Jayhawks Wiggins’ Flash of the Future

24 06 2013

Take a look as soon-to-be Kansas Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins gives fans a taste of what he will be bringing to their university next year. Whether or not he is the next LeBron James or the 2014 No. 1 pick as people are saying, the fact that he is getting these type of discussions shows the type of player Wiggins is and can become.

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It’s the Perfect Time To Be A Cardinal

8 04 2013

Rick Pitino quite possibly just had the best day of his life.

After it was announced earlier in the day that Pitino would be a part of the next group to enter the Hall of Fame, he watched his Louisville Cardinals take down the Michigan Wolverines 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night, as he now becomes the first coach to ever win two championships with two different schools.

Even though Michigan jumped out to a 12-point lead late in the 1st half, Louisville remained focused on playing a full 40-minute game as they have done all season and all tournament. Just a few days ago, the Wichita State Shockers also held a 12-point lead, which Louisville erased by game’s end. These Cardinals know how to rally like another Cardinals team from a different sport…

This event was simply a great basketball game to watch with two teams that had budding basketball players. To put it simply, this was some high-quality basketball and good for the league.

The Wolverines (52.1 percent) actually shot better than the Cardinals (45.9) for the game, but due to Louisville doing the little things, they pulled this one out. The men in red snatched 15 offensive rebounds, led by Chane Behanan (15 points and 12 rebounds), who grabbed seven big offensive rebounds – only one less than the entire Wolverine team. That ability to pound the glass on the offensive end gave the Cardinals 13 more possessions than their opponent.

Even though Trey Burke (24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field) continued to show the nation why his draft stock keeps rising, possibly all the way to a top-3 pick position, this game was about Luke Hancock‘s hot hand and Peyton Siva‘s ability to do it all.

Sixth man Hancock made all five of the three-pointers he attempted Monday night, leading to a team-high 22 points. This matches his season-high for the year and gives him 42 points in the last two games. The Cardinals have had to fight back to win each of these games and Hancock suddenly becoming extremely dangerous from deep has been a cornerstone to their resiliency.

What Siva did should be considered as just another Siva-type night. He’s been doing it all year long. The senior point guard may not have the best shooting touch but he makes up for it in every other possible way.

18 points. Six rebounds. Five assists. Four steals. Six-for-six from the free throw line. 36 minutes played.

I really like what this 6-0, 185 guard brings to the court night in and night out. His team can always count on him to give one-hundred percent, no matter the opponent and no matter the deficit. Monday night was no exception for the Cardinals’ leader. I believe he has the raw skills to find himself a place in the NBA.

This team showed the nation how you catch fire at just the right time. While the Kansas Jayhawks and Indiana Hoosiers – also No. 1 seeds – looked to have teams ready to make a deep run, each had losses less than a month before the tournament began. Louisville finished the year on a 16-game winning streak, including 12 double-digit victories. That is how you finish a season strong.

The 2013 college basketball champs have kept a trend going of predictability when it comes to the one team that wins it all in this March Madness. (Pay attention to this next stat bracketology gurus.) Six of the last seven and 16 of the last 22 champions have been a No. 1 seed. Even though plenty of Cinderella teams, such as Butler, VCU, FGCU and George Mason, have made an exciting push, none have been able to make it to the finish line.

If you’re not a fan of the rich getting richer, you might as well look away at this point.

Following an 11-2 football season in which they defeated the Florida Gators to take home the All-State Sugar Bowl, their sports program is in the middle of a spectacular Spring sports season. In addition to this recent championship, the Women’s basketball team will continue their Cinderella run when they face the Connecticut Huskies Tuesday for their own national championship. Also, their 14th ranked baseball team is holding their own with a 25-6 record. Director of Athletics Tom Jurich must feel like it’s been Christmas Day 24/7 this entire academic year. For those students currently enrolled at Louisville – you have my jealousy.

