UK had four alums selected in the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery (picks 1-14). For the majority of UK fans, three of those former 'Cats, who are all flourishing in their own ways, come to mind immediately. The fourth is also thriving, though somewhat undetected to this point.
Karl-Anthony Towns is the current favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year, arguably already the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise (above former #1 pick Andrew Wiggins) after just a few months as a pro, and is generally amazing (oh my word, look at this shot chart and this).
Devin Booker, though his ascension has unfortunately coincided with a nosedive by his Phoenix Suns, is exceeding expectations out west (look at the comparison between him, James Harden and Klay Thompson during their rookie years...yeah) and was recently stared down by LeBron James.
Willie Cauley-Stein, when healthy, has been a revelation as a defensive stalwart and portrait of offensive efficiency for the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are 6-3 since WCS returned to action and just a game out of the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. (Author's Note: They're now 6-4 after a loss to the Pels last night).
It's been Trey Lyles, suddenly receiving more plaudits, both from national and Utah media, who has hovered under the radar among UK's 2015 chosen ones. That's probably because Lyles was quite enigmatic in Lexington, he now plays in small western market Utah and his numbers aren't particularly remarkable. Not yet, at least.
Lyles was logging just 8.4 minutes per game in December, but he's up to 26.6 now, starting at PF for the Jazz. All Lyles needed to catalyze his emergence were injuries to teammates Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, and Rudy Gobert.
How about this, from ESPN's Zach Lowe? Lowe favors Lyles, generally, over the more established Derrick Favors, and suggests that Lyles is more versatile (he has the ability to "unlock new sorts of lineups") and could be utilized as a "small ball" C. Along the lines of "small ball," you have to be pleased with the quotes from fellow Jazz leader Gordon Hawyard and head coach Quin Snyder:
"You can see some similarities in the way Trey and Draymond Green play," Hayward told ESPN.com.
Snyder has privately suggested Lyles might model Green's drive-and-kick game, Lyles said, and Snyder is trying to control his optimism about Lyles' recent play. "I like to say Trey has a good nervous system," Snyder said. "And he's clearly different than our other bigs in a way that gives us versatility."
DJoumbarey A. Moreau, at Hoops Habit, praises, among a number of other things, Lyles' deftness on the defensive side of the ball:
"In fact, because Lyles has been so adept at playing defense, he's seen some of the tougher assignments in the league, like when he had to guard Carmelo Anthony earlier in the week."
On a more local level, David J. Smith, from Salt City Hoops observes that:
"Things have gotten much better in January. It was like someone turned on a switch for Lyles. His demeanor, confidence and comfort level seemed to improve dramatically. His playing time increased, as did his opportunities on offense. Through 10 games, Lyles is averaging 9.5 PPG on 52.8 percent shooting from the floor. He is 9 of 18 from downtown, as well. Add in 6.1 RPG and 1.6 APG. Over the last four outings, he is scoring 14.3 PPG, including three consecutive double-digits nights."
KAT, Booker, and WCS may have already blossomed, but don't forget about Trey Lyles.
Tweet of the Week
Fully expecting Harbaugh to come out as a flat earth truther. Or show up in the background of the Mauk video. Would still support.— Nick (@nwalstra) January 26, 2016
I would too. JIM, NOT JOHN.
*#12 UK Hoops was toppled by Vandy last night in Memorial. Here is Jen Smith's recap.
*As ranked teams continue to fall on what seems like a nightly basis now, Myron Medcalf asks, "is this parity or bad basketball?" Consider:
"Through Jan. 22, The Associated Press poll's top five teams had suffered 19 losses, a record for that stretch. Unranked teams orchestrated 12 of those defeats."
Since January 23, #4 Villanova fell to #16 Providence, #4 KU was beaten by #14 ISU, #5 TAMU lost to Arkansas, and #3 Iowa lost to Maryland (see below).
Further, several other ranked teams have been upset during that time span, including Arizona (twice), Butler, South Carolina, SMU, USC, Indiana, and Notre Dame.
