You know sometimes you are watching something and you just realize, “a star is being born before our very eyes.” I thought that a few times in my life, including when I watched Tiger Woods win the US Amateur, Dewayne Wade during the Final 8 game against Kentucky and Ruben Studdard in the semi-finals of American Idol. That kind of star power shows itself, and when you see it, it is fun to feel a part of the early group to notice it. Well he may not be a Tiger, D-Wade or Ruben, but Perry Stevenson is truly blossoming before our very eyes. In otherwise forgettable 57-46 victory over Miami (OH), Perry Stevenson exhibited the initial steps of becoming a difference maker in college. Stevenson had seven blocks, but his impact was much greater, as every single Miami shot under the basket was altered thanks to Stevenson’s long arms and Tayshaun Prince-esque timing. Put simply he was a difference maker on the defensive interior….a spot we have been lacking (except for brief Shagari detours from the world of awfulness) since Jamal Magloire.
Thus there is no doubt that Stevenson is the headliner from Game 1….but there is a lot to talk about. So it is time to look at the Good, the Mediocre and the Ugly:
Good: How about starting with the defensive intensity shown by a relatively young group (at least in certain positions) on their first game of the season? While total points is a misleading indicator of defensive performance (thanks largely to style of play), holding any team to 46 points is an accomplishment. The Cats showcased that the Tubby Smith defensive philosophy, which includes ball pressure, switching on screens, help-side defense and the attempted funneling of the offense to the middle of the floor, can be VERY effective when a big shot-blocker is there to intimidate penetrating guards. In past years, UK has had players who were too often beaten off the dribble (Sparks, Moss and more often than people believe, Rondo), and a set of big men who rarely could stop penetration. Now better, although not perfect, defense is found on the perimeter (Bradley, Crawford and Meeks are steps up) and Perry Stevenson represents an intimidating force on the interior. This type of defense causes more poor decisions and less open perimeter shots and Kentucky utilized it well tonight.
Mediocre: Much of this season’s success will ride on the broad shoulders of Randolph Morris. In order for that success to come to fruition, he must be more consistent than he was last year….and unfortunately tonight he showed some of his frustrating characteristics from last season. He had a strong statistical game….a double double for goodness sake……but he often still showed his head-scratching laziness and once again, was a magnet for foul trouble. Morris HAS to understand that UK needs him on the court. He is the only interior scoring threat for the Cats (at least to create his own shot) and he must limit fouls. For Kentucky he has to play more than 22 minutes….and when he does, those stats will just continue to grow.
Bad: This one is easy. The Offense was often, if not totally, dreadful. We have heard a great deal about the improved movement of the offense this offseason….and it was on display occasionally in the game. It is clear that a Bradley, Crawford, Meeks, Perry, Jasper backcourt is much more likely to move without the ball than what we saw last year. However too often in this game, the offensive movement was stilted at the beginning of the possession, and the shot selection came down to one-on-one drives to the basket and corresponding off-balance jump shots. Unlike last year, where that type of offense was seemingly all we had, this team can do better. For its success, it must.
Good: Say hello to another freshman star, Jodie Meeks. I have said it before and I will say it again….when all is said and done, Jodie Meeks will be the best Freshman of the group this season. He has a scorer’s mentality that is reminiscent of Keith Bogans and is developing (much earlier than Bogans) a desire to be a defensive stopper. Meeks went to Tubby during the game and asked if he could be the one to guard Peavy so as to shut him down. Tubby obliged and that is why Bobby Perry was on the bench in the last four minutes. Jodie is stepping into my favorite good player on this team….just wait, he is special.
Mediocre: Bobby Perry was unfortunate tonight as he just simply never seemed completely into the game. He had a hard time with Peavy on defense and was unable to stop his penetration. On offense, he could not get into the flow and took a couple of bad shots. All of this led to an amazing resolution….at the end of the game, Bobby Perry was not in. Folks, this is a BIG occurrence. You have to go back to sometime in Perry’s sophomore season to see a close game that did not see Perry on the floor at crunch time. Hopefully this will be a rare occurrence for the “Future’s” sake.
Bad: Not good decision-making by our man Ramel Bradley. Six turnovers, five assists, one steal, but more to the point, he was occasionally out of control on offense and made some poor decisions. It was not a bad overall performance by Smooth (he played well on defense and kept up intensity), but he MUST make better decisions. He has two good scorers in Morris and Crawford and he has to get the ball to them in positions to take advantage of their skills….this didnt happen enough tonight.
Good: I was impressed tonight with the performance of Joe Crawford. His shooting was not great, but he looked aggressive and began to develop that attitude that a UK star player needs to have….the attitude of “YOU CANT STOP ME!” Bogans had it…..Prince had it…..Fitch had it….even Sparks had it. Joe has not, usually because of confidence issues. You could see it develop tonight and that development will be something that can only help this team.
Medicore: The new Tubby Smith Attitude was on display tonight and the results were mixed. It was good to see him letting players play through mistakes. Ramel Bradley especially, who Tubby must not lose this season, was given the opportunity to get through his difficulties and the team benefited from that decision. But there still was not enough creativity on offense. When a press worked to help get Kentucky back in the game, they did not go back to it during second half offensive lulls. While this team cannot consistently win by pressing, it can be strong in spurts and tonight was one of those times. Overall however the new Tubby attitude I see as positive and tonight was a decent start in that regard.
Bad I dont know what to say about the Big Blue Network coverage but….YUCK. Martin Newton has actually grown on me, but Dave Baker is the worst of the three Daves on Lincoln Financial and should be replaced by someone who has a modicum of an interesting personality. The camera work is terrible, with crowd shots of random people replacing actual game coverage. And as for Rob Bromley’s “in-huddle tidbits”…..well they couldnt be more worthless. I mean do we really need to know that Woo is going to be at the free throw lane on the next play……and if you are going to tell us this, then why is it ALWAYS WRONG. Hey save your money and let Bromley predict the next number on the Roulette wheel….he will be just as successful.
Finally, I know some are negative about the game. Remember this. Kansas lost to Oral Roberts, Boston College to Vermont, Indiana to Butler. Yes all of those teams are better than Miami (OH)…..but they have a loss and we dont…..and that is good.
And congrats to Emmitt…..I feel as if he is the best Dancing Star…..