Over all of these accolades and numbers, the best part about this championship was the Cardinals’ desire to win this for someone not on the court.

I’m sure most of you have seen the Kevin Ware injury video. Yes, it’s disgusting. But it’s also sad to see a young man fail to finish out his sophomore season playing the sport he loves.

His teammates and brothers wouldn’t let this be a gloomy season’s end for Ware. All the players again came out with Ware’s No. 5 on the back of their warmup jerseys and “Ri5e to the Occasion” on the front. Once the title was obtained, he was right in the thick of the celebration, giving just as many high fives and hugs. Finally, when it was time for that net to be cut, they lowered the net in order to let Ware cut the final strand out of the net.

These are the moments that make sports so captivating and intriguing to watch. When you can visually grasp the type of powerful bond that is formed on these sports teams, especially at the college level, and take a dive into the positive off-court stories, that enriches the game itself and makes it more enjoyable to watch. The support that Ware received from his basketball home couldn’t be more admirable and is simply amazing to see.

“These are my brothers,” Ware said. “They got the job done. I’m so proud of them, so proud of them.”

Now they can enjoy this championship together as a family. Congrats, Louisville.

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These Cats Had One Life… But It Was a Good One

3 04 2012

#2 Kansas 59, #1 Kentucky 67 – Men’s Basketball Championship

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA

 

The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks, 67-59, bringing the program its eighth national championship. They have the second most all-time, only trailing UCLA (11 titles).

This physical game didn’t come easy for the Wildcats or Coach John Calipari, who surely didn’t enjoy how the end of the game started. 

With under two minutes to go in a game in which his team controlled throughout, Calipari began having a sense of déjà vu.

In 2008, his Memphis Tigers held a comfortable six-point lead with 1:39 to go. In 2012, his Kentucky Wildcats had a five-point lead with 1:37 to go.

After Anthony Davis missed his first of two free throws at the 1:11 mark, Calipari surely had eerie flashbacks to four years ago when his team finished 1-5 from the line, eventually leading to a Bill Self-led Kansas victory in overtime.

This time, however, the Wildcats went on to shoot 5-6 from the line, and with a little help from the Jayhawks and their turnovers in crunch time, Calipari had a slightly different ending to his season.

He became a champion. Finally.

Instead of feeling joy and exhilaration, Calipari probably feels relieved due to the impossible standards placed on him by Kentucky. This university brought him in for one reason and one reason only: give Kentucky something they haven’t obtained since 1998.

On his third try, he successfully brought basketball glory back to the Big Blue Nation. The question now is how long the alumni and fan base will give him until they demand another title.

No matter the common perception regarding this team filled with young hot-shots, this group of men showed a team filled with one-and-dones can play team ball on both sides of the court.

Number of players in each category:

 
Kansas
Kentucky
6+ Rebs
2
4
3+ Asts
1
3
2+ Blks
1
3
50% FG
0
3

From setting the championship record with 11 blocks on the night to simply playing unselfish basketball, this was a total team effort. It is no accident that Kentucky had an equal distribution of their statistics from the very start. When any Jayhawk attempted to pound the paint, every Wildcat on the floor assisted in stopping the penetration. This just bolstered the fact that Kentucky opponents ranked last in the country shooting inside the arc. This team that only lost twice the entire season had too much of simply everything for Kansas to handle.

Anthony Davis reminded the nation why he will become the third Calipari player in the past five years to become the first overall pick in the NBA Draft with his commanding six-point game on 1-10 shooting. Yes, those numbers are correct.

This is exactly why he will be the top pick. The Men’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player did not just control the paint – he mastered the paint. The six blocks he recorded, giving him the NCAA freshman block record (186), doesn’t provide a suitable representation for his play down low on the defensive end of the court.

Thomas Robinson and Jeff Whithey combined to shoot 8-25 on the night. Anthony Davis made Robinson’s 18-point, 17-rebound performance a quiet 18 and 17. How is that possible? I didn’t think it was before Monday… but Davis proved otherwise. He showcased how he influences the game in a way that can’t be captured with numbers (even though 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals and six blocks is enough proof for most).

