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Sacha Killeya-Jones vs. Nick Richards? The choice may be neither.

Despite impressing on the big stage in the Champions Classic back in November, at home against Louisville, and again at home versus Florida, sophomore big man Sacha Killeya-Jones has had minimal opportunities to thrive for the Cats. To make matters worse, the Kentucky frontcourt has been incredibly inconsistent, specifically from freshman starting center Nick Richards. The opportunity for playing time has been there, but for some reason, Killeya-Jones has been unable to take advantage.

During today’s SEC head coach teleconference, John Calipari was asked about the decline in Killeya-Jones’ minutes as the season has progressed. Cal’s response: he’s just behind the pack.

“He’s got guys in front of him that are doing pretty good and deserve minutes too,” Calipari said, mentioning Richards, Vanderbilt, Washington, and Gabriel as guys consistently out-performing Killeya-Jones.

At first glance, Vanderbilt, Washington, and Gabriel are obvious. They’ve each had their moments in conference play and have produced in major ways in one form or another. But Richards? Come on, now.

When taking a closer look at the numbers, however, the freshman center comes out on top by a fairly significant margin.

Killeya-Jones’ PER-40 statistics are 10 PPG, nine RPG, and 1.6 blocks per contest, to go with a true shooting percentage of roughly 60%. He also maintains a 115 overall offensive rating per 100 possessions, and a 103 defensive rating PER-100. (In incredibly simple terms, the higher the offensive rating and lower the defensive rating, the better. It boils down to overall points produced compared to the number of possessions a player has individually. You want to score more points per possession on offense, and allow fewer points on defense.)

For Richards, he’s averaging 14.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks PER-40 minutes, along with a TS% of 65%. His offensive rating sits at roughly 128, while his defensive rating is sitting pretty at 99 on the year, both better than the sophomore forward. If you’re looking at just advanced numbers, you’d expect Richards to be a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor.

But sometimes, the eye test can be the best indicator of overall success.

Killeya-Jones understands the game of basketball much better, but doesn’t have the physical intangibles Richards provides. That’s been determined from the start.

Richards provides high-energy and the potential for highlight plays. But if the vast majority of opportunities result in muffed passes and missed opportunities, how long are we willing to wait for that “potential” to come to fruition. Killeya-Jones is seen as the more “polished” prospect on offense when given more minutes, with the ability to rely on him to score in the post and from mid-range. For whatever reason, SKJ’s leash is much shorter than Richards’, and any mistakes made almost immediately results in (more) time on the bench. Has this been a key reason for Killeya-Jones being unable to find his groove in the latter half of this season? It’s certainly a possibility.

Richards has only broken the double-digit point barrier three times since conference play began, and has laid a fat goose egg in four SEC contests. In fact, the five-star center has managed five points or less in 17 games this season, despite starting in 31 of them. He has seen a steady minute reduction as the season has gone on, but he has always gotten the call at opening tip. Where you’d expect Killeya-Jones to be given an opportunity in Richards’ decline, he has played in just 33 total minutes over the last six contests.

Nonetheless, they both struggle with foul trouble, they both get lost on defensive assignments, and they both miss gimmes at the rim, with some of Richards’ misses coming in the most mind-boggling ways imaginable.

As the regular season officially comes to a close and with the SEC tournament gearing up this week, the question Calipari needs to address is just what to do with the starting lineup/main rotation, specifically in the frontcourt. Do you continue to hope for the best with Richards? Do you give Killeya-Jones a chance to start or allow him major minutes this late in the game?

The simplest answer may be to avoid the situation entirely and go with your most trusted group of players. I would have liked to see Killeya-Jones with a longer leash earlier in conference play to see if any sort of rhythm or chemistry could be established, but time for (major) experimentation has passed. You have to take your best rotation and roll with it.

Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, and PJ Washington. That’s your go-to lineup. That’s the core group you need to start and finish games with. That’s the group Kentucky needs to live and die with in the NCAA tournament.

Gabriel has been solid, and likely needs to be the first man off the bench. His energy and ability to hit outside shots will prove to be incredibly valuable when the offense inevitably slows up at one point or another in the tournament. Hamidou Diallo has been far too inconsistent, but he has no other option than to take a step up during postseason play. The backcourt has a bit less flexibility than the frontcourt, so he’ll have to provide relief for Green and SGA. We can only hope he thrives under the lights in the tournament, similar to his performances earlier in the year against Kansas, West Virginia, and Louisville.

