as the lowest seed to win the title.

Here are some of the top statistical storylines heading into Monday night's National Championship.

Performing in the clutch
Kentucky is plus-21 in the NCAA Tournament when the score is within three points in the final three minutes, after being minus-16 in that situation during the regular season.

Kentucky is shooting 60 percent on field goals, including 5-of-6 on 3-pointers, when the score is within three points in the final three minutes in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats shot 29 percent on field goals in those situations in the regular season.

The Wildcats are holding opponents to 25 percent field goals, including 0-for-8 on 3-pointers, in those situations in the NCAA Tournament.

The Harrisons
Led by Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Kentucky could be the first team to play seven freshmen in a National Championship game.

Kentucky is plus-34 in the NCAA Tournament when the Harrison twins are both on the court together, and minus-16 when at least one of them is on the bench.

Aaron Harrison is shooting 56 percent on 3-pointers in the NCAA Tournament after shooting 31 percent on 3-pointers in the regular season.

The Tweak
Kentucky's offense has improved since John Calipari's "tweak" entering the SEC Tournament. Since then, Kentucky is averaging three more points per 100 possessions, shooting 10 percentage points better on 3-pointers, and playing at a slower pace -- six fewer possessions per game.

The difference is even more drastic in the last four games -- 12 more points per 100 possessions, 12 percentage points better on 3-pointers, seven fewer possessions per game, compared to the first 35 games.

53 percent of Kentucky's points have been in the paint over the last four games, compared to 46 percent in its first 35 games.

Pick-and-roll
UConn is shooting 60 percent on pick-and-roll ball-handler plays in the NCAA Tournament (pick-and-rolls in which the guard makes a play).

UConn is the most efficient team on pick-and-roll ball-handler plays among teams that have played at least three games in the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies are averaging 11.2 points per game on pick-and-roll plays (18 percent of their half-court offense) in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky ranks 55th of 68 teams in points per play allowed on pick-and-roll ball-handler plays in the NCAA Tournament.

Shabazz Napier is shooting 56 percent on pick-and-roll plays in the NCAA Tournament and is creating 13.4 points per game (including passes) on such plays.

A battle down low
Kentucky is scoring 37 points per game in the paint, which makes up 52 percent of the points it has scored, in the NCAA Tournament.

UConn is allowing 24 points per game in the paint, which makes up 36 percent of the points it has allowed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats rank second in offensive rebound percentage this season, grabbing 42 percent of their missed shots, whereas UConn ranks 206th in offensive rebound percentage (30.5 percent).

The Huskies rank 247th in defensive rebound percentage (67 percent) this season.

Top stats to know: Final Four games

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
3:00
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The Final Four is finally here, and to get you ready we have broken down the key matchups in each of Saturday’s games.

Florida Gators vs Connecticut Huskies
You can expect a low-scoring, low-possession game, as both these teams rank in the top 10 adjusted defensive efficiency and are in the bottom third in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com.

Both teams have played well against slower teams, too, with UConn going 10-1 this season against teams that rank outside the top 200 in adjusted tempo and Florida winning 17 of 19 games against those teams.

One key in this game is how UConn will handle Florida’s press defense. Florida utilizes a press defense on 17 percent of its defensive plays, and holds opponents to 38 percent shooting against its press.

The Huskies have been able to score efficiently against the press this season, leading the American Athletic Conference with 46 percent shooting in those situations.

Another important matchup is how Florida will defend All-American Shabazz Napier. Nearly a third of Napier’s plays this season have involved a ball screen, and his 210 points scored as the pick and roll ball handler this season rank fourth in Division I.

Against Michigan State in the Elite 8, Napier either scored or went to the line on all four of his pick and roll plays, totaling nine points including free throws.

Both Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill have struggled to defend the pick and roll. Opponents have made 46 percent of their shots when defended by either Wilbekin or Hill, scoring nearly a point per play as the ball handler on these screens.

Wisconsin Badgers vs Kentucky Wildcats
Much has been written about the mystery “tweak” that John Calipari made just before the SEC tournament. No one knows for sure what that cryptic remark means, but what is real is the fact that Kentucky’s perimeter shooting is much improved.

Since the start of the SEC tournament, the Wildcats have made 41.2 percent of their 3-pointers, nearly 10 percentage points better than their performance during the regular season.

