If you've read my work on RotoWire, you know I'm not shy about telling or explaining anything personal. So, this week I'm going to explain why I'm a Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan. There will be a point related to fantasy basketball at some point, please be patient.
Growing up in Western New York, I often cheered for the Syracuse Orangemen because they were the biggest college around. Once upon a time they had a good football team (they had someone named Donovan McNabb), and Jim Boeheim is a coaching legend (damn you, Keith Smart!). So what led me astray and to start to root for Kentucky? The underdog.
As a society we often root for the underdog (unless they are playing your favorite team). You could go back to how this country was founded to figure out why we like the underdog or just look at the movies we love – Rocky, Rudy, Hoosiers ... the list goes on.
A big underdog story was happening with the Kentucky basketball program in 1989, when Rick Pitino left the New York Knicks to take over a program mired in an Eddie Sutton scandal. Pitino took over a program that was given a two-year probation and quickly restored the team to be a national power.
Pitino led an up-tempo team that lacked superstars to the Elite Eight in 1992 against the defending champion Duke Blue Devils. Led by Jamal Mashburn (a young "Monster Mash"), Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, Sean Woods and Dale Brown, the 'Cats took Duke the distance only to lose, 104-103, on Christian Laettner's iconic miracle shot. A young Travis Ford also played in this game, which is generally regarded as perhaps the greatest college basketball game of all time.
By this time, I was hooked on Wildcats basketball. Theirs was such an entertaining style of play to watch, and I loved how Pitino resurrected this team from very little. Fast forward to 1994 and the game at LSU where Kentucky was down 31 with less than 16 minutes remaining. The full-court press and three-point shooting (specifically Jeff Brassow and Walter McCarty) led the Wildcats to the greatest second-half comeback in college basketball history.
The program continued to grow, and in 1996 Kentucky beat the Syracuse Orangemen (ironically my former favorite team), 76-67, to win the national championship. How much had Pitino built the program to this point? Tony Delk, Ron Mercer (played a huge role in that championship game as a freshman), Mark Pope, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson, Nazr Mohammed, Wayne Turner and Jeff Sheppard (my favorite player ever) went on to play in the NBA. I'd guess that's a record number of players from one collegiate team.
I've had mixed feelings since John Calipari took over. I question how year after year he has the best players in the country on his team. The last three point guards he had were John Wall, Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose. Purely my speculation but I think if he coached football, Cam Newton would be there.
Now let me get to the relevant fantasy note. Former Wildcat Jodie Meeks has cracked the Philadelphia lineup, replacing an ineffective Evan Turner. Making his second start last Saturday, he came out on fire with 20 points in the first quarter. He finished the game with 26, going 7-for-10 from downtown. Tuesday night, he followed up that performance with a 16-point effort including four more three-pointers. This shouldn't be a complete surprise as he holds the single-season record for three-pointers at Kentucky with 117. Meeks scored 30 or more points seven times during his last (junior) season at Kentucky, including a 54-point (10 threes) effort at Tennessee. He also shot more than 90 percent from the charity stripe that year. Don't count on him putting significant stats in categories outside of threes, scoring and free-throw percentage, but he has Anthony Morrow-type of potential with starter's minutes.
Each week we'll look at players who have received increased minutes. An uptick in minutes doesn't always translate into improved fantasy stats but at the very least offers some players to put on the radar.
Larry Sanders, F, MIL – This isn't necessarily a recommendation to pick up Sanders, just keep him on your radar. Sanders has averaged more than 28 minutes a contest the last three games, largely due to Andrew Bogut being out. His stat line from Dec. 1 against Denver was pretty crazy – 14 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks and two assists. Watch to see if he's carved himself a bigger role and stash him immediately if the injury-prone Bogut goes down.
Eric Bledsoe, G, LAC – Baron Davis left Monday night's game with a hamstring injury after recently returning from a knee injury. He was game-time decision Wednesday and ended up playing less than 14 minutes off the bench. Bledsoe could jump right back into fantasy relevance if Davis aggravates the injury. With rumors about a lack of conditioning and Davis' track record of injuries in L.A., it wouldn't surprise to see him miss more time at some point this season. Bledsoe would get plenty of playing time if that happens.
Josh McRoberts, F, IND – McRoberts has played an average of 27.3 minutes in his last three contests and is quietly putting up some nice fantasy stats. In that span, he's averaged 12 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.3 three-pointers made and 1.7 blocks. This sample size is probably the exception and not the norm, but McRoberts' ability to contribute across the board makes him a good add in deep leagues.
Each week we'll look at certain players who can help your fantasy team in the nine categories most leagues use. Remember, while each player highlighted can help in a certain category, there's no guarantee they will contribute in other areas.
Jonny Flynn, G, MIN – After a disappointing rookie campaign, Flynn started this season on the shelf with a hip injury. He's now ready to return, though he'll make a stop at Sioux Falls this weekend in the D-League. If you're desperate for point-guard help, stash him now. He was drafted to be the point guard of the future and may be able to turn things around quickly with a different lineup. Just make sure he doesn't have any setbacks this weekend.
Spencer Hawes, C, PHI – Hawes has picked up his game and responded positively with 29 rebounds (9.67 per game) over his last three contests. He was inserted into the starting lineup Tuesday night, and responded with 10 points, 12 rebounds, a three-pointer and three blocks. Remember, he wasn't brought over in the trade with Sacramento to ride the pine, and he started the year battling a back injury. If he continues to get the minutes and produce like he did Tuesday, he'll be a nice fantasy pickup in almost any format.
Wesley Matthews, POR – Now eligible at small forward
Larry Sanders, MIL – Now eligible at center
Alonzo Gee, WAS – Now eligible at small forward