Minnesota Timberwolves: Trading Corey Brewer would be a good move

Corey Brewer
In the past few weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Corey Brewer was the center of many trade rumors. Most of the rumors dealt with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets, two teams that are in contention to win the NBA finals and have already expressed interest in Brewer.
Cleveland would like to get another veteran, and would like to reunite Kevin Love with Brewer, as the two of them had a number of fast break points as Love would outlet to Brewer whenever Brewer leaked out. Houston has wanted Brewer before this year, Kevin McHale is the current head coach of the Houston Rockets really likes Brewer’s game, and actually drafted Brewer in 2006 when he was the general manager of the Timberwolves.
However, Flip Saunders the coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves has said he is intent on keeping Brewer, so as of right now it appears unlikely for the Timberwolves to deal him. Even though Brewer is a veteran player that provides solid defense and is a good transition threat, I believe

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King’s Court: Gonzaga Flying Under Radar, Too Good for Another Early Flameout

NEW YORK — Away from the fans and the media, behind the doors of locked gyms whose locations are well-guarded, the narratives of the college basketball season to come are revealed.

Usually held at a neutral site in late October, “secret scrimmages” give coaches an opportunity to assess their team against outside competition without having to deal with scrutiny from onlookers.

The NCAA discourages participants from commenting publicly about the gatherings, but after Gonzaga whipped his Texas squad in a scrimmage in Phoenix last month, Rick Barnes could hardly stay hush-hush about the Bulldogs.

“They were amazing,” the Longhorns coach said. “They looked like a team that was three-fourths of the way through its season.”

One month later, college basketball fans are saying the same thing.

Well, at least the ones who are paying attention.

While Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin are absorbing their well-deserved praise, not nearly enough people are talking about a Gonzaga unit that has won its first four games by an average of 42 points.

Mark Few’s team is good—Final Four good.

The backcourt of seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. may be the best in the country. Transfers Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky) and Byron Wesley (USC) have blended in seamlessly on the wing, and post players Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski are a load in the paint.

“It’s crazy how many weapons we have,” Wesley said.

Six Gonzaga players average double figures in scoring, and the Bulldogs are the only team in the nation to rank among the NCAA’s top 10 in field-goal percentage (56.1) and field-goal percentage defense (30.8).

“Everyone knows our name,” Bell Jr. said. “But I don’t think people see how hungry we are. They won’t know that until they play us. I think sometimes we get underrated a little bit.”

More than anything, it may be skepticism.

Tempting as it is to get excited about the Zags, it’s also easy to remember what happened two years ago, when Few’s squad entered the NCAA tournament as America’s No. 1-ranked team only to lose to Wichita State in the third round.

Gonzaga has won a conference title 12 of the last 13 years, but only once in the past eight seasons has it advanced to the Sweet 16.

In some ways the Zags are like the movie Gone Girl. They reel you in, build up your excitement and then let you down at the end.

The Bulldogs don’t disagree.

Pangos admitted Tuesday that the shortcomings in March have cast a shade over Gonzaga’s reputation. Gaudy as their record and victory margins may be, he and his teammates know the only way to turn their doubters into believers is to prove themselves when it matters most.

“We’ve shown we can compete with just about anyone,” Pangos said. “But in the past few years we haven’t done anything in the NCAA tournament to spark up major conversation. Teams are supposed to be peaking at the end of the year, and we haven’t done it.”

Pangos is confident that this team will be different.

Based on the Bulldogs’ performance thus far, it’s hard to disagree.

In each of its four wins, a different player has led Gonzaga in scoring. Bell Jr. and Wiltjer have combined to make 44.7 percent of their three-point attempts, Pangos has yet to commit a turnover and Sabonis leads the team in points (14.0) and rebounds (7.5) as a freshman. Sabonis’ father, Arvydas, is a Naismith Hall of Famer who played for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

“We knew he was physically ready to contribute at this level,” Few said, “especially when it comes to rebounding and running the floor. But I wasn’t sure how well he’d be able to score the ball. He was playing in such a high league (in Lithuania) that he wasn’t given the opportunity to score much.

“He’s continued to work hard before and after practice. He’s got a real motor and plays every possession extremely hard. That’s a great gift to have.”

Few said he’s also been pleased with his team’s effort on the other end of the court. The Zags have never been known as soft, but there’s a certain snarl that exists with this team that hasn’t been there in years past.

