Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball’s defense vs. Virginia Tech offense, plus more links

UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari congratulates the team’s student manager Kevin Massey after he was awarded his bachelor’s degree during commencement exercises for the University of Kentucky at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Friday, December 15, 2017. Calipari gives assistant coach John Robic the credit for mentoring Massey.
UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari congratulates the team’s student manager Kevin Massey after he was awarded his bachelor’s degree during commencement exercises for the University of Kentucky at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Friday, December 15, 2017. Calipari gives assistant coach John Robic the credit for mentoring Massey. Lexington Herald-Leader

Big Blue Links for Saturday:

Kentucky’s schedule enters the fast lane, reports Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. “A tougher upcoming schedule, beginning with Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, can bring the greater amount of respect that this season’s Kentucky team desires. That was a theme voiced by UK Coach John Calipari, sophomore Wenyen Gabriel and freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in sessions with the media Friday.”

Saturday’s game will make a dream come true, reports Tipton. First cousins Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Kentucky and Nichkeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech will meet on the court in a Division I college basketball game. “We’ve been dreaming about his game our whole life,” Gilgeous-Alexander said Friday. “We’ve never really had a real basketball game against each other.”

Beating Kentucky will be a tall order for the Hokies, writes Mark Berman of the Roanoke Times. “Kentucky (8-1) boasts one of the tallest teams in the nation. Its size will present challenges to Tech (9-1) when it comes to rebounding and scoring. Six of Kentucky’s top eight players are 6-foot-6 or taller. The average wingspan of Kentucky’s players is 6-9.”

John Calipari wants Wenyen Gabriel to play more like Derek Willis. So what does that mean?

Five things to know about Virginia Tech, from my blog. “Through Thursday’s games, Virginia Tech led the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game. The Hokies scored 111 against Detroit Mercy; 132 against The Citadel; 103 against Washington; 99 against Houston Baptist; 96 against Morehead State; 95 against Radford and 95 against Maryland-Eastern Shore.”

Virginia Tech’s high-scoring offense gets a tough test, writes Gene Wang of the Washington Post. “Virginia Tech guard Ahmed Hill was born and raised in Georgia, but throughout his high school career, the redshirt junior recalls keeping tabs on Kentucky. Little did Hill anticipate when he committed to the Hokies that he would be part of the first team in program history to face the eight-time national champions at Rupp Arena.”

How Kentucky and Virginia Tech match up with a game prediction, from Mark Story of the Herald-Leader. “Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs leads the Hokies in scoring (17.5 ppg) and has been scalding hot from three-point range, having gone 20-for-42 this season. If the game is close, the 6-5, 220-pound senior from Dayton, Ohio, is not a guy Kentucky wants to put on the foul line. Bibbs has missed only one foul shot (18-for-19) this season.”

Here’s my podcast with Mark Berman of the Roanoke Times previewing the game.

Saturday should be a learning experience for Kentucky, writes Keith Taylor of KyForward. “We are at that stage with this team, we win or we learn,” John Calipari said Friday. “That’s where we are. I’m not taking it any other way. We win or we’ll learn. And we are going to learn as individual players where guys are and as a team where we are.”

Kentucky is the first of many elite defenses Virginia Tech will face, writes David Teel of the Daily Press. “Virginia Tech will play at least eight games this basketball season versus teams currently among the nation’s top 20 in defensive efficiency. The first comes Saturday at Kentucky. As a devotee of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced stats, Hokies coach Buzz Williams is more than aware that John Calipari’s Wildcats (8-1) stand 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency, a metric that blends schedule strength with opponents’ average points-per-possession.”

UK student manager who survived brain cancer graduates, reports Morgan Eads of the Herald-Leader. “Kevin Massey was 16 years old when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, according to UK. Despite the grim prognosis, he continued forward. He was accepted to UK, became the manager of the men’s basketball team and graduated on Friday with a degree in communication.”

Three keys for Saturday’s Louisville-Memphis matchup at Madison Square Garden in New York, from Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal. When first scheduled, this was supposed to be a matchup between old friends Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith. Things changed.

