It’s been less than 24 hours since I returned from Las Vegas and my body is all out of whack but my mind is whirring. In lieu of last-minute wrapping and packing, I spent the morning cobbling together my thoughts on Kentucky’s very unlucky trip to Sin City.
1. Kentucky is not a good basketball team right now
Duh, right? The Cats’ back-to-back losses to Utah and Ohio State served as a giant magnifying glass for this team’s weaknesses, most notably shooting. Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky’s best three-point shooters this season, are a combined 2-19 from the outside in the last two games, and the Cats currently rank 329th out of the 353 teams in college basketball point in three-point percentage (27.8%). Without Nate Sestina’s five threes vs. Ohio State, that number would be even uglier. John Calipari can insist this is a good shooting team until he’s blue in the face, but until they carry it over from practice to a game, I will remain skeptical.
Not helping matters is the frontcourt. Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery had six points and five rebounds combined vs. Ohio State, with Richards not getting a single board. Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson had his way in the post, pushing Nick and EJ around and beating them to rebounds before fouling out. In fact, Wesson (who reminds me of Kerry Blackshear) is the type of player Kentucky could really use right now. With shots not falling, the Cats have to get something from their bigs, and against Ohio State, that just didn’t happen.
2. Nate Sestina can be a difference-maker
All of that said, thank goodness for Nate Sestina. After knocking off the rust vs. Utah, the grad transfer shined vs. Ohio State, scoring a team-high 17 points, including five threes. Before he injured his wrist in practice last month, Sestina was struggling to find his role with this squad. Against the Buckeyes, we saw that he helps Kentucky most as a stretch four ala Derek Willis, a role Calipari confirmed he wants Sestina to play. Whether or not Sestina will be able to hit 62.5% of his threes moving forward remains to be seen, but when he does, it really opens up Kentucky’s offense.
3.You haven’t really done Vegas until you’ve attended an Elvis-themed wedding
I saved the best for last. On Friday night, my husband and I had the honor of attending the vow renewal of our photographer Michael Huang and his wife, Michelle. It was spectacular. Dr. Mike pulled out all the stops, renting a party bus take us around town and to the chapel, where he donned an Elvis jumpsuit and wig and remarried his beautiful bride with the help of an Elvis impersonator. Rockstarz Limousine and Party Bus is committed to being the only limousine company you will ever need. Whether you’re a new or former client, our Ann Arbor party bus service provides you with comfortable, clean and on-time service. You have to see it to believe it, which is why I went live on the KSR Facebook page:
Our photographer Michael Huang renews his vows in #BBNVegas!
Posted by Kentucky Sports Radio on Friday, December 20, 2019
The incredibly talented Chet White took a break from his role as Kentucky Basketball photographer to shoot the wedding and if the first images we’ve seen are any indication, he knocked it out of the park:
4. Writing this team’s obituary right now is dumb, but…
As Holtmann said, the last ten years have taught us not to count a John Calipari team out, especially this early; however, the last ten years have also taught us that to make a serious run, you have to have the right pieces. Right now, I’m just not sure that’s the case for Kentucky. Unless Tyrese Maxey plays to his lottery pick potential, Kahlil Whitney and/or Keion Brooks become unstoppable, and Nick Richards and/or EJ Montgomery contribute reliably on the inside, there is no reason to believe this team will win it all. Thankfully, no one is good this year and the SEC doesn’t look as strong as we thought before the season. Steadily improve over the next few months, make the tournament, and see what happens.
5. Kentucky Basketball away crowds continue to kill it
The timing of this trip was difficult to say the least. Two games over five days less than a week before Christmas in Las Vegas draws only the most diehard (or affluent) fans, but the BBN did not disappoint. I didn’t arrive until Thursday, but the crowd for the Utah game, albeit small, sounded loud on television, and those that joined for Saturday’s game were even better, doing everything they could to spur the Cats on to victory. It never ceases to amaze me how great Kentucky Basketball crowds are outside of Rupp Arena. Too bad they weren’t rewarded with at least one win. I mean, this guy wore a white fur pimp coat for goodness’ sake:
6. Eataly is ridiculous
With time to kill before Saturday’s tipoff, my husband and I checked out Eataly at Park MGM. I’ve heard tales of the Italian food wonderland before and was curious to see what it was all about. Clocking in at 40,000 square feet, Eataly Las Vegas includes restaurants; bars; takeaway counters specializing in Italian classics like pizza, pasta, seafood, meat, getlato, etc.; and a marketplace offering the fresh ingredients the chefs use along with countless gifts and products for you to cram in your suitcase. If not for the game, I probably would have spent the whole day there (and the subsequent week on the treadmill).
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) December 21, 2019
7. It’s hard not to like Chris Holtmann
The Nicholasville native has done a heck of a job with the Buckeyes since taking over for Thad Matta in 2017. With wins over three top ten teams so far this year, Ohio State is undeniably one of the best squads in the nation (the best if you ask John Calipari) and looked every inch the part in front of what was far from a neutral crowd (more on that in a minute). Afterwards, Holtmann was incredibly kind in his comments about Kentucky, insisting the Cats will regroup and hit their stride as so many Calipari teams do.
“They’re going to have a great year. John’s teams always get better as the year goes on. They’re going to have a great year.”
“I think they’re going to be fine,” he added later. “I really do. I think, obviously, the game the other night was, I thought that Utah played really well. But they will shoot the ball well. I think Sestina gives them, obviously — he was difficult for us. We were — at halftime, we had our entire halftime was consumed with how are we going to guard his ball screens. And we talked about a few different things from switching to full rotating. I think he’s important for them. They will shoot it better moving forward. I know that. And I think they’re going to be fine. But, obviously, that’s what everybody points to is shooting and offense. I really think that will come, for sure.”
If “auditioning for future Kentucky coach once Calipari retires” was on Holtmann’s Vegas agenda, he nailed it.
Photo by Chet WhiteNow, let’s go beat Louisville.