The off-season speculation has been in full swing. A number of topics have been tossed back and forth, including a variety of opinions surfacing as to which Kentucky player will lead the team in scoring next season. Everyone has thrown in their two cents as well about the non-conference scheduling and the team’s overall potential heading into next season. But one topic of discussion/speculation that I have not heard many rumblings about is one that has become a staple of both of Calipari’s past two Kentucky teams. And one of those teams made a Final 4, while the other won a national championship. Each of those teams had a versatile, lockdown defender. Two years ago, Calipari had DeAndre Liggins and this past year he had Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (you could probably make a case for Darius Miller as well). Not only were Liggins and Kidd-Gilchrist both exceptional defenders, but they had a combination of length, athleticism and quickness that allowed them to defend a number of opposing players at different positions ranging from point guards to forwards.
One of the attributes Calipari looks for offensively in his players, especially the small forwards and big men, is the ability to cause match-up problems for opposing teams with ball-handling ability and the ability to drive and create their own shots. Match-up problems such as an opposing big man trying to defend a quicker/less-traditional big man, or a smaller opposing guard trying to defend a lengthy wing, have caused headaches for teams trying to line up with Kentucky. But the match-up nightmares for the opposing teams have come at both ends of the floor. The defensive combinations Calipari has been able to throw at opposing teams, such as a 6-6 player like DeAndre Liggins guarding and disrupting a point guard like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft with his length, has been a useful tool in the overall defensive prowess of all of his Kentucky teams. Will Kentucky have a player to fill that role heading into next season?
We’ve all heard the praise for Nerlens Noel. His shot-blocking ability has clearly been documented. Noel will likely fill a role very similar to Anthony Davis’ from last season defensively. But will this team have a DeAndre Liggins, or a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist-like defender? The two most viable options, purely based on size and position seem to be Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin. Poythress is similar in size to Kidd-Gilchrist and has been praised for his athleticism. If Wiltjer and Noel are in the game and occupying the big men for the opposing team, Poythress’ length at the 3 could pose issues for a small forward or a shooting guard. I’m not sure if Poythress can match up with an opposing point guard though like Liggins or Kidd-Gilchrist were able to do. Goodwin has been described by scouts as a tough on the ball defender. Goodwin has also been quoted about his desire to give maximum effort on the defensive end of the court as well. Goodwin lacks the height of Kidd-Gilchrist/Liggins though.
Ryan Harrow is relatively short for a Calipari point guard, and would probably have trouble guarding an opposing team’s forward. Kyle Wiltjer’s foot speed on defense was the cause of much scrutiny last season, and Julius Mays has been billed as a great scorer but not overly athletic. Calipari’s teams always play good defense as a unit. I don’t worry about that being an issue. But the question remains: Do you think Kentucky will have a versatile, lockdown individual defender on next year’s team ? And if so, who do you think is the most likely candidate to fill that role?