Gonzaga’s players said the chemistry, cohesion and intensity they’ve exhibited thus far has been present since summer workouts.

“On paper, things can always look good,” Pangos said. “Then you get together and it doesn’t click. The personalities we have are all geared toward winning. It all meshes together perfectly.”

Indeed.

Wesley, for example, had individual success at USC but never made the NCAA tournament. Now a senior, winning is what matters. Wiltjer won an NCAA title at Kentucky in 2012, so he knows how good winning feels and wants to experience it again.

Then there are guys like Pangos and Bell Jr.

“We haven’t been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament,” Bell Jr. said. “That’s what motivates me and Kevin the most. We’ve been here four years. We’re the veterans. We wanna see that second week.”

Bell Jr. may be setting his sights too low.

If Gonzaga keeps this up the Zags will see the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

And maybe the third and final one too.

 

Report Card

A’s


Villanova: What a week for the Wildcats. The Big East favorites annihilated No. 14 VCU by 24 points on Monday and then squeaked by No. 19 Michigan 60-55 one day later to win the Legends Classic. A key block by forward JayVaughn Pinkston in the waning seconds keyed the victory.

Kentucky’s December schedule: The Wildcats take on Texas (Dec. 5) and North Carolina (Dec. 13) at home and then play UCLA in Chicago on Dec. 20. A road showdown with Louisville awaits one week later.

Mark Turgeon: It’s way to early too predict what will happen with Maryland, but Tuesday’s victory over No. 13 Iowa State was a huge moment for the embattled Turgeon, whose program seemed to take hit after hit during the offseason.

 

B’s


Stanford: Most teams take a step back after losing a pair of NBA draft picks. But Stanford is adjusting to life without Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell just fine. Led by Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Reid Travis, the Cardinal thumped UNLV and hardly looked overmatched in falling to Duke the following night at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Johnny Dawkins is doing a nice job.

Kevon Looney: The 6’9”, 220-pound UCLA forward is playing as well as any freshman in the country. Looney is averaging a double-double with 14.8 points and 12.0 rebounds to go with 2.8 assists and 1.5 blocks.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers are back to playing a tough, gritty Bob Huggins style of basketball. Juwan Staten is averaging 15.8 points and 4.2 assists for a team that improved to 5-0 with Sunday’s win over defending national champion Connecticut.

 

C’s


Arizona: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on the Wildcats. But I’m not ready to place them in the same category as Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and maybe even Gonzaga and North Carolina. I worry about their ability to score. I think this team has a high ceiling that it’s not close to reaching at this point. That should excite Arizona fans.

Dana Altman: Even though Oregon lost to Michigan and VCU in Brooklyn this week, I was impressed with Altman’s coaching. The Ducks only lost by seven points to the No. 19 Wolverines and were within six points of No. 14 VCU with less than three minutes left. Remember, other than Joseph Young, this Oregon squad basically lost everything from last season. Most people thought it’d get blown out this week, but this team plays hard. That’s a credit to Altman.

Indiana: Professional bettors in Vegas probably stay away from placing wagers on the Hoosiers—this team is impossible to predict. One week the Hoosiers are upsetting then-No. 22 SMU, and the next they’re falling at home to Eastern Washington. Freshman James Blackmon Jr. (20.2 points) has been a bright spot.

 

D’s


Florida’s depth: If Dorian Finney-Smith (hairline fracture in hand) and Eli Carter (foot sprain) are held out of action, the Gators will only have six scholarship players available for this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.

Dave Rice: The UNLV coach, who entered the season on the hot seat, didn’t do himself any favors by getting waxed 89-60 by Stanford in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Friday. Stanford is a good team, but the Runnin’ Rebels looked incredibly ill-prepared and sloppy, which was a poor reflection on Rice.

Marquette: Two nights after losing to Nebraska-Omaha at home, the Golden Eagles had to come from behind to stave off the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Not the kind of start first-year coach Steve Wojciechowski envisioned.

 

F’s


Johnny Jones: LSU’s coach should be embarrassed. After escaping in overtime against the Big 12’s worst team (Texas Tech) at home, Jones’ Tigers lost to Old Dominion and Clemson. Those things should never happen to a team that has Top 25 talent. LSU has been the biggest disappointment of the season thus far.

Colorado: The Buffaloes—then a Top 25 team in some polls—lost 56-33 to Wyoming. I’ll type it again: Colorado scored 33 points against Wyoming. No matter what happens the rest of the season, that will be tough to forget.

