Skip to content

Kentucky Sports Radio

University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.

A Kentucky team searching for an identity

“I feel like we came in thinking we were that team, but we’re not. We’re not that team.” – Willie Cauley-Stein after the Baylor loss

What team is this Kentucky team? We can break down the numbers and line-up combinations as much as we want, but this young team appears to still be searching for an identity. The good news is that we are only a month into the season. Kentucky has played only 8 games so far, with plenty of chances to sort things out before entering conference play.

Three years ago, Kentucky was perhaps the most explosive team in the country– especially in transition. They were good on the defensive end, and unstoppable on the break with John Wall leading the push. That Kentucky team wasn’t a great shooting team. We all know that came back to bite them in the end. All of the other pieces were in place though. With a few solid holdovers from the Billy Gillispie era coupled with a top flight recruiting class, Kentucky had answers at every position. Their identity was based upon lethal speed and finishing ability in transition, solid defense, and a dominant low post game between Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins

Two years ago, Kentucky struggled to find an identity early in the season. They didn’t stumble quite as much in the non-conference schedule as this year’s bunch. That team certainly struggled on the road throughout SEC regular season play though. When that team found their identity late in the season, they quickly transformed into one of the best teams in college basketball. That team’s identity was based upon brilliant half-court execution on the offensive end, which was spurred by an extremely smart and poised Brandon Knight. Their identity was also built around Knight’s confidence and ability to make big baskets, a near-perfect pick-and-roll combination of Knight/Harrellson, solid outside shooting behind Doron Lamb, Knight and Darius Miller, and DeAndre Liggins being able to lockdown the other team’s best player defensively. Liggins and Harrellson brought a level of toughness to that team that had a trickle down effect to the other players. That final four team was not the most talented Kentucky team by a long-shot, but they were excellent at playing to their strengths.

Last year’s team had a bit of everything, which is probably why they were the first Calipari team to win a national championship. Like the John Wall team, they were able to dominate teams in transition. Their ability to get out in transition was a direct reflection of their relentless defense–led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. One of the biggest parts of last year’s team identity though was their ability to bury teams with big runs. Whenever they needed a run, or a team started to have success against them– that Kentucky team was able to come up with every stop they needed defensively and very quickly string together 8-12 points before the other team had a chance to call a timeout.

What is the common thread between each of Calipari’s teams at Kentucky and their identities? Defense. Calipari simply hasn’t had a bad defensive team in his time at Kentucky. I’m not sure the make-up of this year’s Kentucky basketball team will amount to an excellent defense. Guys like Kyle Wiltjer, Jarrod Polson, Jon Hood and Julius Mays struggle at times to stay in front of their man. Ryan Harrow has continually looked lost on defense, giving up big 3-point baskets to his man on multiple occasions in multiple games. Nerlens Noel is a great shot-blocker, but even he has struggled at times to stay on his feet and not bite on the pump fakes. Noel makes up for a lot of those shortcomings with incredible effort though, coming up with steals based solely upon hustle. Willie Cauley-Stein has struggled at times in the big games to stay on the floor, often finding himself into foul trouble. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have looked great on defense at times, though neither has looked the part of DeAndre Liggins or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Who will be this team’s lockdown defender? Do they have one? Will they ever have one? Disrupting other team’s offenses over the past 2 years with lockdown defenders essentially eliminating or slowing the other team’s best offensive weapons has been crucial to Calipari’s teams’ success.

If this Kentucky team can’t be excellent on the defensive end (turning teams over and leading to transition basketball), they will probably need to have a point guard who can execute the half-court offense similar to how Brandon Knight once did. The combination of Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays and Ryan Harrow (the line-up Calipari mentioned really liking in the Baylor post-game press conference) might be what Kentucky starts to build their identity around if they are to find one soon. Although the line-up is small, maybe they will start to find success and successful niches with that group on the floor.

Luckily time is still on this team’s side. John Calipari is nowhere near panic mode with this young group. The early season struggles have certainly revealed the weaknesses of this team, but they still have plenty of time to find an identity. The question is what will that identity be? Which players will it be built upon? Will it be based on defense? Offensive execution? Or maybe an identity we haven’t yet seen from a Calipari team? Something new?


