Posted on: February 1, 2011 11:12 pm

Kentucky loses down the stretch again

Posted by MATT JONES

It has been the curse of this year's Kentucky basketball team that both the media and UK fans have been quick to compare it to last season's Wildcat team. After the Cats beat Louisville handily at the new Yum! Center, some commentators (I am looking at you Seth Davis) even went so far as to suggest that this year's group was better equipped to make a deep March run than the 2010 team and our own Gary Parrish recently named the Big Blue a Final Four contender. Well as Tuesday night's 71-69 defeat at Ole Miss once again showcased, those opinions overlook the most obvious problem with this UK team. It simply has yet to show the leadership necessary to win close games down the stretch that distinguish the good from the potentially great.

Last season, Kentucky was involved in ten games in which the score was within six points going into the last television timeout with under four minutes on the clock.   For those ten games, UK finished 8-2, thanks to a host of clutch plays by the big four of future first round NBA Draft picks, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson. Each of the four were blessed with tremendous talent, but also a desire to step up in crucial moments, ensuring the Cats a plethora of options when games became tight. While Wall was clearly the first option, all four players loved the spotlight and enjoyed the hostile environments they encountered on the road in the SEC. Each had a moment of end-of-game glory and nearly all delivered when called upon in the clutch.

This year's team is just the opposite. While its roster looks similar to last year's group with three super-talented freshman who can score in Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb and a Junior with experience in Darius Miller, this year's team simply doesn't have the same confident swagger when games get into the tense final minutes. Against Ole Miss, Kentucky found itself with the ball, up 69-68 and 50 seconds remaining on the clock. After running the shot clock down to its final ticks, Brandon Knight hit Miller wide open in the corner of the court for a three-pointer that could have ended the game. Rather than step up and take a shot that could send his team home with a victory, Miller deferred and instead passed to another Junior, Deandre Liggins, who wasn't aware of the time remaining on the clock and ended up throwing up a last second heave, leading to a shot clock violation. While the three talented Freshman who had combined to score 59 of the team's 69 points watched on, the two upperclassmen both allowed the game to slip through their fingers.

Then after a timeout by Ole Miss, the Rebels inbounded the ball with ten seconds left in the game to the best shooter in the SEC, Chris Warren. Knowing that any Ole Miss player was a more preferrable option for the final shot than Warren, Kentucky nevertheless still did not hedge out on the shooter off the pick and roll and instead allowed the 5'8"guard a wide open look from 25 feet for the win. With their two longest defenders, Terrence Jones and Deandre Liggins, closing a split-second late, Warren nailed a three that gave Ole Miss its biggest win of the year and dropped Kentucky to 4-3 in the SEC East.

Whereas last year's Kentucky team won 80 percent of its close games, this year's team is now 0-4 when the margin game has been six points or closer before the last television timeout. At North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and now Ole Miss, Kentucky has gone into the crucial final stretch with a chance to win, but has seen its players defer on offense and play on their heels on defense, losing games to teams with much less talent, but much more poise.

A lack of poise, especially on the road, is not surprising for a young team. But with John Calipari's recruiting strategy involving a revolving door of one and done Freshman players, the amount of time to allow the poise to develop is limited. Last year's Kentucky team had it from the outset, but as March creeps ever closer, this year's group has still been unable to harness it. With the meat of the SEC road schedule still to come and close games likely to be prevalent in March, those that forsee this year's group as able to duplicate the success of the 2010 team must be seeing something I have been missing.
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Kentucky
Posted on: January 27, 2011 1:50 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2011 1:53 pm

Lexington abuzz about the future of Rupp Arena

Posted by MATT JONES

When you pride yourself in caring about college basketball more than any program in America and then your biggest rival opens what may be the nicest college basketball facility in the country, you take notice. That is what is happening in Lexington, Kentucky this week as the University of Kentucky and new mayor of Lexington go back and forth over plans as to how best upgrade the basketball facilities for its historical basketball program.

