Photo by KyForward.com
The Kentucky basketball team traveled to Freedom Hall to face Arkansas-Little Rock Tuesday night and played a pair of halves so drastically different, you would have thought Steve Brown was calling the shots. Below are some thoughts on the game. They are mine. Feel free to disagree or tell me that I’m really, really smart. Or just do the second one anyway.
A few thoughts…..
(1) First of all, let’s all throw confetti, pop open an NCAA approved beverage and salute Mason County’s own Darius Miller for finding his way into the 1,000 Point Club. Darius hit a three with exactly eleven minutes left in the game to become the 58th member of the group. Miller finished with 15 points off the bench and his bucket to join the prestigious club was fitting of his season as the bucket helped a Kentucky team that was struggling offensively to put together a run and put the Trojans away. Key bucket when the team needs points? #ThatsSoDarius
(2) The Cats struggled in the first half with Arkansas-Little Rock for a variety of reasons (we’ll talk about them all, which will probably make this sound entirely more negative than I intend it to be), but an interesting question was raised on the postgame show. A caller asked if maybe this team doesn’t have the extra gear needed to stomp on a team’s throat when you have them down by 8-10 points. I don’t know if I’m ready to make that jump yet, but I do think it’s fair to wonder if this team is a little too nice. I’m a big believer in the idea that all great teams have someone nasty. That doesn’t always mean physical or bruising, but just fearless and aggressive. The 2009-10 team had plenty of those guys. Last season, the Cats turned it on when DeAndre Liggins found his defensive swagger and Brandon Knight took the reigns as cut-throat finisher. This year’s Kentucky team has loads of talent and one fearless motor in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But I think it’s fair to ask if the upperclassmen have that extra gear- or enough of one to rub off on the younger guys. In games like this, they don’t need that. To be honest, in the SEC they’re probably not going to need it more than maybe once, twice at the most. But somewhere down the line it might come down to simply being just nastier than the other team and taking the game from them. They have a tremendous cushion because of their talent, but it wouldn’t hurt to find at least one more guy ready to bring a killer instinct.
(3) When you’re coach says after the game that your team was better when you weren’t in the game, that’s generally not a good thing. When it’s not the first time he’s said it, that might be the sign of a problem. For what seems like the one millionth time this season, John Calipari spent a portion of his postgame press conference addressing the play of point guard Marquis Teague, which was again less than desirable. He finished with six points (on 2-7 shooting) and dished out five assists to his two turnovers, but again failed to impact the game positively on either side of the court.
For me, the most frustrating thing about Teague is that he’s clearly talented on an elite level, but the mistakes he makes are on a middle school level. The best way for me to analogize it is to compare him to my son. My son is a fairly intelligent kid or, at the very least, certainly more than capable of getting good grades. Except n0w he’s started middle school and, all of a sudden, the straight A’s have been replaced by C’s. Am I pissed about the C’s? Yes. But you know what’s really frustrating about it? His dumb ass just isn’t turning in his homework. When he tries, he’s still getting A’s, but for some reason, Ole Numbnuts over there hasn’t been able to translate the basics like simply doing the assignments or turning in the work when he does. I’d be extremely sympathetic if he was just simply too dumb to get good grades. But I have no patience for standing in his own way with boneheaded carelessness. If that makes sense.
To me, it’s the same thing with Teague. Teague doesn’t suffer from a lack of talent or a crippling weakness that’s been exposed at the college level. If he sucked, we all would say he just sucks and hope that the Cats could make do in March. But he’s really, really good. He’s just his own worst enemy and he makes mistakes that JV coaches hope are worked out by Christmas break. He jumps in the air to make a pass. He breaks off of a play. Tonight, he put together an awful stretch that started with a loose ball on offense and resulted in two layups for the Trojans. An offensive rebound was tipped out to the top of the key where Teague was standing and instead of pursuing the ball and either getting it or committing a foul and stopping the break, he executed some sort of prance to avoid contact. I’d rather insult a guy’s mother than accuse him of prancing, but that’s exactly what it appeared to be. A prance. It led to a fastbreak layup and then Teague compounded it by not running toward the pass against the press. What resulted was another steal and another layup. For Kentucky to become an elite team, Teague’s going to have to start playing smarter. And on an unrelated note, I’m also accepting parenting tips.
