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Jul 01, 2014 -- 12:42pm

Phil Baker 

@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker


BOWLING GREEN, Ky.- Conference USA proudly welcomes Western Kentucky University to its membership as the Hilltoppers officially join the league today. WKU is well positioned for success upon entering Conference USA based on a storied athletic history, administrative and community support, and a solid academic foundation.

Since 2000, WKU has won more than 80 conference championships, graduated more than 85 percent of its student-athletes and invested more than $100 million in new construction or renovations of athletic facilities. Additionally, the men's basketball program ranks 18th in NCAA history for wins, women's basketball has appeared in three NCAA Final Fours and the school has boasted more than 70 football All-Americans.

WKU will join 13 other institutions - Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP and UTSA - to make up the 2014-15 membership. The Conference USA footprint reaches over 10 states with a combined population of approximately 30 million.

Conference USA sponsors competition in 19 sports - nine for men (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, soccer, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field) and 10 for women (basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball). WKU will compete in 17 C-USA Championships, with the exception of only men's soccer and men's tennis.

Throughout the day, WKU Athletics has invited the community to help "Paint BG Red" today to celebrate the official start of WKU's affiliation with Conference USA.

Beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing until noon, WKU Athletics will be traveling around the community with C-USA prizes to distribute at businesses, offices and restaurants who are wearing WKU red. Fans are encouraged to tweet a picture of themselves and their co-workers dressed in WKU attire to @WKUSports using the hashtag #PaintBGRed to show the Prize Patrol where you are located.

The day culminates from 5-7 p.m. CT at the 6-4-3 Sports Bar in Hitcents Park Plaza in downtown Bowling Green with the official Conference USA Kickoff Celebration. There will be meet and greet chances with Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, WKU head coaches, cheerleaders, Big Red and other special guests. The first 250 fans will receive a free Conference USA Kickoff Celebration t-shirt.

UofL versus UK will be Hall of Fame Shootout

Jun 17, 2014 -- 9:42am

Phil Baker 

@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker


Press Release: 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The University of Louisville's men's basketball game against Kentucky at the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 27 will have an added element this season.

The game will be featured as the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout, with a portion of the game proceeds benefitting the non-profit Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The game will be televised on ESPN2, with the tipoff time to be set at a later date.

"The Louisville and Kentucky rivalry is one of the best in college basketball," said John L. Doleva, President and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. "It's an honor to be a part of this event and we are thankful for the continued support."

Louisville trails 32-15 in its series against Kentucky, the 2014 NCAA national runner-up. Last season, the Cardinals fell 73-66 in Lexington on Dec. 28 and lost 74-69 in the NCAA Midwest Region semifinals in Indianapolis, Ind., on March 28.

UofL will manage the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout as a regular season home game, with tickets included in the Cardinals' season ticket package.

The significant contribution from this game will help the Basketball Hall of Fame in its on-going efforts to preserve and promote the game at all levels. Located in Springfield, Mass., the city where basketball was invented, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame promotes and preserves the game of basketball at every level - professional, collegiate, men and women. 



SEC position rankings: Running backs

Jun 10, 2014 -- 9:46am

Phil Baker


@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker

By Edward Aschoff | ESPN.com

Today, we continue our look at each position in the SEC by checking out quite the loaded group: Running backs. 

SEC games are won and lost in the trenches, but the league has always poked its chest out from the running back position. 

This season is no different, as the league is once again loaded here: 

Alabama's TJ Yeldon
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJunior T.J. Yeldon leads an Alabama running back corps that might be the best in the nation.

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide might have the nation’s best backfield. T.J. Yeldon enters the 2014 season with 2,343 career rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, while sophomore Derrick Henry, who might be the most talented back on the roster, excels as a bruiser and a cruiser with his pounding frame and elite speed. Junior Kenyan Drakeprovides a nice change-of-pace with his elusiveness, and the Tide will grind away with mammoth Jalston Fowler

2. Georgia: When healthy, Todd Gurleyis arguably the country’s best running back. He has that rare combination of size, speed and explosion that make him a terror for defenses. Even with nagging injuries, Gurley has 2,374 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Fellow junior Keith Marshall proved to be a great complement to Gurley with his explosiveness, but is coming off a devastating knee injury. Expect freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to get chances, along with youngsters Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman

3. South Carolina: Junior Mike Davis has the skill to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. He can pound away with his strength and break the big run. He has nearly 1,500 career yards and the talent to make this his last year in college. There isn’t a lot of drop off with Brandon Wilds, either. Injuries have been an issue for him, but when he’s on the field, he usually outworks opponents. He’s also a good blocker and a receiving threat. Shon Carson has shown flashes, but has to put it all together. Keep an eye on David Williams, who could be the back of the future. 