Referees in the BYU-San Diego State game: Did anyone else see BYU’s Tyler Haws get thrown to the ground as he was trying to get open for a game-winning shot in Monday’s Maui Invitational quarterfinal? It happened right in front of an official, who inexplicably did nothing. I couldn’t help but chuckle when ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla said the defender “could get five to 10 years (in prison)” for what he did to Haws.

 

Welcome to My Radar


Providence: The Friars are 5-0 following back-to-back wins over Florida State and Notre Dame. Small forward LaDontae Henton averages 23.4 points.

Chase Fischer: BYU’s junior guard, who began his career at Wake Forest, made 10 of his 13 attempts from three-point range in Tuesday’s victory over Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. He’s now 21-of-41 from long range this season.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who beat SMU in Dallas on Tuesday, might be the second-best team in the SEC. Granted, that’s not saying much, but Mike Anderson’s squad will take it.

Devin Booker: Arguably the least heralded member of Kentucky’s lauded 2014 recruiting class, Booker has now made 12 of his last 17 shots from three-point range. He’s averaging 17.3 points in his last three games.

Zak Irvin: Caris Levert commanded most of the headlines during the offseason, but Irvin has been just as impressive for Michigan. The small forward is averaging a team-high 18.4 points—not bad for a sophomore.

 

Starting Five: Most Improved Players

Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Through three games, the 6’9”, 280-pound Meeks is averaging 16.7 points and 11.0 rebounds, up from 7.6 and 6.1 a year ago.

Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall: The former Texas Longhorn had 40 points in Monday’s win over Illinois State and is now averaging 22 points on the season.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: After coming off the bench to play a key factor in last season’s Final Four run, Hayes is blossoming as a starter with averages of 15.3 points and 9.8 boards.

Charles Hankerson Jr., Wyoming: The Cowboys are off to a 4-0 start thanks, in large part, to Hankerson Jr. He’s averaging 4.8 assists (compared to 1.3 last season) and 9.0 points, up from 5.1.

Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: The forward has become a force in the paint for the undefeated Wildcats. He’s averaging 8.2 rebounds and 8.8 points.

 

A Dozen Words About My Top 12 Teams

1. Kentucky: Six wins have come by an average of 36.8 points. Good gosh.


2. Wisconsin: One week away from a home showdown with the Duke Blue Devils.


3. Duke: Upperclassmen Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson have played big roles thus far.


4. Gonzaga: Games against UCLA and Arizona should tell us more about the Zags


5. North Carolina: Hoping to see the Heels vs. Wisconsin in the Battle 4 Atlantis.


6. Arizona: Kansas State nearly upset Sean Miller’s Wildcats in the Maui Invitational on Tuesday.


7. Louisville: The Cardinals are becoming a trendy Final Four pick and understandably so.


8. Wichita State: Point guard Fred VanVleet ranks third in the country in steals (4.0).


9. Villanova: The defending Big East champs may actually be better than last season.

10. San Diego State: The Aztecs have shown toughness in close wins against Utah and BYU.


11. Kansas: Bill Self will get things figured out in Lawrence. He always does.


12. Texas: The loss of Isaiah Taylor (wrist) caused me to drop the Longhorns.

 

Rapid-Fire Thoughts

Winning me over: Louisville


Need to see more: Michigan State

Better than I thought: Baylor


Not as good as I thought: VCU


What the heck is wrong with: SMU


Seat warming up: Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee


Seat cooling off: Herb Sendek, Arizona State


Earning his paycheck: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa


May want to return his paycheck: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State

Pesky: Texas A&M


Putrid: USC


Are they for real?: Penn State


Get well soon: Isaiah Taylor, Texas point guard


Glad you’re feeling better: Jerry Tarkanian

 

Press Room Chatter

My favorite places for thin-crust pizza: 

  • Greenville Avenue Pizza Company, Dallas
  • Giordano’s, Chicago

  • Secret Pizza, Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas
  • Ray’s Pizza, New York City
  • D’Bronx, Kansas City

  

Best Meals I had in New York over the past week:

  • Chicken Parmigiana, Trattoria Trecolori on 47th St.