Unless something miraculous happens in St. Louis this weekend, then comes Richards and/or Killeya-Jones for brief stints to provide rest and/or foul trouble relief. Build chemistry with the main guys, and work the two big men in as the game progresses, not the other way around. Trying to force a square peg in a round hole this late in the year is just begging for stress with the season on the line.

The Cats built major momentum during their four-game losing streak, and a lot of it came from that core rotation. The team reverted to hero/iso ball against Florida on Saturday, but the blueprint is still there for sustained success and an impressive run in  the tournament.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

41 Comments for Sacha Killeya-Jones vs. Nick Richards? The choice may be neither.

  1. cats646
    7:24 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Skj brings energy and effort. Richards does not. The choice is pretty obvious IMO but I ain’t a coach so I could be wrong.

  2. StevieGotLoose
    7:28 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Potential does not equal points, rebounds or anything else. I don’t see the energy from Richards that you speak of. It is time to move on from Richards, SKJ should get a better chance. Or at least more minutes than Richards.

    • cats646
      7:29 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink


    • chris43
      6:45 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

      I 100% agree! SKJ goes out there hustles hard I’ve yet to see that on a steady basis from Richards.

  3. Cat68
    7:33 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    I feel terrible for SKJ. Thought Cal was finally coming around to SKJ potential. How is SKJ supposed to remain enthusiastic and energized with the trek he’s been on? Hate to say it but he should opt for the Charles Matthews path and transfer.

    • crazycatfan65
      7:55 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

      I’m afraid you may be right and he may leave after this year.

  4. Jpcat15
    7:34 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Richards brings nothing to the table. Maybe, he gets better over the summer. I hope so, but typically bad hands don’t improve. If SKJ got 25 minutes a game I believe he would produce. For whatever reason, Cal yanks him after 1 mistake.

  5. unbridled
    7:35 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Yeah I hate to second guess….but diallo and Rachael’s need to be on the bench when they are getting exploited. I don’t understand why they are given so many minutes when it’s clear they are having a terrible game. Other players are not afforded that luxury.

    • unbridled
      7:38 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink


    • Ridge Runner
      8:13 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

      I’ll give Coach a break with Hami, because of his athleticism and potential. As others have said, SKJ can bring effort and energy at times to give chances. But Nick? I yi yi

  6. Kevin C
    7:47 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Meanwhile, in women’s BB…

    HALFTIME: UConn 43 Cincy 5

    Yes….43 to FIVE.

    Men’s CBB is a mess, but women’s is a complete joke for other reasons.

  7. BigBlueNationDude
    7:56 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Cal is gonna keep playing Richards no matter what. Thats how he got him to commit.

  8. Ridge Runner
    8:07 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Certainly Richards is one of the most glaring “why is he playing” issues I can ever recall since Coach has been here. I’ve tried to grasp the logical reasons but honestly can’t.

    • Ridge Runner
      8:16 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

      I’d say nothing if injuries were hitting us as well but again looking for a logical reason. Heck, it’s even worth letting bigs play out foul trouble as he gives nothing but a penciled in player on the court

  9. twyptophan
    8:08 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    This situation reminds me of Dakari Johnson finally fulfilling his potential after WCS was injured against UL in the sweet 16. He had intermittently shown signs of brilliance all year, but wasn’t consistent until he HAD to be. SKJ and Nick have similar potential. . . It remains to be seen who can be THAT guy.

    • Ridge Runner
      8:10 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

      I can see your point to a degree -but with Nick, I don’t see any intermittent signs. No way I’m counting the couple decent games early in the year against overmatched opponents.

  10. Rembrandt
    8:10 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    This column is lousy journalism.

  11. BBN_strive_4_9
    8:11 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    At this point we need to be playing Green, Alexander, Knox, Washington, and Vanderbilt for most of the game, with Gabriel and SKJ relieving PJ, Vanderbilt, and Knox. Richards and Diallo need to sit.

  12. gasman01
    8:14 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    I wonder more why Diallo starts ahead of Green. Green bring offense, Diallo brings bricks.