4. Arkansas: The Razorbacks didn’t do a lot of good things on offense last season, but Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams presented a formidable duo for opposing defenses. Together, they rushed for 1,985 yards and eight touchdowns. The second number has to increase this season, but if the line improves, these two should produce plenty of headaches this fall. Korliss Marshallonly played in eight games last year, but people around the program think he’s the biggest home run threat at running back. 


5. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel is gone, but the backfield should be fine by committee. Tra Carsonhas what it takes to be a bellcow back with his blend of power, explosion and elusiveness. The Aggies could have a solid one-two-punch with Carson and Trey Williams, who might be the most gifted of A&M’s backs. Brandon Williams and James White should get carries too. White looks like the back of the future and is an every-down pounder, while Brandon Williams might be the fastest of the bunch. 6. Auburn: What Tre Mason did last year was nothing short of impressive, and the system he ran will only benefit the guys after him. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant both rushed for more than 600 yards last season and each had six touchdowns. Artis-Payne could carry the load, while Grant is used as more of the speed back. Redshirt freshman Peyton Barbercould get some carries, but keep an eye on true freshman Racean Thomas, who could really challenge Artis-Payne. 

7. LSU: Jeremy Hill might be gone, but Terrence Magee could start for a handful of SEC squads. He rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns last season and stole some carries from Hill here and there throughout the season. He isn’t easy to take down and is more elusive than Hill was. But he’ll certainly be pushed by freshman Leonard Fournette, who was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. Senior Kenny Hilliard returns with more than 1,000 career rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. 

8. Florida: This might the Gators’ deepest position. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor started to get more comfortable last season and is faster and more agile right now. He’s trying to be more of an every-down back and carry the load, but will get plenty of help from Mack Brown and Matt Jones. Brown has really turned things around in the last year, while Jones should be 100 percent after knee surgery this spring. The wild card could be freshman Brandon Powell, who could be a real threat in the passing game. 

[+] EnlargeRussell Hansbrough
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesRussell Hansbrough could be on the verge of a breakout season for Missouri.

9. Missouri: The Tigers might have a gem in junior Russell Hansbrough. He isn’t the biggest back, but he blends power and speed and churned out 6.0 yards per carry last season. Hansbrough is primed for a breakout year and will have a good complement in Marcus Murphy, who is an extremely explosive player at running back and in the return game. Redshirt sophomore Morgan Steward, who is bigger than Mizzou’s typical backs, but might be the fastest of the bunch. 

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels have a solid duo to work with in juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Both registered more than 500 yards last season and were neck-and-neck for most of the spring. Expect an attack by committee where Walton has more of the flash and Mathers uses more power. Jordan Wilkins is a really physical back who is more of a grinder than the other two. There isn’t a workhorse, but all these guys fit what Hugh Freeze wants to do on offense. 

11. Mississippi State: Another team with a potentially deadly duo headlining its backfield. Josh Robinson was third on the team last season with 459 yards, but averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He packs a punch and can break the big plays. Nick Griffin had a great spring, but has dealt with multiple ACL injuries. Having him healthy for the first time is huge. There’s excitement about Brandon Holloway moving to running back, and youngsters Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams could get chances this fall. 

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats have plenty of questions on offense, but there’s hope at running back. Sophomore Jojo Kemp led the team in rushing last season (482), but will battle Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, who might be able to do a little more with his athleticism and speed.Josh Clemons is back after sitting out two seasons with injuries, and freshmen Mikel Horton andStanley Williams will give Kentucky good depth. 

13. Tennessee: Senior Marlin Lane has a ton of experience and will relied on even more wit hRajion Neal gone, but inconsistency has always been something that has hurt Lane. He’s yet to hit 700 yards in a season, but he’s shown flashes his entire career. Freshman Jalen Hurd, who has great size and athleticism, is being viewed as the real deal in Knoxville and will have very opportunity to grab a good amount of carries this fall after enrolling early. Him taking the starting job wouldn't surprise anyone. 

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason was pleased with where his running backs were coming out of the spring. Junior Brian Kimbrow, who has a ton of wiggle and speed, is stronger, which should help him between the tackles. The Commodores could have a future star in redshirt freshman Ralph Webb and veteran Jerron Seymour, who led Vandy with 716 rushing yards, is back, giving Vandy some good depth to start the season.