  • Lamb Gyro, food truck at 53rd and 6th
  • Cheese popcorn at the Barclays Center concession stand
  • 
Lamb Gyro from a food truck sometime around at 4 a.m. on Lafayette St. in Soho
  • Popcorn with Old Bay seasoning from the *Janitor’s Closest in Brooklyn
  • Pigs in a Blanket from the hotel concierge lounge

 

*The bar probably wasn’t called “Janitor’s Closet.” I never actually saw a sign. So I just named it for what it felt like.

 

Old-school rap albums I’ll still be bobbing my head to in my 60s:

  • No One Can Do It Better, DOC
  • Straight Outta Compton, NWA
  • Strictly Business, EPMD
  • Follow the Leader, Eric B. and Rakim
  • Bigger and Deffer, LL Cool J

 

Things that make me want to scream:

  • New York traffic
  • 
The College Football Playoff committee
  • 
Looters
  • 
People who eat wings with a fork

  • Radio hosts who laugh loudly on-air at things they’d never laugh at off-air

 

Things I’m thankful for:

  • My family (dog included…sometimes) and friends

  • My job

  • The people who combined to donate $25,000 for Kamala The Ugandan Giant
  • Wing sauce

  • The Phoebe Cates pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

 

Pit Stops

As you can see from list above, I had (another) terrible food experience in New York. This is particularly frustrating to me because I know there’s great food here. I just can’t seem to find anyone to go eat it with. Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t mind going to Ray’s Pizza or Carnegie Deli by myself. But one of these days I’d like to try somewhere a bit more upscale. Carmine’s, perhaps. Or maybe Patsy’s.


Whatever the case, I took a significant step Tuesday afternoon by venturing a block away from my hotel to Trattoria Trecolori, which is on 47th St. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the decision, as the chicken parmigiana was among the best I’ve ever had. Crispy on the outside yet juicy and flavorful on the inside, I scarfed down the entire meal in about five minutes and then plunged into the mound of spaghetti that came on the side. It was delicious, too. I’m not kidding here. If I would’ve had more time I would’ve ordered the exact same meal again. It was that good—and I was that hungry.


I know there are other places in New York City that are just as good or better than Trattoria Trecolori. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually try a few of them.

 

All stats and projections current through Tuesday, Nov. 25. 

Jason King covers college sports for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR .

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Jimmy Butler: ‘I’m Not a Star, I’m a Good Role Player’

We appreciate your humility, Jimmy Butler

The Chicago Bulls shooting guard has been off to a torrid start during the 2014-15 season, leaving no doubt he’s one of the future standouts at his particular position. Of course, he’s already been an exemplary contributor throughout the opening salvo of the campaign, lending credibility to anyone who would like to call him a star. 

Based on his numbers—21.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game with a 22.6 player efficiency rating, per Basketball-Reference.com—I’d feel perfectly comfortable bestowing that classification upon him. Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau feels the same way, as he told ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell

He’s been incredible. He’s a star, and he does it on both ends of the floor. He’s just an amazing player. We’ve had him play the point, we’ve had him play the 2, the 3, and tonight he played the 4. And he hasn’t had any opportunity to practice the 4. So he just got out there, he’s smart, he’s tough, he does whatever the team needs, and he found a way to help lead us into coming back and having a shot at the end.

But Butler, coming off a game in which he scored a career-high 32 points on only 13 shots from the field, won’t have any of it. 

“I’m not a star,” the 2-guard explained to Friedell. “I’m a good role player on a really, really good team. A really, really deep team. I like role players. ‘Star’ has never been next to Jimmy Butler’s name, it never will be. I’ll always be just an under-the-radar dog.” 

This is not the time for modesty, Jimmy.

It makes sense, given the incredible backstory that would force cockiness to the backburners for even the most hubristic of rising stars. Friedell details what’s driven him in a separate article—one from which the following quote is excerpted from—and it’s very much worth reading Butler’s story in its entirety:

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of ‘The Blind Side.’ No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season. 

No matter how high Butler’s stardom grows it doesn’t appear that he will ever lose the gigantic chip that resides on his shoulder. Like many great athletes, Butler is driven, in large part, by the opportunity to prove people wrong. He likes when the odds are high because that’s the way it’s been for him all his life. He doesn’t know any differently.

Nevertheless, this is when he’s supposed to be beating his chest and tooting his own proverbial horn. He’s outplayed every shooting guard in the league, save James Harden and Klay Thompson, leaving no doubt that he’s a strong, strong All-Star candidate. He plays ferocious defense, and he’s made an unbelievable amount of progress on the offensive end of the court. 

