Big Blue Links: Brian Cashman’s Kentucky connection

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Big Blue Links for Wednesday:

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman relishes his Kentucky connection, reports David Waldstein of the New York Times. “Cashman acknowledges that as much as he loves basketball, he was never a great player and was never going to be the point guard for Joe B. Hall’s Kentucky squads. Indeed, at Lexington Catholic High School, Cashman never made it higher than the junior varsity, although that group was pretty talented and included Frank Kornet, a 6-foot-9-inch forward who went on to star at Vanderbilt and play two years in the N.B.A.”

NCAA Sweet 16 coaches are long on experience, says my column. “Notice a trend here? Experience matters. Age counts. Seven of the 16 are 60 or older. Coach K is the elder statesman at 68, followed by Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan at 67 and North Carolina’s Williams at 64. Louisville’s Pitino and Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger are each 62. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins is 61. Michigan State’s Izzo is 60.”

A runway-model caliber Sweet 16  awaits, writes Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post. “Coach Sean Miller of Arizona also knows the ticklish questions of late March, having defended on occasion his perfectly stellar record of three previous final-eight appearances against his thus-far record of zero Final Four appearances. ‘I feel good about us,’ he said on the way to Los Angeles, just up the 5 freeway from Anaheim, where last year he came ‘within a bounce’ (his words) of the Final Four, losing in overtime to Wisconsin, which itself heads again for Los Angeles.”

Opponents talk the talk while Kentucky walks the walk, writes Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. “Kentucky’s upcoming game against West Virginia is following an increasingly familiar pattern. Before walking the walk, opponents talk the talk: Kentucky can be beaten and — fill in the blank — is the team to do it. West Virginia’s leading scorer, Juwan Staten, followed the script after the Mountaineers ousted Maryland on Sunday night to advance to a Sweet 16 game against undefeated Kentucky on Thursday.”

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Big Blue Links: The coach of the year snub

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Big Blue Links for Tuesday:

Why John Calipari was not named Coach of the Year, by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo. “The USBWA probably won’t be the only group to name someone other than Calipari as its national coach of the year. It’s more than the sportswriters, which is why blaming it all on media bias is shortsighted.”

Relentless West Virginia looms for pressure-tested Kentucky, reports Jerry Tipton of Herald-Leader. “Their pressure, in my opinion, is the best in the country,” said Kevin Mackey, a former college coach who now scouts for the Indiana Pacers. “West Virginia’s is relentless. They won’t stop. They’ll keep coming. They’re all in on it. It’s not they’re-going-to-try-it-and-see-how-it-works. They’re going to come at them and come at them and come at them.”

Mark Story of the Herald-Leader looks at who’s up and who’s down in NCAA Tournament. “UP: ACC. It’s not just that the Atlantic Coast Conference went 11-1 on the tourney’s first weekend. Nor that it has five teams — Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame — in the round of 16. According to Darren Rovell, an ESPN sports business writer, the league will reap a $28 million bounty from its Big Dance success through the Byzantine process the NCAA uses to distribute tournament shares.”

Mississippi State set to hire Ben Howland, reports Hugh Kellenberger of Clarion-Ledger. “Howland was 233-107 in 10 seasons at UCLA, taking the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours and producing 18 NBA players (many of whom, including Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, were not highly ranked out of high school). He was fired in 2013 despite winning the Pac-12.”

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Ranking the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 teams

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Ranking the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 teams by which has the best chance to win the national title:

1. Kentucky: The tournament’s overall No. 1 seed needs to pick it up on offense, but the Cats won each of their two Louisville games by double digits, so there’s not a lot to complain about. Cincinnati’s vigorous press rattled John Calipari’s club a bit, but UK now has four days to prepare for West Virginia’s tough backcourt traps. It also helps that Kentucky has big guards who can throw over the WVU defense.

2. Wisconsin: I still think the Badgers have the best chance of knocking off Kentucky — not that they will — but Bo Ryan’s team had its hands full with Oregon on Saturday, and the path to Indianapolis is not easy. North Carolina has all kinds of height and will try to run the Badgers into the floor. Plus, it looks as if Wisconsin will have to beat Arizona in the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.

3. Duke: Of the four regions, the Blue Devils appear to have the easiest path to Indianapolis. They face Utah first in Houston, then probably Gonzaga. Jahlil Okafor continues to be a load inside, but Duke’s key player is Justise Winslow, the muscular 6-foot-7 freshman who is Mike Krzyzewski’s X-factor. If Winslow plays well, the Devils might steal the whole thing.

4. Michigan State: Tom Izzo really is the Man of March. He has the Spartans peaking at the right time, as Sunday’s 60-54 win over East No. 2 seed Virginia showed. Izzo doesn’t have a great player, but he has plenty of effective ones who are playing together. If Travis Trice keeps making shots, Magic Johnson will be rooting for his alma mater at the Final Four in Indianapolis.

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Big Blue Links: Kentucky women hit a stop sign

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Big Blue Links for Monday:

Dayton knocks the UK women out of NCAA Tournament, reports Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader. “‘It hurts the worst because we got beat by a team that wanted it more than we did on our home floor,’ sophomore guard Makayla Epps said after the Cats’ wild 99-94 loss to Dayton on Sunday.”

