Back on August 28, John Calipari sat down with the media to preview the season. Six months, 21 wins, and 10 losses later, do any of his comments about this squad still ring true? I went to the preseason roundtable transcript to find out.
“None of the guys are where they need to be on a consistent basis.” — Amended to be TRUE
Almost everyone on this team has shown flashes of the player Kentucky needs them to be, but none are that on a consistent basis. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander comes the closest, but has a tendency to turn it over when he puts too much pressure on himself to score, i.e., whenever Kentucky struggles. In the last two games, Shai’s turned it over nine times, something that must be cleaned up going into postseason play.
We’ve learned the hard way that Kentucky can’t handle an off-night from Kevin Knox and that PJ Washington isn’t the consistent beast that Calipari wants him to be. Right now, stringing together six wins seems impossible, so how about just three this weekend?
“Wenyen’s playing way better, thank God.” — TRUE
One thing you can’t fault Wenyen Gabriel for is effort. Over the summer, Gabriel dedicated himself to improving his strength and conditioning, which has allowed him to be the energy guy Kentucky needs. In his second year, Wenyen has thrived in a supporting role, infusing the team with some much-needed hustle on the boards, and, when he’s hot, a presence on the outside.
“Quade is a better shooter than I thought.” — Amended to be TRUE
Quade Green may not be Tyler Ulis 2.0, but it was never fair to expect him to be. An eye injury and back problems forced Green to hand over point guard duties to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but by playing off the ball, he’s filled this team’s biggest void: shooter. Quade has become clutch from the outside, hitting 55% (11-20) from behind the arc over the past five games. Needless to say, he must carry that over to the postseason.
“Shai can run the point.” — TRUE
By far the most pleasant surprise of the regular season is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. When nothing else is working for Kentucky, you know Shai’s going to put his head down, drive the lane, and, most of the time, score. By doing that, he’s saved the Cats from themselves on more than one occasion. Shai took over at point when Quade Green had to miss time due to injury and still starts at the one, allowing Green to come off the ball and score. As Caliapri has preached throughout conference play, Shai’s the team’s best player because he works the hardest, which may turn him into a lottery pick.
“Quade will lead, but you need Hami.” — TBD
If Shai’s been the biggest surprise, Hami’s been the biggest disappointment, which pains me to type. Kentucky has managed to win big games without him, but there’s no denying that life would get a little easier if the ball would just start going in the hole more often for Hami, who was 0-7 from the floor vs. Florida. For Kentucky to make any kind of run this postseason, Hami has to break out of his slump for good.
“We’ve got a great group of kids.” — TRUE
This team’s on-the-court performance has been disappointing so far, but thanks to the Facebook all-access show, it’s easy to see they’re great kids off it.
“I think you have a couple alpha dogs.” — FALSE
Leadership was one of the biggest concerns coming into this season and it remains that going into the postseason. Calipari singled out PJ Washington, Hamidou Diallo, and Quade Green as this group’s “alpha dogs” before the year started, but none of them have lived up to that moniker on a consistent basis.
“Jarred Vanderbilt — they’re like WOW.” — TRUE
It took a little longer because of his foot injury, but Jarred Vanderbilt definitely wowed us when he debuted at South Carolina — even if it was a “Wow, he’s rusty, but finally, someone playing with energy!”. With the rust off, Vanderbilt has finally hit his stride, averaging 9.5 points and 11 rebounds in Kentucky’s recent four-game winning streak. Foul trouble limited him vs. Florida, but Vanderbilt’s impact on this team is undeniable, particularly on the boards.
“There’s no reason for P.J. to be a bad free throw shooter.” — Painfully TRUE
PJ Washington struggled with his free throws in Egypt this summer, shooting only 40%, and even though he’s improved that to 62%, man, it would be nice to see him hit both of them on a consistent basis.
“This could be a team that should play zone.” — TRUE
Kentucky actually played a lot of zone early in the season, but just as you knew he would, Calipari has mostly gone back to man-to-man; however, this team is playing zone on 18.7% of its defensive possessions, by far the most of any Calipari team at Kentucky. For reference, the next closest is the 2013-14 squad, which played zone 5.3% of the time. While Calipari may not use the zone as much as he did early on, even he can’t deny how effective it can be with this group’s length. Count me among those that would like to see it even more this month.