In his initial "State of the City" speech this week, Lexington mayor Jim Gray announced that he would put together a task force to study whether Rupp Arena could be renovated in such a manner as to add luxury suites and allow the city to compete against the Yum! Center in Louisville, not only for basketball, but other concert events as well. The talk was of renovation to the current arena in Lexington and the assumption seemed to be more of fixing what currently exists, rather than a new arena being built.

Today a source told Kentuckysportsradio.com that the new mayor's plan is counter to what the University of Kentucky, specifically President Lee Todd and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, would support. According to the source, the plans advocated by the mayor would require a drop in available seating, loss of revenue and still have the effect of keeping the city of Lexington behind Louisville in terms of arena attractiveness to outside events. The source suggested that from the University's perspective, the better alternative would be either an entirely new arena in downtown, or an arena in and around the University campus.

With the mayor and the University seemingly not on the same page, the debate will rage in the Big Blue Nation as to what plan will best lead to the creation of a new arena. With public bonding unlikely and private funding lacking, it isn't clear how either plan can be paid for and executed. Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky fans are left with a 1970s mediocre arena, leaving revenue streams on the table and playing second fiddle to it's hated rival's immaculate facility. The latter point especially is unacceptable to the Kentucky fans and will lead to an interesting few months of closed-door squabbling in the city of Lexington.
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Kentucky
Posted on: January 22, 2011 11:05 pm

Terrence Jones, with authority

Posted by Matt Norlander

Kentucky went into Columbia, S.C., tonight and avoided back-to-back road losses in the SEC, beating the Gamecocks, 67-58.

There was no clear evidence of John Calipari swearing at his players so openly, but plenty in the building took offense to this monster slam from freshman Terrence Jones, who coincidentally was the player on the receiving end of Calipari's acid tongue earlier this week.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 19, 2011 3:27 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2011 4:38 pm

John Calipari cursing is par for the course

Posted by MATT JONES

I am truly amazed at the reaction caused by John Calipari’s F-bomb-laden tirade aimed at his freshman star Terrence Jones on Tuesday night. For those of you that missed it, as Kentucky attempted a late comeback on the road against Alabama, Calipari reacted to a blown UK possession by calling Jones over to him and saying (or at least seeming to say if you are a lip reader) to  Jones that he was a “selfish mother-f*****.” Jones seemed to shrug off the comments as UK made a late run before ultimately falling 68-66 to the Tide.

Immediately however the reaction poured in around the Big Blue Nation. UK message boards and blogs lit up with fans embarrassed at Calipari’s comments and some expressed shock that their beloved coach would ever say such a thing on national television. Perhaps sensing the impending blowup (because in the mega-spotlight that is UK basketball, every story is a big story), Calipari tweeted out an apology and asked forgiveness from the UK faithful.

While I can understand the sentiments behind Calipari’s apology, I must admit that I don’t understand what all the fuss is truly about. One can surely criticize the coach for using bad discretion and choosing to curse so openly in a game where all of his actions will be picked up by a national television audience. But for those that are shocked that he would say such a comment to a player, I have but one little dirty secret to impart. Not only is Calipari’s comment not shocking to me, it is actually rather commonplace, and dare I say, mundane for the world of college basketball.

You, oh naïve college basketball fan, may not realize this, but nearly every great coach in America also uses bad language to such a degree that their practices or locker room speeches would receive an “R” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Spend any amount of time around the teams when Jim Calhoun, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, etc are coaching and you will be inundated with cursing to such a degree that it would cause Daniel Tosh to blush. Cursing and coaching go hand in hand, from the high school to the professional level, and it is so commonplace that one would almost think it was taught (along with the art of building up your next opponent in the press to downplay expectations) in head coach training schools.