But I suppose we can cave here. 

Sure, Butler can be a role player, as he desires so desperately. He definitely fills a role for the Bulls. That role just involves functioning as a star, even if the Marquette product insists on disavowing himself of that title. 

If nothing else, he’ll realize just how celestial his status has become when it’s time to sign a new contract with the Bulls during the 2015 offseason. 

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WATCH: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of NBA’s first month

We’re nearly one month into the NBA season, and teams not named the Oklahoma City Thunder are beginning to settle into their place in the league’s pecking order. Let’s get to some of the highlights and lowlights of the past week. [Photo via USA Today]
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Andrew Wiggins Just Beginning to Realize How Good He Can Be

The career-high 29 points were impressive. You had to love the pair of three-pointers, the four steals and only one turnover. 

But the most encouraging stat from Andrew Wiggins‘ breakout performance against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 25 was the 22 shots he put up.

Throw in 10 free-throw attempts on top, and it was by far his most aggressive outing of the young season. 

Hopefully the experience led to a realization for Wiggins, who was criticized throughout his college career for passive play (cue the tape from Kansas’ 2014 NCAA tournament loss to Stanford, when he finished with six shots and four points in 34 minutes). 

You just get the feeling he’s not looking to step on anyone’s toes or that he’s trying to avoid derision for poor shot selection.

That wasn’t the case against the Kings. With Kevin Martin out after breaking his wrist, Wiggins entered attack mode by actively hunting for offense and seeking out scoring opportunities. 

“I don’t want to say it was a coming-out party, but I think we saw some things that we expect out of him,” coach Flip Saunders told Fox Sports’ Brian Hall. “We force-fed him a little bit. But he took initiative.”

Even in a tight game, missed shots shouldn’t prevent Wiggins from continuing to fire away. His pockets are loaded with house money.  

At 3-9, the Wolves are playing for the future, which allows us to overlook present inefficiency. 

Through 12 games, Wiggins is averaging 12.5 points on 42.6 percent shooting while sporting an 11.35 player efficiency rating. Those aren’t exactly Rookie of the Year numbers, but he’s still looked unguardable for a few stretches, at just 19 years old.

Prior to the 29 he scored against the Kings, Wiggins had gone for highs of 20 points against the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 14 and 17 points against the Brooklyn Nets Nov. 5. 

For Wiggins, these types of performances should act as self-confirmation regarding his talent and capability. And that’s big for a guy whose game is fueled by confidence. 

It’s not as if any of his best offensive outings have been the result of miraculous shot making. The shots Wiggins has been getting and the ones he’s making are looks he’ll find on a routine basis just by staying active and aggressive—especially now that Martin is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks

So far this season, he’s done most of his work in the mid-range, where he’s taken 64 total shots to just 49 in the paint and 16 from behind the arc. Wiggins has actually shot pretty well—34.4 percent in the mid-range and 8-of-16 from downtown. And it’s a good thing, because he’s only finishing in the paint at a 51 percent clip.

Still, with a whopping 42.2 percent of his shot attempts being pull-ups, it’s no surprise his field-goal percentage is as low as it is. 

This is an important stretch for Wiggins’ shot-selection development. No Martin, Ricky Rubio (ankle) or Nikola Pekovic (wrist) means a giant boost in touches and minimal team expectations—an ideal situation for a go-to scorer in training. 

While he’ll still see plenty of scoring opportunities off the ball, whether it’s on the break, the offensive glass or spotting up, this extra freedom he’s expected to receive should also give him a chance to work on his one-on-one arsenal. Step-backs, pull-ups, jab steps, post-ups, drives in isolation—being able to create and hit these types of shots regularly is what makes a No. 1 option a No. 1 option, something the Wolves presumably hope Wiggins evolves into over time. 

And the good news is that he’s got these shots in the repertoire. Through 12 games, 72.7 percent of his made buckets in the mid-range are unassisted, a reflection of his improved ability to create his own look.

Now it’s just a matter of being able to connect and execute with consistency. And additional minutes and reps should only help.

Over the past few weeks, you can just feel Wiggins’ confidence building. There’s less hesitation and more repetition of success in terms of what’s been working for him. 

And the quicker Wiggins figures out just how dangerous he’s capable of becoming, the more dangerous he’ll actually become as a two-way mismatch on the wing. 

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Just How Good Can Emerging Star Jimmy Butler Be for the Chicago Bulls?

