A Message for Big Blue Nation
Kentucky fans: Be careful what you wish for.
Yes, this season has been a complete train wreck. There’s no excuse for a 4-9 start, or Wednesday night’s loss to a brutal Georgia team — not youth, not even the pandemic can be used as a defense.
But don’t do what you did to Tubby Smith and run John Calipari out of Lexington, or you may just wind up with another Billy Clyde Gillispie.
This team has been atrocious. There were six consecutive losses, and then a glimmer of hope with three straight wins. But the issue with this Kentucky team isn’t just youth; It’s the fact that they can’t score, aren’t tough enough and lack both leadership and a star. While the staff misevaluated recruits, there’s still far more talent on this team than four wins in 13 tries would indicate.
A faction of the fan base is frustrated with the fact that Calipari has only won a single national title, that he seemingly prioritizes sending players to the NBA over national championships, and his decision to take a knee in a red state didn’t help his approval rating with many fans and boosters.
The critics will say that the ‘Cats haven’t been to the Final Four since 2015, and that Coach Cal is an underachiever relative to the talent that comes through Lexington each and every year.
But in 10 tries, Calipari has been to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament eight times. He’s made a quartet of Final Four appearances, and for the most part is always in the hunt. Calipari is 61 and the increasingly vocal part of the fan base that wants him gone could be enough for him to bolt for another opportunity. Those close to him say he never expected to be in Lexington for a dozen years when he first came from Memphis, and this season could be enough to trigger a move.
He’s not getting the elite players that he once did, like John Wall and Anthony Davis, but if Cade Cunningham had opted for UK instead of playing for his brother, Cannen, at Oklahoma State, this team would be 9-4 instead of 4-9. Don’t forget the level of frustration when Tubby couldn’t secure top-tier talent and went 9-7 in the SEC during each of his final two seasons at UK.
Remember, Billy Donovan didn’t want the Kentucky job during the last couple of openings. Neither did Jay Wright or Tom Izzo. This job isn’t for everyone. I’ve mentioned Baylor’s Scott Drew as a fit if and when Calipari leaves, but who knows if he’d want the task of having to follow Calipari and dealing with an unrealistic fan base. Ditto for Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, who grew up miles from Lexington.
Gillispie lasted two seasons before he was jettisoned because he didn’t get it done on the floor, and wasn’t the right coach off of it.
Calipari and the ‘Cats are having a forgettable season, but my guess is that this year will give Cal the motivation he needs to get it back going again with this one-time transfer waiver rule on the horizon and some of these freshmen having no choice but to return.
Which means that next year, Kentucky will be back in the mix.
So don’t be stupid, Big Blue Nation, and run Calipari out of town because the next coach might just make you completely irrelevant again.
How Are Winthrop & Drake Unbeaten?
Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey won’t divulge his roster-building formula, but he’s a huge “Moneyball” fan and has five factors that determine whether a Division II transfer will be successful in the D-1 ranks. If a D-2 player hits the transfer portal and crosses the threshold on four of the components, the Eagles’ coaching staff then begins its pursuit.
“I don’t want to tell anyone the secret,” he half-joked. “But there are certain metrics, and I trust the numbers.”
Keon Moore was the first D-2 transfer back in 2014, and he wound up scoring 1,000 points across two seasons for the Eagles after coming in from Catawba College. There have been five others from the D-2 ranks, including the team’s current star, Chandler Vaudrin (Walsh), and talented guard Adonis Arms (Northwest Nazarene). Vaudrin is a matchup nightmare, a 6-foot-7 point guard who leads the country in assists, while Arms is third on the team in scoring despite coming off the bench.
The strength of this team, though, is its depth, as Kelsey plays 11 guys at least 10 minutes per game. Vaudrin is the only player who averages more than 24 minutes per contest.
“They all play hard and play for each other,” Kelsey said. “Our depth is huge, especially this year with the back-to-back conference games.”
Drake is also unbeaten (13-0), and coach Darian DeVries credits the friendship that came from a large group of his players growing up together in the region of Northwest Indiana.
Indiana natives Tremell Murphy and D.J. Wilkins went to Florida SouthWestern State together, where they also played for current Drake assistant Marty Richter, and then both transferred to Drake. Jonah Jackson and Wilkins both attended Merrillville High (Ind.), and Jackson then went to John A. Logan College before joining Drake. Roman Penn and ShanQuan “Tank” Hemphill also knew that group from growing up in the area, and Penn came to Drake after a stop at Siena while Hemphill transferred in from Green Bay.
