Following Kentucky’s first loss of the season two nights ago against Duke, John Calipari mentioned the fact that games can be won and lost in a matter of a minute or a minute and a half period of time. During Tuesday’s game, there were two crucial runs made– one by each team– that greatly impacted the way the game played out. During the two runs, Calipari utilized a total of three different line-ups. One line-up maintained, one line-up simply did not work, and the third was able to mount a comeback on the shoulders of a 9-0 run, that fell just short in the end.
Duke started to build a lead early in the second half that hovered around 5-6 points for quite a while. With just over 15 minutes left to play in the half, Mason Plumlee picked up his 4th foul. Calipari immediately went with his two big man line-up, putting Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein on the floor together, perhaps trying to exploit Duke below the basket without Plumlee. With Noel and Cauley-Stein taking the court and 15:04 left in the half, Kentucky was down by 6. The 5 for Kentucky on the floor included Archie Goodwin at the point, Julius Mays, Alex Poythress, Nerlens Noel and Willie-Cauley Stein. The offense didn’t seem to find a rhythm with the two big men and Duke was still able to convert on the offensive end. With the line-up, Kentucky wasn’t able to chip away significantly at Duke’s lead.
The biggest line-up issue came with 12:59 left in the game, when Calipari went a little smaller with Jarrod Polson, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel. Offensively the group wasn’t able to find any success, settling for contested jumpers and unable to free up anyone by beating Duke off the dribble. In less than 1:30 with this line-up on the floor, Duke’s lead swelled to 12. By 11:29 when Calipari was able to take a timeout and adjust the line-up, the damage was essentially already done.
Around the time of Kentucky’s two exhibition games, Calipari talked about his desire to find out who would make up his “catch up line-up.” Tuesday night, I think we found out which group that seems to be (at least for now with the players Kentucky has available). Calipari went with Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and Nerlens Noel. Although Kentucky initially fell behind by 14 with this line-up, they almost immediately put together a string of defensive stops that led to baskets. Kentucky was able to turn a 14-point deficit into a 3-point deficit, putting them in a position to win the game. Mays missed a three at that point, followed by a Goodwin turnover on the next offensive possession, but that line-up got Kentucky back into the game.
The question still remains whether or not Kentucky can be the most productive having both Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein on the court at the same time. One question that comes up with having both on the court is whether it’s better to have another bigger guy like Poythress or Wiltjer on the court with them, or 3 guards. If Tuesday night is any indication, three guards and the two big men didn’t work. Poythress also doesn’t seem to fit as well in the offensive scheme with the other two big men in the line-up. He hovers around the perimeter and against Duke, he was very inactive during those stretches with Cauley-Stein and Noel. In addition, offensively, Noel seemed to find more space to work with when he got the ball on the block without having Cauley-Stein in the area. Calipari also seemed to go to the pick and roll almost every time down the court with the line-up of Goodwin, Mays, Poythress, Wiltjer and Noel. Calipari admitted today that they would likely employ much more of that offense in the future. “We are a post-up team, we are a pick-and-roll team,” Calipari said in his news conference today.
Kentucky was able to find themselves on the wrong end of a big run in a 1:30 span with one line-up that led to a 12-point deficit. With a completely different line-up ,they were able to find themselves on the right end of a 9-0 run to bring the game within striking distance. As Calipari said, sometimes it only takes a minute.