Article written by Ally Tucker

I once successfully requested "The Wobble" to be played 6 times at one wedding.

27 Comments for A Kentucky team searching for an identity

  1. Mike
    8:06 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Excellent commentary.

  2. junior
    8:08 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Ally you hit the nail on the head – finally someone around here said it – a lot folks don’t talk about it – but DEFENSE is the common denominator on Cal’s teams. Although I’m not a fan of ZONE Cal may need to give it shot with his length and lack of foot speed at couple positions in order to keep his best offensive players on the floor. Yes I’m looking at you Kyle and Julius!

  3. CatGrad7072
    8:11 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Because last year’s team made it look easy; this year’s team thought it would be easy.

  4. tdogg40330
    8:22 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    They’ll figure out what works best for this team. We have seen great individual spurts from
    many players, that shows you once they put it all together as a team they can be really good.
    3 projected top 10 picks with Mays,Harrow, Wiltjer and Cauley Stein thrown in the mix, I like
    our chances before long.

  5. kentuckyjoe
    8:27 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Ryan Harrow’s defense has been pretty impressive to me. I did see a fake, step back, and three by someone that RH was guarding but there isn’t anyone who would not have bitten on that fake; it was a great move. RH stays in front of his man and is very active and harrassing. Let’s see how he does tomorrow.

  6. fashion police
    8:30 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    There is no one with an arm sleeve, i blame that.

  7. UKHoopshysteria
    8:40 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Junior you said it best. While we all enjoy lock down man-to-man defense this year’s squad has struggled considerably compared to previous Cal teams. It’s likely a combination of guys being young (relied on superior athleticism in high school) and not understanding help rotations or some lacking lateral quickness. Bottom line defense is an effort thing. Staying in a stance, communicating, and taking pride in not letting the opponent score doesn’t take 5 star guys. However, good defensive teams must buy in as group. I trust we will get there over the next three weeks with plenty of practice. Also, the idea of a zone is intriguing with the guys we have. It could at least be used sparingly to limit foul trouble with a short bench.

  8. Roland
    8:47 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    I remember the howl over UK’s ooc schedule when it was 1st announced. Most of the howl was the lack of quality opponents @ home but others were disappointed in the quality of the ooc schedule.
    Cal seems now to know what he was doing.


  9. junior
    8:49 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    We all trust in Cal – however you can’t teach foot speed [that needs to be addressed in the off-season with ASAP training, speed ladder drills, etc – by looks of it those who needed it didn’t take part in it :0)] Anyhow as Cal says “We are what we are”, I hope he listens to himself with this team. It’s pretty easy to attack us offensively right now with certain line-ups on the floor. Spread us out, beat your man one on one, when WCS or NN come over to block, either dish off for a dunk, or get offensive rebound for the put back. We are too spread out to recover to help defensively.

  10. Bob Sugar
    8:51 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Identity? This team will be fine. True Blue fans believe, unlike the great brainwashed that frequent this site, Kentucky Basketball is about much more than granting unoriginal nicknames, picking fights with “rival” schools to stir the pot, making fun of the haters out there while pandering to them out the other side of your face, and generally corrupting the definition of cat fan for generations to come through panic and criticism. These guys are young, they were not even that good and were within a possession of beating Duke. Their weaknesses were exposed by a well-prepared and well-executed game plan against ND, and they missed a lot of shots during an off game against Baylor (not to mention the added pressure of losing in Rupp for the first time under Cal). We forget John wall team was very lucky to beat… Miami of Ohio, and extremely lucky to beat Stanford that early season. Brandon Knight year we were throttled by Baylor and lost several games on the road. Last year we barely beat UNC (just because they played so well against us), and even lost to IU (albeit on a buzzer beater). Don’t press the panic button, this team will go far.

  11. junior
    8:55 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Well said 7 and 10!

