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CBS: Kentucky’s defense could take them to the Final Four


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Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write this season: Kentucky’s defense could take them to the Final Four. Oh yes, the Cats’ defense, which we have said several times this year was the worst of the Calipari Era, has suddenly come together in the postseason. CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander has a great breakdown of Kentucky’s improved defense, which he says could take them all the way to Phoenix:

UK’s not been an elite defense team all season, but it looked elite on that end of the floor against a top-10 team in Wichita State. It was fitting that Adebayo ended that game; I wrote last week that he’s the key to unlocking Kentucky’s title hopes . His ability as a defender inside and out (how many big man are playing that kind of D in a pivotal game-ending sequence and coming with a help-block? It’s crazy impressive) is downright vital to Kentucky’s chances.

Kentucky held Northern Kentucky and Wichita State to 35.6 percent from the field. It averaged nine blocks per game and averaged 35 defensive rebounds the first weekend. Kentucky played in the defensive style that Calipari aspired to back in the preseason. Not surprising that UK stepped up the way it did. Cal gets his guys to perform in this tournament like few coaches can. The Wildcats have to keep their averages close to those clips going forward to get out of Memphis as the champ.

While we’re all focused on the Cats’ issues on offense, specifically, Malik Monk’s slump, Norlander makes some great points. Kentucky’s defense, which haunted them vs. UCLA in December, has improved ten-fold in recent weeks; similarly, whereas Kentucky had no answer for TJ Leaf at the four-spot in the first game, Derek Willis is a different player now. Watching Willis, Malik Monk, and De’Aaron Fox adopt Dominique Hawkins and Isaiah Briscoe’s attitude on defense has me feeling better about the rematch with the Bruins, and if Malik Monk warms up? Forget about it.

[CBS Sports]

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

23 responses to “CBS: Kentucky’s defense could take them to the Final Four”

  1. Mc12

    I guess I’m still a little skeptical about D. Willis’ defense (or the 4 spot in general). Some games he looks okay. Then some games he is so lost out there and lacks so much awareness that my only reaction is to laugh for some reason. He does try a little harder now I think which is good since Wenyen has apparently forgot how to play basketball.

    1. leon singleton

      Willis has become a beast on the boards and shot blocking.

    2. AGSlater

      Yeah he gets blocks, but you can tell coaches gameplan to isolate him down low. Set the high pick on bam and get 1 on 1 down low on Willis. Score everytime

    3. syrin23

      His rebounding and clutch shooting make up for it.

    4. BanjoBeliever

      Willis is doing very well defending, rebounding, and shot blocking. So who keeps questioning him? And why?

  2. Aar

    I don’t believe UK’s defense has suddenly come on. I think it started improving with Cal’s “reboot” in the middle of the SEC schedule and steadily improved. I only follow rankings that I see on this site but I believe UK’s defensive efficiency was ranked in the KenPom top 10, maybe top 5 early in the season. From the UCLA game through the reboot it dropped into the mid-20s. Since the reboot, it has steadily improved to the point that it is now in the mid-teens. That’s not sudden improvement. That’s unnoticed steady progression

    Likewise, I also don’t believe Adebayo has suddenly gotten better. Before the reboot, he was coming under fire for being unable to guard all five positions. Cal was being lambasted for not adjusting the defense to accommodate that fact. This was the first time Adebayo had been asked to guard smaller, quicker players in his life! None of us learn things overnight – especially not something that difficult. However, Cal, KP and Adebayo stuck with their defensive schemes, steadily improved and Adebayo is now quite an asset to the defense. I doubt he’ll ever be a lockdown on ball defender against the likes of John Wall but neither is Anthony Davis. He is already good enough to guard the three at the college level while slowing down the drive enough to give help time to get there. He’s also gotten pretty decent at the pick and roll.

    I like my Bam. I like my team! As Cal says “It starts on the defensive end”.

    One interesting side note is that I find it interesting when Bam goes out and defends the 3 while Willis, Gabriel and Mulder stay home to provide the inside help when they are at the 4. I think it really speaks to the young big man’s footwork and agility. Now, I really want to see his nasty eurostep in the open court one last time before he gets his payday!

    1. secrick

      Some good points Aar , Defense is the answer i’m sure but we got to hit the outside shots.

    2. maximumscott

      Kenpom D is currently 7. Better than UL. I agree with steady improvement but past couple of games they have increased their intensity while building on fundamentals. They are growing quicker right now than before bc they have a foundation to build. Plus, no one except Uk fans paid any attention to UK so its only fitting the last time we were relevant we had bad Defense and then now we have good. So its sudden for Analyst. But we as fans know it has gotten better every game. Go Cats! I like our chances against UCLA. We worry about stopping their O, but our Offense is rated 14th. Their defense is rated 83. At the end of the day they have to stop us too.

    3. RexRox

      I believe UCLA is basically the same team the Cats faced in December while UK has grown big time on the defensive end. Not the same team! As talented as the Bruins are on the offensive end, they are always a threat to win any game but I feel the Cats are the more likely winner.