Take Kansas’s last of their three crucial turnovers for example. When Elijah Johnson received the ball behind the three-point line with a six-point deficit and 25 seconds to go, he hoped to put up a shot that would keep his team’s chances of winning alive. Davis turned this into false hope. He bounded to Johnson and skied high, forcing Johnson to not shoot, not pass but to simply come back down to earth with the ball still in his hands. As easy as it is to put the blame on Johnson and his awful play in crunch time, Davis should be given credit for his effect on this travel.

Even though Davis and his right-hand unibrow had the largest impact on the night, his teammates shouldn’t be forgotten:

  • Scoring 20 of his points in the first 30 minutes and hitting two clutch free throws with 17.5 seconds left, Doron Lamb could not be contained by one of the best defenses all season long. He had a game-high 22 points along with three 3-pointers, two of which came back-to-back that extended Kentucky’s lead from 10 to 16 midway through the second half. Without Lamb’s consistent shooting, Calipari would not have been able to spread out Kansas’s defense as well as he did.
  • Terrence Jones brought physicality to the court all tournament long, and the championship game was no exception. He collected a rebound, block and jumper in the first 1:45 of the game. The tone he set early on helped give the Wildcats a lead they would never give up for the last 36 minutes of the game. He has many similarities – for better and for worse – with Josh Smith from the Atlanta Hawks and will most likely have a similar impact for his future NBA team.
  • Prospected to be drafted soon after Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played a huge role in bringing the Wildcats a comfortable 41-27 lead at the half. He scored all 11 of his points before halftime; however, he continued to make plays down the stretch, including one of, if not the, biggest play of the game. As Tyshawn Taylor continued to make his valiant effort toward bringing Kansas another comeback win, he drove baseline in what looked to be an easy reverse layup. Kidd-Gilchrist recovered and denied Taylor at the rim. Without this block, the deficit would have become only four points for the Jayhawks, and there could have been an even tighter ending.
  • Marquis Teague and Darius Miller might not have had the prettiest statistical lines, but they certainly helped bring Kentucky their coronation. Struggling early on in the season with the tempo, Teague showed his growth as a player by effectively handling the flow of the game very and playing in control – even if he missed nine of his 14 shots. Miller did what he has done all season long – provided veteran leadership. As the only senior and bench player to receive substantial playing time, Miller gave Kentucky just the kind of attitude toward all these young guns that the program needed.

The "Cats" got the best of the "Birds" Monday night.

Should Calipari’s success be looked down upon because of his apathy regarding his kid’s staying in school past their first year? Well, should basketball players be looked down upon for flopping?

In both instances, rules are not being broken. Calipari and floppers are taking advantage of the rules and regulations being presented to them.

The difference between Calipari’s coaching and flopping is that players leaving early seems to be the new approach to the game. The way collegiate basketball works is going through a transformation. Calipari is not going against the system – he is the system.

Whether or not Calipari’s coaching lives up to college basketball purists standards shouldn’t take away from his coaching ability. In fact, his way of doing things along with his consistent success (four Final Four appearances with three different schools) makes him an even more impressive coach.

With the outflow of his young players into the NBA year after year, Calipari has to deal with new squads that have new tendencies and skill-sets. Very few coaches have what it takes to move on the fly and adjust accordingly. Calipari is one of these men.

This year, he manufactured a team built for success. He went out and found 18-year-olds that he trusted to play major roles for his team, and they had to trust him right back. Calipari molded this team into a group of men that would soon be moving on to the NBA but would be willing to follow Calipari for the short time they spent playing basketball without an income. That is great coaching.

Why have I hardly mentioned the Kansas Jayhawks in this post? No, it is not because I go to Mizzou and love to see our biggest rival lose. (That only plays a minor role.)