Self, Calipari: No calls from NBA

Jun 03, 2014 -- 11:21am

Phil Baker

@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker


Via: ESPN.com

Kentucky's John Calipari and Kansas' Bill Self told ESPN on Monday that it'd be extremely difficult for either to leave their current high-profile college jobs for an NBA opening, and both added that they haven't been contacted during this latest coaching carousel.

"They haven't talked to me about a coaching position,'' Self said on ESPNU's College Basketball podcast. "There's nothing going on and that doesn't bother me one bit.

"I think I've got a better situation than a lot of the franchises in the league. People may think that's hard to believe, but they haven't been here or know what's gone on here. Very content where I am."

Self has been at Kansas since 2003, winning the national title in 2008.Multiple media reports have linked Florida's Billy Donovan, Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and UConn's Kevin Ollie to various NBA openings over the past month.

Donovan has commented recently at SEC meetings that he had been in contact with NBA teams and didn't want to guarantee a return to Florida in large part because he didn't want to lie if something did occur.

Ollie signed a five-year contract last month with the Huskies, doubling his salary to $2.8 million ($3 million with incentives) after winning the national title in April.

Izzo said on the ESPNU podcast last month that he would be back at Michigan State.Calipari was coach of the then-New Jersey Netsfrom 1996-97 to 1998-99 after taking UMass to the Final Four in '96. He also served as an assistant with the Sixers in 1999-2000 before going to Memphis and then arriving at Kentucky in 2009.

The Wildcats won the national title in 2012, went to the Final Four in 2011 and '14 and the Elite Eight in 2010, and have missed the NCAA tournament only once -- in 2013.

"I'm really, really excited what we've got going at Kentucky," said Calipari, who could have the preseason No. 1 team again with the return of starters Andrew and Aaron Harrison, as well asAlex PoythressWillie Cauley-SteinMarcus Lee,Dakari Johnson and a top-five recruiting class led by Karl Towns Jr. and Trey Lyles.

"I believe that I have the best job in the country. I'm not out there looking for another job. It's not what I want. Do I talk to NBA teams? I always do. I will talk to NBA teams based on the fact my players are trying to be drafted. But I'm not out looking for a job. I'm not encouraging anybody to call me. I don't need it to get a pay raise or any of that stuff. I'm good where I am."

Calipari said he had a different attitude when he was at Memphis and UMass.

"It took me 20 years to get this job,'' Calipari said. "I'm in no hurry.''

Self said it would be extremely difficult to deal with losing in the NBA.

"It would be hard,'' Self said. "From an ego standpoint, we all are used to winning and we like to win. We went 25-10 this year and it sucked. I say that jokingly. We haven't lost 10 games in one season in 14 or 15 years [at Tulsa in 1999], something like that, since my second year at Tulsa or maybe longer than that. Can you imagine losing 50 or 60 games in a year?

"I'm not saying never, but certainly this is a pretty good situation."

Calipari said it would be too drastic a change.

"You're changing your profession is what you're doing,'' Calipari said. "I'm not 35 anymore. In the NBA, it's going to be something different that moves you, not what you do for families. It's a different deal. It's a totally different profession. I've gone through it once. I think they fired me if I remember right. It was a great experience. But it was a different profession."

Steve Masiello completes degree

May 29, 2014 -- 4:02pm

Phil Baker

@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker


Via ESPNNewYork.com

Manhattan coach Steve Masiello has completed the requirements for his undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky, a spokesman for the SEC school said Thursday.

[+] EnlargeSteve Masiello
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesManhattan coach Steve Masiello completed his requirements and will earn his undergraduate degree from Kentucky in August.

Kentucky's Jay Blanton told ESPN.com that Masiello has completed his coursework and will be awarded a degree in August.

Masiello has been on unpaid leave from Manhattan since April -- shortly after it was discovered that he had not earned his degree from Kentucky. Masiello had accepted the South Florida job, but a background check turned up that he hadn't finished the requirements to earn his degree.

Manhattan has said it would reinstate Masiello once he completed his degree.

"After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the college," Manhattan president Brennan O'Donnell said in a statement released in April. "After participating in graduation ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure that the degree was awarded. We appreciate the counsel of all involved in assessing this complex situation. Our policy was always that the coach must have at least a four-year undergraduate degree. We are confident that Mr. Masiello will be able to complete his degree this summer and return soon thereafter to resume his duties."

Calls to Masiello and Manhattan athletic director Noah LeFevre, in an effort to determine if Masiello has been reinstated, were not immediately returned.

