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Men's Basketball

Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe Have Two Games Circled This Season

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UK Athletics

On Tuesday, the Kentucky men’s basketball team hosted an open practice in conjunction with a telethon to help those affected by the floods in eastern Kentucky. While there was some basketball shown and some basketball talk, it was secondary to the larger purpose.

However, despite the limited basketball talk, there were a few takeaways.

During the Q&A segment of the event, one fan asked the players who they were most looking forward to playing this upcoming season are there are plenty of options for them to choose from: Gonzaga, Michigan, Michigan State, Kansas, and UCLA.

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Two players responded without hesitation, Jacob Toppin answered Louisville and Oscar Tshiebwe followed with Auburn.

Of course, last season’s matchup with Louisville was cancelled due to COVID protocols for Louisville, and the season before that (Toppin’s first season at UK), the Cardinals beat Kentucky. Therefore, it seems that Toppin wants to avenge that loss this season and with Louisville’s current roster, that will most likely happen.

As for Tshiebwe, it seems to be a case of avenging last season’s loss as well.

During last season’s matchup against Auburn, the Wildcats pulled out to an early double-digit lead, but ended up losing 80-71 after TyTy Washington went down with an ankle injury, and later Sahvir Wheeler with a concussion.

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Following the Tigers’ win, their reaction was far from what would be expected of the then No. 2 team in the country, as they celebrated as if they had won the national championship.

While Toppin and Tshiebwe are awaiting the Auburn and Louisville games to avenge their losses, so is the Big Blue Nation.

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Men's Basketball

Sahvir Wheeler Says “Sky Is the Limit” for This Kentucky Team

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UK Athletics

Sahvir Wheeler may be one of the more controversial Kentucky Wildcats amongst fans.

On one hand, Wheeler is a Bob Cousy award finalist and two-time SEC assist leader, proving himself as one of the best playmakers in the country. On the other, he is an undersized guard that can play out of control and is an inefficient shooter.

Wheeler hears both sides of the aisle but has looked toward the critics to find motivation and at himself to find areas for improvement.

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In an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio, Wheeler talked about his self-reflection and looked at what worked and what didn’t last season.

What worked?

“Playing fast. Playing fast worked. Being able to give it up sometimes and kind of run out, that worked. Just trusting myself, being confident, building relationships with teammates — because they want to see you succeed. All that worked.”

What didn’t work?

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“I think sometimes I got a little out of control. I think defensively I took a step back. I think most of it was just because of the injury. Now that I feel healthy, I feel stronger, faster, more explosive, I feel like I’m back to where I was at the beginning of the year.”

Physically, Wheeler is in better shape after losing weight and cleaning up his diet in the offseason. Even saying, “I’m as fast, even faster than I once was”.

In August, the Big Blue Nation got to see the Wildcats and new and improved Sahvir Wheeler in the Bahamas, albeit against lesser competition.

Wheeler averaged 14.5 points on 61.1 percent shooting from the field and 93.3 percent from the line, but did struggle mightily from three, going 0-9. The senior guard also displayed more control, which was evident with a 24-6 assist-to-turnover ratio, equating to 6.1 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game.

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Wheeler’s play on the court shouldn’t overshadow his importance off it, bringing toughness and his leadership to this team.

Five-star freshman, Cason Wallace talked about how great it is to have Wheeler to lead him. “It’s great having Sahvir right there. If I have a problem with anything, he’s always right there to help me.”

Coming back for a second year at Kentucky, Wheeler has all the confidence in this team and himself, citing the “sky is the limit and beyond” and that he is “coming back with a vengeance.” *cue the Batman music*

Read more of KSR’s interview here.

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Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Kentucky Basketball Unveils New Home Uniforms

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Twitter/Kentucky Men's Basketball

The Kentucky Wildcats have not been to the Final Four since 2015, which coincidentally is one of the last seasons that the checkerboard was used in moderation on the basketball uniforms. This was prior to the infamous pattern being featured very prominently on the sides of the jersey and shorts, which is what has been used for the past six seasons.

Over those six seasons, numerous players and many more fans have voiced their displeasure with the uniforms. The staff seems to have become pretty self-aware of this, with TJ Beisner making this trolling tweet in anticipation of the uniform unveiling.

Fortunately, the checkerboard is no more, at least on the home uniforms.

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On Tuesday, looks of the new home basketball uniforms were released with Oscar Tshiebwe donning the new threads.

The uniforms feature a much more classic look reminiscent of Kentucky’s classic uniforms of the past, specifically the early 2000s.

The away uniforms are sure to be released soon, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the new home uniforms?

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Kenny Payne Surprised at “Hatred” and Negative Recruiting at UofL

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Louisville Athletics

Over the past decade-plus, the Louisville Basketball program has been the country’s most reliable source of athletic-department salaciousness, ranging from affairs between the head coach and booster’s wife to an escort scandal to paying recruits.

It has been so frequent that the NCAA has not even provided consequences for all of the scandals yet. As of now, the NCAA has only issued consequences for the escort scandal, vacated their 2013 national title, and put them on four years of probation starting in 2017.

Five years later, NCAA has yet to issue any more consequences, but many believe it is just a matter of time before they are at least put back on probation.

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Given that, many teams have used this to their advantage, using the provided ammunition against Louisville in recruiting. Most people familiar will college athletics and/or the world of recruiting would not be surprised by this.

That is unless you are Kenny Payne.

On Sunday, Payne talked to the media about being unprepared to face the negative recruiting. “I wasn’t prepared for universities to say, ‘Louisville’s going on probation, why would you ever go there?’ to deter these kids from listening and especially from people that I’ve helped in the past. It’s a lesson for me.”

While Payne did not list any names, he went on to say, “my relationships with certain people that have been in my life for 30, 40 years have changed.”

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Could these comments be directed at another talented recruiter down the road, John Calipari? Calipari and Payne are battling for two top 10 prospects, Aaron Bradshaw and DJ Wagner. The latter of which, Payne hired his grandfather, Milt Wagner.

Whatever the case may be, Kenny Payne knows to recruit. During his time at Kentucky, he received commitments from a dozen five-star recruits and several four-star recruits.

For someone with that amount of recruiting success, it is difficult to believe that Payne wasn’t aware of the recruiting situation he was coming into.

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