Of all the marquee basketball games we’ve seen, that was one of them.
The Champions Classic’s nightcap pitted the No. 4 and No. 7 teams in college basketball against each other, but neither side played like a ranked team. One can chalk it up to youth and inexperience; the other is Kansas, and I think they’re still jacking up contested jumpers in the United Center parking lot.
Unfortunately for the Big Blue Nation, John Calipari’s young Wildcats were on the losing side in the end, 65-61; but the way they fought and hung in there down the stretch is a major positive takeaway going forward. They have several things to learn and improve on after only three college basketball games in their careers, and they were still in the hunt until the final buzzer against a veteran team. We’ll take that, right?
More postgame thoughts from Chicago…
The Kansas guards were not good.
Devonte Graham, a National Player of the Year candidate (allegedly), was 3-for-14 from the field with five turnovers. Coming into this one, he was projected to be the best player on the court. Instead, we watched him jack up some of the worst shot attempts one could take, and only hit his mark three times in the entire game. Now some of that can be attributed to UK’s defense, but most of the time he was just throwing up bricks to throw up bricks. It was a rough night for one of college basketball’s top players (allegedly).
Joining Graham in the awful game discussion is Malik Newman, who went 4-for-14 from the field. Yes, you can commend him for the big three-pointer late, but Kentucky was in the game because he drove into the lane with his head down all night, only to watch his shots get swatted. Newman couldn’t take enough bad shots; unfortunately, he hit one wide open three-pointer in the end that proved to be the biggest shot of the game. You live with that one after all the garbage he threw up before that moment.
Kansas’ third “star” guard, LaGerald Vick, wasn’t much better than his friends. He went 4-for-13 from the field, which makes them 11-for-41 as a group. They’re Bill Self’s three offensive weapons and they could not score from the field (4-for-16 from outside, too). If they had done anything close to what they’re capable of, Kansas runs away with this one. But their offensive struggles made it a ball game, and to me, that’s your story.
Kevin Knox is Kentucky’s only offense.Â
As bad as the Kansas offense was, Kentucky’s wasn’t much better. It was pretty much the Kevin Knox show when the Cats needed a bucket as he led the team with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field. It’s pretty clear he’s going to need some major help, but for the immediate future it’s mostly going to fall on his shoulders when Hamidou Diallo isn’t playing well. That was the case tonight, and Knox had a great game outside of the forced shot attempt in the final seconds with his team down two.
Nick Richards and P.J. Washington have to do better.
Richards and Washington may want to forget this one. Together they combined for seven of Kentucky’s 18 turnovers and only four points.
Richards did grab nine rebounds, but he was a liability offensively. Washington had some key blocks, but he wasn’t much help anywhere else.
Sacha Killeya-Jones showed some promise, and that’s exciting.
We’ve long wondered when Killeya-Jones will have his breakout moment, and it might’ve been in this one. Kentucky’s sophomore big man had eight points and nine rebounds in only 23 minutes of action, and he showed off a jump shot that put some much-needed points on the board when UK’s offense was non-existent. If he can continue to hit that shot consistently, he’ll have to see more of the floor. The same goes for his rebounding, which he also did well.
As good as Knox was, Killeya-Jones may be the brightest takeaway for Kentucky.
Kansas only had six players.
The Jayhawks were gassed in the end (especially the big fella), and they have Billy Preston to thank for that. In case you missed it, Bill Self benched his star freshman right before tip-off due to an investigation into the financing of a car he wrecked over the weekend. It sounds like some serious trouble, and it didn’t hurt Kentucky’s chances that he sat in street clothes on the sideline.
Kentucky is still kind of a mess right now, but they’re fighters.
The offense is so disorganized and often lost. There were way too many inexcusable turnovers. The defense gives up too many good looks. It was far from a good, clean game.
That being said, it’s to be expected from a team of kids who are only five days into their college careers. Those things will work themselves out in time. The one thing you can’t really teach at this point in the season is playing hard and not giving up, and that’s exactly what they did in a game in which they weren’t playing sound basketball. Close games like this will go a long way in their overall development, and those sloppy miscues and disorganization will be fixed with each passing game. Kentucky isn’t a great basketball team right now, but they sure do have the pieces to be one on down the road.
To quote John Calipari, I like my team.
Good night from Chicago.