We saw a quick preview of the team during Big Blue Madness, but tonight was our first in-depth look at the 2017-18 Wildcats.
Kentucky held their annual Blue-White scrimmage tonight, producing a lot of good things to be excited about, and some bad to keep an eye on.
Here are my ten immediate reactions from the scrimmage:
This team is a work in progress
The potential is there for a big run in March, but don’t expect this team to be world-beaters from game one.
Spacing issues, careless passes, and missed shots at the basket were just a few of the glaring problems we saw in the Blue-White scrimmage.
But that is expected this early in a season, especially for a team this young.
For as many SportsCenter Top 10 highlight plays we see early, there may be just as many head-scratchers.
What shooting concerns?
One of the biggest knocks on this team going into the season was their inability to shoot from beyond the arc.
Tonight at the Blue-White game, however, they flipped that narrative.
The Wildcats knocked down 13 total threes, finishing roughly 45% on the night.
Quade Green hit a few contested jumpers, Kevin Knox hit several jumpers, Diallo, Calipari, Gabriel, etc.
Kentucky has two guys 6’9 or taller that can knock down threes on a consistent basis. PJ Washington can knock them down from mid-range, and an occasional three. Even Sacha Killeya-Jones knocked one down for good measure.
They’re not an elite team from deep, but they’ll hit a whole lot of them.
Speaking of shooting…
Jonny David hit a three
If Kentucky needs a spark of the bench, Jonny freaking David is your guy.
That is all that needs to be said on the matter.
Kevin Knox is a different breed of basketball player
Coach Cal said Knox made a big step up in the days leading up to UK Media Day, and it was easy to see tonight.
At the half, the star freshman finished with 18 points in 20 minutes of action, and then finished the day with 22 points and seven rebounds.
He opened the game with a beautiful mid-range jumper, followed it up with a big rebound on the opposite end, and immediately took off with the ball. Two plays later, he ripped Gilgeous-Alexander, and took it coast-to-coast for a bucket in transition.
Oh yeah, and then he dunked all over multiple defenders. And then he threw down a nasty putback dunk.
Knox just does everything right, and I think he’s easily the best player on the team right now.
He’s a hybrid if I’ve ever seen one.
Hamidou Diallo is a freak athlete, but you already knew that
On one occasion in the first half, the backboard shook for 30 seconds following a nasty dunk by Diallo.
And then he did it again. And again.
If Diallo finds an open lane on a fast break, be prepared to be on the receiving end of a facial.
Aside from disgusting dunks and ridiculous length, Diallo knocked down a contested three, along with some impressive shots around the rim.
I do believe Diallo will have a bad tendency of forcing things at times this year, but he’s going to be a dynamic scorer in Calipari’s offense.
Wenyen Gabriel is a completely different player
There were times last year Gabriel looked so uncomfortable on the floor, and if he wasn’t in a shooting rhythm, he really struggled.
Now, the sophomore has his feet under him and looks like a stud.
He can still catch-and-shoot, but his game is far more developed. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and driving to the basket. When contact comes, he doesn’t get thrown around like a rag doll like he used to. He can grab a rebound and just go, and you don’t feel like it’s a turnover waiting to happen.
Calipari said Gabriel is one of the best three players on the team, and I think he’s right. If he can produce 19 points and four boards on a consistent basis, the Wildcats will be just fine.
PJ Washington is a bully
His teammates call him Charles Barkley, and it’s for good reason. This kid is a force on both ends of the floor.
Jonny David tried guarding him in the paint on one play, which ended about as you’d expect. Quade Green found himself matched up with Washington in the post, and the big man absolutely dominated on him.
Washington finds the mismatch and takes advantage. He’s a bull, and there won’t be many people in the country able to slow him down.
Oh, and he can shoot from mid-range. Really well.
He’ll be a fan-favorite from day one.
Quade Green is not Tyler Ulis… yet.
Green finished with 18 points, seven assists, and four turnovers, highlighting both the positive and negative that came with his performance.
He started the game with several sloppy passes, and got the ball ripped from him once or twice. And when he made a mistake, he let himself know about it.
After finding his groove, he looked like the floor general we all expected him to be. He was loud, directed traffic, and found the open man more often than not. He showed the ability to knock down shots from all over the floor, including some contested buckets at the rim.
The game came so simply to Ulis, and it’ll get that way with Green in the future. But those expecting the second coming of arguably the greatest point guard in Kentucky history will be a bit disappointed early on.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t afraid of anyone
Throughout the game, Gilgeous-Alexander took the ball straight to the rack and went right at whoever was in his way. He didn’t shy away from the contact, he embraced it, and it paid off in a huge way.
On defense, his length showed, jumping the passing lanes and deflecting (or stealing) balls throughout the contest.
Similar to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when he was here, SGA is going to do it all for the Wildcats this season.
Nick Richards is a defensive force
Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Nick Richards. The freshman out of New York is next in line.
With a final statline of 10 points, 13 rebounds, and eight blocks, it’s impossible to not get excited about UK’s newest center.
Richards swatted away eight shots, and altered even more. When he wasn’t in position to defend, he was a couple feet above the rim to grab the rebound. He has that aspect of his game down to a science.
That being said…… Kenny Payne needs to be in the gym all day and night working on his offensive game.
When Richards puts the ball on the ground, defenders immediately swarm to him. He fumbles the ball around, and forces uncomfortable shots up under pressure. Even on some alley-oop attempts or hard passes thrown to him under the basket, he has a hard time controlling the ball.
He’ll miss a ton of shots and turn the ball over in the paint early in the year, but make up for it on the other end.
They’re raw, and they made a lot of mistakes, but I love my team.