Kentucky’s win over Western Kentucky was so thorough that it’s difficult to parse it for subtext, but here are two good signs that bode well for the Wildcats going forward:
• Terrence Jones
is still on point. The sophomore can be as good as he wants to be, and at times this season it’s appeared he’s been content to blend in with his teammates. That’s a good thing most of the time, but when a player is capable of producing double-doubles, as Jones is, he owes it to his team to step forward and produce.
Jones is producing in the postseason, as his 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Hilltoppers would attest. That was his third double-double in his last four games, and in that span he’s averaged 10.2 rebounds. Jones also made a 3-pointer against the Hilltoppers. Of all the things Jones did against the Hilltoppers, their coach, Ray Harper
, singled that out.
“He’s another weapon,” Harper said. “I think, for them to … if they want to advance and win a national championship, they’re going to have to shoot the ball better from the perimeter.
may have been the only one. Terrence made a three. They’re going to have to find somebody else that can make a shot from the perimeter. They’re talented. They’re extremely talented.”
Harper’s point was well taken. As the tournament moves forward, Darius Miller
, who’s shooting .368 from 3, and freshman Kyle Wiltjer
(.408), are going to be important pieces. The Wildcats don’t need zones slowing them down, as was the case when Vanderbilt when to a 2-3 in the closing minutes of the SEC Tournament title game.
Against the Hilltoppers, Miller didn’t attempt a 3, and Wiltjer, who’s been shooting the ball well, was 0 of 2.
• The other good sign: teams haven’t figured out how to deal with freshman Anthony Davis
all year, and that’s going to continue to be the case in the NCAA Tournament, no matter how talented the opponent. He blocked seven shots against the Hilltoppers.
If you’re keeping track, Davis now has 164 rejections. He’s just seven away from breaking Jarvis Varnado
’s SEC single-season record of 170.
Kentucky’s next opponent, Iowa State, is going to provide at least one wrinkle the ‘Cats haven’t seen all season - a 6-8, 270-pound point forward. Royce White
played 38 minutes and delivered 15 points, 13 rebounds and two assists in the Cyclones’ opening win over defending national champion UConn.
White has 166 assists this season, tied for 12th on Iowa State’s all-time single-season list.
VANDERBILT MOVES FORWARD
: We’ll skip past the Commodores’ previous, much-discussed troubles in the first round of this tournament and talk about momentum. Teams that win their conference tournaments are always good picks in your NCAA brackets, and after winning the SEC tournament, Vanderbilt came to the NCAAs with as much momentum as it’s had all season.
That momentum carried over with a second-round victory over Harvard.
“It's very meaningful for us,” said senior guard Jeffery Taylor
. “We've [Vandy’s senior class] had a lot of obstacles and hurdles we've had to clear throughout our time here at Vanderbilt. This one definitely means something to us.”
“It really means a lot for the seniors to be our last time in the NCAA Tournament,” said guard Brad Tinsley
. “Just to kind of get that monkey off our back and win a close game in the first round. It just means a lot to us old guys, the coaching staff and the program.”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings
was actually glad the Harvard game turned out to be close after his team had built a comfortable lead.
“I just knew that these guys were going to come to play,” Stallings said. “Actually, the way this whole game unfolded was probably the best-case scenario for us. I'm not sure that you ever really get a chance to exorcise, not exercise, but you don't get a chance to rid those demons unless you get into a close game and have to perform and make the plays.”
Good sign for Vanderbilt: John Jenkins was John Jenkins
. He scored 27 points, his 67th consecutive game in double figures. Think about that one for a second. Jenkins has led the SEC in scoring for two straight seasons. He’s generally regarded as the best shooter in the country. He’s obviously the central focus of every opponent’s game plan. Yet he still gets his points.
Jenkins made three 3-pointers against Harvard, giving him 132 for the season, just two short of former Vanderbilt star Shan Foster
’s SEC single-season record of 134.
Wisconsin is Vanderbilt’s next challenge, and the Badgers are a threat because of how well they shoot the 3 (.365 as a team) and the fact they don’t beat themselves with an abundance of turnovers. Point guard Jordan Taylor
, who contributed 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists (with no turnovers) in Wisconsin’s tournament-opening win over Montana, is playing his best basketball of the season after a slow start.
NIT PARTY ENDS QUICKLY
: After the first round of the NIT, only Tennessee was left standing among the four SEC teams in the field. And two schools - Ole Miss and Mississippi State - lost at home.
The Vols’ opening-round victory over Savannah State was accomplished without their best player. All-SEC forward Jeronne Maymon
, who racked up 11 points and 17 boards in Tennessee’s previous game, against Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament, rested a sore knee.
Into the void left by Maymon stepped previously little-used freshman Yemi Makanjuola
, who started and contributed 10 points, a team-high eight rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes. He was 6 of 7 from the free-throw line.
The 6-9, 250-pound Makanjuola hasn’t gotten too many chances this season, but the previously raw recruit is getting better. The last time he played significant minutes, against The Citadel in late December, he scored 18 points — 18 in a row, we might add — and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin
thinks the future is bright for Makanjuola.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Martin said. “He’s already tough, so he has that ingredient. Now it’s just a matter of him continuing to develop his skills. But he puts the time into it.”
: Two SEC schools are looking for coaches. It’ll be a challenging search for South Carolina and Mississippi State to find the right fit.
The Fast Break has no idea what’s going on in either search, but here’s a hint: Don’t expect VCU coach Shaka Smart
to be interested in either job. Like Mark Turgeon
- the former Wichita State coach who resisted the overtures of, among other schools, Tennessee, before eventually jumping to Maryland - Smart wants to work at a school where basketball is the No. 1 sport.
That just isn’t the case anywhere in the SEC except Kentucky.
The wise move for South Carolina and Mississippi State is to think outside the box a bit. Coaches from established coaching trees (Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, etc.) aren’t necessarily the answer. Neither South Carolina nor Mississippi should be afraid to look at coaches from low mid-major or even non-Division I schools.