      Fans (even casual ones) always notice offense but teams with at least some type of defensive footprint win championships. Cats are the fifth best defensive team left in the tournament and the best on the right side of the bracket.

  3. lexslamman

    It’s bothered me that for the last two weeks CBS and ESPN commentators have talked about how unimpressive Kentucky’s offense looked. They think that the Cats are the same team that was taking the floor in November and December – but this is now a defense-oriented team that, due to the blowouts in November and December, also ranks as the fifth highest scoring team in the country. Judge us on our proven ability to finish tough games in March, not on our ability to blow out a few cupcakes early in the year.

    1. az1006

      This. Our identity early in the season was our ability to have high-scoring games, but now (as teams have adjusted and forced us to play slower), we have proven we have the ability to play a half-court, grind-it-out game. And most of that is due to our defense. We are a completely different team than we were in December. If we get by UCLA (which I think we will), it’ll be because of our improved defense.

    2. syrin23

      UCLA, UNC and Kansas have not seen the new and improved Bam either.

  4. maximumscott

    We are still getting better offensively as well. We are becoming more efficient and deliberate. Everybody plays to their strengths except Wenyen.

  5. Kevin C

    Go figure…the first 1/2 of the season UK was one of the top 3 offenses, and near the bottom in defense ; now they’ve practically flip-flopped.

    1. maximumscott

      They are 14th offense? That is no where near bottom. They are 7th in Defense. Bruins are 73 on D amd 2nd on O. Yes, they do have off nights amd plenty of them.

  6. plumloopy

    After the UCLA game, they were the LAST team I wanted to see again but our team has totally changed and we won’t be scoring in the 90’s on anyone anymore. Yeah, it’s possible but unlikely. UCLA, however is mostly the same team (if scores can be trusted). We lost but we are trulydifferent. Good.

  7. maximumscott

    Overall UK is a better team than UCLA right now. Before the tourny UCLA was not playing great against good competition. They played Kent St and allowed nearly 85 points for Kent St. then scored around 79 against Cincy. We have a better Defense and Offense than Cincy. If we keep UCLA under the 80s then we have a really good shot beating them. I mean UCLA is rated 83 in Defense. They are not a in your face intensity team. They are just really good at Offense. This time of year it is about getting stops. I mean they will score bc thats what they do but I think the bigger story should be can their Defense stop our offense in a 1-2 possession game under 5 minutes. I dont think so. Our guards can get to the rack too easily. Im saying all this with the idea that Monk gets 14-18 points, which is likely. If we are playing good defense then we dont need Monk to ve on fire. If Monk haplens to come out lighting it up, then you can go ahead and make reservations for elite 8 bc he is not human when he is hot and not even UF could contain him and they have a pretty good defensive rating. I hate to say it but it will be close unless Monk is hot. If he is hot, then chalk a W up. He is due anyways. This would be the perdect time to break open a can.

  8. EdC

    For what it is worth the stats show the defense is back. I think the best we ever got to on KenPom was 7 early in the year when teams just didn’t know what to do about our athleticism. It sank to I think 15 after Camp Cal and has steadily risen back to 7.

    Anyway, the stats bear out your observations.

  9. CatesDuncan

    We should win if we can stop the 3 pointers

  10. maximumscott

    Lets not forget UCLa shot the lights out last time. 45% from 3 and 54% from 2s. You gonna beat alot of teams like that. They hit 10 3s. Jus saying to beat us they will have to play just as good as us if we want to win. The x factor will be an improved Willis and Hawkins and perimeter defense wont allow Ball to penetrate every damn time. Its gonna be a 70-80s game. That style favors us. But Monk has to show up.

  11. henderblue

    I thought our defense early in the year, up until the UCLA game was excellent. But from that point we seemed to be more interested in seeing how many points we could score. Down the stretch the defense has seen steady improvement. Our best chance of being UCLA is to defend better than the first time around. We have an exciting running game but outrunning those guys will be tough. Unless Monk goes for 40 we can’t beat them like that. We can beat them but we should slow them down and defend. Just my opinion. Fox’s defense on Ball will be key, as well as defending Welsh and Leaf.

  12. dballrb

    I’d have bam to stay on the block and let Willis and company have the double switch,keep hands up to guard against the pass and if they can’t stay on their hip,Bam is in position to deny the lane/shooter…Bob Keith.

  13. mostdiggity

    I think Fox is going to go off on UCLA again to reiterate what no one (as in ex-perts) except some astute UCLA fans picked up on in the first game… Fox outplayed Ball head-to-head.

    Welsh and Leaf are excellent offensively down low. We’re going to need good games defensively from both Wenyen and Isaac off the bench, as we’re likely to give up a few more fouls that comes with playing extra-tough defense. On the same note, they (Welsh and Leaf) typically give up easy baskets sometimes just to stay out of foul trouble with their micro-short bench.