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College Basketball Tuesday: Rule changes favor Kentucky's Randle

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Michigan forward Mitch McGary signals after a 3-point basket by a teammate during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Holy Cross in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. After weeks of practicing and playing through pain, McGary has decided to have surgery on his lower back, the school announced Friday. He is out indefinitely. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 10:39 p.m.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes rule changes this year favor Kentucky freshman Julius Randle, a 250-pounder who is a nightmare matchup around the rim.

After Randle went 3 for 6 from the free-throw line and scored 17 points in Kentucky's 73-66 victory over defending NCAA champion Louisville, his coach was inclined to agree.

“It's kind of like Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) when he played,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He's so big, he should be able to take some of this, like the whack on the arms.”

Randle, who likes to lower his head and bull to the basket, has benefited from officials liberally calling fouls. He's averaging more than nine free-throw attempts per game.

“He's strong enough to hold onto the ball,” Calipari said. “Grab his elbow? So what?”

Randle is one of four starting freshmen from Calipari's latest high-profile recruiting class. Randle and fellow freshmen James Young (18 points), Andrew Harrison (18) and Aaron Harrison (10) scored in double figures against Louisville.

“This is about players playing as a team. This team is becoming a good team,” Calipari said. “We haven't been all year; now we're starting. You know why? Because they know if they didn't play together, they had no shot in this game.”

Syracuse still unbeaten

A year after advancing to the Final Four, Syracuse is 12-0 despite point guard Michael Carter-Williams' early departure to the NBA.

Syracuse remained unbeaten with a 78-62 win over Villanova that wasn't as easy as the final score indicated.

Climbing out of a 20-5 hole to open the game, Syracuse outscored Villanova, 22-0, and led 38-34 at halftime. Syracuse outscored Villanova, 40-28, in the second half.

Nonconference scheduling has been an issue regarding some top-25 teams this year. For anyone questioning the toughness of Syracuse's schedule prior to the start of ACC play, Villanova was undefeated entering the game. Syracuse's nonconference schedule included two Big Ten opponents (Indiana and Minnesota), one team from the Pac-12 (California) and a former member of the Big East (St. John's).

McGary's costly decision

Star athletes often are criticized for thinking selfishly when determining if they should leave college early for the pros.

The latest example is Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary, whose decision to remain true to his school could cost him — literally.

McGary, whose sterling inside play helped Michigan advance to the championship game against Louisville, opted to return for his sophomore year. A projected first-round selection, McGary may have been a lottery pick if he left school early.

McGary missed the first two games this season because of back problems. After playing the next eight games and averaging 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, McGary announced he will undergo back surgery and miss the remainder of the season.

For a player returning from back surgery — particularly a physical player such as McGary — returning at full strength can be a dicey proposition. McGary will have to prove himself all over again to NBA scouts, who were prepared to make him a first-round pick after only one year in college.

Alabama coach stumbles

College basketball fame can be fleeting. A coach might be a hot property one season, only to watch his stock drop the next year.

Case in point: fifth-year Alabama coach Anthony Grant.

In seven seasons as coach at Alabama and Virginia Commonwealth, Grant has posted six 20-win campaigns. Grant entered 2013-14 with three consecutive 20-win seasons. The last time Alabama won at least 20 games three years in a row was two decades ago.

As a result, big things were expected from Grant. Instead, key player losses — Trevor Lacey transferred to North Carolina State, and Moussa Gueye transferred to Valparaiso — and two tough home defeats have resulted in a 5-7 record.

Alabama's latest setback was a 75-67 loss at UCLA, capping a three-game losing streak featuring home defeats to Wichita State (72-67) and Xavier (77-74).

Alabama hosts Robert Morris on Saturday before opening SEC play against Vanderbilt.

Grant's SEC track record in cause for optimism, considering Alabama's slow start.

The Crimson Tide totaled 33 conference wins the past three seasons under Grant, trailing only Kentucky and Florida.

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