As they barrel into the second weekend, the Cats will have to face the Kansas State Wildcats and then either Loyola-Chicago or Nevada.
As usual there are some interesting storylines emerging as the tournament unfolds. I will discuss a few of them as well as talk a little bit about our rivals down the road as their season comes to an end and they look for a permanent Rick Pitino replacement.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is Getting his Due
Other than the bracket imploding in favor of the Cats, the story of this tournament from a BBN perspective has been the play of SGA. He’s been absolutely phenomenal and, at least according to The Sporting News, he’s been the best player in the tournament:
NCAA Tournament stats: 23 ppg, 7.5 apg, 7.0 rpg
Overview: Although he has yet to face a major-conference opponent in the tournament, SGA dominated very good teams from Davidson and Buffalo through the first two rounds with his complete command of the Wildcats’ attack. He went to the line for 17 free throw attempts in the two games, a vital element of successful tournament teams.
Shai has played his way into NBA mock draft lotteries. Sports Illustrated has him at 13 to the Denver Nuggets playing with Jamal Murray, Land of 10 has him going 16th to the Bucks, and NBAdraft.net has him going 12th to to the Clippers.
What’s so amazing is that he started the season as the sixth man off the bench and a four star prospect that was destined to come back for a second or even third season.
But with the injury Quade Green’s back in the middle of the year, SGA took the reigns and never looked back. He’s showcasing skills that many of us didn’t know he had: blowing past a defender, finding open guys, shooting 82% from the field, and defending at an elite level.
This is a testament to his work ethic and the development under John Calipari. Right now Shai is the best point guard left in the tournament. I believe if a team wants to win it all they need a superstar to do it. Kentucky has theirs.
Vanderbilt: Proceed with Caution
John Calipari has been hinting that Jarred Vanderbilt may be ready to come back and play after missing all of the SEC tournament and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Cats are 5-0 in that stretch and are scoring at a high clip.
Does Cal risk messing up their mojo if he plays Vanderbilt?
The good news is that Vanderbilt has played in multiple games this season and was a big piece of them getting back on track winning four in a row after losing four in a row. This isn’t a situation where Missouri inserted Michael Porter, Jr. and ruined the team’s mojo.
The flip side is whose minutes would he take? Wenyen Gabriel has been fantastic so he needs to be in the game. Sasha Killeya-Jones has been solid on defense and offense. P.J. Washington is the best offensive post-player they Cats have right now.
My answer is to work Vando in slowly in foul situations and to give guys a breather. I don’t think it’s necessary to play him big minutes unless it’s needed. I think he’s a luxury in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight if they get there. But if they can make it to the Final Four or the title game, they will need his size and athleticism.
Make no mistake, the positives of having a healthy Jarred Vanderbilt far outway the negatives. He’s the best rebounder on the team and, behind Hamidou Diallo, he’s the best athlete on the team.
Is this Cal’s best coaching job?
I think this is a great debate to have right now. The other candidates are the 2011 Final Four Team, the 2014 title game team, and this one.
Obviously we have to see how the end of this season plays out but I think that this is his best job. Cal has had to battle through injuries, mental checkouts, a tougher SEC tournament, and lowered fan expectations.
He’s maximized the talent of Shai, Wenyen, Sasha; and he’s resurrected the play of Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Louisville better Land Chris Mack
The Louisville Cardinals ended their season by getting blasted by the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the NIT. It’s a foregone conclusion that David Padgett will not be asked to remain as Louisville’s head coach.
All signs are pointing to Xavier Musketeer head coach Chris Mack. His wife is a Louisville native (she’s an alum of the same high school as me), and Louisville is a better job than Xavier.
How good of a hire is Mack? He’s a good hire but not a home run. He’s the best that Louisville can get at the moment. If Louisville cannot land Mack, it’s a disaster. He’s been a target of Louisville for years as Rick Pitino’s status has been in question.
The other options for the Cards are Shaka Smart and Steve Alford. Neither one of those guys move the needle and they’ve been underwhelming at their current jobs.
Also it should be noted that Billy Donovan and Brad Stevens are not leaving the NBA to come coach at a nuclear waste site.