The college basketball season finally kicked off yesterday and things were up and running at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats hosted a Morehead State squad that is fresh off a 13-19 season and lost their top player just a few days before the season started. UK was a heavy favorite laying 25 points, but there were plenty of unknowns. UK had a roster full of players set to make their debut playing in Rupp Arena and recent comments from John Calipari weren’t so glowing.
Well, they certainly looked the part in the 81-45 romp forcing 20 turnovers and shooting 27 of 43 from two-point range. Kentucky checked most of the boxes in their season opener and look like a team that could have a very big year.
Kentucky scored 81 points on 68 possessions posting a very solid 1.19 points per trip. UK hit 62.8% of their two-point field goals while knocking in six threes. They didn’t get to the free throw line much with only 14 attempts, but 11 offensive rebounds led to 18 second chance points. We should get used to Brandon Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke pacing the attack.
The two wing players combined to score 27 points while shooting 12 of 21 from the floor and contributing five assists. Each young player brings great size to the position and the pair of top-10 prospects certainly pass the look test. Boston is a smooth operator that can score from all three levels and play through contact. Meanwhile, Clarke has the full package of finishing moves around the cup and we saw them all from reverse lay-ups to runners. They were 0 of 6 from deep and just 3 of 6 from the charity stripe and that cannot continue. However, did everything else well.
In the front court, Isaiah Jackson certainly backed up that preseason hype posting nine points on five shots with a couple of offensive rebounds and an assist. He’s very comfortable playing faced up and can hit some jumpers in addition to occasionally doing stuff off the bounce. The springy true freshman has a very high ceiling. Next to him at the five, Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr got off to a slow start, but he showed his feathery touch from the mid-range in the second half and finished with eight points on six shots. Kentucky has to figure out how to effectively used the veteran big, but at worst he can be an effective pick-and-pop option who can crash the offensive glass.
Off the bench, Creighton transfer Davion Mintz helped stretch the floor for the offense pouring in a couple of threes and finishing with 10 points in 17 minutes. Cam’Ron Fletcher provided plenty of energy plays while Dontaie Allen got off three shots in just four minutes. When he’s in the game it’s clear that it is to provide shooting.
The Wildcats shared the ball effectively posting 27 assists on 33 made shots, but 15 turnovers in 68 possessions is just a little too many. UK needs to get more than 14 free throws up, but they adjusted to the mixing defenses well and true freshman point guard Devin Askew flashed shot-making ability.
Kentucky held Morehead State to 45 points on 68 possessions with the Eagles scoring just 0.66 points per trip. Morehead State was held under 50% from two-point range and hit just 3 of 21 shots from behind the arc. They made just 50% of their 16 free throws and scored just four second chance points despite reeling in 11 offensive rebounds. You’re going to win a lot of games when you play defense like that.
UK’s length and athleticism gave Morehead State all kinds of problems and when they ran good offense, the Eagles had difficulty hitting open shots. They really struggled to take care of the basketball as Kentucky forced 20 turnovers which directly led to 20 points for Kentucky. The Wildcats were able to consistently get stops and get out in transition where they had a 16-4 advantage in fast break points. This team has all the pieces to be a really good defense.
The Wildcats were able to protect the rim effectively recording six blocks as three different players left the game with two apiece. UK had eight steals and Terrence Clark led the way with three pilfers. Both Boston and Lance Ware collected five defensive rebounds to lead the team. Ware had his struggles defensively, but it’s clear he can factor in on the glass collecting those boards in just 19 minutes.
The one big concern leaving this game on the defensive end is having both starting bigs learn to play without fouling. Both Jackson and Sarr had to sit on the bench with two first half fouls and against quality opponents, UK cannot afford to play long stretches without neither of the on the floor.
You can’t ask much more for a season opener playing an inferior opponent. Kentucky looked heads and shoulders better than Morehead State from the opening tip playing their first game with a team of new faces. You just can’t ask for much more than that especially when you factor in that key piece Keion Brooks Jr. was absent. The Wildcats have some tools.
You still would like to see more from UK’s young point guard and they committed too many turnovers on offense while allowing too many offensive rebounds on defense, but they were pretty efficient against mixing defenses and hit jump shots. Their length should cause issues for many teams and their two top-10 recruits look like All-SEC caliber players at worst. In what is sure to be a crazy season, that’s about as good of a start you could hope for.
On to Richmond.