Jay Bilas is in Lexington for Saturday’s Kentucky vs. Kansas matchup, and he met with the media this afternoon to preview the game. But, of course, the first question wasn’t about Kentucky’s chances against the Jayhawks. It was about Duke.
As atrocious as that game was, everyone in America knows Kentucky has improved since then… Including Jay Bilas.
“The Duke game was a lifetime ago. That was an anomaly. It was probably the best Duke’s played and it was the worst Kentucky’s played – a lot of gap in between there,” Bilas said. “[Kentucky] is better defensively; they’re better offensively, too. Tyler Herro is a much better player than he was a month ago. I think they’re on the up-swing.”
That “upswing” has come, for the most part, from Ashton Hagans and his secured spot as the point guard. Hagans’ defensive intensity, ball-handling (and stealing) skills and his communication and leadership changed the dynamic of this Kentucky team. But this isn’t the first time the improvement of a Kentucky point guard has changed a Calipari team’s outlook on their season. For Bilas, Hagans’ contributions mirror those from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last season.
“Both of them did it with defense first,” Bilas said. “We always talk about guys having ‘breakout games’ and it’s an offensive thing. And yet, Ashton Hagans has had his breakout defensively, and his offense is kind of following that.”
Hagans’ success has been massive in terms of creating team success over the last several games. What does he have to do to keep that momentum going?
“The same thing he’s been doing: pressuring the ball and being disruptive. What Ashton Hagans does is make the opposing point guard think more about him than about running their offense,” Bilas said. “When that happens, it makes Kentucky’s defense better.”