Almost no one is immune. In fact, if I were to rate the most outlandish cursing coach in America, It would also be the one most often celebrated as the best coach in college basketball, Mike Krzyzewski. For three years, I sat in the graduate student section of Cameron Indoor and heard Coach K spew out more expletives than you would get via a weekend voyage on the U.S.S Nimitz. His mouth was legendary and the bile that came from it was aimed equally at his players and the referees he slowly intimidated during the course of a game. If the F.C.C could regulate the words of coaches, Coach K would be its Bubba the Love Sponge.

If you are offended by the words of Calipari or any other coach in college basketball (don’t even get me started on the mouths of college football coaches), then maybe it’s time you start following some other pastime. College basketball coaches are foul-mouthed Neanderthals who believe the best way to express a complicated thought is through yelling four-letter words at the top of their lungs. Yes it’s stupid and yes it’s demeaning. But it’s also the culture of athletics and in that world, Calipari’s comments on Tuesday night are far from abnormal.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 18, 2011 1:55 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2011 2:00 pm

Mississippi State guard transfers to Kentucky

Posted by MATT JONES

A source tells CBSSports.com that former Mississippi State guard Twanny Beckham will transfer within the SEC and join the Kentucky Wildcats next season.

Beckham is a 6'5" guard who saw very little playing time for the Bulldogs and has been rumored to be unhappy for some time in Starkville. His decision to join the Wildcats brings him back closer to close, as he played his high school basketball in Louisville, Kentucky.

Beckham is expected to initially join the Wildcats as a walk-on, but could be given a scholarship in the future depending on the number of players within the program.

For Kentucky, the addition of Beckham is aimed at solidifying depth in the guard rotation. With freshman Brandon Knight potentially headed for the NBA Draft in the spring, next season the Cats could once again end up with only one point guard, current high school senior Marquis Teague. Beckham provides some experienced depth at the position, something that Kentucky does not have this season.

Beckham will be eligible to play at the semester break in the 2011-2012 season.

Photo: AP
Posted on: January 10, 2011 1:43 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2011 3:33 pm

NCAA president makes baffling remark on Kanter

Posted by Matt Jones

It seemed as if we had heard the last of Enes Kanter , at least until this spring’s NBA Draft, when the NCAA affirmed its original decision ruling him permanently ineligible on Friday. For Kanter and Kentucky, it was the last ditch effort to see the Turkish big man on the court in a blue uniform and for the media that has been following this story for over eight months, it was a welcome end to the seemingly never-ending saga. 

Or at least so we thought. Yesterday our own Seth Davis spoke with NCAA president Mark Emmert about Enes Kanter and relayed some of his thoughts at halftime of the Kansas-Michigan game. According to Davis, Emmert said that the Kanter decision should not have surprised most college basketball fans, as Enes was a professional due to the money he received from a professional club in Europe. Fair enough. While it has been noted that such a distinction is not necessarily to be found in an NCAA rule book , it at least works logically, even if it violates some sense of ex post facto fairness.

But then, as if to justify the decision further, Emmert went on to say that part of the reason no one should be surprised about the Kanter verdict is that very few teams recruited Kanter in the first place. Emmert’s assumption of course is that very few teams took the time to look into recruiting the talented big man because they all assumed he would not be eligible to play in the United States. While one who followed Kanter’s recruitment might disagree with that conclusion (plenty of teams inquired into his services), it also leaves out one salient point. One team that undoubtedly recruited Kanter and went so far as to take a commitment from him was Washington, coincidentally the university where Emmert was president at the time.

It seems quite an odd statement for Emmert to make and one that would seem to require some explanation. If Kanter was so certain to have been ineligible at the NCAA level, why would Emmert allow his university’s basketball program to recruit him. Surely Emmert knows that Washington took the commitment , so is he now suggesting that the school itself backed away from Kanter later in the process? If so, does that conclusion vibe with coach Lorenzo Romar’s, who has in the past expressed disappointment at losing Kanter to Kentucky after his decommitment, recollection of the matter? And even more importantly, if other programs didn’t recruit Kanter because of eligibility, why did Washington initially? Did it not look into those concerns initially or did the NCAA president’s former school simply not share them? Or maybe Emmert will simply say that as president of Washington, he didn't know anything about the recruitment of high-profile athletes for his university. So much for presidential oversight.

