LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari said after his team’s upset loss at Tennessee on Tuesday night that he’d noticed the Wildcats slipping in recent weeks. Part of the problem is guys playing for themselves and not the team, and some of that behavior is the byproduct of what Calipari calls “the clutter.”
That term includes media, mock drafts and even friends and family filling young players’ heads with dangerous messages. Like, for instance, all the hype surrounding Saturday’s game between second-ranked Kansas and fourth-ranked Kentucky – and what is supposed to be a battle of elite backcourts.
“You all are part of the clutter,” Calipari told a horde of reporters Friday. “Sometimes you’re writing that they’re the best in the world, they’re the best that’s ever been. That’s poison. You can drink that stuff and die. The other side of it is the negative stuff about one or the other or whatever, and it starts breaking down team. So you don’t listen to it.”
That’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to NBA draft projections, many of which are total guesswork. Calipari constantly battles the players’ urge to check in on their future prospects and adjust their play according to evaluations they read on the Internet.
“It’s hard,” the coach said. “How about if you guys were their age, 18 and 19? You wouldn’t go to the draft boards? You would not go to the draft boards every day? Every day. You’d go four times a day. And you’d look: ‘Where am I drafted?’ and you start going the wrong way. You probably think you have to shoot more.”
With ESPN’s College GameDay in town and a national TV audience for a top-five matchup Saturday, that’s a lot of clutter. Can the young Wildcats block it out? Kentucky lost in overtime at Kansas last season but is 22-7 in the all-time series, including a win over the Jayhawks in the 2012 national championship game.
Kentucky basketball vs. Kansas game time, details
Date: Saturday, Jan. 28
Time: 6:15 p.m. ET
Location: Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington, Ky.
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 7
What TV channel is Kentucky basketball vs. Kansas on?
The game will be broadcast on ESPN (DirecTV channel 206, DISH channel 140, Time Warner channel 27/753 HD).
How can I watch Kentucky basketball vs. Kansas online?
Who is calling the Kentucky basketball game vs. Kansas?
Play-by-play by Dan Shulman, analysis by Jay Bilas, sideline reporting by Maria Taylor.
How can I listen to Kentucky basketball vs. Kansas?
Play-by-play by Tom Leach, analysis by Mike Pratt on Sirius 84, XM 84 and AM-630 (in Lexington).
No. 4 Kentucky (17-3, 7-1 SEC)
G-De’Aaron Fox (6-3, Fr.): 16.2 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.6 rpg
G-Malik Monk (6-3, Fr.): 21.9 ppg, 2.4 apg, 2.4 rpg
G-Isaiah Briscoe (6-3, So.): 14.1 ppg, 4.2 apg, 4.2 rpg
F-Wenyen Gabriel (6-9, Fr.): 6.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg
F-Bam Adebayo (6-10, Fr.): 13.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.7 bpg
TOP RESERVES – F Derek Willis, 6-9, Sr., 7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg; C Isaac Humphries, 7-0, So., 3.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg; G Dominique Hawkins, 6-0, Sr., 3.1 ppg, 2.2 apg.
No. 2 Kansas (18-2, 7-1 Big 12)
G-Frank Mason III (5-11, Sr.): 19.9 ppg, 5.2 apg, 4.4 rpg
G-Devonte’ Graham (6-2, Jr.): 13.7 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3.0 rpg
G- Svi Mykhailiuk (6-8, Jr.): 10.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.7 apg
F-Josh Jackson (6-8, Fr.): 15.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.1 apg
C-Landen Lucas (6-10, Sr.): 7.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.9 bpg
TOP RESERVES – G LaGerald Vick, 6-5, So., 7.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg. (C Udoka Azubuike is out with an injury and F Carlton Bragg is suspended.)
* Youth vs. experience: Kentucky’s star freshman guards, Fox and Monk, are better pro prospects than either of Kansas’ Frank Mason III or Devonte’ Graham. But Mason is a senior and Graham is a junior and “I guarantee you they’re not going to be blown away, impressed or intimidated by two 18-year-old guys,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg told SEC Country. “They checked (former Oklahoma star) Buddy Hield last year. Devonte’ Graham did. He’s not going, ‘Oh, woe is me, I gotta guard Malik Monk.’ I can tell you that much.”
Monk is among the nation’s best point guards – and is probably the fastest – while Monk might be the most exciting scorer in the country. Greenberg loves them, but he has an important question.
“Are they as tough as Graham and Mason?” he wonders. “That’s got to be answered.”
* Getting defensive: Kentucky’s defense has regressed in recent weeks, as the Wildcats have allowed 80-plus points in three of the last five games, including Tuesday night’s loss at Tennessee. Not long ago, Calipari said he thought the Wildcats could be really could defensively by February, but that’s right around the corner now.
“Are you sure I said February? I may have said March,” Calipari joked Friday. “We’re a ways away, and I’m trying some different things. You demand and then you watch, and if there’s certain things guys can’t do, you can’t ask them to do it if they can’t do it at this point. But you push them, you challenge them, you try. But there comes a point you say, ‘You’re not going to be able to do this.’ Then you’ve got to figure out how you play.”
It’s a tall order to get those issues fixed in time to stop Kansas. The Jayhawks rank sixth nationally in offensive efficiency and fourth in 3-point percentage.
“Defensively, the thing to watch is can Kentucky improve their ball-screen defense,” Greenberg said, “because eventually, once Kansas runs all their dribble hand-off stuff, there’s going to be a ball screen in the middle of the floor. Can they contain that ball screen better than they did against Louisville? Better than they did against Tennessee? I think that’s really important.”