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Kentucky isn’t very good at basketball right now, but that’s okay

Alex Poythress
© Mark Zerof

Alex Poythress

© Mark Zerof

It certainly wasn’t a performance to remember, but Kentucky got back to its winning ways tonight with an 88-67 victory over Eastern Kentucky. Alex Poythress led the way with 21 points and 13 rebounds, a stat line that kind of tells the story of the game. UK dominated down low, with 58 points in the paint to EKU’s 30, and outrebounded the Colonels 50-25; however, UK’s late 15-2 run overshadowed some major flaws, especially on defense.

But, as they say, a win is a win. Let’s go over it.

Alex Poythress was a man

After a game in which the Cats looked Charmin soft on the inside, Alex came to work, putting up 21 points and 13 rebounds, only his fifth career double-double. After the game, Poythress told reporters the team wanted to “make a statement” about its toughness. I’m not sure about the rest of the group, but Poythress certainly did, dunking, diving, and rebounding with conviction.

“I thought Alex was outstanding in the second half,” Cal said. When asked about EKU Coach Dan McHale’s comment that Alex “is a pro when he wants to be,” Cal smirked and told reporters to ask Alex about that.

“I mean, I want the kid to be the best player in the country, that’s what I want him to be,” Cal said. “He’s capable of that. Made free throws today, he just — he stopped on one rebound and he brought it down his old self and he lost it. And then on one defensive play he knew he stopped and the guy drove for a lay up and he knew it. I mean, he eliminates those two, he plays like a near, missed a couple shots, but a near perfect game.”

Alex even sounded like a pro after the game.

“You have to have the mentality saying, ‘None of these guys can guard me. I’m better than anybody out here,’” Alex said. “It really challenges us because when people say tough they’re challenging our manhood. So we have to correct the persona of us and show people we are tough guys. We’re not soft or anything like that. If you want to call us soft then come and play us.”

Unless Alex wants to correct himself and say “If you want to call ME soft then come play ME,” half of the Twittersphere should report to the Joe Craft Center tomorrow, myself included. I do love that attitude, though.

Skal is still getting pushed around by players half his size

Okay, half is an overstatement, but at times, watching the 7-foot Skal get pushed around by 6-foot guards made me want to claw my eyes out. Skal started out really well, posting up closer to to the basket and taking it up much more aggressively — that behind-the-back no-look pass to Marcus Lee was gorgeous — however, Skal regressed in the second half, letting smaller players push him out of position. A prime example:

In the first half, Skal had 4 rebounds. In the second half, he had none.

“Skal isn’t there yet,” Calipari said, joking how Skal did dive on the floor for a ball. “He dived on the floor. Now, he said he hurt his elbow.”

The shooting wasn’t great

Remember how we thought this team was going to be a great shooting team after the exhibition games? Ehhhh, not so much, at least right now. Tonight, UK was 21% (4-19) from three. To be fair, Tyler Ulis’ elbow apparently isn’t back to full strength — Cal said it was a little sore today — which could explain his 3-10 performance from the floor; however, that doesn’t explain Jamal Murray’s bad night. Murray was 6-15 from the floor for 16 points, including a 2-9 clip from the outside. Yikes.

Even worse? UK committed 17 turnovers. Up until tonight, UK averaged 12.3 turnovers per game.

Marcus Lee seemed fine

Lee didn’t practice this week after suffering a head injury vs. UCLA, and even though he didn’t start tonight, he looked fine. “Really good” in the second half, according to Calipari. Lee had 11 points off 5-5 shooting, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks, but accounted for 4 of UK’s 17 turnovers.

“In the first half he wasn’t particularly — did well and in the second half, he played. I thought he blocked balls, he came up with rebounds,” Cal said.

Shoutout to Charles Matthews, the second man off the bench, for another impressive game. Matthews had 7 points and 2 turnovers in 13 minutes, a performance good enough to once again earn him the title of “difference maker” during Calipari’s postgame radio show.