I tend to concur with ISU coach Steve Prohm:
"Honestly, I think it's like this every year," the Iowa State coach said. "There's been tremendous parity across the board for a while now. We just don't have the 'Kentucky team' of last year that was so dominating. I think the quality is really good and the games have been tremendous."
*Check out John Clay's most recent blog entry, which focuses on Derek Willis' emergence.
*There is still time for Skal to justify the hype. Absolutely. I'm still preaching patience, especially since Calipari has adjusted how Skal is positioned in offensive sets (though, by the way, Skal does not believe Cal "screwed" him up by playing him closer to the basket on that end).
The piece offers a more concise answer to the daily question that pops up in our comments regarding why Skal was ranked so high by the recruiting services:
It’s that pivot-fadeaway combo, and other moves like it, that impressed talent evaluators and elevated Labissiere to the top of the prep rankings and mock drafts.
If you're not patient enough to see what Skal can do moving forward, go ahead and treat this glowing scouting report video via DraftExpress as a ten-minute refresher. Skal is still capable of doing those things. His season has been highlighted by his weaknesses, but he's still a seven-footer with a 7'2''+ inch wingspan and the silky-smooth shot of an elite wing player.
*In action among ranked teams from last night, #3 Iowa fell to #8 Maryland, #18 Arizona was upset by #23 Oregon, #12 Michigan State thumped Northwestern, and Syracuse defeated #25 Notre Dame. No SEC squads were in action last night.
*Class of 2016 big man Jarrett Allen is now projected to matriculate to Houston, according to Jerry Meyer.
Though I remain surprised that Allen was ever a possibility for UK, it still appears that UK is very much in the hunt for '16 prospect Marques Bolden, whose trademark drop-step left-handed hook is profiled here.
KU appears to be out of the running for Bolden now that Udoka Azubuike committed, so the stage is set for a showdown between UK and Duke for Bolden's talents.
*College Basketball Junkie Game of the Night: VCU (15-5) at Davidson (12-6) at 6 p.m. EST on ESPN2.
VCU has been at or near the top of the A10 since it joined the conference, which is currently looking at three NCAAT bids, in 2012. Davidson is currently looking like a top-line NIT team, but a victory over the Rams would surely bolster its NCAAT resume.
*UK alums Karl-Anthony Towns and Nerlens Noel have been selected to represent the U.S. in the All-Star Weekend's Rising Stars Challenge.
*Zach Harper discusses MKG's timely return to Charlotte's lineup.
*Anthony Davis suffered a concussion on Monday via an elbow from teammate Tyreke Evans during a narrow loss to Houston. Davis is reportedly feeling better but he did not play last night against the Kings.
*Speaking of the Pels, someone needs to contain its King Cake Baby mascot. It's still UTTERLY HORRIFYING.
*Though head coach Mark Stoops has indicated that Drew Barker will enter the spring as the #1 QB, newcomers Stephen Johnson and Gunnar Hoak are expecting to push him for the job.
*Jeremy Crabtree takes an intensive look at the role social media plays in contemporary football recruiting. This is an absolute must-read if you're at all interested in recruiting.
*Both Sam Khan and Greg Ostendorf, via ESPN, provide compelling arguments for why UK will reach a bowl game next season.
*You might have overlooked that Boston College and Louisville are both in the ACC, but former 'Cat Patrick Towles hasn't. The Cardinals travel to Boston College to take on Towles' Eagles in early November.
*ESPN's David Ching considers UK's backfield seventh in the SEC, looking back on 2015. In anything SEC-related, the 'Cats could do much worse than "middle of the pack."
*Despite acknowledging that the video that catalyzed Missouri QB Maty Mauk's most recent suspension is old, the school still dismissed him because the investigation revealed to new head coach Barry Odom what was a probable new violation.
Mauk was, at worst, on his way out of Columbia anyway, and, at best, depth behind incumbent starter Drew Lock.
Have a fantastic weekend, everyone. Saturday is going to be a great day for college basketball fans, headlined, obviously, by UK-KU at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.