Today’s game is inconsequential. The Cats have already clinched a share of the SEC title. Their NCAA Tournament seed still hangs in the balance, but at this point they’re not moving much, in the two to three-seed range.
What makes today’s trip to College Station important is that it gives John Calipari one final opportunity to experiment with his team in a live setting. Coach Cal will do different things to see how his players respond. If it works, we could see it in the postseason. If it doesn’t, we won’t see it again from this team.
Exotic Traps and Defenses
Even though he employed some 2-3 zone much earlier in the season, Calipari really didn’t get tricky until the Cats went to Columbia. They employed a 2-2-1 press in the full and half-court, and they trapped frequently. Calipari returned to the exotic defenses when Kentucky was getting crushed by Vanderbilt and it worked. It should work even better against A&M’s inexperienced guards.
Of all the changes this year’s team has brought, the addition of multiple defenses is my favorite. They create turnovers, cause chaos and generally make the game much more entertaining to watch.
The Big Lineup
There have not been very many opportunities for Kentucky to play big this season. Today is one of them. Calipari will see how much he can trust Isaac Humphries with Adebayo if Kentucky faces another post-heavy team in the tournament like Louisville.
Point Guard Problems
The point guard position has not been bad, but it has not been great. Fox has been hurt and Briscoe has been Briscoe. Today gives Fox an opportunity to get some confidence ahead of postseason play. If Briscoe can continue to play consistent by taking care of the ball and taking smart shots, the backcourt will once again be considered one of the best in the country right before tournament time.
40 Minutes of Desperation
After consecutive slow starts against Florida and Vanderbilt, Calipari’s new favorite word is “desperation.” Earlier in the year people used the words “heart” and “effort” to describe this intangible; I personally prefer “playing with your pants on fire.”
Calipari should emphasize this to his team, but it won’t happen. It never happens. Not even when the 38-1 team held UCLA to seven first half points did it happen. The best hope is to limit the opponent to only one or two runs in the game. It’s about all you can ask for and it leaves Calipari motivational ammo for the rest of the year.