Masiello led the Jaspers to a 25-8 record, the NCAA tournament and a near-upset of Louisvillethis past season. He has a 60-39 mark in three seasons as coach.

Middle Men

May 18, 2014 -- 8:44pm

Phil Baker

@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker


Kentucky has options at the center spot, and the Wildcats aren't the only team with frontcourt depth.


CHICAGO -- Julius Randle is gone, but he wouldn't mind watching the Kentucky big men battle in the fall. 

"Yes, there's going to be some competition," Randle said at the NBA draft combine in Chicago. "But Coach [John Calipari] will figure it out." 

Randle wasn't going to return next season. He was a one-and-done player from the moment he arrived, looking like a chiseled NBA veteran. He was the one big man who didn't need seasoning. But the rest did. Toss in newcomer Karl Towns Jr., and the Wildcats have as many bigs as any team assembled recently. 

Randle's favorite to replace his low-post ability? He's leaning toward sophomore to-be Dakari Johnson

"He's very good in the low post," Randle said. "He's got a nice touch. It's hard to move him down there." 

Randle should know. He had to tussle with Johnson in the low block in practice every day. Now, Johnson will take Randle's role as the player whom the others try to knock off in the post -- for position and, possibly, playing time. 

ESPN.com is examining position battles this week. Here are some center battles to keep an eye on: 

Kentucky: Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-SteinMarcus Lee versus Karl Towns Jr.: Yes, there are veterans -- three of them -- returning against the young pup. Calipari could figure out how to play all four of them at some point during a game. Johnson, Cauley-Stein and Lee all had their moments in which they shined. Johnson has the best chance to be in the low post, Cauley-Stein can be the top shot-blocker and Lee is a bit of an X factor among the group. Now, enter the newcomer. Towns can do a bit of everything, but he doesn't need to be the primary option. That's key for him and rare for a high-profile Kentucky player. This isn't even mentioning Trey Lyles and Alex Poythress, who are more positioned to play smaller forward positions next to the bigs. This team is loaded. 

North Carolina: Kennedy Meeks versus Brice Johnson. Meeks is much more of a physical specimen. He can be immovable at times in the low post. Johnson has more finesse to his game. The two of them can play together, but they could take turns sharing the focal point in the middle, depending on the opponent or the flow of the game. They have a chance to both average double figures and nearly seven or eight rebounds per game. If that happens, the Tar Heels could be a force in the ACC and beyond. 

Texas: Cameron Ridley versus Myles Turner. Ridley made himself into a real threat last season. He was nearly a double-double player (he averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game). Ridley could progress even more next season. The Longhorns nabbed a late-recruiting season coup in Turner. Turner is too good, too effective to not be on the court. The key for coach Rick Barnes will be whether he can play the two as a tandem. If he can't, then who is on the court when the game matters most is more of a competition than the overall minutes. Regardless, both players can help Texas take a huge leap next season. 

Gonzaga: Przemek Karnowski versus Kyle Wiltjer. Karnowski is the traditional post player. He can be difficult to move around, and his offensive game continues to develop. Wiltjer can certainly play with Karnowski because he's slender and is much more of a face-up player. The two can be an effective high-low tandem, but if there is a need to see who is on the floor late, then that is also, like with Texas, where the real competition begins. Wiltjer had a year to get stronger, but he won't turn out like Kelly Olynyk. Wiltjer is still going to be skill first, strength last. Karnowski needs to be the opposite for the Zags to find the right balance. 

LSU : Jarell MartinJordan Mickey versus Elbert Robinson. The Tigers have a chance to make the NCAA tournament because of the decisions of Martin and Mickey. The two were effective double-figure scorers last season playing withJohnny O'Bryant III. Now, toss in the newcomer Robinson. He'll need to find minutes as well. Coach Johnny Jones can't play all three together, but the minutes will need to be divided up. These are good problems to have, and with 15 fouls to expend among the three, the Tigers are one of the few teams in the SEC with the numbers to hang with Kentucky's frontcourt. 

Arizona: Kaleb Tarczewski versus Brandon Ashley. Tarczewski was one of the most improved players in the country last season. Give him another summer and he should really be a regular to score in the post. But he has to command the ball even more next season without the presence of Aaron Gordon. Ashley is coming off a foot injury that sidelined him for the second half of the Pac-12 season. He will play with Tarczewski, but if there is any question who would demand more minutes, then that can be a highly competitive battle in practice. It might be moot for coach Sean Miller since the two can coexist, but dividing up the frontcourt minutes will still be an interesting decision for the staff.

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