Believe it or not, we’re a quarter through the regular season. Eight games in, the Cats have one loss and are ranked fifth in the country; no matter how much we nitpick, that’s not bad for a team that lost seven players to the NBA, right?
Here’s a breakdown of each player’s performance so far, listed in order of scoring average:
15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.8 apg
Murray is UK’s leading scorer, but has yet to have the breakout game we’ve been waiting for. We know Murray’s good — at least once a game, he’ll drive the lane and flip the ball into the basket with remarkable ease — but he still seems to be adjusting to the college game, as well as sharing the backcourt with Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe. Murray’s obviously got fire — his technical fouls for talking prove that — but he needs to limit “casual” turnovers, ease up on the showboating, and drive the basket more often, like this:
13.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg
Briscoe won the SEC Freshman of the Week award for his performances against Illinois State and UCLA, the former in which he played point while Tyler Ulis sat out with an injured elbow. It took Briscoe a bit to get in the flow of running point again — he had three turnovers on UK’s first three possessions — but he recovered nicely, putting up 7 rebounds, a number that had to make Calipari happy. If we’ve learned one thing about Briscoe through eight games, it’s that he’s not afraid to go for the basket, and UK is a better team because of it. In fact, after Briscoe scored a career-high 20 points against UCLA, Cal said the freshman’s determination to get to the rim was the only thing he liked about UK’s performance. One thing Briscoe can improve upon? Free throws. He’s 45% from the charity stripe, an appalling percentage for a guard.
12.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.0 apg
Kentucky found out just how much it needs Tyler Ulis when the sophomore guard had to sit out the Illinois State game with a hyperextended elbow. Without their “floor general” (as Ulis is being branded by UK), the Cats looked lost, playing hot potato around the perimeter until the shot clock forced them to drive or jack up a hasty three. Ulis was back in action vs. UCLA but didn’t look 100%, shooting only 2-12 from the floor; however, he did dish out 9 assists. Calipari said today Ulis is back to practicing at full strength, welcome news for a group that must have him on the floor to reach their full potential.
12.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg
It’s been a rough few weeks for Skal, who averaged only 4 points and 3.5 rebounds in last week’s games. It’s clear that it’s going to take Skal a while to adjust to the college game — remember, he only played AAU last season — but the freshman big man can start by being more aggressive in the paint and on the boards. Too often Skal is pushed around under the basket by heavier competition, and with his skinny frame, he’s going to have to try even harder to maintain position or become more dependable from mid-range.
8.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg
With Skal struggling, Alex must be stronger inside. I love Poythress, but in his senior year, he’s still inconsistent, something we’re just going to have to accept at this point. The most frustrating thing about Alex recently is he’ll be perfectly positioned to score, but still can’t finish. Whether that’s because he’s only a year off an ACL injury or what, I don’t know, but I’d like to see more pick and rolls between him and the guards like this one:
7.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Lee had to leave the UCLA game with a head injury four minutes in, and according to Calipari this afternoon, hasn’t practiced since. Given that he’s UK’s top rebounder right now, that’s slightly concerning. The Cats sorely missed Lee’s energy and presence inside against the Bruins. When Lee’s playing with energy, he’s an integral part of this team’s success, a point he proved after Calipari started Alex in his place against Illinois State; instead of pouting, Lee responded to the challenge, putting up 13 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. Here’s hoping he can go tomorrow night.
5.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg
Willis was the talk of the exhibition and first few games but drifted back to obscurity until last week. Willis gave the Cats a belated spark of hope in the second half of the UCLA game, scoring 11 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. With UK’s inside and outside games struggling, Willis’ role on this team is what he makes of it. If he keeps doing more of this, he’ll make it into the 8-man rotation:
3.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg
After a slow start to the season, Matthews has become a valuable contributor, giving Kentucky another slashing, energetic option off the bench. His best game was against South Florida, in which he scored a career-high 11 points, enough to get him the starting nod with Tyler Ulis out vs. Illinois State. In his first true road game, Matthews faltered vs. UCLA, but look for him to rebound at the end of the non-conference schedule. On a team looking for better defense and more rebounding, Matthews will get minutes.
3.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Humphries was one of the stars of the Duke game, but suffered a foot injury in practice a few days later and sat the Wright State game. While UK could really use his size inside, the Aussie big man is still only 17 years old, a fact clearly on display when he’s matched up with veteran big men. Right now, Isaac’s most valuable contributions could come in practice, where he’s been battling with Skal Labissiere to teach the skinny 7-footer to toughen up.
2.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg
Hawkins came in and provided some much-needed poise and energy at the guard position vs. Illinois State and UCLA, playing a career-high 24 minutes against the Redbirds last Monday. Going forward, this team will need Dominique’s consistency at the free throw line and aggression on defense. There may be three guards ahead of Dominque in the rotation, but he remains this group’s lockdown defender.
0.7 ppg, 0.0 rpg
David finally got his first points as a Wildcat vs. South Florida, hitting a pair of free throws in UK’s blowout win, giving him a 100% percentage, good enough for a two-way tie at first with Derek Willis for best FT percentage.
0.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg
Mulder has been practically non-existent this far, averaging only 2.7 minutes per game. His only points came in UK’s season-opener against Albany.
Where you at EJ? The bouncy Floreal hasn’t played a single minute this season. Don’t forget what he’s capable of, though:
Cal, can we get my man some minutes?