The Chicago Bulls have unexpectedly held their own early on in the NBA season despite the injuries to Derrick Rose. Pau Gasol has been playing better than expected, but the biggest surprise might be Jimmy Butler’s rise as a legitimate scoring option for the Bulls.

How has Chicago handled all of Rose’s injuries? What’s Butler’s ceiling with the Bulls? What does Chicago need to improve?

Find out from Steve Aschburner of NBA.com as he plays “finish the sentence” with Stephen Nelson in the video above. 

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Breaking Down Just How Good Kentucky Basketball Can Be in 2014-15

Hype is a volatile element in college basketball. It can propel programs to success or pressure them into mediocrity.

With the Kentucky Wildcats, it has become an inevitable component that comes with being a blue-blood program, and this year is no different.

Expectations are perhaps higher than ever for head coach John Calipari and his team for the upcoming season, and it’s hard to hush down the noise surrounding this year’s Wildcats when there are nine former McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster. 

So the question now is no longer about whether the Wildcats will be a good team, but just how good of a team can they be?

Per ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf, Larry Brown, the Hall of Famer and head coach for SMU, claimed Kentucky’s roster is so deep that it can make up both the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the country and go 45-0.

Meanwhile, Chris Briggs, the head coach for a Georgetown College team that lost to Kentucky by the score of 121-52 in exhibition, said in a postgame press conference (via Sporting News) that the Wildcats “could have beaten some NBA teams” with the type of performance they put up against his team.

Calipari knows how good his team is, but he also knows these comparisons can be blown out of proportion.

No one knows if Kentucky can top an NBA team, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that does is if the Kentucky can top every other team in college. And by the way things look, it certainly can.

The sky is the limit this year for the Wildcats. How to get there, though, is what they need to figure out. Here is a look at what they have to work with.

 

Backcourt

When the Harrison twins made the surprising decision to return to Lexington for their sophomore seasons, they immediately put Kentucky back into the title talk again. 

Andrew, the point guard, is looking to shake off an inconsistent freshman season, and by dropping some weight and improving his overall game, he is poised to do just that.

As for Aaron, the shooting guard who broke the hearts of Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin with his clutch shots during last year’s NCAA tournament, he joined his brother in the dieting and should be able to provide the just the same (if not better) type of production this season. 

Below are the highlights from Kentucky’s Blue-White scrimmage game last month, and they offer just some glimpses of what the twins are capable of doing.

As good as the Harrison twins are, Calipari will still need some depth to support them as well. The freshmen Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker should give the Wildcats just that. 

Ulis, though a diminutive guard at 5’9”, is an excellent passer with a decent shooting touch and relentless defensive effort. He should provide some energy and be a spark plug for Kentucky’s second unit if Calipari indeed decides to stick with the platoon system.

Booker was touted as one of the best shooters in his recruiting class, and he can provide the outside scoring that Kentucky lacked for most parts of last season. With the Wildcats also lacking a true wing player, Booker can be moved around with his 6’6” height and give Calipari some options as well.

Not to be forgotten in the backcourt is sophomore Dominique Hawkins, who is capable of shutting down any player on the defensive end whenever Calipari asks him to.

Together, the five guards give the Wildcats everything a team needs in the backcourt to be a successful team. Expect Kentucky to dictate the pace of every game because of this advantage.

 

Frontcourt 

With seven players listed at 6’8” or taller, Kentucky undoubtedly has the best size out of any team in the country. 

Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein top that list as a pair of 7-footers, and that allows Calipari to experiment with plenty of different rotations.

Cauley-Stein is one of the best rim protectors in the country (2.9 BPG last year), and Johnson should slowly but surely develop into one as well with an increase in minutes this season.

As for the power forward position, Calipari will have the luxury of trying out a couple of potential All-Americans in Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles.

Alex Poythress, the 6’8” junior, can be thrown in the mix as well, but the heights of Towns (6’11”) and Lyles (6’10”) give Kentucky the best size advantage at the 4.

Towns has perhaps the most complete skill set out of any power forward in the country. He has guard-like ball-handling skills to go along with a smooth shooting touch that can stretch the opposing defense and score from anywhere on the court.

Lyles has a similar type of game but holds an edge down low with his ability to score from the post. Together, these two can complement either Johnson or Cauley-Stein and create an ideal offense-defense combination that is hard to match.

