Two games down, two more to go.
The 2018-19 Kentucky Wildcats are currently participating in their Big Blue Bahamas foreign trip, where they have taken down the Bahamas National Team and San Lorenzo de Almagro. Both games have been had in Kentucky’s favor by a significant margin, winning game one by a final score of 85-61 and game two 91-68.
It’s a trip that has (thus far) followed in the footsteps of Kentucky’s 2014 adventure to the Bahamas, where they played a total of six games, coming away with victories in five. Their lone loss came against the Dominican Republic National Team, a unit comprised of grown men and numerous professional basketball players. Even in defeat, the Cats looked like juggernauts at the college level.
It was step one of what developed into one of the most historic seasons in college basketball history.
And by the looks of things, at least as shown in their most recent edition of the Big Blue Bahamas trip, we could be in for yet another special season.
So the Cats obviously play two fewer games this time around, so the comparison will be Kentucky’s first two games this year and their first three games of 2014.
Dominican Republic national team (participated prior to 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Ranked No. 26 in the FIBA World Rankings at the time)
Puerto Rico national team reserves
Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket, a French first-division club team
Game One vs. Puerto Rico – 74-49 victory (Aaron Harrison was the leading scorer with 15 points, followed by Karl-Anthony Towns and Alex Poythress with 10 points each)
Game Two vs. Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket – 81-58 victory (Towns led the team with 19 points and 10 rebounds, Poythress added 16 and eight. Eight Wildcats finished with at least five points)
Game Three vs. Puerto Rico – 93-57 victory (Poythress led Kentucky with 15 points and 10 rebounds, Marcus Lee added 14 points and seven rebounds. Four players finished with 10-plus points)
Average margin of victory: 28
Puerto Rico was arguably Kentucky’s easiest opponent of the week, so the stats are slightly skewed. It was the reserve team, and the Cats dominated accordingly. CCRB kept it relatively close for a while in game two, though the Cats pulled away easily. It was the first time John Calipari experimented with the platoon system, rotating in five players at a team in four-minute increments. Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein sat out due to injury, so we didn’t even get to see the capability of the full roster at the time.
Calipari did a ton of roster mix-and-matching, seeing which rotations worked the best and which players had chemistry with one another.
Much more dunking, highlight plays than we’ve seen thus far in 2018.
Bahamas National Team (No. 59 in FIBA World Rankings)
San Lorenzo de Almagro (Three consecutive championships in the Argentine National League (2015–16, 2016–17, 2017-18), Super 4 Tournament champion in 2016-17)
Mega Bemax (Deemed “European Kentucky” for its ability to put players in the NBA, Serbian Cup Champion in 2016, semifinals last year, NBA star Nikola Jokic played with the team before heading to the states, six NBA draft picks over the last three years)
Team Toronto (Top select Canadian players put together by coach Roy Rana, led 2019 U19 Canadian team to the gold medal at the FIBA World Championships)
Game One vs. Bahamas National Team – 85-61 victory (Nick Richards led the way with 19 points, with Tyler Herro not far behind with 16. Keldon Johnson added 11 points, while PJ Washington scored 10. Nine players finished with 16-plus minutes)
Game Two vs. San Lorenzo de Almagro – 91-68 victory (Tyler Herro led Kentucky with 22 points, followed by PJ Washington with 15. Six players finished in double figures, eight players with 16-plus minutes)
Average margin of victory: 23.5
Though Coach Cal swears he will never run a platoon system again, he has been rotating in two or three players at a time this year, even with Jemarl Baker out both games and EJ Montgomery out game two. It may never be a full five-in, five-out like 2014-15, but he has the talent to do massive rotations, and he’ll likely come close at times. It wouldn’t surprise me to see three or four-man rotations as the season progresses.
Compared to the 2014 Bahamas trip, this team has been more team-oriented, working on crisp passing and efficient play. Less “highlight” plays, more fundamental basketball.
Like 2014, we are soon finding out this team rises up against elite competition and has little to no weaknesses. Calipari is experimenting with three-big lineups, small-ball, and more. He knows this team will be talented and versatile.
I’d argue this schedule is tougher than the last trip down, specifically with tomorrow’s opponent, Mega Bemax. That will be a major test for the Cats.
Part two will be released following Kentucky’s fourth game on Sunday afternoon.