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September 20th, 2018

Scouting Report: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, we are in week four as Kentucky will be hosting Mississippi State under the lights with ESPN2 in town. This one has a big game feel and the UK administration is using their best marketing strategies to fill the house.

The Wildcats have handled their business through three games and are now just one win away from cracking the top 25. In comes Joe Moorhead as he makes his first conference road trip as an SEC head coach.

Dan Mullen left Moorhead a loaded roster. The Bulldogs have a defense stocked with future pros, a good offensive line and a quarterback who is about to set the SEC rushing record. This is a legit top 15 team and State would be a College Football Playoff contender if they were an any other division.

Nuts and Bolts

After collecting a 38-13 record as the head coach at Fordham in the FCS, Joe Moorhead made the move to Penn State. Working under James Franklin, the Nittany Lions desperately needed a spark and that’s what he provided.

In his first two years as an FBS offensive coordinator, Moorhead’s group averaged over 37 points each season on their way to 21 victories and a conference championship. Penn State became one of the most feared offenses in the country and the work done was enough for Mississippi State to quickly hire him.

Moorhead takes over a program that achieved a high level of success under Dan Mullen. State went from the SEC cellar to legitimate contender. The bar has been raised and now the goal is to have this program competing for division and conference titles.

When divisions were created in the SEC in 1992, MSU drew Kentucky as its permanent opponent from the other division. Overall, State owns a 22-21 series lead and a 17-9 advantage once this series was made permanent. Eight of those 17 wins occurred under Dan Mullen. Four of the last nine meetings have been decided by one-possession.

Out in the desert, Mississippi State is currently favored by 9.5 with a total of 55.5. That’s a projected final score of 32.5-23. Since 2013, State is 3-4-1 against the spread as a double-digit conference favorite. In their last eight games against ranked foes, Mark Stoops and Kentucky are 7-1 against the spread with three straight up wins.

Offensive Breakdown

In just three games with Joe Moorhead calling the shots, the Bulldogs are averaging 50 points per game and 8.5 yards per play. These both rank in the top two in the SEC. After sitting out the first game due to a suspension, redshirt senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has performed to expectations.

The Georgia native has been responsible for eight touchdowns, is averaging 8.8 yards per carry (excluding sack yardage) and is putting up 7.6 yards per pass attempt. He’s only completing 55% of his passes but that’s not a surprise when you consider how many deep shots are taken in this scheme.

At receiver, MSU’s top two pass-catchers are both averaging over 20 yards per catch. Junior college transfer Stephen Guidry was a four-star prospect and he’s lived up to the billing with six grabs for 138 yards. Slot man Keith Mixon is State’s most efficient receiver with six grabs on six targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. In this new scheme, the Bulldogs spread the ball around.  Three tight ends, five wideouts and two running backs have recorded at least two receptions.

In the backfield, it starts with sophomore Kylin Hill who was banged up in last week’s win over Louisiana. The Mississippi native is averaging 10 yards per touch as he’s collected six touchdowns on the season. He’s an explosive back and Moorhead will get him the ball in a bunch of ways.

He’s not alone in the backfield. Senior Aeris Williams is back after rushing for over 1,00o yards as a junior. In backup duty, he’s averaging nine yards per carry and gives the Bulldogs one of the best backup running back options in the FBS.

The numbers are gaudy and Mississippi State has absolutely eviscerated some bad defenses to start the season (average S&P+ ranking of 88.5).  It all starts and ends with a very good offensive line.

The Bulldogs are led by center Elgton Jenkins who was name SEC offensive lineman of the week last weekend. The senior has 24 career starts and has played every position on the line. He sets the tone.

The guards are the strength of the group. Deion Calhoun and Darryl Williams have a combined 42 career starts. The two Alabama natives are each over 300 pounds and are both road graders in the run game. Calhoun also excels in pass coverage. He didn’t allow one sack in 2017.

Outside, MSU is a little more green with a pair of starting sophomores. Both left tackle Greg Eiland and right tackle Stewart Reese have early experience with 23 combined starts. Each is over 330 pounds and they’ve been dominant to start the season; MSU’s offense is 15th in the FBS in sack rate.