“The chemistry with these guys is off the charts,” DeVries said. “A lot of these guys went their own way for a couple years and are now back together.”
And the team is older. All five starters are either juniors or seniors, and with the NCAA giving everyone their season back, there’s a good chance that the entire team could return next year.
“As of today, they’re all planning on coming back,” DeVries said.
Keyontae Credited With Scouting the Vols
Florida star Keyontae Johnson had the computer on his lap and the laser pointer in his hand, going through each of Tennessee’s players and their tendencies prior to Tuesday night’s rout of the Vols.
“He’s done it for three of our last four SEC wins,” Gators coach Mike White said of Johnson. “He delivers the first round of personnel, both offensively and defensively.”
Johnson, who collapsed during the Florida State game on Dec. 12 and won’t play again this season, has continued to be involved with the program in a coaching role. White gave him an electronic whistle, the same kind the other coaches have during practice, and realized that it’s more impactful when Johnson utilizes it.
“It’s more valuable coming from him,” White said. “They’ve heard all of us blow it over and over, but when he does it, it just has a bigger impact.”
“It helps him being involved, but it also really helps us,” added White, who has always raved about Johnson’s engaging, fun-loving personality. “He’s just an awesome kid. All five of my kids love him. He taught all of them to play UNO.”
After Signature Win, Capel Concerned
A year ago, the Pitt Panthers started 15-9 — and then the bottom fell out. Jeff Capel’s group wound up losing seven straight to end the regular-season ACC slate, and any thought of an NCAA Tournament berth was long gone.
Now, in his third season after inheriting a complete mess and coming off the most significant win in his tenure with a victory over Duke, Capel is concerned. There should be a full-fledged celebration after becoming the first former Duke player to beat Mike Krzyzewski as a coach. But Capel knows better.
“How do we handle it?” Capel wondered. “We don’t have guys that are used to this. These guys have craved the attention, and now they have it. How do you deal with it? It’s not like they know how to deal with expectations.”
The Panthers improved to 8-2 overall and 4-1 in the ACC after the win against Capel’s alma mater. He has the current frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year in Justin Champagnie, who leads the ACC in both scoring and rebounding, arguably the league’s top passer in Xavier Johnson and its top two-way wing in Au’Diese Toney.
But now they will have to deal with expectations and the potential of a letdown as the Panthers will play Wake Forest this weekend as a fill-in after Boston College had to postpone due to COVID-19 issues.
No Place Like Home
There may not be much of a home-court advantage this season, but you’d never know watching Richard Pitino and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
In Big Ten play, Minnesota is 4-0 at The Barn and 0-4 on the road. But it’s not even just the wins and losses. The Gophers are pounding opponents on their home floor by an average of nearly 17 points per game. On the road, they are getting blasted by 19 points per contest.
“This year isn’t normal,” Pitino told me, discounting the variance this season. “I also think it’s so different playing in the Big Ten without fans.”
There was no better illustration than Minnesota’s game against Michigan. On Jan. 6, the Wolverines ran Minnesota out of the gym in Ann Arbor, 82-57. Ten days later, it was the Gophers who dominated, 75-57.
It got me thinking: Who are the teams with the biggest home-road disparity in league play? And was anyone recently more helter-skelter than Minnesota? So I reached out to my good buddy, Ken Pomeroy, of KenPom.com fame, and he provided some data…
Since the 2013-14 season, Minnesota ranks 13th overall when it comes to the biggest home-road winning percentage disparity in conference play. No surprise that Colorado, with its advantage due to altitude, ranks No. 1.
|School||Home W-L in League Play
|Away W-L in League Play
|1. Colorado||50-16 (.758)||18-49 (.269)||-.489|
|2. Louisiana Tech||57-8 (.877)||29-35 (.453)||-.424|
|3. Oklahoma||47-19 (.712)||21-45 (.318)||-.394|
|4. Southern Miss||39-26 (.600)||14-50 (.219)||-.381
|5. Northern Iowa||52-15 (.776)||26-39 (.400)||-.376
|6. Sacramento State||43-25 (.632)||17-49 (.257)||-.375
|7. Iowa State||44-22 (.667)||19-46 (.292)||-.375
|8. Oregon State||38-28 (.576)||13-51 (.203)||-.373|
|9. Akron||52-14 (.788)||27-38 (.415)||-.373
|10. Drake||38-27 (.585)||15-50 (.231)||-.354
|11. Stanford||44-22 (.667)||21-46 (.313)||-.354
|12. North Dakota State||47-9 (.839)||28-29 (.491)||-.348
|13. Minnesota||38-31 (.551)||14-55 (.203)||-.348
|14. Oregon||56-9 (.862)||34-32 (.515)||-.347
|15. Florida State||51-16 (.761)||27-38 (.415)||-.346
Coaching Carousel Slows Down
Southern University athletic director Roman Banks made a strong statement earlier this month when he gave men’s basketball coach Sean Woods, football coach Dawson Odums and women’s basketball coach Carlos Funchess one-year extensions.
