“We’re still not what we need to be, but we’re better than I thought we’d be.” – Calipari
John Calipari is no stranger to playing with young players. Even for Calipari though, this is a bit of a new situation. Calipari is used to plugging in a number of new players into the equation year after year, but he emphasized just how much this team is truly starting from scratch. “This is really scratch.” Calipari said. “This is scratch, scratch.” Kentucky took a while to settle in offensively, but by the end of the game, Calipari felt that his team was a little better than he expected. With a tune-up exhibition game against Transy the only thing between Kentucky and their opening game against Maryland, some strides must be taken for this team to compete close to the level at which Calipari expects.
– The night started with a very classy moment when Kentucky honored Northwood’s coach Rollie Massimino, the former Villanova coach who won his national championship in Rupp Arena in 1985. A video tribute played in Rupp and the fans gave Rollie a thunderous round of applause. “I want to thank John, his staff and the University of Kentucky. It was a wonderful experience.” Massimino gave Kentucky a great compliment in his post-game comments, saying “This is where it’s at (Lexington). Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
– One of the standout statistics from the game has to be the fact that all five of the starters reached double figures in scoring tonight. This team appears to be more productive on the offensive end than expected this early on. Archie Goodwin has separated himself early on as the key ingredient for this team, finding ways to get to the basket at will and finish in a number of ways. Goodwin finished the game with a game-high 22 points on a fairly efficient 7-12 shooting clip. Another encouraging sign from Goodwin was his ability to hit nearly all of his free throws (7-8). At this point, it seems clear that Goodwin is the go-to player on the offensive end and seems confident in that role.
– “Willie was good. Nerlens was really good,” Calipari noted following the game. Nerlens Noel kicked off his collegiate career with a double-double, showing why he has been touted as one of the best defensive players in college basketball even before playing a single game. Noel finished the night with 4 blocks, but altered a number of other shots. Noel had a couple of “wow” plays on both ends of the court that gave a glimpse into how high of a ceiling the young man has. Calipari was impressed with his performance as well, giving him a number of accolades in the post-game press conference.
– Calipari did not seem quite as impressed with the motor of Alex Poythress. Although Poythress once again showed spurts of incredible strength and athleticism, Calipari pointed out that Poythress took some plays off. Calipari admitted that Poythress probably played too many minutes, especially late in the game when his energy wasn’t where it needed to be. Calipari stated that Jon Hood will likely receive those 3-4 minutes a half to give Poythress a break, starting with the exhibition game on Monday against Transy.
– As many have speculated before, this team’s upside might correlate directly with Alex Poythress’ growth and maturation as a player. Poythress has yet to really assert himself offensively on a consistent basis. When he defines his role in the offense (he reminds me a bit of Darius Miller before he began to come into his own his senior year), this team could be scary. Poythress finished the night with 11 points and 7 rebounds.
– We finally got to see Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein on the court together. The high-low game between the two certainly left much to be desired. Defensively though, it will be very hard for teams to get to the rim with that combination of players. Calipari mentioned the fact that Northwood relied upon 3-point shooting to avoid the bigger bodies around the basket for Kentucky. Northwood was able to drain eight 3-pointers on the Wildcats tonight, and Calipari said a lot of his focus when watching game film will be what led to those 3-pointers going in. If teams are going to be forced to rely on outside shooting, Calipari wants Kentucky to be the best at defending that option.
– Calipari said all week that his team was perhaps the worst defensive team had had coached. He was clearly not happy with where they were heading into the scrimmage, and much of that was on display tonight. This team will be able to block shots. And it’s not just Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. Archie Goodwin showed his hops, recording 3 blocks– a few of which brought down the house in Rupp Arena– igniting some of the loudest cheers of the night. But this team gets beat on the dribble. A lot. Northwood had players who will be much smaller than many of the opponents Kentucky plays this year, but as a team– they were beat on the dribble often all night long. One of Calipari’s biggest challenges this season might be getting this team to buy into becoming the best defensive unit they can, like almost every team he has coached at Kentucky. As I said above, the offense is probably further along than expected. The defense is probably a little behind.
– One of the most interesting things to watch unfold during this game was the number of different combinations (11 total combinations) Calipari put on the floor tonight. “I’ve never been on a team as diverse as this,” admitted Nerlens Noel in his post-game comments. Calipari had the chance to try out a number of options, going big in some instances with either Noel, Cauley-Stein and Poythress, or even Noel, Cauley-Stein and Wiltjer. The latter of the combinations was on display for the first time ever tonight. The players admitted that line-up, featuring 3 guys taller than 6’9, was even new for them.
– The line-up Calipari might have spoken the highest on in his post-game comments was his smaller line-up, featuring Harrow, Mays, Goodwin, Poythress and Noel. At this point, Calipari is predicting that this might be his “catch-up” group of players. The energy on both ends of the court was very high when this group was in the game.
– Ryan Harrow is going to be interesting. Harrow finished with 15 points and at times looked the part of a crafty/play-making point guard. At other times, he appeared a bit out of sync in running the offense. Harrow seems to fit the mold of Calipari’s past 2 point guards (Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague) in that he will both frustrate and show flashes of brilliance early in the season. Calipari spent a lot of time “talking” to Harrow on the court during the game. He seemed pleased in general though during his post-game comments on Harrow. “Ryan in spurts played how he has to play for us.”
– Goodwin gave some good minutes in the point guard position when Harrow was out of the game. As mentioned above, he led the team in scoring but Goodwin and Poythress combined for 9 of Kentucky’s 17 turnovers. Calipari was not pleased with that statistic and said that he told both guys that if they want the ball in their hands on this team, they have to do better taking care of the basketball.
– Kyle Wiltjer had somewhat of a quiet night. He hit 2 of his 3 three pointers and displayed why he is one of the best shooters in college basketball. Calipari was most concerned with Wiltjer’s missed rebounds though. Calipari said he believes there were at least 3-4 rebounds left on the table by Wiltjer, and that bothers him more than any missed shots or getting beat defensively. Calipari wants Wiltjer to grab the ones that he can and not create what he calls “negative minutes.”
– In the end, Kentucky came out on top in a game where the result never really seemed in question. This team is very, very young and inexperienced. This team has a long way to go until they reach their potential, but I think some of the positives from tonight show just how high that upside can be. Even in just a few week’s time, many of the young players look more comfortable learning their way in Calipari’s system. This team might take some lumps, especially early as they figure out how to play as hard as Calipari will demand of them, especially defensively on every single play. But the talent is certainly there….And Archie Goodwin is going to be really, really good.