The offense is filled with experience at offensive line and quarterback, with playmakers at running back and wide receiver. This unit has excelled in the new scheme through three games. They lead the SEC in rushing by 27 yards per game and are one of the most balanced attacks in college football. They rank second in efficiency and seventh in explosiveness in the FBS per S&P+. Stopping this offense will be a tall challenge.

Defensive Breakdown

As good as it is on offense, the numbers are almost nearly as good on defense. The Bulldogs have only allowed two touchdowns in three games. On the season, State is only giving up 8.7 points per game. Their foes average just 2.5 yards per rush and 5.7 yards per pass attempt. In Starkville, it all begins with the front.

The Bulldogs made the move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 as Bob Shoop moved over from Knoxville to become MSU’s new defensive coordinator. He inherited some dudes on the line of scrimmage in junior Jeffery Simmons and senior Montez Sweat.

Simmons is the best defensive tackle in the SEC and in 2018 he’s collected 5.5 non-sack tackles for loss with double teams coming his way each game. The projected defensive end out of high school has made a seamless move to the interior of the line and he is a dominant force.

His running mate may be just as good as former Michigan State Spartan turned junior college transfer has recorded 13.5 sacks in just 16 career games. Sweat is an excellent speed rusher off of the edge and is the second best run defender on the team behind Simmons. He’s a huge reason why this team ranks 15th in the country in sack rate.

It doesn’t just stop with them, however, as the Bulldogs are a legit two deep at each position on the line. Fletcher Adams, Gerri Green, Braxton Hoyett, Kobe Jones and Chauncey Rivers are all legit SEC defensive linemen. This is the deepest group in the SEC.

At linebacker, the Bulldogs are led by sophomore Errol Thompson and junior Leo Lewis. At the second level, the Bulldogs are big and they get downhill but the second best part of their defense is in the back.

Johnathan Abram and Mark McLaurin might be the best safety duo in college football. Abram, another former junior college transfer, currently leads the team in tackles while McLaurin led the squad in 2017. These two are both fast and solid tacklers who love contact. Look for them to help out early and often in run support.

At corner, MSU will be without starter Jamal Peters due to a leg injury suffered in last week’s win. That could cause some shuffling as third safety Chris Rayford will be moved over to corner. In his first year as a full-time starter, Cameron Dantzler looks like a future all-conference performer. Another junior college transfer and former Michigan Wolverine Brian Cole is used as MSU’s nickelback. Losing Peters hurts but this is a talented secondary.

The defensive line sets the tone and they are the main reason why inferior competition has struggled so much to move the ball. They are hard to block and they’ve been very disruptive through 12 quarters of football. Teams have been able to methodically rush the ball on Mississippi State this season when they aren’t putting themselves in a hole. Much like last year with Todd Grantham, the Bulldogs can be hit with the big play due to their aggressive nature.

Special Teams Breakdown

The biggest advantage UK will have on Saturday will be in the third phase.  The Bulldogs have struggled in special teams in the first three games of the 2018 season.

Kicker Jace Christmann is just 1/3 on field goals after hitting 12/14 last season. In his first year as a starter, Tucker Day is averaging just 40 yards per punt. Kickoff specialist Scott Goodman has only produced 11 touchbacks in 25 attempts and opponents are averaging nearly 22 yards per return.

Field position has been a struggle for MSU due to the kicking game inefficiencies. There will be hidden yardage there for the taking for Kentucky. It would be a good time for Lynn Bowden to get his first big return of the season.

Keys to Victory

Since the win over South Carolina in 2014, Kentucky has faced many SEC foes at night with a big time atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium Kroger Field. In those games, they have come down to the wire in the fourth quarter with UK eventually succumbing to the opponent. Here is what they need to do to close the door on Saturday night.