The only position of concern for Kentucky this year is perhaps who Calipari will insert at the wing. He could go with Poythress, a player who is better suited at the 4, or the unproven Marcus Lee and Derek Willis, both of whom did not get much playing time last season as freshmen.

In any regard, Calipari has plenty of options to play around with, but he needs to find a way to create a good team chemistry, especially when dealing with a platoon system, and ensure his players are happy with their given minutes and roles on the team.

After all, these are some former McDonald’s All-Americans who need to adjust to playing with this amount of talent surrounding them. Calipari needs to make sure his players understand these are not two five-men rotations that happen to play on the same team, but 10 to 12 men playing together to find the best way to utilize their talents to win.

 

Schedule 

Kentucky could have easily planned an easy nonconference schedule to steamroll its competition. But Calipari is a competitor, and he wants some early tests for his talented team to see what it would take to remain the last-team standing come early April.

That being said, Kentucky has perhaps the toughest nonconference schedule out of any team in the country this season, with games against Kansas, Texas, UNC, UCLA and Louisville circled on its ledger.

How the Wildcats fare during nonconference play will tell a lot about this team, and should the team undergo some adjustments, those will need to happen in a hurry.

 

Conclusion 

No matter what Calipari said about the praises and hypes surrounding his team, this year’s Wildcats are destined to become national champions.

Some may wonder if they can go undefeated, but that would just be a caveat to what this team can ultimately accomplish.

The Wildcats can easily trip up during their nonconference schedule or stumble against Florida in SEC play, but all that matters is for them to get to Indianapolis for the Final Four this season and have a chance to bring home title No. 9. 

Records won’t mean anything when you bring home a national title—just ask Connecticut. 

There have been three times Kentucky has been ranked at No. 1 to begin a season (1980-81, 1995-96 and 2013-14), but only once did it finish at the same spot at the end of the season (1996).

Championships aren’t won on paper nor through hype, but this year’s Wildcats possess an amount of talent that is unrivaled by any other program.

Of course, college basketball is an unpredictable sport, and anything can happen come tournament time. But at this very moment it is hard to argue against the potential of this year’s Kentucky team and say there is a better team positioned to win the national championship.

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San Antonio Spurs: How good can Kawhi Leonard be?

With a little less than 2 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s match-up between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard forced a steal against Clippers star forward Blake Griffin. The steal lead to a fast-break, which finished with Leonard catching an awkward pass up around his temple from teammate Manu Ginobili and laying it in for the Spurs first lead of the game at 83-82. The Spurs would hold on to the lead given to them by Leonard and defeat the Clippers 89-85.
Although this was the key sequence that put the Spurs in control of the game, it was hardly the only instance Monday night in which Leonard displayed the poise, control, and freakish athleticism that made him the NBA’s 2014 Final’s MVP.
Kawhi Leonard is already an NBA finals MVP
With Tim Duncan now in the twilight of his hall of fame career, and with Tony Parker not getting any younger, it’s been made abundantly clear to even the most casual observer of the Spurs, that Kawhi Leonard i

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How Good Can The Greek Freak Be?

Potential is a slippery slope. It is a variable-laden, ticking time bomb.
Too often players are boasted and prodded around as the future of the NBA, and then they end up hovering along the D-League wall.
Then there are players who fly – somewhat – under the radar. They excite with flashes of skill and physical prowess.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has the potential to be the best player in the NBA.

Yes, I said it.
At 6-foot-11, Antetokounmpo has video game like features. He can pass, rebound, defend and shoot. What’s the kicker? He’s only 20 years old.
He busted onto the scene for the Milwaukee Bucks last year and took the reigns of a franchise bottoming out.
So far this season, the “Greek Freak” is only averaging 10 points a game with just less than five rebounds a game.
If he were on any other team – not named the Bucks – he would be improving at a higher rate.
Milwaukee’s attempts to box Antetokounmpo as a point guard may back fire. Photo by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Antetokounmpo ha…

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The Good, Bad and Ugly from Miami Heat’s Early-Season Results

The Miami Heat have started strong in the first year of their post-LeBron James era.

The Heat have won four of their first six games, giving them the fourth-best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference.

Naturally, there have been many positives to take away from Miami’s fast start. At the same time, the Heat have seen some trends develop in the season’s early goings that they hope won’t continue.

Let’s take a look at it all—the good, bad and ugly from the Heat’s first six games. 

Begin Slideshow

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