By now you know Kentucky is looking at having one of the tallest line ups in the history of college basketball next year, with our without the twins. Even if Dakari and Alex decide to leave, we’re still going to be huge, but let’s assume they return. With that, you’re going to have three seven footers – all of which can flat out play. A 6’10 Trey Lyles, two 6’9 forwards in Lee and Willis, and a 6’8 forward in Poythress. For those of you counting at home, that’s 48 feet of domination waiting to happen.
But not everyone seems to think so.
When Willie declared he was coming back, it was met with tepid reactions from national media. Most of the pundits takes aren’t worth repeating here, because they generally don’t know what they’re talking about. But there was one point that was raised that intrigued me – is now a bad time to be going big, when basketball in general is trending towards small ball?
It’s a valid concern. If you want the best examples, look to the NBA. The Miami Heat can ‘go small’ playing Bosh as a center when need be, the Thunder do it when they don’t play Perkins, Golden State plays better when they go small, and as a general trend, centers are disappearing and being replaced by forwards. The emergence of a ‘stretch 4’ – a power forward that can take the ball behind the arc and shoot it, ala Frank Kaminsky – are almost a necessity if you want to contend for a title.
So should that be a concern in college as well? Is there such a thing as being ‘too big’?
Frankly put, no. I don’t think there is.
Let’s look at two examples. For the first, we’ll point back to the NBA and look at the Indiana Pacers. While everyone else was busy going small, they went all in on a big line up, focused on being the best defensive team they could, and anchored themselves to a dominant big man in Roy Hibbert. The common thought here was – when Miami or another team goes small, they will be too quick for Indiana to handle. Only it has worked the other way – in the same way that Alabama football became a power team in the midst of spread offenses, dominant post presence allowed for Indiana to score when needed, grab rebounds, but more importantly keep Miami out of the paint.
My other example? Last years Kentucky team. Much in the same way Indiana smothers you inside, Kentucky did the same game after game in the tournament, dominating the glass and making it tough to score off anything inside 12 feet. You can get away with going small in the pros, because if you’re a pro you likely have a decent jump shot and can score off screens or force the bigger post players to guard you outside the paint. If there is one thing that college players aren’t great at, it’s knocking down shots. While Kentucky will be getting easy points inside the paint, anyone who wants to beat us next year will have to light it up from the outside – a feat that few college players are capable of.
The key to next years team is still going to be in guard play – simply because that’s where we lack the most bodies. But our identity will be down low, and even if teams are trending small… sometimes it pays to buck the trends.