From a google search for “mano a mano.” I can’t not use this picture.
Basketball, unlike many other team sports, can sometimes come down to my best player against your best player. (See: LeBron James in the Olympics, NBA Finals.) The NBA Jam, “mano a mano” mentality doesn’t necessarily keep players from being good teammates, so long as they recognize that the team needs them to challenge, stretch, and exploit their counterparts. In fact, Cal’s dribble-drive motion encourages guys taking their man one-on-one; if you can beat him, beat him. With a balanced team like Kentucky has, anyone could step up and be the difference-maker in big games.
So as we look forward to this season, what are some one-on-one matchups that could sway Kentucky’s most anticipated games? This isn’t simply a question of “who is the best player on the floor?” but rather “who can best win the game by simply beating their man?” So let’s look at a few exciting pairings, and consider what we can expect from them when they finally get here.
Duke: Nerlens Noel vs. That ****ing Plumlee
Destroy him. Please. I don’t even know which one it is any more (Miles? Mason? Marshall?), but I can’t stand any of them. Bottom line, one of them is still around, and we have the opportunity to make him cry. Nerlens has the ability, on the defensive end, to make anyone’s life miserable. Noel doesn’t even have to score to win this matchup, which is good considering that this early in the season, offense may be hard to come by for the freshman. That said, the Noel/Plumlee matchup could be early-season gold. I won’t be happy with anything less than Plumlee tears. They make me strong.
Louisville: Alex Poythress vs. Wayne Blackshear
Your first instinct might be to focus on either Ryan Harrow against Peyton Siva, or Nerlens Noel on Gorgui Dieng. But those are fairly known quantities, and while they’ll be good, even great matchups, they’ll probably break even more than break open. The Poythress/Blackshear combo seems a lot more exciting, with a lot more potential for abuse. Both guys are young and crazy athletic, and either of them have the potential to lead their team in scoring by the time this game rolls around. While Cal and Pitino both love defense, expect this game to be a coming-out show for one of the two on offense. The Louisville game has a way of making stars out of starters. This could be a huge one for Alex.
Baylor: Coach Cal vs. Scott Drew
Scott Drew is what everyone wants Cal to be: a hyper-talented recruiter with little game-coaching ability who flirts with success but ultimately flounders in the Elite Eight. Drew’s Baylor team last year had an abundance of talent, but was absolutely hammered by Cal’s smoothly-operating Big Blue Machine in the contest to get to the Final Four. What started as a worrier ended as a laugher; thank Cal’s coaching for that one. Now, the two teams are both drastically different after being ravaged by the NBA draft. Being able to fight the hangover the season after is a responsibility falling squarely on the coaches’ shoulders. This game should showcase who’s more up to the task.
Florida: Archie Goodwin vs. Kenny Boynton
Hard to think that Boynton is a senior this year for the Gators, who will have their hands full trying to replace Bradley Beal and, to a lesser degree, Erving Walker. Boynton is going to have absolute control of that backcourt, and it will be up to Archie to stop him on the defensive end. Both have the potential to light it up, so this one may take an unexpected turn into a struggle on the defensive end. For this battle of shooting guards, it may come down to who can get more stops. Goodwin needs an opportunity like this to show he can be a defensive monster in addition to a capable scorer. Let’s hope Archie has a little DeAndre Liggins in him.
Missouri: UK Fans vs. Digger Phelps
This should be fun.