  • In two meetings, Eddie Gran’s rushing attack has ran all over Bob Shoop’s unit. UK has ran for 732 yards, eight touchdowns, and eight yards per carry in the two contests. MSU’s front will create some negative plays but UK must stay loyal to the running game. Teams have had success on State but had to abandon it early due to the deficit.
  • For the season, Kentucky’s defense has done a very good job of limiting big plays. On the year, opponents have only eight plays that have gone for over 20 yards and zero that have been for over 40 yards. These rank third and first in the SEC. Mississippi State has had 20 plays go for over 20 yards. Kentucky must have good outside pass coverage and make tackles when State gets in space on plays like this.
  • Early in the season, field position has been problematic for UK’s offense. Due to inefficiencies in returns and not getting enough three-and-outs, UK has a starting field position average of their own 28 yard line. However, MSU has not been good in field position on defense due to some of the same things. UK must take advantage of this on Saturday. Create short fields for your offense and pin MSU back as much as possible.
  • One thing that will help with the field position battle will be turnovers. For the season, UK has only forced three takeaways while Mississippi State has only lost it twice. This will be a key battle. UK must take care of the football and take advantage of the wild crowd to force some turnovers to produce significant momentum swings in the ballgame.
  • Terry Wilson is getting better with each outing but this offense needs him to connect on vertical throws. Outside of the touchdown to Lynn Bowden against Florida, UK has struck out on the home run ball and they must start to hit on them soon. Wilson’s current 6.6 yards per attempt will not be satisfactory enough to beat the best teams on the schedule. To help out the ground game and to keep the atmosphere buzzing, connecting on a few deep shots will be vital.

What the…???

I could obviously make a Starkville joke but the place they call Stark Vegas gets too much of a bad wrap. The “Hail State” motto being in the endzones of both the football stadium in basketball floor is kind of lame. But it’s the cowbell. It’s definitely the cowbell. Here’s a quick history lesson.

KSR Top 10 Tweets of the Day

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You can be a part of McDowell’s KSR Top 10 Tweets by using hashtags like #KSR #BBN or #KSRtop10. You can also nominate tweets by mentioning them with the hashtag. If we like what we see, it could be posted the next day.

If you are interested in sponsoring KSR’s Top 10 Tweets, please contact us at Via Email.

#10 Jaime

We love John Short!

#9 Jon Grace

Poor Duke **pretends to be sad**

#8 J

Well this is… disgusting.

#8 Denver Wells

Well that’s quite the crowd.

#7 Anthony Streicher

I think I’ve found my new Twitter header.

#6 D Simpkins

Ladies and gentlemen, Free Money is BACK!

#5 Damen Hensley

Let’s hope this is a good omen.

#4 Brent Sergent

The jokes are endless!

#3 kevoooo

I’m all for the Pitno Press.

#2 13Point1Pro

Squad goals.

#1 Adam Griggs

If Drew hasn’t been blocked by tomorrow, I will be SHOCKED.


A Recap of Tyrese Maxey’s Interview with KSR’s The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast

It’s been a busy week for the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. In case you missed it, two-time national champion and the only coach to ever lead three separate programs to the Final Four (yes, I’m being sarcastic) Rick Pitino joined the show on Monday.

And earlier today, I followed it up with an interview with future Kentucky point guard Tyrese Maxey.

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock the last six months, you know that Maxey was the first player in the class of 2019 to commit to Kentucky and will be taking an official visit to the school this weekend, along with local product Dontaie Allen. And oh boy was it a fun interview, where Maxey lived up to his reputation as one of the biggest personalities in all of high school basketball.  I have little doubt he will grow into a fan favorite once he arrives in Lexington.

Speaking of “arriving in Lexington,” Maxey will be there Friday (even if it’s only for a few days). As he gets set for his visit, here are some highlights of his interview with the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast (you can download the whole show for free, right here).

The reason he is visiting Kentucky this weekend is because he wanted to experience a football game

One of the biggest things I wanted to ask Maxey was why he is visiting Kentucky this weekend. Especially considering that he is coming back in a few weeks for Big Blue Madness. After all, it’s not often that a player who is already committed to a school takes an official visit, then pays for his own trip a few weeks later.

His answer was surprising. He wanted to experience a Kentucky football game in person.

Maxey added that he actually played football when he was a kid (then again, doesn’t everyone in Texas?), saying that his primary position was quarterback. According to Maxey, the position was perfect for him because he is a natural born leader.

He chose Kentucky because of John Calipari’s honesty

When I asked Maxey why he chose Kentucky, his answer was similar to a number of players who I’ve spoken with through the years. He loved Calipari’s honesty.

