Oh, goodness, did I love Saturday. I’ve gotten some flack for remarking on how I don’t really hate Rick Pitino that much, and how I wish Bruce Pearl was still around, and how maybe Tim Tebow deserves more credit than BBN gives him. You may disagree, and I understand. But what I may lack in “Cats Fandom” by having those seemingly anti-UK sentiments, I make up for in hating Duke. Because I. Hate. Duke. I know that’s like a gorilla saying that he likes bananas, but really I think that, for me, it goes deeper than that. I think it’s kind of cool that UK is going to be crowned number one in about three hours, but honestly, given the choice between Syracuse or Duke losing, I’d choose Duke, no question. I care less about us being number one than I do Duke picking up another glorious “L”. So, if only for that alone, Saturday would have been good. Instead, the basketball fates decided to also heap on the aforementioned Syracuse loss, a Murray State win, and a really fun Baylor-Missouri game. Oh, and a good, albeit anxious, Kentucky win. Go Cats.
Despite the anxiety it caused me, I was impressed with the Cats’ performance against Alabama. I’ve rarely ever seen a team take punches, and punch back, like Alabama; at least not this early in the year. That’s the sort of response you typically see in the Tournament, but to see it from a team in January is impressive. Seriously, every big shot we made, they followed right up with a seemingly impossible jumper, or acrobatic layup, or drive and a foul. We couldn’t get into a rhythm, and it had to have been an exhausting game to play on either side. While I’m sure they’re not happy with a consolation prize, Alabama played extremely well, and I’m proud of our team for being able to finish strong with some great free throw shooting (how often have we been able to say that? it feels really good). It was a Frazier/Ali sort of matchup, and our rope-a-dope was just enough to counter their relentless, gutsy body-shots. (Not those kind of body shots, Ms. Sorority Girl. The boxing kind. It’s a metaphor.)
What stood out to me, though, was Mr. Marquis Teague. After seeing good drive after good drive blowing past a defender, I remarked to my friend (who was on his very first visit to Rupp; more on that tomorrow) how Teague has gotten so much better at that through the season. To my eye, he seemed to be playing greatly improved basketball compared to the start of the season. Am I alone in making that supposition? In fact, I supposed he was doing so much better in the second half of the now-aging season, that I decided to compare his stats from the two halves. What resulted surprised me.
Over the course of the first ten games, starting with Marist and ending with Chattanooga, Marquis was averaging:
-1.7/1 Assist/TO ratio
Those numbers looked pretty good to me, so I was excited to see what the second ten games would look like. The result? Take a look:
-1.11/1 Assist/TO ratio
Every single category is lower (if only by a little), yet I had sworn that he was doing so much better. What’s the reason behind it? Is he pulling a Benjamin Button and aging backwards? (See what I did with the title, now? You’re welcome.) I honestly have no idea what the situation could be, so I’m asking you guys. If you can think of something, please let me know. Perhaps it’s the quality of competition, considering that the second half has been heavy with conference games, plus the matchup with Louisville, while the first half consisted of cupcakes plus UNC, Kansas, and IU.
I’m not trying to knock Teague with any of this; I’m only remarking on how surprised I am to see that his numbers are a little below where he started. It still looked to me like he was a completely different player, but maybe he still has some room to improve. And I’m sure he’ll get there. I know we’re not to supposed to make comparisons with “Past Pointguards Who Shall Not Be Named”, but the PG position has a steeper learning curve than any other, particularly in the dribble-drive, and all of his predecessors had similar experiences. I’m not worried, but I am ready and waiting for him to master this team. His teammates are gonna make it easier for him in the future, particularly when they figure out how to score within three feet of the basket without catching a lob, and I’m confident we’ll see a guy in March that we never would have dreamed of in October. Cal’s got my trust on this one, as if he needed it; it just takes some time, and I’m excited to see the result when, not if, Teague comes out the other end a polished point guard.
(PS – If you weren’t able to see the jump rope halftime special, you should check it out. It was pretty impressive.)