Willie Cauley-Stein, the mustard to Nerlens Noel’s ketchup (or is it the other way around?), is out for the foreseeable future. Sucks, I know. Despite WCS’s free throw woes, and his less-than-soft hands down low, the twin towers lineup was clearly the one that gave us the best chance to win. Now, Cal either has to give Kyle Wiltjer another shot at the 4, or we’re looking at a guard heavy starting 5 featuring Julius Mays. Neither of those options are ideal, frankly. Dems da breaks though. Larry Bird’s not walking through that door, so someone is just going to have to step up. And if we’re being honest, there’s only player capable of carrying the Cats while Willie is on the mend. That someone to step up has to be Alex Poythress.
Poythress hasn’t exactly been bad so far this season… But he hasn’t been all that great either. After rattling off four straight 20 point games at the beginning of the season, he’s been all over the map since. 16 and 8 here, 11 and 4 there, and so on and so on. Basically, courage hasn’t been roaring, more like growling inconsistently. And for a 5-star physical specimen like Poythress playing on a team with no depth whatsoever, that’s just not going to cut it. To date, his underwhelming play this year has just been one of many reasons why we’ve been unable to fire on all cylinders. Now? Without Cauley-Stein? If he doesn’t step we start losing must-win games. Period.
Maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, but I think this temporary reshuffling of the lineup actually might do us (and Poythress) some good. I think with WCS out, Poythress sees more time at the 4, and he starts to get his groove back a little bit. In his more natural position, he can bang a little bit down low, pick up some easy buckets, and dominate the less athletic SEC big men. And then, with his confidence back, maybe we see a little bit more of that beast that hasn’t reared its head often enough this year.
But if not? Well, it doesn’t so much matter where Poythress feels comfortable. If the Cats are going to win without Cauley-Stein, not to mention in March, Poythress is going to have to fight through whatever is holding back and start playing to his potential anyway. When he wants to be, Poythress can be one of the best players in the country. It’s now or never for that version of Alex Poythress to start showing up every night. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long season.