“I feel like he never lies to me,” Maxey said, describing John Calipari. “He always tells me the truth. He spit straight facts to me, he never spit any fluff. He came in, he told me I need to get better, he told me I’m not where I need to be right now to be an NBA player and that’s my end goal.”

Maxey also added that another thing that drew him to Kentucky was that he would be surrounded by other good players. He admitted to being a competitive kid, and looks forward to competing with great players every day in practice.

tyresemaxey | Ig

Maxey is already tight with Kentucky basketball royalty

It’s no secret that one of the big draws for any high school player to Kentucky is the number of future NBA stars who’ve come through the school under John Calipari’s watch. It stood out to Maxey, who admitted that he knows quite a few of them. He said that De’Aaron Fox texted him the day he committed, and he’s spoken to Jamal Murray, Devin Booker, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall among others.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

As I told Maxey during the interview: He better not lose his phone. That is a heck of a rolodex for an 18-year-old to have.

Fun fact: Maxey loves Spiderman

When I asked Maxey to share something that not many folks knew about him, he said that he was a big Spiderman fan. He said that he likes Spiderman’s super-powers, his speed, agility and ability to get from Point A to Point B quickly.

Ironically (or maybe not), that also very accurately describes Maxey’s game on the court.

Not to mention that it seems like one fan is especially fired up about this development.

He has never played against fellow Kentucky commit Dontaie Allen, but knows Kahlil Whitney well

This one was shocker to me, but Maxey said that – as best as he knows – he’s never played against fellow Kentucky commit Dontaie Allen, who will also be on campus this weekend. I know that Allen came onto the scene as a big-time recruit a bit later in the process than most kids, but considering that most of the top players know each other from an early age, that was stunning.

On the other hand, Maxey also said that he’s known the third member of this recruiting class, Kahlil Whitney for years. Maxey described his future teammate’s game similar to his. “He’s a dog,” Maxey said. “That’s one of the reasons Coach Cal likes him. He competes defensively. He competes offensively.”

He is actively recruiting other players

Maxey was surprisingly open while discussing the other players he’s recruiting to Kentucky.

It sounds like he has the closest relationship with Scottie Lewis, and admitted that he talks to him “almost every day.” Considering that Lewis is down to just Florida and Kentucky that has to be a great sign for the Wildcats.

Maxey also said that he speaks with James Wiseman, Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt regularly. He said that Wiseman is “hard to get a feel” for but that Carey has opened up to him more recently.

Maxey was also in the dark about Jaden McDaniels, who John Calipari recently had an in-home visit with.

Other odds and ends:

There are other odds and ends, but the most important one is this: He has Kentucky beating Mississippi State 31-28 on Saturday night at Kroger Field.

To listen to the full interview with Maxey, subscribe to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show Instagram too.

Free Money Podcast with Matt and Drew S2: Episode 4

We are back for another week of the Free Money Podcast with Matt and Drew, live from KSBar and Grille.

Throughout the show, the crew discusses:

  • How the Free Money crew performed in week three
  • Phil Steele did not do well in his Power Sweep. Has he lost his mojo?
  • Phil’s take on Virginia vs. Louisville
  • Are people shifting their picks away from Phil? Not Drew…
  • Matt’s tease stat of the day
  • Drew teaches Matt about the restaurant business
  • They won’t even touch the large spread for Texas A&M vs. Alabama
  • They can’t believe how bad Arkansas is
  • Gus Malzahn shouldn’t have gotten rid of his visor
  • Matt tells his thrilling college spring break story
  • Matt learns about Meek Mill
  • Phil’s revenge and series plays of the week
  • Matt shows off his NFL knowledge
  • A special appearance by former UK football player, Courtney Love

We’ll be back next week to discuss all of the fun from this weekend’s deep schedule of games.

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to “Free Money with Matt and Drew” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play, and streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.

PHOTOS: Meet the 2018-19 Kentucky Wildcats

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Football may be in full swing, but basketball is just around the corner, and today, UK released a slew of images of this year’s squad. If the Bahamas trip wasn’t indication enough, the personality that pops through the images by the talented Chet White is another sign this is going to be a very fun season.

You can view the entire gallery at, but here are a few of my favorites.