It’s a free pass on this season, which is no surprise since Banks was Southern’s head men’s basketball coach from 2011-17.
“I try and look at it through the lens of a coach,” Banks told Stadium. “We’ve been talking about doing right by the student-athletes, but I don’t know if we’ve talked enough about doing right by the coaches. They have gone through a lot and sacrificed as well this year.”
Banks said it’s a decision for each school to make, but it was made easier for him because he felt not only as though all of the programs are trending in the right direction, but also that they have performed well academically.
I don’t believe that every coach should automatically get another year, but I don’t expect as many coaching changes after the 2020-21 season. Guys like Fordham’s Jeff Neubauer and Boston College’s Jim Christian likely got this season because of COVID-19, so I’m not necessarily advocating for them to get another year because they kept their positions when few thought that would be the case before the pandemic hit.
But at the same time, to start paying out hefty buyouts in this climate doesn’t make a ton of sense, either. It’s why you could see coaches like Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle, Washington’s Mike Hopkins and Kansas State’s Bruce Weber get another chance even after brutal seasons this year.
The Transfer-Up All-American Team
I did a study this past offseason on transfers who moved up, and I found that their production generally was cut in half. Here are 10 players who bucked that trend and have thrived after joining the big boys:
Carlik Jones, 6-1, 185, G, Grad, Louisville
Road Traveled: Grad transfer from Radford
Louisville Stats: 17.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.7 apg
2019-20 Stats: 20.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.5 apg
Liam Robbins, 7-0, 235, C, Jr., Minnesota
Road Traveled: Transfer from Drake (received waiver to play immediately)
Minnesota Stats: 13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.6 bpg
2019-20 Stats: 14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.9 bpg
Javon Freeman-Liberty, 6-4, 180, G, Jr., DePaul
Road Traveled: Transfer from Valparaiso (received waiver to play immediately)
DePaul Stats: 11.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.1 apg
2019-20 Stats: 19.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.2 apg
Adam Flagler, 6-3, 180, G, Soph., Baylor
Road Traveled: Transfer from Presbyterian (sat last season)
Baylor Stats: 10.1 ppg, 41% 3-pointers
2018-19 Stats: 15.9 ppg, 38% 3-pointers
Trey Murphy III, 6-9, 205, G, Jr., Virginia
Road Traveled: Transfer from Rice (received waiver to play immediately)
Virginia Stats: 11.1 ppg, 52% 3-pointers
2019-20 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 37% 3-pointers
Jalen Tate, 6-6, 175, G, Grad, Arkansas
Road Traveled: Grad transfer from Northern Kentucky
Arkansas Stats: 10.4 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.9 rpg
2019-20 Stats: 13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.6 apg
Tahj Eaddy, 6-2, 165, G, Grad, USC
Road Traveled: Grad transfer from Santa Clara
USC Stats: 12.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.7 apg
2019-20 Stats: 9.1 ppg, 2.1 apg
Drew Peterson, 6-8, 185, G, Jr., USC
Road Traveled: Transfer from Rice (received waiver to play immediately)
USC Stats: 10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.5 apg
2019-20 Stats: 11.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.5 apg
Nate Johnson, 6-4, 195, SG, Grad, Xavier
Road Traveled: Grad transfer from Gardner-Webb
Xavier Stats: 11.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 51% 3-pointers
2019-20 Stats: 13.5 ppg, 41% 3-pointers
Marcus Shaver Jr., 6-2, 185, G, Jr., Boise State
Road Traveled: Transfer from Portland (sat last season)
Boise State Stats: 13.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 44% 3-pointers
2018-19 Stats: 14.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 36% 3-pointers
• There will be a new preseason tourney next season at the Baha Mar in The Bahamas. It’ll be a four-team high-major men’s event with an eight-team mid-major field and four high-major women’s teams. The men’s high-major field will tentatively consist of Maryland, Mississippi State, and NC State, sources told Stadium.
• The PK85 is slated to be held in November of 2022 in Portland.
• As of Wednesday evening, Baylor is first in the country in defensive efficiency and fourth in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. The other team in the top 10 in both categories is Michigan, who is seventh in offense and ninth on the defensive end.