Tubby Smith could sure use a win over Louisville, writes Rick Bozich of WDRB. “This is my theory on Tubby Smith: If his coaching prime had unfolded in the Seventies and Eighties, Smith would have been an absolute titan in college basketball, a certain Naismith Hall of Famer, a guy with multiple Final Fours and maybe a second NCAA championship.”

UK tells its donors that some K Fund donations may no longer be tax deductible, reports Jared Peck of the Herald-Leader. “University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart emailed a letter to K Fund donors on Friday advising them that the current U.S. tax proposal being debated in Congress eliminates the tax deductibility of their K Fund donations.”

Kentucky is looking rusty before its bowl game, reports Chris Leach of the Kentucky Kernel. “The UK football team has known details about its bowl game for a while now but haven’t done much to prepare for it. Between finals and recruiting visits, coaches and players have been busy and unable to fully prepare for Northwestern. With all that out of the way, their attention can now fully be on the bowl game.”

It’s a very busy time for Kentucky football, reports Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader. “December is some serious hustle and bustle for college football coaches, too. Less than 24 hours after stepping off the field for their final regular-season games, college coaches are usually in those crowded airports crisscrossing the country to make recruiting visits while also getting ready for bowl games and practices.”

The Music City Bowl director earns a hefty salary, reports Mike Organ of the Tennessean. “Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl executive director Scott Ramsey’s annual salary of $492,301 is the ninth-highest among all bowl bosses. USA Today reported on Friday the 2015 compensation packages for the top 18 bowl executives.”

Neal Brown and Troy play North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday, reports Charles Hollis of AL.com. “With back-to-back 10-win seasons, a first for Troy, and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl to face North Texas (9-4) Saturday at noon, how in the coaching carousel is Brown not somewhere else? It’s not about going to New Orleans to face the Mean Green, the Conference USA West Division champion, the team that kept UAB out of the league title game and facing Lane Kiffin and his Florida Atlantic Owls.”

The New Orleeans Bowl is at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

High school experience paying off for new Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, writes John Adams of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “Pruitt would have fit in nicely on the “Friday Night Lights” coaching cast. Nor would he have been out place amid the high school coaches I used to cover in South Texas in the mid-1970s.”

Tennessee and SEC basketball look surprisingly tough, writes John Gasaway of ESPN. “We thought we knew before the season that Grant Williams would have serious breakout-sophomore potential for Tennessee in 2017-18. That, however, is pretty much the only thing we got right in the preseason about the Volunteers. Williams is indeed having an excellent season. So, too, are his teammates. So, indeed, is the SEC.”

Saturday college basketball games on television

  • 12:00 - Miami at George Washington (CBS Sports)
  • 12:00 - Seton Hall at Rutgers (Big 10)
  • 12:00 - Butler vs. Purdue (Fox)
  • 12:00 - Louisville vs. Memphis (ESPN2)
  • 12:00 - Michigan vs. Detroit Mercy (ESPNU)
  • 12:00 - UNC-Greensboro at North Carolina State (Fox Sports South)
  • 12:30 - Syracuse at Georgetown (CBS)
  • 1:00 - Stephen F. Austin at LSU (SEC)
  • 2:00 - Michigan State vs. Oakland (ESPNU)
  • 2:00 - Virginia Tech at Kentucky (ESPN2)
  • 2:00 - Northwestern at DePaul (Fox Sports 1)
  • 2:00 - Drake vs. Iowa (Big 10)
  • 2:00 - East Tennessee State at Xavier (Fox Sports South)
  • 2:30 - Indiana vs. Notre Dame (Fox)
  • 3:00 - Georgia at UMass (NBC Sports)
  • 3:30 - Cincinnati at UCLA (CBS)
  • 3:30 - Illinois State at Ole Miss (SEC)
  • 4:00 - Oklahoma at Wichita State (ESPN2)
  • 6:00 - Appalachian State at Ohio State (Big 10)
  • 6:00 - Middle Tennessee at Auburn (SEC)
  • 6:00 - Oregon at Fresno State (CBS Sports)
  • 8:00 - Kansas at Nebraska (Fox Sports 1)
  • 8:00 - Arizona at New Mexico (CBS Sports)
  • 8:00 - New Mexico State at Illinois (Big 10)
  • 8:30 - North Florida at Missouri (SEC)
  • 11:00 - Utah at BYU (ESPN2)
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