Ashton Hagans

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Immanuel Quickley

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Keldon Johnson

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Quade Green

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

PJ Washington

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

What do you think PJ’s thinking here?

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics


Stoops, UK Football team to serve as honorary pallbearers for child hit outside Kroger Field

Funeral services for Marco Shemwell will be held Monday at Calvary Christian Church in Winchester, and Mark Stoops, the Kentucky Football team and coaching staff will serve as honorary pallbearers.

The four-year-old was hit by a car driven by Jacob Heil, an 18-year-old UK student, as he and his family were waiting to cross Cooper Drive after leaving Kentucky’s game vs. Murray State. Heil admitted to drinking two beers hours prior to the game at a tailgate and blew a .051 BAC at the scene, which constitutes as driving under the influence since he is under the age of 21. He pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this week and is due back in court next month.

Officers Montoya and Taylor and other members of the UK Police Department, UK Health Care and PICU team and other first responders who helped in the families’ time of need will also be honorary pallbearers.

From Shemwell’s obituary:

Marco had a big personality and smile that would light any room.  His spirit was full of joy and captivated anyone that had the pleasure of knowing him.  His love for life, family and Jesus was infectious.

Marco spent most of his time playing Legos and cars with his big brother, as well as dance parties in the kitchen.  Marco enjoyed music, singing and playing his guitar.  He also loved Batman and Kentucky Football, always cheering for the blue team.  He will be truly missed.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to Calvary Christian Church, 15 Redwing Drive, Winchester, KY 40391 and/or Kentucky Organ Donor Association,   2201 Regency Rd # 601, Lexington, KY 40503 and/or Kentucky Children’s Hospital, 800 Rose Street, Lexington, KY 40536.

What the Jimmy Butler News Means For Karl-Anthony Towns

Jimmy Butler has requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves, how will this affect Karl-Anthony Towns going forward? (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you haven’t heard by now, Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star guard Jimmy Butler has requested a trade from the organization in favor of a fresh start as he is set to enter unrestricted free agency next summer.

This news alone is massive. Butler is arguably one of the 10 best players in the NBA at 29 years old and was already going to be a top priority for a ton of teams by the time he becomes a free agent in 2019. What makes this news even more irresistible is how we got to this point in the first place and the ripples Butler’s decision is going to have on the Timberwolves franchise for years to come.

The most notable argument that has been made to rationalize Butler’s decision is the apparent butting of heads between himself and fellow teammates – Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Let me attempt to preface things by saying that Jimmy Butler is a classic story of someone who was consistently doubted on only to rise and exceed every expectation hoisted upon him. From being forced out of his home at a young age, to having to play his first season of college ball at a junior college, to receiving limited scholarship offers before choosing Marquette as a two-star recruit, to being selected 30th overall in the 2011 NBA draft, Butler has experienced the hardships of life and knows exactly what it means for hard work to pay truly off.

Compare that to Towns and Wiggins who are on the other end of the spectrum. Both five-star recruits out of high school and number one overall draft picks after one season at high-profile universities, it can be easy to see how those different personalities might clash with each other. The Timberwolves head coach, Tom Thibodeau, is a notorious hard-ass, no-nonsense type coach with a drill sergeant mentality. He and Butler were a match made in heaven when they were in Chicago together for five seasons.

In Minnesota, where Thibodeau tried to recreate the magic of a team from five years prior that never really accomplished anything to begin with, the situation was hardly heaven-sent. There are plenty of appropriate questions Butler should be asking before he commits to a major contract. What can Thibodeau – both the GM and head coach – realistically add to the team over the next few seasons? Will he adapt to the changing landscape of the NBA playstyle? Will he even be the coach? What is Wiggins’ ceiling and has he already hit it? Can Towns become a premier defender and finally show some leadership traits?

Despite the team making the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and the first time since the post-Kevin Garnett era, there was hardly any balance within the locker room and that apparently stemmed from Towns and Wiggins attitude. This isn’t to say that Towns and Wiggins are overall problems within the locker room because there has been little if any evidence available to the public that can back that up, but it’s more likely they never wanted to buy into this over-the-top workload that Butler wanted them to.

