There are incredible expectations being put on the Kentucky Wildcats after another great recruiting class coupled with the surprise return of several veterans. It’s nothing new for Big Blue Nation to daydream abut blowing every team out by twenty points on their way to an undefeated season. So far they have dominated their opponents in impressive fashion proving this star-studded roster will be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Kentucky hasn’t been challenged in their three exhibition games thus far. They have rolled their competition by an average of 28 points per game. Some people look at that number and think it means nothing because they are unfamiliar with the opponents they are up against. Others look at it as an impressive feat against solid competition. I tend to think it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s not like these guys are playing Manu Ginobli or Dirk Nowitzki, but they are playing grown men who play professionally overseas.
I’m not really interested in who they are playing, but how they are playing. That’s where I see scary upside. Last season, the team was timid. They often didn’t know where to be on the floor. They had no leaders, no structure and often no clue. They looked confused and it led to muddled offensive production and miscommunication on the defensive end.
On this Bahamas trip I see guys looking for each other. Every player wants to show what he can do but it’s not a at the expense of his teammates. Players are moving to open spots with more certainty allowing players to create for themselves and others. They are making extra passes, blocking shots, and rotating over to take charges. When you have a team full of stars it’s easy to take breaks and not do the little things, but this team is doing everything. If they continue this type of play they will be a scary opponent for any team in the country.
This team is very tall. They feature four guys 6’11” or taller (this will be the most overused stat during broadcasts this season…just get used to hearing it). Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, and sharp-shooting Devin Booker all go 6’6″, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee are around 6’9″ with insane athleticism. They’ve even had a Derek Willis sighting. Willis provides matchup issues with his ability to shoot and finish at the rim. He rarely played last season due to a loaded squad. He will likely struggle for time again this season.
All of this talk about size and length and I’ve yet to mention Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles who are both sitting out healing from their respective injuries. With a very talented team, there’s no reason for coach John Calipari to rush these guys back. They need to take their time and ease into everything.
Karl Anthony Towns will be the best player on the team. He can play in the post, run the floor, and even hit a transition three pointer as the trail-man. He is vulnerable in space as a defender, but if he is given an opportunity to play post defense and protect the rim then he will flourish. With length on the perimeter and veteran leadership, I think his job will be much easier than recent UK big men. He will be able to zone in on his responsibilities and not have to help off his man as much.
The other statement that will be overused this year will be “this team could be divided up to form two Top 25 teams.” That statement is 100% true. This team’s talent is so rich it’s almost unheard of. This team has it all. They can speed you up or slow down and play half court defense. They can run you to death in transition or play through their talented post players. They have shooters, scrappy defenders, shot blockers, space eaters, length and most importantly a perfect blend of youth and experience.
People have been searching for stories that are focused on how coach Calipari might struggle to manage all of the talent. Listen, these star players want to come play for him. They know they will be going up against the best players in the country day in and day out. They are also aware they may not get the minutes they want if someone is better than them. Of course there will be a learning curve for the freshmen, but he won’t hear a peep out of players like Poythress, and WCS. They want to be apart of something special, not for the focus to be on them. Having players like this will only make coach Cal’s job easier.
Can you really argue with the system and structure of a coach who has a .800 win percentage while at UK? Seems like he is doing a decent job so far.
The last two times the Wildcats lost in the National Championship game they won it the following season. The rest of the country will have their work cut out for them if they are looking to kill that trend.
Photo from: UKAthletics.com