(4) One side note: I was listening to Vanetti’s radio show for a bit today and I heard his co-host compare UK’s point guards to Van Halen’s lead singers. John Wall was David Lee Roth, Brandon Knight was Sammy Hagar and Marquis Teague is Gary Cherone. It’s a fairly amusing analogy, as long as you put aside the fact that Van Halen completely sucks all the way around.
(5) One of the most painful aspects of the first half was the complete lack of offense from the Cats. I don’t know if it was Marquis Teague’s fault or if it was by design to go all helter-skelter on the Trojans, but there were big guys bringing the ball up in situations that weren’t even close to fast breaks and far too many one-on-ones early in the shot clock. For all of the mismatches this team can present, it’s clearly a more lethal group when they’re running the dribble-drive and creating for each other. Doron Lamb is the only guy I’d call a true scorer in terms of being able to pour it on for long periods of time and I thought that despite only scoring nine points, he did a good job of creating scoring opportunities off the dribble. He shied away from it a bit in the Louisville game, especially after he got called for the charge on the floater, but he seemed to be back in attack mode tonight. There were a couple of instances where I thought he should have been shooting free throws and playing aggressively like that will ultimately pay off. But as a whole, the team needs to create for each other and they did a much better job of that in the second half.
(6) Another area where the Cats looked completely different in the two halves was on the boards. Kentucky dominated the final total 47 to 19, but they allowed the Trojans to grab ten offensive boards in the first half. The reason they seemed to get more looks was because Kentucky continued a bad habit they’ve displayed for much of the season, but rarely had to pay a price for. Because they are so long and they are so athletic, the Cats have a tendency to run directly for the rim everytime a shot goes up instead of finding a man and putting a body on him. It’s not out of the ordinary for freshmen to be making those mistakes, but against Little Rock, guys like Darius Miller found themselves drifting towards the rim and getting beat for a board. There aren’t more than two or three teams in the entire country that are long enough to make Kentucky pay for that type of mistake, but at some point they could see one of those teams and they’ll need to adjust. Again, it’s just nitpicking, but that’s why I get paid the big bucks.
(7) Just three days after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a lot of fun with Louisville, MKG struggled to make the same sort of impact against the Trojans. The freshman forward finished with a near double-double of nine points and ten rebounds, which is a testament to his constant motor, but committed a career-high six turnovers and his single-digit point total was his first since the St. John’s game December 1. Having two games so drastically different back-to-back isn’t something you expect out of your veteran players. Wait, what? He’s a freshman still? Oh, nevermind. Move along. Nothing to see here.
(8) On Kidd-Gilchrist heading to the locker room early with an injury, Calipari had this to say…
“I don’t know if it is a pulled muscle or what in his chest area. It was last game that it happened but we are going to get him checked up and he didn’t feel right at halftime. I told them to give him some medicine to see if they could loosen it up. We will check on him tomorrow, but I think he will be fine.”
(9) I’ve always enjoyed seeing Kentucky games at Freedom Hall and despite not filling the building (15,000 is certainly nothing to be ashamed of), it seemed to be a pretty cool environment. Matt said it smelled like your grandmother’s house, which means the air was either filled with the smell of sugar cookies and happiness or bourbon and neglect (I have two very different families), but the atmosphere seemed fun. However, as Calipari hinted earlier in the week, it doesn’t seem like these cupcake games in Louisville will continue for very long. Between the desire for scheduling flexibility and the desire for another home cupcake game when the expanded SEC play comes along, I’d assume that if we’re going to see the Cats in Louisville in the future, it’s going to be every-other-year against Indiana. Just a guess at this point, but I’ll be around on Twitter to tell you “I told you so” if it happens.
(10) I love Kyle Wiltjer. I really, really do. But he’s a MAJOR defensive liability at this point. During the Little Rock run in the first half, Wiltjer got caught on a screen and beat for a three, failed to bump any of the cutters coming across the lane to the block and he didn’t seal the baseline under the basket, allowing a guy to drive around him and kick out for a three. Even worse, when the Trojans pushed the ball, Wiltjer ran with his back to the ball and the Little Rock guard used him to basically screen another UK player and hit a three in transition. He’s still very young, of course, but if he’s going to play significant minutes late in the year and give UK an added scorer on the floor, he’ll have to improve on the defensive end of the floor.
(11) 22 points, 16 rebound and 3 blocks. Anthony Davis is a freak and I mean that in the most complimentary way.
(12) By the way, UK won. That’s good. Let’s not get caught up in the negative (says the guy that just wrote all that nonsense). It was Arkansas-Little Rock and that’s all you can really say about that. Bring on the SEC!