John Calipari held his first pre-game press conference of the year on Wednesday afternoon when he hosted 25-30 of his favorite reporter friends in the Joe Craft Center to ask questions about his team and upcoming opponent. KSR caught wind of the presser while I was sitting next door at Qdoba, so I walked over to see what all the ruckus was about. Here are the notes:
— With the game against Northwood just 27 hours away, you’d think John Calipari would have his starting five ready to take the court. He doesn’t. He doesn’t even know which five players will be introduced under the fireworks and rap music before the tip. “I don’t know who is going to start yet,” he said to open Wednesday afternoon’s press conference. “I’m still trying to figure some stuff out.”
— One of the things Cal is currently trying to figure out about his team is how to get them to play defense. Yeah, the 2012-13 Cats are going to block a lot of shots, but he isn’t impressed with what he’s seeing in practice on the defensive end. He said, “Defensively, we’re just awful right now. We don’t stay in front of anybody.” Cal said the defensive flaws and other weaknesses will stand out tomorrow night when they play Northwood, the No. 1 team in NAIA and a team that trailed Michigan State by six at the half last night. “The things we’re not doing well will be glaring,” he said. “As much as I don’t like playing teams this good, this early, it’s going to be great for my team.”
— Part of what Cal is preaching defensively is help-defense to block shots. He told a story of a drill he ran in practice to prove his point. He said he stopped practice and asked Nerlens Noel to touch the top of the square; Nerlens did. He then asked Willie Cauley-Stein to touch the top of the square; Willie did. He asked Alex Poythress to touch the top of the square; Alex did. He asked Archie Goodwin to touch the top of the square; Archie did. He asked Kyle Wiltjer to touch the top of the square; “he got a running start from Pittsburgh,” Cal joked, but Kyle also touched the top of the square. His point: Make opponents drive to the basket where all of these top-of-the-square-touchers will be swarming to swat the ball back out. “You don’t want to block your own man’s shot, you’re trying to block your teammate’s man’s shot,” he added.
— Alex Poythress isn’t doing so well defensively, according to his head coach. Cal took a question about Poythress being a mismatch for opponents at the 3/4 position and he used it to joke about Poythress’ defense. “The way he’s playing defensively, it’s a real mismatch for us.” (Reporter laughter.) “It’s a real problem.”
— Calipari was impressed by what he saw from Northwood on film. After watching tape from the Michigan State game, he said, “You have a team that plays every bounce of the ball, that are moving and helping, helping the helper.” He went on to point out that Northwood is playing all seniors, Kentucky is playing all freshmen. Same goes for Maryland, Duke, and even Transylvania — all seniors, according to Cal. (Someone check that.) He said, “They’re going to exploit every weakness we have. Then you come back (after those games) and show the tape and say, ‘If we’re going to win, this is what we’re going to have to do. Now let’s go.'”
— Good news for fans of the Twin Tower lineup… Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein will be on the floor at the same time against Northwood. “Oh, you’ll see it tomorrow,” Cal said.
— Wednesday’s official “I Like My Team” count: 3