Aaron Harrison has found his range in the NCAAs for Kentucky, making 14 of 27 long-distance shots, after entering the tourney as a 33 percent 3-point shooter.

Wisconsin held opponents to 33 percent on 3-point attempts in its first 30 games but is allowing opponents to shoot 38 percent on 3-pointers in its last seven games.

Perhaps the most important matchup in this game will be the ability of Wisconsin to keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. Kentucky ranks first in the country in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing 42.5 percent of its missed shots.

Wisconsin counters with a defensive rebound percentage that ranks 12th in the country, and is 8-1 this season against teams ranked in the top 50 in offensive rebound percentage.

One other stat to keep in mind: Wisconsin and Kentucky both have faced Florida, Baylor, Michigan and Michigan State this season. Wisconsin is 4-2 against those teams, while Kentucky is 1-5 against those teams.

Katie Sharp contributed to this post

Keys to victory: Kentucky 75, Michigan 72

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
8:57
PM ET
Kentucky made it two low seeds in the national semifinals by beating Michigan, 75-72 on Sunday.

The Wildcats became the fifth No. 8 seed to make the Final Four since the tournament expanded in 1985. The only No. 8 to win a national title was Villanova in 1985.

Kentucky joined Connecticut as teams that beat three top-4 seeds to get to the Final Four. Prior to this year, only three teams had ever done that: 1986 LSU, 2000 Florida and 2011 Butler.

The key to victory for Kentucky was the performance of its freshmen. Aaron Harrison made the big shot, a game-winning 3-pointer, but that was only part of the story.

Star Watch: Julius Randle leads the freshmen
Kentucky freshman Julius Randle led the Wildcats with 16 points and 11 rebounds. He became the second freshman in NCAA Tournament history to have a double-double in each of his first four games. The other was Gene Banks for Duke in 1978.

Kentucky became the first team to start five freshmen in an Elite 8 win since Michigan's "Fab 5" in 1992.

The Wildcats’ freshmen have scored 254 points, a total that trails only that Michigan team for the most by freshmen through the Elite 8.

Kentucky controls the paint,
limits Michigan outside the paint

Kentucky attempted 43 of its 58 field goal attempts in the paint (74 percent), the second-highest percentage in the 2014 Men’s Basketball Championship and third-highest in the last five.

Michigan scored 25 points outside the paint Sunday, its fewest in 11 tournament games the last three seasons. The Wolverines entered the game averaging a tournament-high 39.3 points per game outside the paint.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Day
Kentucky is the first team in tournament history to eliminate both the defending champion and defending runner-up from the NCAA Tournament and the first to eliminate three teams from the previous year's Final Four.

Top stats to know: Friday's Sweet 16

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
11:45
AM ET
The Sweet 16 continues tonight with four games. Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be following.

(11) Tennessee vs (2) Michigan
The Wolverines are trying to reach a second straight Elite 8 (lost in title game last year to Louisville). Tennessee has been to just one Elite 8 in its history, when it lost to Michigan State in 2010.

Michigan's hot outside shooting has carried the team in its first two wins. The Wolverines are 21 of 45 from beyond the arc and have made 50 percent of their jump shots, second-best among tournament teams.

Over its last nine games (during which it has gone 8-1) Tennessee has held its opponents to just 26.6 percent shooting on 3-pointers and 27 percent on jump shots.

(8) Kentucky vs (4) Louisville
Get ready for another epic showdown of these Bluegrass state rivals. This is the fourth time in NCAA Tournament history that the previous two national champions will play against each other in the NCAA Tournament.

In each of the three previous occurrences, the defending champion has defeated champion from the previous season.

There will be two key matchups to watch in this game.

The first one is on the offensive glass. The Wildcats rank second in the country in offensive rebound percentage and average 15.6 second-chance points per game, the best among major conferences.

Louisville is not a great defensive rebounding team, ranking 241st in the nation, and was outscored 17-6 in second-chance points by Kentucky in their meeting on Dec. 28.

The other key matchup is whether Kentucky can handle Louisville's pressure defense, which forces 17.4 turnovers per game, the second-most in the country. Louisville is 19-0 this season when forcing 17 or more turnovers; Kentucky is 16-2 when committing 11 or fewer turnovers.

(7) Connecticut vs (3) Iowa State
The only other time these two teams met in the NCAA Tournament was in a Round of 64 win by the Cyclones in 2012. That was Jim Calhoun's final game.