This game was entirely about the Kentucky Wildcats – one of the top teams at the beginning of the year, the hot team throughout the season and the best team at the start of the tournament.

Since only three AP No. 1 ranked teams in the past 30 years had won it all before Monday night, the pressure laid on every Wildcat’s back, especially Calipari’s. They had 70,913 people waiting in person to see them bring the inevitable championship to Calipari’s résumé and put the cherry on top of one of the best team’s of this past decade.

They did just that.

This Kentucky team will soon be no more. Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones, Lamb, Teague and Miller will most likely enter the NBA Draft, and John Calipari will entice more kids to his championship program with the thought of only taking half of the required prerequisite classes. What about that troubled sophomore english class? No more reading will be necessary. How about trigonometry? A calculator will suffice. He has his ways and his ways create success. Now, he can say his success translates into championship play.

Even though this team had a short time together, they won’t be forgotten.

They will be remembered for bringing Calipari his first of many championships. They will be remembered for epitomizing an era of one-year collegiate players. They will be remembered as a team that played all aspects of the game close to perfection.

They will be remembered as the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions.

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Mizzou Takes Down the Jayhawks

4 02 2012

A picture can say a thousand words. In Frank Haith’s case, it says one: victorious.

Tonight, College GameDay showcased a crucial win for the Missouri Tigers, as they took down the Kansas Jayhawks, 74-71. These Tigers are now tied with Kansas and Baylor for first in the Big XII. They all stand at 8-2 in conference play.

This game can only be described as back-and-forth with neither team ever leading by double-digits. There was constant hustling from both sides since all the players knew this 105-year-old rivalry could be coming to a close soon.

The Tigers showed resilience in the closing minutes of the game. Falling behind by eight late in this battle, the Tigers looked to have lost a grip on this Border Showdown. Kansas had just gone on a 7-1 run with 2:04 remaining to take a 71-63 lead, and the momentum was clearly in the blue and red’s favor. Thomas Robinson’s 25 points and 13 rebounds had a major impact on Kansas’s success in the second half.

As Mizzou has shown all year long, they were not going to accept a loss and move on to the next game. Marcus Denmon took the phrase “put the team on your back” to a new level. He scored nine straight points – an and-one and two contested three pointers – in about a single minute. This gave the Tigers a 72-71 lead with 56 seconds to go.

With solid defense and two clutch free throws from Michael Dixon, Mizzou finished the game on a 11-0 run in the final two minutes to take down the Jayhawks.

The best part of the night might have come when a very focused Denmon stopped the students from rushing the court. He made it clear in his post-game interview that they expected to win today and have much bigger goals in mind. I love this demeanor from Mizzou’s guard and it will surely be invaluable as the year gets closer and closer to March.

Even though Denmon (29 points) stood out from the rest of the streak tonight, this was a team win for these Tigers. Steve Moore and Dixon both drew key charges late in the game that cut two Kansas drives short. Kim English and Dixon provided solid offensive production throughout the night. Everybody played their role and they got the W because of it.

A deep run into April looks to be more and more probable with each game these Tigers play. They truly have something special going on with the way this veteran squad (four seniors in the starting lineup) knows each others strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, the NBA might provide more controlled play than college basketball with more constructed gameplay and set plays being called. They also simply have more developed basketball players. However, this team’s ability to play together is off the charts. I’ve never seen such apparent chemistry in a ball club on any level before.

For the Big XII, This win now sets up an inevitably dramatic finish to the regular season. Mizzou. Baylor. Kansas. These three squads have played great basketball up to this point, and they undoubtedly will continue to moving forward.

I couldn’t be more happy than I am right now to be attending the University of Missouri. The passion from these players, from Frank Haith, and from all the fans on this campus can not be contained. Electric only begins to describe this campus right now. I will remember this game not only because it is my first Border War and possibly my last, but because I just saw one of the best sports games I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime.

Thank you Mizzou.

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