    • BBN_strive_4_9
      8:22 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

      I agree

    • Ridge Runner
      8:27 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

      With minutes shared, I don’t see this (who starts) as a huge issue myself. I see your point however on who is deserving of a start -it’s just with Cal over the years… starting is not as big of a thing.

  13. Ridge Runner
    8:23 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    I think many of us expect up and down first year players at times and often we see those that consistently exceed. Someone may have a better memory but other than Skal coming close…. what other player besides Nick has simply not deserved to be on the court for ANY reason?

    • Ridge Runner
      8:28 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

      As far as 5-star first year players I’m talking about…

  14. ukbradstith
    8:39 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    I think something else is up with SKJ. Last year he didn’t even get in with the walk ons, and this year he still hasn’t played much even when we could have used him. Grades, off court issues, has to be something?

    • Jiminy Crickets
      12:42 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

      SKJ is the new Marcus Lee.

  15. TB112162
    8:40 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Jack is Jeff Greer your hero ?

  16. sincitycat
    8:40 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    PJ and Vanderbilt need to stay out of early foul trouble for our best unit to be on the floor but they both tend to commit cheap, needless fouls.

  17. bosch8184
    8:53 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    Stop beating around the bush and actually state why Cal won’t play SKJ over Richards.

    Here is me Tweeting to Matt that Richards was going to be a letdown after watching him play 3 times in high school in person. From October 30th:

    Another from November:

  18. antiquefurnitureandmidgets
    11:11 pm March 5, 2018 Permalink

    You lost me at Richards and “high energy”. Is that a typo? Did you mean to say SKJ? Are you sure you know the two apart? I literally stopped reading the post at the point. Wth?!

  19. Jiminy Crickets
    12:28 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

    But what if SKJ was you’re kid? Could you turn your back on him?
    Cals never had an issue not playing Charles Matthews, SKJ or Wynard, but Diallo and Richards? The reason is SKJ has no chance at NBA and Cal needs to feed his agenda

    • Cat68
      8:20 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

      Excellent point, Jiminy! I forgot about the ‘what if’ comment. Obviously, Cal runs a (Most) Players First program.

  20. Jiminy Crickets
    12:34 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

    Anyone ever wonder why we can’t get kids to stay 4 years? Why they either leave when they shouldn’t or transfer? SKJ is why

  21. bd2153
    1:09 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

    Jones should be getting more minutes that’s easy to see. Richards leads nation in missed dunks and put backs.

  22. Cryingtheblues
    4:18 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

    Richards is HORRIBLE!! SKJ any day over Richards.

  23. Cryingtheblues
    4:20 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

    Cal can bullshit someone else as far as Richards being ahead of SKJ. Not seeing it!

  24. chrisg18
    9:18 am March 6, 2018 Permalink

    Come on Cal, I love you, but come on man. Richards is definitely not ahead of SKJ. They each bring something a little different, but both are about the same and should be playing about the same minutes. I am of the belief though that if SKJ would have gotten the opportunities that Nick got throughout the season, that he would be a bit further along than Nick is right now. SKJ isn’t going to get any better sitting on the bench. Unfortunately at this point, Cal has backed himself into a corner by not playing SKJ so he can’t really start to increase his role now.

  25. FlatTopsAndBlockedShots
    12:55 pm March 6, 2018 Permalink

    Making the switch to have SKJ start (and get more minutes) and Richards to the bench can both be a wake up call to Richards and SKJ.

    SKJ “poor production” could very well be because he has “earned” limited minutes. Having a short leash only allows you to go so far. If SKJ had the leash that Richards has had the majority of the season we would be talking about a different SKJ for better or worse and either way we would know if this SKJ vs Richards conversation is worth having. I truly feel sorry for SKJ, as much as I would hate to see it happen I am becoming a believer that he will transfer especially if EJ Montgomery come to UK.

    Richards starting the game on the bench would give him an opportunity to see the pace of the game instead of being thrown into the fire. The college game is simply too fast for Richards and his head has been on a swivel. Cal said he plays Richards still because he “doesn’t want to lose him”, well you either lose him or lose games and the team by playing a guy who doesn’t deserve the playing time.

  26. dballrb
    7:49 pm March 6, 2018 Permalink

    Nick will break loose on a game and be a SSSb!!!!! Stat stuffer Supreme baby!!!