With Georges Niang out for Iowa State and Connecticut lacking a dominant post offense, this game could come down to who executes better on the perimeter.

Iowa State ranks in the top 25 in 3-point attempts per game and 3-pointers made per game this season, while UConn ranks 22nd in the country in 3-point field goal percentage.

Both teams allow their opponents to make more than a third of their shots from beyond the arc, though the Huskies do a better job of limiting 3-point attempts (18.3 per game) than the Cyclones (21.2).

(4) Michigan State vs (1) Virginia
Virginia is hoping to avoid the fate of another recent first-place ACC squad. Last year Miami was the regular-season and postseason ACC champs, and they lost in the Sweet 16 vs Marquette.

The Michigan State seniors are trying to avoid making history as well. Every four-year player under coach Tom Izzo has reached the Final Four, and this is the last chance for Adreian Payne and Keith Appling to make it.

The key matchup to watch in this game will be whether Virginia can slow down the Spartans' fastbreak offense.

Transition makes up 21.9 percent of Michigan State’s offensive plays, the eighth-highest rate in the country, and the Spartans average 18.9 transition points per game, 14th-most in the nation. Virginia allows 7.4 transition points per game, third-fewest in the nation, and only 10.9 percent of Virginia’s defensive plays are transition, the fifth-lowest rate in the country.

Top 10 biggest upsets of this year's tourney

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
1:00
PM ET
March Madness certainly lived up to its name during this first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with exciting finishes and surprising winners. We rank the 10 biggest upsets according BPI pre-game win probability, starting with number 10...

10. Harvard (41.0% chance to win) over Cincinnati
Harvard picked up an NCAA tournament win for the second straight season with its win over the fifth-seed Bearcats. The Crimson are the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA Tournament game in back-to-back seasons since Princeton in 1983-84.

9. Kentucky (40.5%) over Wichita State
Kentucky ended Wichita State’s perfect season, handing the Shockers their first loss in 36 games. Did you know: the previous two teams that were unbeaten entering NCAA Tournament were eliminated by the eventual national champion (1979 Indiana State by Michigan State; 1991 UNLV by Duke).

8. Baylor (34.6%) over Creighton
Baylor routed Creighton by 30 points, the third-largest margin of victory by a 6 seed in NCAA Tournament history. The Bluejays, who got just 15 points from Doug McDermott in his final collegiate game, fell to 0-8 all-time in Round of 32 games, the worst record by any team.

7. Connecticut (33.6%) over Villanova
Connecticut advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 2011, which is also the last time the Huskies won the National Championship. After early foul trouble, Shabazz Napier led the Huskies down the stretch, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.

6. Dayton (30.6%) over Ohio State
Dayton started the Madness with the upset win over Ohio State on Thursday afternoon, in a game that featured eight ties and 15 lead changes. The Flyers scored 20 transition points against an Ohio State team that had allowed a Big Ten-best 10.1 transition points per game this season.

5. North Dakota State (30.4%) over Oklahoma
North Dakota State earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, shooting 52.9 percent from the field. North Dakota State outscored Oklahoma by 22 points in the paint, including 6-0 in overtime.

4. Dayton (28.1%) over Syracuse
Dayton advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 1984 with an upset of the third-seeded Orange. Syracuse made 1 of 19 shots from outside the paint, while Dayton made nearly half its shots from outside the paint.

3. Stanford (24.8%) over Kansas
Stanford reached its first Sweet 16 since 2008, holding Kansas to just 28 percent shooting against its zone defense. The Jayhawks entered the game shooting a Big 12-best 47.8 percent against zone defenses.

2. Stephen F. Austin (21.7%) over VCU
Stephen F. Austin extended its win streak to 29 games in the win, notching its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in its second appearance. The Lumberjacks turned the ball over just once in overtime against VCU’s “Havoc” defense.

1. Mercer (12.6%) over Duke
Mercer outscored Duke by 16 points in the paint, holding the Blue Devils to a season-low 10 paint points. Duke became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to have five losses to double-digit seeds as a top-3 seed.

Video: Vitale on intriguing matchups

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
11:23
AM ET

Dick Vitale looks at Sunday's most intriguing matchups and discusses which teams are ready to move on and which teams are likely to be upset in the NCAA tournament.

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