By making the rather bizarre statement to Davis , Emmert has opened up a new set of questions that likely need to be answered. The president probably could have simply said that Kanter was a professional and as such, the NCAA ruled him ineligible. But in his manifest desire to make the case seem more simplistic than it is, he has raised the question of what role his former university may have had in the Kanter case and how his time at that university fits in with the idea that schools stayed away from the apparent professional.

In recent cases, the NCAA seems to have taken the approach that it should explain its decisions more thoroughly and respond to criticism it receives after the judgments. However in case after case, these “explanations” seems to raise more questions than existed prior to them. While I generally applaud an organization that says more rather than less, it seems not to work for the NCAA. Maybe the organization should heed the famous words of Mark Twain and cease to talk, as with each explanation, it is slowly removing any doubt of their consistently inconsistent decision-making process.

Photo: AP
Posted on: January 7, 2011 8:24 pm

NCAA: The No Consistency Athletic Association

Posted by MATT JONES

The NCAA on Friday reaffirmed its previous ruling that Enes Kanter will never step foot on a basketball court for Kentucky.  The decision was not particularly surprising, as the organization had three times previously ruled against Kanter and seemed for some time to be dead set on drawing an Enes line in the sand, with virtually all other NCAA athletes on one side and Kanter standing on the other.  A myriad of conspiracy theories can be trumped up for the decision, ranging from the NCAA's general dislike of Calipari to its President standing up for his former employer, the University of Washington, where Kanter was committed before flipping and heading to Kentucky. But the simple fact is that a conspiracy theory is not needed for the NCAA to act irrationally.  In fact at this point, a lack of coherent reasoning and consistency seems ingrained in the core fabric of the organization.

The facts of the Enes Kanter situation have always been conceded.  Kanter played in Turkey for two seasons and was paid a sum of money between the ages of 16-17 to be part of the professional club, Fenerbache.  For many national sportswriters and college coaches, for whom nuance and shades of grey are as rare as a dodo bird, that has settled the issue.  However, the NCAA has created a system in recent years to attempt to allow these so-called "professionals" the ability to play college basketball in America.  Up until this point, the NCAA has recognized that the European youth system is different than that of America, with the notion of popular amateur athletics on the University level virtually non-existent.  The best talent of Europe signs early with a professional club and is trained in the equivalent of a basketball academy, with money paid for their training and expenses.  The NCAA has allowed these players to come to the United States and even last year, repealed the antiquated rule that forced them to sit out an equal number of college games to the ones they played for the professional team.

In Kanter's case however, the NCAA deemed $33,000 of payment given to Enes's father to be above what was a "necessary and actual expense."  To the NCAA, that money represented a salary, given because Kanter was a professional.  But of course, that conclusion doesn't pass the smell test.  Does anyone honestly believe that a player would be deemed a professional, while playing for one of the richest clubs in Europe, in one of the most expensive cities in the world (Istanbul) and would only accept $16,500 a year in the process? If Kanter and his club truly considered him to be a professional, why would he have been paid such a small amount?  Kanter's father has insisted that over $20,000 of that money was used for educational expenses, which if true, means that a little over $10,000 over the course of two years made Kanter a professional in the eyes of him and his club.  

While that decision might seem a bit irrational, viewed in the abstract, it could at least be defended.  But of course, the NCAA does not operate in a vacuum, and over the course of the last three months has issued three high-profile decisions allowing three high-profile players to compete despite amateurism violations.  Each could be defended with some tenuous logic when released, but when viewed together with the Kanter decision, no consistent theme can be found.