Azia Bishop’s suspension caps a season of disruption, writes Mark Story of the Herald-Leader. “Kentucky’s roster was in constant flux due to injuries. Senior post player Jelleah Sidney missed 14 games with bad knees. Senior wing Bria Goss missed six games due to a broken left thumb. Starting point guard Janee Thompson saw her season end Jan. 11 with a torn ACL. Even guard Makayla Epps (29 points Sunday), who emerged as a star in her sophomore season, battled a painful injury to her Achilles tendon that limited her effectiveness at times.”

West Virginia’s frenzied pace and physicality upend Maryland, reports Matthew Giles of the Washington Post. “Maryland should have been able to handle the significantly amplified defensive focus, but as WVU has proven all season, it’ll wear down even the best ball-handling teams. The Terps committed 23 turnovers — or a 35 percent turnover rate — and scored well below their overall offensive efficiency of 1.08 points per possession.”

Louisville finds sweetness in Seattle, writes Eric Crawford of WDRB. “(Terry Rozier) scored 25 points, dished out seven assists, grabbed five rebounds and controlled the game on both ends. It was evident early on, UNI couldn’t guard him. He made eight of his first 10 shots and had 16 points at halftime. But it was a controlled effort. There were no forced shots. And when the Cards went cold in the second half, Rozier made smart moves to the basket and got himself to the free throw line.”

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Three things about UK’s next opponent: West Virginia

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Three things about West Virginia, which will play Kentucky on Thursday after the Mountaineers beat Maryland 69-59 on Sunday night in Columbus.

1. It’s a trap

The Mountaineers play a trapping full-court press that leads the nation in defensive turnover percentage. Going into Sunday night’s game, opponents turned it over 28.1 percent of their possessions, an average of 19.5 per game.

It was no different Sunday night. Maryland turned it over 23 times. West Virginia, which leads the nation in steals at 10.9 per game, came up with 15 steals, compared to just four for the Terps.

Maryland outshot WVU, 48 percent to 40 percent, but the Terps got off 16 fewer shots than did Bob Huggins’ team. West Virginia was 24 of 60. Maryland was 21 of 44.

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Big Blue Links: Cleveland, here come the Cats

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Big Blue Links for Sunday:

My column from Kentucky’s win over Cincinnati on Saturday: “After Kentucky’s win over Hampton on Thursday, the Hampton players complimented the way the UK players respectfully conducted business. No trash talk. No chest pounding. But sometimes you have to get tough. ‘There’s a time and place for it,’ Cauley-Stein said. There’s no better time than now, especially when no one should have thought that just because the Cats were unbeaten, the path to a ninth title would be a clear one.”

Kentucky showed future tournament foes something, writes Pat Forde of Yahoo. “The larger point of Cauley-Stein’s and-one is this: Kentucky’s opponents can arm themselves with the best game plan in America, but the physical reality of the Wildcats may well render it moot. There are four potential opponents still out there for UK. No matter who they turn out to be, they’re smaller, thinner and likely less athletic. That’s a lot to overcome.”

Kentucky shuts down the Bearcats, reports Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. “Coaches who’ve mused about beating Kentucky this season always mentioned how helpful it would be if Kentucky did not shoot well from the perimeter. Cincinnati got that help. Kentucky shot its third-worst percentage of the season … and won.”

Scoreboard says Kentucky can’t be beat, writes Rick Bozich of WDRB. “The Cincinnati players talked as if they led for 37 minutes, not seven minutes and 42 seconds. Kentucky surged ahead on an unforgettable dunk by Willie Cauley-Stein with 2:46 remaining in the first half. UK 25, UC 24. Cincinnati never led again. In fact, the Bearcats trailed by 19 before scoring the final six points.”

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NCAA Tournament on television: March 22

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The NCAA Tournament continues Sunday with eight games. If you wish to scout Kentucky’s opponent for Thursday’s Midwest Regional Sweet 16 game in Cleveland, tune in the West Virginia-Maryland game at 8:40 p.m. on TNT.

At 9:40 p.m., Louisville meets Northern Iowa on TBS in an East Region game. Louisville is the No. 4 seed. Northern Iowa is the No. 5 seed. The winner will meet No. 8 seed North Carolina State in Syracuse. North Carolina State upset No. 1 seed Villanova on Saturday.

On the women’s side, Kentucky plays Dayton in a second-round NCAA Women’s Tournament game at Memorial Coliseum. ESPN2 has the telecast starting at 2:30 p.m. Follow Jennifer Smith on Twitter for updates.

Here’s the list of NCAA Tournament games on television Sunday:

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Running some quick numbers on Kentucky-Cincinnati

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LOUISVILLE — Running some quick numbers on Kentucky-Cincinnati:

- Kentucky shot 37 percent, its lowest percentage since it shot 28.1 percent in the double-overtime win at Texas A&M on January 10.

- How's this for consistency? Kentucky made 20 of 28 free throws against Hampton on Thursday night. The Cats made 20 of 28 free throws against Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon.

- After averaging 1.063 points per possession on Thursday, the Cats averaged just 1.027 on Saturday. That's the lowest by UK since it averaged 1.021 at South Carolina on January 24 and the sixth-lowest of the season.

- Kentucky was outrebounded by seven — most its been outrebounded by since losing the boards 36-24 against Georgia on Feb. 3 at Rupp.

- It's just the seventh time this season Kentucky has been outrebounded.

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Video: Aaron Harrison on his technical foul

LOUISVILLE — UK’s Aaron Harrison jokes about the technical foul he picked up Saturday.

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Video: Trey Lyles after his double-double

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky freshman Trey Lyles talks to the media after scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the NCAA Midwest Regional win over Cincinnati.

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