Maybe they can take a few pointers from Coach Steve Harvey.
Kentucky isn’t the only team this year to lose a key player for the season. Maybe ours was the only one projected to go Number One in the draft, but that doesn’t mean that we’re alone on the Struggle Bus when it comes to replacing an impact guy that we’d grown used to watching.
Eleven games ago, Georgetown lost a prominent scorer and solid defender, Greg Whittington to academic ineligibility. Not as painful as an ACL tear, but just as effective in keeping him off the court. They started out the year 10-3. In those eleven games without Whittington, the Hoyas are 10-1.
We’ve seen what can happen to a team when they lose a reliable frontcourt presence: sometimes they can just poop the bed (see: Tennessee). But Georgetown has somehow managed to coalesce as a unit and play better than they were when they had the sophomore forward. And it starts, like we’d suspect, with the guards.
According to Marquette coach Buzz Williams, the only guy to coach against this Georgetown team both with and without Whittington, there’s been a difference in perimeter play:
“Despite losing a really good player in Whittington, Coach Thompson has done an incredible job utilizing their perimeter players and playing faster. They put more pressure on you defensively and have more guys on the court who can score.”
When the Hoyas played Marquette with Whittington, they lost 49-48. Without him? Eight point win. So can the guards at Kentucky replicate the speed and defensive tenacity of the Georgetown backcourt? We saw what a difference they can make between the Tennessee and Vandy games: play well, and the team flourishes. Play timid or out of control, and we get stomped. It’s a fine line between playing hard and playing crazy, and Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow need to find that balance.
But it’s not just the backcourt that has been helping Georgetown congeal. Otto Porter, a 6’8″ forward, has taken his game to another level in his teammate’s absence, picking up his scoring average by over 3.5 points per game and playing with an aggression that can only be described as “fierce.” The question for Kentucky is, can Alex Poythress do the same? We’ve seen flashes of dominance all along: a baseline move here, a spin-and-dunk in the paint there. The skill and athleticism are present, but sometimes the motivation is lackluster. In order for Kentucky to play without Nerlens the way Georgetown is playing without Whittington, Alex Poythress needs to step up and improve his game in the same way that Porter has. That, paired with an fast, controlled backcourt can help this team make the NCAA tourney after all.
We’ll see how both the Hoyas and the Wildcats do today in a pair of the biggest games they’ve seen all season. Let’s hope for more Vandy, less Tennessee. Go Cats.