Take Kansas Freshman Josh Selby. He was suspended for nine games and required to pay over $5700 to a charity of his choice due to his acceptance of that amount of improper benefits while in high school.  Under NCAA rules, Selby was no longer an amateur.  But the NCAA looked at the case and somehow determined that this violation could be redeemed if the money was simply paid back.  How is the excess $5700 in expenses different than Kanter's $33,000?  Is it just that the total is too large?  Maybe so, but there is nothing in the NCAA rule book that says the amount makes a difference.  Is the difference that the money was paid by a European club rather than a hustling street agent?  Maybe so, but there is nothing in the NCAA rulebook that says where the illegal money comes from should make a difference.  The difference is manufactured, but never explained by the NCAA.

Take Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.  His father admittedly asked for $180,000 in improper benefits from Mississippi State, but the NCAA allowed Newton to play because it deemed that it could not be proven that his son knew about the money.  Ok fair enough.  In a vacuum that makes sense.  But Kanter also claims to not have known about the money taken by his father in excess of the "actual and necessary" expenses.  The NCAA claims that the fact money was taken is different than if money was simply asked for by the parent. However that difference is not based on any rule in the NCAA Rule book and the logic behind both cases (the son should not be punished for the sins of the father) applies to both equally.  So why is Newton, who one has to strain the laws of credibility to believe didn't know his father was on the take, playing and Kanter, who likely didn't do the expense budget and probably didn't know the amount his father took, ineligible?  Its hard to comprehend.

Or take the Ohio State five.  All five broke NCAA rules when they sold or exchanged NCAA memorabilia that was given to them for various team accomplishments.  All broke the rules and violated the amateurism standard.  But, the NCAA allowed them to miss only five games and even went further by delaying the punishment because the group was supposedly unaware of the rule they were breaking.  I am certain that 16 year-old Enes Kanter in Turkey had no clue what the NCAA rules were when he took the money from Fenerbache, so why doesn't the "I didnt know" apply to him?  Is it because he has no BCS Sugar Bowl upcoming?

The simplistic way to look at the Kanter situation is also the easiest.  He played for a professional team, so he was a "pro", end of story. But, when one looks beyond the surface level, those simplistic distinctions breakdown and are shown to be based on nothing in the NCAA rule book or from any logical consistency.  Josh Selby, Cam Newton, the Ohio State Five and Enes Kanter all broke NCAA rules.  All of them should have been ruled ineligible based upon a strict reading of the NCAA rules.  But in three of the cases, the NCAA decided that the rules needed bending and rendered punishments that allowed for "flexibility."  In the Kanter case, the rules were read strictly.  What explains the difference?  Well nothing in the NCAA rule book or any logical framework does, so all we are left with is one conclusion.  The only thing certain about the NCAA's decision making process is that it will be consistently inconsistent

Posted on: January 7, 2011 5:26 pm
Edited on: January 7, 2011 5:34 pm

Enes Kanter appeal denied by the NCAA

Posted by MATT JONES

The NCAA Appeals Board has upheld the organization’s decision to rule Turkish big man Enes Kanter permanently ineligible to play college basketball.  Kanter is attending Kentucky and his quest to be deemed eligible by the NCAA had become a cause célèbre among the team’s fans over the past four months.  However, all of the attempts to “Free Enes” did not move the NCAA, which upheld its original ruling on Friday that Kanter would be unable to play for Kentucky.

The NCAA originally deemed Kanter ineligible due to $33,000 in benefits he received from a Turkish club team that it deemed to be above his “actual and necessary expenses.”  This ruling was upheld, as the NCAA because according to NCAA Vice President of Academic Affairs Kevin Lennon, Kanter "received a significant amount of money, above his actual expenses from a professional team prior to coming to college." This is the second time the Appeals Board has upheld an NCAA ruling deeming Kanter ineligible and it represents according to the NCAA, Kanter’s “final appeal opportunity.”

After the ruling, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said, “We are obviously disappointed in this decision and find it unfortunate that a group of adults would come to such a decision regarding the future of an 18-year-old young man."  As a result of the ruling, Kanter will not be allowed to practice or travel with the team, although the University does expect to keep him with the program as an undergraduate student assistant. 

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com