Butler grew up in a world where he had to overcome every obstacle placed before him, knowing that one slip up could have cost him everything he worked for. Towns and Wiggins – who are 22 and 23 years old, respectively – have obviously worked their asses off to earn what they have, but they don’t have that consistent worry that everything could be lost like Butler has grown up with his whole life.

Butler is the definition of a franchise-altering player. He led the Wolves to their first playoff berth in over a decade and was playing some of the best basketball of his career. Wherever he ends up, that team will be an immediate threat to make a playoff run.

Luckily for Minnesota, they already have a franchise-altering player in Towns, and he’s a hell of a lot younger.

The first time All-Star last season has been eligible to sign his rookie max extension for a while now and there had been no proper explanation as to why he hasn’t, until now. Signing the extension should be an easy decision for Towns, but he reportedly hadn’t done so because he wants to see what happens with Butler, according to Shams Charania.

This, in essence, has given Towns more power than most 22-year olds have ever had in an NBA front office. Butler refused to commit to the team when they offered him an extension of four-years, $100 million earlier in the summer, which was understandable considering he could make much more if he waited for free agency. Now Towns, the franchise centerpiece and a much more valuable long-term asset than Butler, can hold out until something happens with Butler, which it appears will ultimately take place. It’s just a matter of who takes Butler and what that team can give Minnesota in return.

Towns has basically told the organization it’s either me or Butler and if the Wolves trade the latter, then they made the right decision.

Reports have claimed that Butler’s decision to move on from Minnesota had little to do with his relationship with Towns/Wiggins, although there is enough information available to make the claim that it at least had something to do with it. Rather, Butler has been unhappy because the Wolves refused to offer him an extension that could have added another year to the contract length and an extra $75 million on top of the aforementioned four-year, $100 million offer (the most Butler can make as a free agent next summer is $190 million across five years).

So now we dive into the teams that Butler has reported interest in; the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, and New York Knicks (and to a lesser extent the Miami Heat). There has long been a discussion of Boston Celtics All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and Butler teaming up in New York, while ESPN has reported that the Clippers are his preferred destination. If none of those teams sound appealing to a four-time All-Star it’s because they aren’t. Or they aren’t just yet.

The Clippers and Nets will both have the ability to clear enough money to make room for two max free agents. We won’t go too much in detail regarding where he might go (although I will say that the Denver Nuggets and especially the Washington Wizards should be calling the Wolves 24 hours a day, seven days a week) because he could just sign with a different team next summer and there are so many different possibilities. But what we will quickly discuss is what a potential return package for Minnesota might look like and how they’ll use that to continue to build around Towns for the future.

The Wolves already gave up Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the pick that eventually became Lauri Markannen in order to get Butler from the Bulls in the first place. They won’t see anything similar to that now that Butler’s intentions have been made public. But his preferred destinations of the Knicks and Clippers have interesting subplots.

A deal that might be made between the Wolves and the Clippers/Knicks would likely include Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Clippers) or Kevin Knox (Knicks). Minnesota is going to want assets in this trade. Ideally, they’ll try to pry away at least one or two players who can make an immediate impact and maintain some sort of semblance of winning as they try to make the playoffs for two straight seasons. No matter what the Wolves receive, odds are they won’t bring in enough talent to keep them in the playoff hunt (barring a transcendent leap from Wiggins). The inclusion of young players/draft picks would be necessary for the organization and it would be hard to imagine a scenario where either SGA or Knox are kept out of the trade and don’t end up teaming up with Towns (that is, if a deal is made between the Clippers or Knicks). If I’m Minnesota and either of those two teams calls, SGA or Knox are priorities.

When Butler is eventually traded, the keys to the organization will once again be placed back in the hands of Towns (and to a lesser extent, Wiggins, as well). The team tried the Butler experiment and it ultimately failed, but they still have a player expected to knock off every item on the future Hall-of-Fame checklist. However, the first taste of real success Minnesota has had since 2004 is going to be shortlived.

Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, the pressure for Towns to become great has grown exponentially. He improved last season, but he was at his best when Butler was playing at a high level. Without that safety net, the responsibility to win will be put on Towns (although Wiggins will likely be the scapegoat if/when things go sour quickly). He’s already an elite offensive player with upside on the defensive end that he hasn’t been able to tap into yet. What he brings on the defensive side of the ball – especially if Butler, an elite defender on the wing, is gone – is what he’s going to be judged on. His head coach, who preaches defense, has yet to get the best out of him on that end, and it’s difficult to gauge if Thibodeau will even be the coach of the Timberwolves this time next summer.

With or without Butler, the upcoming season was always going to be massively important for Towns. If Butler is with the team (and somehow doesn’t get traded), they would be expected to make the playoffs again despite having an ever-diminishing amount of off-court chemistry. With Butler gone, Towns is going to be expected to lead this team and take a leap on defense that he desperately needs in order to become great. Only time will tell how this ordeal benefits (or hinders) Towns’ progression. Either way, the workload for his fourth NBA season just got a hell of a lot heavier.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan

What Triple Crown winner Justify’s name really means

For my “KSR Voices” contribution this month, I want to briefly interrupt the football excitement and return to KY’s greatest athletic achievement from 2018: Justify’s Triple Crown victory. My wife Abby and I recently had the honor of meeting the champion, and it felt like one of those rare moments in life where I was standing in the presence of transcendent greatness. After all, in the storied history of thoroughbred racing, only 13 horses have been able to achieve Triple Crown status.

Now, losing money at Keeneland is the extent of my horse racing knowledge, so I’m not going to pretend to add anything to the countless articles written about Justify’s performance. Instead, what intrigued me was the origin of his name. As a pastor, when I hear the word “justify,” my ears perk up. Then when I listened to Justify’s owner, Kenny Troutt, as well as jockey, Mike Smith, both speak openly about their Christian faith in interviews, I suspected there had to be some Biblical significance to the name.

But as I searched, I found surprisingly little on the meaning of his name, which is unusual for famous thoroughbreds. For example, American Pharaoh’s Wikipedia page has an entire section on the origins of his name, but on Justify’s page, there is nothing. And so I decided to find out for myself.

Carrying on the rich tradition of Triple Crown winners not speaking with media, Justify was unwilling to talk. So I turned to the next best thing: Elliot Walden, President and CEO of WinStar Farms, which owns Justify. I know Elliot because his daughter attends our church’s school, Trinity Christian Academy (shameless plug that I know Elliot would endorse: If you are interested in an incredible private Christian education for your children, give us a call and schedule a tour). So, I reached out to him to talk less about the horse and more about the name, and my suspicions were confirmed.

WinStar Farms is unapologetically a Christian organization. What does it mean to be a Christian horse farm, one might ask? Walden says, “In everything WinStar does, we are guided by the Christian principles of humility, integrity, and love of neighbor. We seek to treat everyone with dignity, whether Christian or not, whether an employee, a vendor, or a client.” And then occasionally these Christian convictions also come out in the names of their horses.

Walden and his team name approximately 30 horses a year, and the guiding standard is a strong powerful name that they could imagine winning the Kentucky Derby. But they also look for opportunities to use Biblical themes. And so it was with Justify. They saw something special in this thoroughbred and wanted to give him a name that communicated something likewise special, and did they ever.



Kentucky is No. 1 in Sporting News’ Preseason Top 25

Earlier this week, Kentucky was unveiled as the No. 1 team in Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook’s preseason Top 25. Mike DeCourcy at The Sporting News agrees, putting the Cats atop his preseason poll that was released this afternoon. Kentucky is first, followed by Kansas, Gonzaga, Duke, and Virginia.

“In a season that will not rank among the most talent-rich in modern college basketball history, UK certainly qualifies as loaded,” DeCourcy writes. “The decision of former Pac-10 star Travis to join the Wildcats as a graduate transfer has given the team nine starting-quality players, which will cause some challenges for coach John Calipari in terms of building a style and rotation that works to maximize their abilities. One thing that was noticeable in the team’s playing trip to the Bahamas was how effective both Washington and Travis played in the high post. As the five talented freshmen develop, there is a chance for UK to be oppressive on defense.”

Other SEC teams in the Top 25:

  • 7. Tennessee
  • 11. Auburn
  • 18. Mississippi State
  • 20. LSU

Five teams in the preseason Top 25? The SEC really does mean more. Check out the poll for yourself at