College basketball has the most entertaining postseason in all of sports for one reason: chaos. That is my opinion, but I would like to think it is pretty popular one. Anyway, the past week is a prime example of why college basketball is so beloved; regardless of talent or rankings, an upset can occur at any time. No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Kansas, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 6 Florida State, and No. 8 UCLA all fell to inferior teams. Don’t worry about the UCLA loss, according to Lonzo Ball’s father college basketball is tougher in comparison to the NBA and his son is going to be the next Michael Jordan. I’m sure Michael Jordan 2.0 can get his team back on track. But, the biggest story is Kentucky’s loss to Tennessee (11-9). After Kentucky’s blow out win against South Carolina, multiple articles were written that Kentucky is going to sail to an undefeated season in the SEC and their first challenge since Kansas would come in March. Good call. During the Cal era, Kentucky has been known to drop an away game or two to a less talented team each season. This team is not defensively strong enough to endure a rough shooting night and come out on the other end with a victory. For a team that was supposed to steamroll into March, they were blatantly outplayed in Knoxville where they have dropped 3 of the last 4. Luckily, they have a chance to bounce back against No. 2 Kansas at home during College Gameday.
Player of the Week
Robert Hubbs III (Tennessee)
Rick Barnes got his first big win as head coach of the Volunteers in an 82-80 victory over the No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats. All thanks to a ridiculous performance by his senior guard RHIII. Obviously, it took a great team performance to take down Malik Monk and company, but the Wildcats had no answer for Hubbs. Whatever Coach Cal threw at Hubbs was ineffective, even one of the best on-ball defenders in the country in De'Aaron Fox could not stop him from getting any shot he wanted. Hubbs finished with 25 points and 7 rebounds on 9-14 from the field, and most impressively, it was all from inside the arc. On a night where Tennessee shot 50% from deep, their most effective player did not attempt a single three. And, this was on a night where Bam Adebayo was a beast down low. Kentucky continued to cut the lead within the final minutes, but Hubbs continued to make the correct pass or take the best shot to keep the Wildcats from escaping Knoxville with a victory. Coach Cal was right, his squad was outplayed that day and they did not deserve to win that game, especially the way Robert Hubbs III dominated their prolific backcourt.
Florida 3-Point Shooting
What a difference a week makes. Collectively, the entire Florida Gators roster did not sink a single shot from behind the arc in last week’s losing effort at South Carolina. South Carolina may have had the No. 1 ranked defense at the time per Kenpom, but you would expect one to go down especially when attempting 17. Well, last night Mike White’s team showed they’re capable of consistently knocking down the 3-ball when they broke the school record for treys with 19 in a victory over LSU. Florida played the game as if they were determined to show they are amongst the best in the SEC. After consecutive losses and falling to No. 25 in the AP poll, the Gators came out firing in Baton Rouge. You could tell there was a sense of emergency that they were drifting away the top of the conference standings and not playing the brand of basketball that Mike White expects from them. You need every victory you can get in the SEC, with the lack of competition it is very troubling to earn resume-building wins throughout conference play. But, when you knock down 19 threes and break a school record, it seems as if the team understood what was at risk and did everything they could to get back to winning basketball.
Isaiah Briscoe (Kentucky)
You might be questioning this choice considering his stat line in the game against Tennessee where Briscoe went for 11 points, 14 boards, and 5 dimes. Well, hear me out. If you watched any of the game, Briscoe looked lost out there and did more for his team to lose than win the ball game. Calipari was in his ear all night. Mostly because of his defense on the man I mentioned before, Robert Hubbs III. On most nights, Briscoe can be a spectacular defender and wear you down with his strength around the boards and his quick feet out on the perimeter. And other times it seems as if he is letting his man just get right to the basket and letting him put up any shot he wants. And in Knoxville, the latter occurred. Like I previously mentioned, Hubbs went 9-14 from the field, but did not attempt a single three ball. I’m not saying he is a lethal 3-point shooter (.150% on the year), but you have to force him into taking perimeter shots. With De’Aaron Fox’s ankle a little banged up, he did not have the agility to stay with Hubbs so Cal went with his next option in Briscoe. Briscoe played uninspired defense and it led to Hubbs 25-point night. In the previous game, Briscoe put up a goose egg in the scoring column. The game still resulted in a 16-point Kentucky victory over South Carolina. So no, the Wildcats don’t need a mass amount of production from Briscoe at this point in the season, but Calipari donned him the leader of his team. Talent can only lead you so far into March. Even national championship teams that consisted of star freshman such as 2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke still had veteran leadership in Darius Miller and Quinn Cook. I’m well aware that they were seniors, but in Kentucky years a sophomore is considered a veteran. Especially with the hype that Briscoe came into college with. The Wildcats might not need a career night from Briscoe every time they step on the floor, but if they expect to get to Phoenix, Briscoe is going to have to contribute and lead this team.
Top-5 Things to Know for Kansas vs. Kentucky
Despite all of the Kentucky criticism I made in their loss against Tennessee, they are still a Top-5 team in the country and face another Blue-Blood this Saturday. In what has been a boring a SEC conference play so far, we get this Top-5 matchup between college basketball Goliaths. This has all the storylines of what is going to be a great game.
Look up lists for best backcourts in college basketball right now. Every list is going to have 1-2 combination of the backcourts that Kentucky and Kansas boast. De’Aaron Fox vs. Frank Mason and Devonte Graham vs. Malik Monk. This is going to the be the storyline of this game, but it will not be the determining factor.
2. Cal vs. Self
I wish I could say this is going to be a battle between two hall of fame coaches, but Bill Self still has not reached the category yet. Which in my opinion is awful, he has won a share of 12 consecutive Big 12 Titles and has a national championship. They have a storied history and are 1-1 in national championship games. Also, Self took Calipari’s spot as an assistant coach at Kansas during Larry Brown’s period of dominance. These are two of the best coaches the sport has to offer and believe their rivalry is personal.
3. Last Year
If you missed this game last year I genuinely feel bad for you. No. 20 Kentucky went into the Phog to face No. 4 Kansas and lost 90-84 in OT in what added on to this great rivalry. Wayne Selden had the game of his life after dropping 33 in response to Tyler Ulis’s 26 and 8 performance. This was one of the best regular season games last year, and expect no difference this time around.
4. Head to Head
Despite being two of the most successful programs in college basketball history, Kentucky dominates this rivalry 22-7. Since Cal’s first season, the Cats have taken 3 of 4 from the Jayhawks in what are all memorable games. Especially the Anthony Davis led Cats defeating Self’s Jayhawks in the National Championship game.
5. The History
These two teams are No. 1 and No. 2 in all-time victories. They combine for a total of 11 national titles. Kansas has not missed March Madness since 1989. Kentucky has the most all-time tournament wins. I could keep reeling off stats, but from a history that includes players like Paul Pierce, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and John Wall, a battle between these two teams is must-watch TV.