Kentucky is 3-1 after edging out East Tennessee State, 78-61, in Rupp Arena on a lovely Friday evening in Lexington. It was a game that saw an early 10-point deficit and ended with a convincing win, with plenty of highs and lows in between.
Let’s discuss what went right and wrong below before we call it a night, shall we?
RIGHT: Quade Green’s offense
Quade Green’s defense is a liability, so what did Quade Green do to stay on the floor in this one? He was excellent on the other end, leading his team in scoring in the game and setting a new season-high mark for a Wildcat with 21 points.
Green is the obvious MVP in the win for his scoring and scoring efficiency. Calipari said afterward that the team needs him to play aggressive and make jump shots, as he did against ETSU. Green came to Kentucky to be a facilitator for the weapons around him; maybe he needs to do more attacking and scoring of his own because he’s as good as anyone right now.
WRONG: The first 10 minutes of the game
Kentucky couldn’t do anything offensively in the beginning, while East Tennessee hit several three-pointers to give itself a pretty good lead midway through the first half. The Cats had only eight points in the first nine minutes of the game before Quade Green hit a three-pointer of his own to get a 10-point deficit back down to single digits. Green hit another jumper, and then another three-pointer, and the Cats’ run was on. But the early scoring draught cannot go unmentioned because it was very concerning.
After settling in and regaining the lead, Kentucky played pretty solid defense throughout the remainder of the game. The Cats forced ETSU into 19 turnovers and held them to 32 percent shooting from the field, often limiting the opposing offense to long contested threes and tough twos. They still had some slip-ups for easy buckets from time to time, but for the most part, the defense used its length to hold off the Buccaneers when the offense wasn’t doing its part.
WRONG: Free throw shooting
I probably should’ve used a bigger font for this one because it was the glaring weakness in the game. Kentucky shot a horrible 20 percent from the foul line at a 3-for-15 clip. They missed their first nine attempts at the line! Nine! That’s unacceptable and very troubling moving forward.
RIGHT: Kevin Knox’s double-double
Knox recorded the first double-double of his career with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Maybe even more exciting is the fact he hit four of his seven three-point attempts in the game.
While each of the Wildcats have struggled in various aspects of the game early in the season, Knox’s scoring has been the one constant at 14 points per game.
Kentucky had 22 turnovers in this one. That’s 20 turnovers per game over the last two, and 18 turnovers per game for the season.
Knox and P.J. Washington had six apiece for 12 of the 22 against ETSU. It’s somewhat excusable early, but not for much longer.
RIGHT: Sacha Killeya-Jones
It’s time to give the starting job to Sacha Killeya-Jones. Nick Richards has held that honor for the first four games, but Killeya-Jones has separated himself from Richards in the race for the center position. Killeya-Jones played 25 minutes to Richards’ 11 against ETSU, so it’s clear he’s the preferred option. Now let’s reward him with a spot in the starting five on Monday.
WRONG: Nick Richards
My man is struggling. He’ll be fine in time, but right now is not that time.
RIGHT: P.J. Washington responded
Washington was pretty terrible against Kansas, and he bounced back with a much better game tonight. For the sake of the conversation we’ll ignore his six turnovers and 0-for-5 foul shooting, and applaud him for his rebounding and effort, which were much better.
Now let’s get back to the turnovers and foul shooting — he can’t play if he continues to do that. A power forward shouldn’t be in position to turn the ball over six times, and no one should miss all five of their free throw attempts in a game.
Still, I think Washington was better.
WRONG: They still have a long, long way to go
I still don’t know if Kentucky is good at this point in the season. If they are good, they definitely aren’t consistent. Right now it seems they’re relying on their God-given length to disrupt opposing offenses, which works, while still giving up easy scores when they get lost, which is too often. Offensively, I’m not sold they’re a good shooting team, and nobody outside Knox is going to give you consistent scoring each night.
So, are they good right now? I’m pretty confident they will be in a couple of months. Right now, though… I don’t know.
Calipari is wearing himself out in getting them ready. He said after the game, “It’s a process. I would tell our fans, just enjoy this, because I’m the one dying.”
RIGHT: They won.
And that’s good.