  12. Katdaddy
    9:07 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    I love the cats! I hate to say it, but this team won’t be close to any of the past 3 teams. The pieces just isn’t there! Neol and archie will go to nba but rest was really overrated.

  13. msnthrop
    9:09 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Identity is a function of character and character is acquired through struggle and suffering. The identity of a group of human beings who happen to be in the same place and have the same goals usually arises from the senior members of the group…those that have struggled or suffered the longest will lead by word and deed. Cals first three teams here had players with character to guide them PPat, Deandre, Darius…these men experienced suffering as a Ky basketball player and where able to impart that experience to the new guys which resulted in a team identity being formed. Who on this present team has struggled or suffered in their role as a Ky basketball player AND has the ability to garner respect from the noobs simply because of their presence? Without veterans I’d say it takes longer for a team identity to form, sometimes a lot longer.

  14. Dan Anderson
    9:21 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Great analysis. Spot on Ally. As to the future, I expect this team will have to learn to play team defense in a way that we haven’t seen from Cal’s teams yet. I continually get frustrated watching our guys lose their man and give up wide open drives and layups. That can be fixed. When that happens, our offense will get much better through sheer confidence and lack of frustration. We haven’t seen the best of these guys yet and we all know that.

  15. Katdaddy
    9:23 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Are you guys really watching this team? Or are you hoping things happen like they have the past three years? This team can’t even grab the ball when it comes off the rim. They have hands of stone! They’re not very good individually. I’ll be thrilled if this team makes the tournament.

  16. dave
    9:25 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    taggart to USF. gotta feeling he’s gonna tear it up down there.

  17. Big Whoop
    9:29 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    This is an excellent piece of journalism, Ms. Tucker. Our biggest problem to date has been a very poor effort at defending the Three. Yes, Nerlins and Willie get caught on the head fakes, but that is correctible. I’m sure Cal will get that taken care of. I don’t think these guys understand how hard they have to play on defense out from under the basket. As for a lockdown player, we just don’t have one that I can see. Perhaps someone will step forward before UL, but I don’t think it is likely. I haven’t given up yet because of the Knight-Liggins-Harrelson team.

  18. Bachelor
    9:45 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Ally…will you marry me?

  19. Big O
    9:58 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Usual subpar weekend post. As bad as Franklin is, weekend posters are worse. KSR really needs to invest in some fresh blood!

  20. John Ellis
    10:11 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Hating losing the two games, but Ryan Harrow shows great signs and they are probably still the most talented team in the country in a weak year, they just aren’t playing as it yet. WCS and Nerlans need to be constant scoring threats. Then all will be well.

  21. SadCat
    10:24 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    We need Shabazz and Bennett
    Losing them explains our curent dire straits

  22. bung
    10:29 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Transition baskets would also be fast breaks generated by the 30 or so defensive rebounds we should get in a game. No reason we cant get 20 fast break points a game and not have to be in the half court offense on those possessions…

  23. Trim'T Up
    10:41 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Portland is goin down. Ya hur me….I hope we beat them dirty burds….

  24. cb_hash
    10:47 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    Very nicely written.

  25. UKBlue
    10:54 pm December 7, 2012 Permalink

    This team came in fat, lazy & lackadaisical thinking just because we are UK, that winning was going to automatically happen. In order to get through to these kids Cal is going to the Ivan Drago mentality from Rocky: I Must Break You !! Have fun kids !!

  26. KSR Disappointment
    8:59 am December 8, 2012 Permalink

    Between KSR, Calipari and the rest of the media this team has been intentionally super hyped. Shame on all of you. Coach has gotten himself into this situation and KSR followed. Why don’t you now try and help getting them out of it instead of continually poking at the second string players, vs the high profile kids that came here to in your own words “win Ky another national championship.” You really believe Polson, Mays, Hood and Wiltjer can do that on D? Who’s the coach? Who’s running this thing?

  27. mudcreekmark
    10:22 am December 8, 2012 Permalink

    If Cal gets this team to a Sweet Sixteen, he should be handed the Coach of the Year as soon as that game is over.