Now, about that defense…

On paper, it doesn’t seem that bad. The Cats held the Colonels, who were averaging 90.4 points a game, to 67 points. Pretty good, right? …Until you go back and look at all the defensive breakdowns. I think Jay Williams said it best after the game when he said Kentucky won tonight on talent; not on fundamentals, not on hustle, not on effort, but on talent. Too many times, Eastern Kentucky players blew past Kentucky to the lane, or hit an uncontested jump shot. I lost count of how many times our players jumped on pump/head fakes.

“We still broke down defensively on some drives,” Cal said on his postgame radio show. “We’re too good for that.”

Is Tai Wynyard the answer?

Calipari hinted as much, bringing up the New Zealand big man when asked about the annual Camp Cal over Christmas break.

“It will be important because, plus we have Tai coming. He’s 6′-10″, 260. Could he be the answer to toughness? [Insert Calipari head tilt-eyebrow raise here] Then the other guys got to take a back seat? I don’t know until we get him here and we let him get in there and mix it up.”

“We’ve all been spoiled”

Tonight’s game was a little hard to watch at times. Definitely frustrating. Do you know why? Because, as fans of the greatest program in college basketball coming off one of the greatest seasons in the sport’s history, we are spoiled, a fact Calipari reminded us of after the game.

“We’re learning as we go, again, we’re the most inexperienced team in the country and we show it. I’m probably expecting way too much from these guys, probably because we have all been spoiled that when we step on the court, everybody thinks we’re just supposed to win.”

That is painfully true. Nine games in, we know a few things about this team. They definitely aren’t as good as they looked vs. Duke, nor do I believe they’re as bad as they looked vs. UCLA. The most consistent players are Isaiah Briscoe (who would have predicted that?), Tyler Ulis, and Marcus Lee. Alex’s performance tonight gives me hopes for the problems inside, but Skal and Jamal Murray, the two players expected to be drafted the highest, have underwhelmed. Yes, Murray is currently UK’s leading scorer, but it’s obvious he is capable of so much more.

Right now, UK isn’t a great shooting team, nor are they overly aggressive inside (sorry, Alex). There are big gaps on defense, and the learning curve for most of the freshmen, save maybe Briscoe, is steep; however, when they get back to their bread and butter — blocking and lobbing — it all clicks back into place. Staying in place when other people start pushing is where this group struggles.

“We’ve made some strides,” Calipari said. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”

And that’s okay. Really, it is.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

29 Comments for Kentucky isn’t very good at basketball right now, but that’s okay

  1. Leroy Bird - 00
    10:49 pm December 9, 2015 Permalink

    I was telling a friend the other day that I really didn’t mind the UCLA loss; in candor, it’s not hard to watch the growing pains of our basketball program when their ceiling is always a championship.

    It’s the blessing of being part of the best fanbase of the best program in basketball. I can patiently enjoy the team’s maturation process even when some of the freshmen look like freshmen, or the sophomore leader is finding his shot. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

  2. syrin23
    11:32 pm December 9, 2015 Permalink

    Murray’s problems go back to basketball fundamentals. He rarely squares his shoulders to the basket when he shoots the three. When he does, he’s very accurate.

  3. syrin23
    11:34 pm December 9, 2015 Permalink

    Here’s what I can’t figure out. Isiah Briscoe and free throws. My goodness.

    • Leuther
      12:08 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

      Lock his butt in the gym and don’t let him out until he’s made 100 in a row…

    • BigBlue2U
      9:03 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

      He went to the Wayne Turner School of Free Throws, apparently.

  4. winagain1
    11:37 pm December 9, 2015 Permalink

    Murray can be shellfish at times… Like an actual crustacean. Hope the kids gel together and figure it out over the season. If they do, I believe we can be competitive with anyone. I would like to see Willis become a better defender.

