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Why Kentucky shouldn’t platoon this season


When Ashton Hagans and Reid Travis arrived on campus last month, the question on the minds of many Kentucky fans became, to platoon or not to platoon? With a roster that goes two deep and memories of the 38-1 squad pummeling teams fresh on our minds, it’s easy to see why fans would want John Calipari to resurrect the platoon system; however, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a bad idea. Here’s why.

It hurt Kentucky in recruiting

While the platoon system did a lot of good, it also did some bad. Even though Kentucky largely abandoned the system as the season went on, other coaches gleefully used it against Calipari in recruiting, selling prospects on coming to their school and playing 35 minutes per game instead of the 20 or so minutes they’d get in Lexington. As a result, the Cats missed on several top targets in the 2015 class, including Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman, Carlton Bragg, Brandon Ingram, and Stephen Zimmerman. In May 2015, Calipari even wrote on his website that he never wanted to platoon again.

“If you ask me if I’m ever going to platoon again, my answer is NO,” Calipari wrote. “Last season was an absolute outlier. It’s just not the way I like to coach. I would rather play seven or eight guys because I believe that gives us the best chance to win. I think we wrote the book on platooning this year, but I hope we stick it on the shelf and never have to use it again.”

Calipari wants player to fight for minutes

Naturally, Calipari has already been asked about platooning with this group, and while he didn’t totally rule it out, he made it clear that’s not his first choice.

“It’s not something I would want to do,” Cal said at a recent satellite camp. “But if there are 10 guys all within the same [talent level] — we know we can do it because I’ve done it before. But it’s not something I want to do. I want guys to compete. This isn’t communism. Somebody is way better than you, he plays and you don’t.”

Last week, Cal doubled down, telling reporters on the SEC Summer Teleconference that he wants six to seven players averaging in double figures, an unprecedented feat that would be even more difficult using the platoon system. (In 2014-15, only three players averaged in double figures: Aaron Harrison, Karl Towns, and Devin Booker.)

“I’d like to have six or seven guys in double figures scoring. There’s no one that’s going to average 25 points a game. You may get 25 in a game, but we don’t play through two guys. Everybody here is treated the same way. The other thing I said was, this isn’t communism. If you don’t deserve to play, you won’t play. If you do deserve to play, I’ll figure it out.”

Too many playmakers

If the early practice footage and scuttlebutt from the Joe Craft Center is any indication, you’re not going to keep Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans off the floor for very long, let alone half a game. Same goes for PJ Washington, Reid Travis, and EJ Montgomery. Splitting the team in two platoons is a nice way of ensuring everyone gets minutes, but Calipari’s recent comments suggest he’s not going to keep playmakers on the bench just so everyone can eat, especially after being burned the method on the recruiting trail.

Not enough elite defenders

The 2014-15 team had one of the best defenses in the history of college basketball. As Jay Bilas put it, trying to score on them was like trying to throw a frisbee through a forest; expecting the same from this Kentucky team is unfair. Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery, and Immanuel Quickley all pride themselves on defense, but last year showed that Quade Green and Nick Richards can improve in that area, as can Reid Travis, according to my conversation with Stanford beat reporter R.J. Abeytia. I have high hopes for this group defensively, but a big reason why the platoons worked was the number of rim protectors and defenders on each unit. So far, I don’t think you can say the same about this group, which isn’t a slight to them, but instead, an appreciation of just how formidable the 2014-15 team was.

Too many appealing combinations

The main reason I don’t want Kentucky to platoon this season is there are too many appealing combinations with this group to stick to the rigidity of two different squads. Based on the roster, this is how they could break down into two platoons:

  • Ashton Hagans/Immanuel Quickley
  • Quade Green/Jemarl Baker
  • Keldon Johnson/Tyler Herro
  • PJ Washington/EJ Montgomery
  • Reid Travis/Nick Richards

The first (left) platoon is powerful, but would you get enough shooting? Even if you swapped Quickley and Green, probably not. I’d much rather start with the left group then rotate in shooting and length as needed. Herro’s midrange game is strong enough he can sub for Keldon Johnson. Similarly, EJ Montgomery’s length and ability to catch lobs could put him into the starting lineup before long. If Jemarl Baker is the type of shooter we’ve heard he is, there’s no reason why he couldn’t rotate in at the two. By sticking to two platoons, look at all that mix-and-match fun you’re missing out on.

Look, I get it. Kentucky basketball was rarely as fun as it was when the tanks came over the hill and demoralized teams left and right. But just because you can platoon doesn’t mean you have to, or, in this case, should.

…All of that said, I fully expect Calipari to use it at least once in the Bahamas to mess with us all.

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.

12 responses to “Why Kentucky shouldn’t platoon this season”

  1. KYcats11

    Wow Rondo to Lakers…

    1. Luether

      Wow Boogie to Warriors…

  2. CatManDo

    If we run away from (most) teams like we should, everyone can get their share of clock.

  3. mashburnfan1

    Maybe we should not worry about a platoon because right now we have no idea how good these players or team will be. Remember last year how great Richards {#1 center}, Diallo {year and half with Cal and passed on NBA}, Washington Green, Vanderbilt and returning experience of SKJ and Gabriel. Well none were that good and we were terrible. Lets see if any returning guys got better {alot better} and if the new guys are really that good before worrying about who plays where.

  4. krautdog

    Think you’re right on Mrs. TT!

  5. wyatts1

    You win a championship then your guys are gonna be high draft picks. Even the 2015 team didn’t win the championship but we had many kids turn pro, the platoon system didn’t hurt their draft stocks and even improved a couple’s. I believe it all comes down to maturity, talent, and heart. If we have those 3 things 10-11 players deep then it would be foolish not to take advantage of it. I would almost bet we will lose more through transfers then we gain in recruits if we don’t play more then 7 guys, and this is having all the ear marks of a special class so that would be a shame. Our goal should always be the championship no matter what, so the question is would it be easier to prepare for a team with 6-8 players for the most part, or would it be tougher to prepare to play against a team with a solid platoon system (pending on talent) who’s virtually giving 100% while on the court, almost all being 5 star talents? Great talented team either way and can’t wait to see what we do this year ? go big blue!!

    1. Robkycats54

      I agree with you….. I believe we should platoon each guy on this roster brings a different element to game… whether it’s Baker shooting, Quade late game heroics/Experience, Hagans play making ability, pj toughness, ej stretching the floor, Keldon dog mentality, Quickly versatility/defense, Hero mid-range game, Reid rebounding, or Richards shot blocking ability/Length they all have a unique talent & last time we platoon 38-1 wasn’t that bad I guess lol & the twins wasn’t the reason we lost, it was because ulis & booker in that game & no one could guard Dekker cough cough, if Alex stays healthy we win that game & finish undefeated. I’m expecting this team to be Healthy all yr with all this talent why not Platoon????

  6. CombatMedic_98

    Platoon System works if you have the right folks in place on the platoon…we already sub in specific players already 3-4 guys already…that makes things inconsistent. Platoon allows for consistency amongst the players and predictability between each other. Plus the other team is affected mentally like they have to play 2 teams in one game!!!

  7. Luether

    Don’t really care if platoon or not – just don’t choke like 2015 and bring home #9…

    1. UK Big Board Update

      …or have it vacated like the 2013 Louisville Cardinals.

      That would be WAY worse.

  8. CombatMedic_98

    Also,
    Ms. TT it’s almost Football Season so can we see more articles on Football please. Not sure why we are seeing more posts on BBALL and we are less than 61 days from kickoff.

  9. KYjellyRoll

    Play whoever is playing well, out of 10 guys, you can expect a few to be off their game.