  5. rainman
    11:41 pm December 9, 2015 Permalink

    I’m not gonna lie, I’m getting a little bit worried about this team!
    But damn, they are fun to watch! GO CATS!

  6. rockatao
    11:46 pm December 9, 2015 Permalink

    Remembering back to last year, at just about this point in the season, Booker went through a terrible shooting slump. The problem is that these young guys just aren’t used to playing defense at this level. Playing 30 seconds of Calipari-style defense, followed by 15-20 seconds of running around the court on offense trying to get open, and the legs just aren’t there to shoot effectively. Booker got used to it. Hopefully, Murray will too.

    But, realistically, this team has offensive shortcomings. Our best offense comes from rebounding missed shots. The only real offensive threat is Murray, and even he is struggling. Right now we have no inside post offense and I’m not sure this team ever will have it. Briscoe brings it every game, great at attacking the rim, but not an outside shooter.

  7. Wah Wah
    12:04 am December 10, 2015 Permalink


  8. Leuther
    12:10 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    Mrs TT, please don’t ever even think about clawing your eyes out…

  9. jayiron11
    2:51 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    21 point win….. Kentucky isn’t very good at basketball right now, but that’s okay???

    Can evryone in the comment section just stop talking like you have a clue? Murray no fundamentals.. needs to square his shoulders… can be selfish at times.

    We won by 21 points and had 5 guys in double figures. People over-react so easily. Again, we won by 21. 5 guys in double figures. Our PG had 9 assists. Look at Murray and Briscoe rebound. Chill out people.

    I cant handle the negativity. 9-1, #5 in the Nation, coming off 21 point win at home, and people think we aren’t good.

    • Angelo
      5:45 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

      I think they are worried this team may not be championship or final four caliber. BBN thinks Cal should have two more, last year and 2010. This team will make the final four and has a 50-50 chance at number nine.

    • BigBlue2U
      9:08 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

      It’s an “eye test” measurement, and right now the most knowledgeable fan base in the country can overwhelmingly see that this team has a lot of chinks in their armor. It’s not that we’re not “good,” it’s that the two players who were supposed to carry the team (Murray and Skal) look more than a little clueless. Skal conjurs up images of what Anthony Davis must have played like as a high school sophomore and Murray looks like a slightly more talented version of Archie Goodwin to this point. Not saying they can’t still excel, but there is cause for concern without them playing up to potential.

  10. DG
    7:28 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    Here is the stat line for Skal. Great touch/skill, just soft and overrated. I will post the stat line for every game until I am proven wrong that he is a miss. KSR will defend him with comparisons of the previous studs, but that will only last a few more games and it will show that he is overrated.

    10 pts, 4 rebounds,2 assists, 3 blocks,3 turnovers.

  11. bankerbh
    7:33 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    jayiron11…..your comments seem to be based on looking at the box score rather than watching the game. Cats were only up by 8 points with under 10 minutes in the second half. At that point, EKU started shooting from the outside and couldn’t score and KY took advantage and pulled away. We aren’t writing off the team, but this team definitely isn’t playing like the group that beat Duke. Oh yeh….love the preseason chatter about how highly rated the recruits are, Skal in particular, and now all we hear is about how he didn’t play his senior year and really played limited ball his junior year (pretty much just AAU) as well.

    • satcheluk
      10:56 am December 11, 2015 Permalink

      Agreed. I actually turned the game off with about 10 minutes to go. It was painful to watch. We should have beat them by 30+, but I was glad to see the final score was better than when I quit watching.

  12. jr1122
    7:40 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    4 Rebounds…seriously? I hope Tyler “Pit Bull” Ulis barks at him from this point forward.

  13. tkat
    8:10 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    Wouldn’t it be fun if Alex finally decided to get a double double every game and dare anyone to try and stop him?

    • catdaddyd
      11:20 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

      He would if we played in the OVC.

  14. kjd
    8:10 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    I agree with Mrs. TT. We’re not very good right now.
    Once again, I have allowed myself to believe the preseason hype. Matt Jones: “we’re going to be really good”. I’m seeing plenty of signs that we won’t reach that “really good”.
    Good for Alex. He dominated Eastern Ky. Do it against legit D1 competition. Then do it 2-3 games in a row.
    As long as a guy can back you down as the game is presently bring called, Skal will struggle.
    Can somebody please stay on the floor. Quit biting on head fakes. We’re not a good shot blocking team. Hold your position and rebound instead of 2 and 3 guys going for the block.
    We’ll see how this bunch progresses. Our NCAA seeding will show if our progression lived up to the hype.

    • BigBlue2U
      9:28 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

      I’ll be fairly surprised if we get a #1 seed in the tourney. Realistically, I see us as a low #2 or high #3 seed IF we improve. It’s just hard for me to look at this team and think we’ll eventually be one of the best 4 teams in America.

    • BCO
      1:37 pm December 10, 2015 Permalink

      Thing is, and Bilas said it best…the best team in America this year wouldnt have cracked last years top 6 (and I think its more like top 10). Its a down year for college basketball, and will make for a wild March Madness.

      North Carolina, us, Kansas, Michigan State, Maryland, and Louisville have looked the best so far, to be honest…but it wouldnt suprise me to see any of those teams knocked off in the first round of the dance. Theres no Duke, UK, or Wisconsin of last year where you knew they were getting to the FF. The parity this year is nuts. Very well could see a virtual no name win it all and wouldnt suprise me a bit.

  15. jayiron11
    8:30 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    @bankerbh. No, I watched the game. I’m sure if I watched a game sith you that at no point during the game wpuld you be able to tell me when the opposing team is in man and when they’renin the zone. If Cal is running the dribble drive or a motion offense. How Kentucky defends pick and rolls. Listen bankerbh, fans like you don’t have a clue. So yeah I watched thw game. And I know the game I watched didn’t reveal a UO team that isn’t very good. So you keep basing your post game rewction on Cal’s post game press conference and KSR’s post game articles bankerbh and I’ll keep basing my opinion in actual basketball and x’s & o’s.

  16. Long Dong Silver
    8:54 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    I was just telling my dad the same thing during the game last night. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, this season. I’m hoping Wynyard can come in and make a difference in the post.

  17. RealCatsFan
    9:07 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    This team has a huge ceiling for growth. That being said, if we play like we did last night against Louisville, we may be looking at an 8-10 point loss. Louisville is simply a more mature team right now, and they are bringing a more consistent effort to their games. Yes, they have mainly played the Blind Sisters of the Poor, but even in those games they have totally dominated their opposition, not played down with them and toyed around with them like our Cats are doing right now. I think this is just the sign of a young, immature team for the most part. They play up or down to the level of their competition. Now if UK brings the type of effort that they had against Duke, I think they will be just fine against UofL.

    Question: is Humphries hurt again? I don’t remember seeing him in the game last night at all. Don’t recall seeing Mulder in there either.

  18. theWilkman
    10:20 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    I’ll call Poythress a man when he does it against someone his size. I like seeing the fire, but the roaring after dunks is starting to grate when it only comes against completely outmatched teams.

    • The Rest of the story
      11:14 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

      Yes Alex does well against the EKUs of the college world lets see how he does against the rest of the season when he will disappear again for long stretches of game. Potential thy name is Alex.

  19. Sentient Third Eye
    11:17 am December 10, 2015 Permalink

    Last year was an aberration. THIS is what Cal teams typically look like in December. By March they will be fine. Relax.

  20. SoCalCat
    12:35 pm December 10, 2015 Permalink

    I’m not sure what the turning point was, but Mrs. TT seems to be pursuing the Bryan the Intern pessimistic approach to everything UK. I think it was believing that this year’s UK football team would be better than is typical with the program. Tyler, you’re going to get gray hairs way too early. You need to adjust your barometer 🙂