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T.J.’s TAKES: For now, let’s stop worrying about March with this group

It was another ugly performance for the Cats. Kentucky trailed once trailed by eight to Southern Illinois, but fought back to pickup its first win of the season 71-59.

Here are five takeaways from UK’s home opener.

1. The Win:

That was frustrating, but at least the Cats finally turned it on and beat a pesky Southern Illinois team. The first half was horrendous and the start of the second half was even worse. Kentucky looked disinterested, lethargic and had no interest in taking care of the ball. That’s pretty concerning coming off the beatdown on Tuesday, but UK did eventually wake up and used 26-13 run to close out the game. A run like that is impressive and runs like that are what we expected from this group. We all wanted to see UK come out fired up, but at least they eventually did pull it together.

Fans are going to panic and give up on this team, and they’re entitled to do whatever they want regardless of how asinine it may be, but UK finished on a high note and even in the ugliness there were some bright spots. This isn’t going to be a buttslapper post. I’m going to touch on plenty of negatives, but for the first time this season the Cats have some momentum and I’m excited to see what they do next week.

2. Point Guards:

I really liked the way Immanuel Quickley and Quade Green worked together in the second half, especially Green. I still have some major issues with the point guard play overall, but at least we finally saw some potential in the final 15 minutes. Someone needs to step up and let’s hope that tonight was the start for Immanuel Quickley and Quade Green. Green is comfortable playing off the ball and Quickley finally took control having the ball in his hands. Green did, too. Let’s build off that. Both hit some big shots but the difference is they didn’t force but maybe one or two shots in the second half. They worked within the offense and their bigs, and when they shot it was the smart shot (again, with a couple exceptions).

However, the turnovers are ridiculous and completely inexcusable. Six turnovers from the three guards. Yes, six turnovers from three players when the team combined for 19 (unreal) isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it can’t happen from your point guards and ball handlers. If bigs and wings are careless, whatever, but you have to be able to rely on your point guards. I really, really like Ashton Hagans’ potential and think he can be a stud, but if he’s not going to score (and that’s OK, he’s not a scorer) he has to bring something to the table defensively and with his passing. That’s what he should do and what we expected from him, but we haven’t seen it yet and I’m not sure he can play serious minutes until he comes alive in games.

3. Defense:

UK will go several possessions playing solid defense. SIU putting up 59 points isn’t concerning, but my goodness the discipline defensively is still incredibly worrisome. I had a few things that standout:

  • If Reid or PJ are guarding a guy one-on-one on the block the guards and other bigs need to leave them be. This team gets lost all the time so they don’t need to make it tougher on themselves by doubling down on two experienced guys that are strong enough to defend by themselves.
  • Close out on shooters. It’s horrendous. UK is completely content allowing a few inches, or feet, of space between them and the shooters. Why? If you’re already working hard to defend on the perimeter take the extra effort and force them another two or three feet off the line. PJ has been really bad at this.
  • Pick-and-roll defense. Really it’s any defense while defending screens. UK is lost on how to defend it and it usually leads to at least two players being confused. Cal’s teams (with the exception of 12 and 15) usually struggle with this and look much better come March, so I won’t panic about this area just yet.

4. Sophomore Nick Richards:

Nick Richards’ basketball IQ is what it is. He’s not going to be the most experienced player on the floor and he’s still relatively new to the game, but grow at your own pace, big fella. As long as he keeps playing with that effort he’s going to make a difference for UK. He doesn’t have a great touch offensively and he still bobbles the ball too much, but he is twice the rebounder he was last season and he’s finally using his big ol’ frame to make a difference.

I’m not sure how it all shakes out with Kentucky’s bigs. PJ and Reid were expected to be the guys, but EJ was solid tonight and we know he has a high ceiling. Richards deserves to start next game after his performance tonight. Hell, he should take PJ’s spot after another questionable performance.

The three blocks from Richards was nice, too. He should average three blocks against inferior opponents. 19 rebounds are tied for the most in the Calipari era (MKG) and I nearly shed a tear when his layup in the final two minutes rimmed out keeping him from a double-double.

5. Moving Forward:

Let’s just take things one game at a time moving forward with this Kentucky team. Let’s stop worrying about the Final Four, tournament seeding and how good or how bad this UK team is or can be. Fans are going to struggle enjoying this team because they are already thinking they can’t/won’t make a deep March run. Why punish yourselves like that? This is supposed to be fun.

My focus is going to be on watching this team grow and hoping to see that growth each and every night. Kentucky doesn’t play a somewhat decent team for another month, and really doesn’t play an elite game until UNC on 12/22. When that game gets here let’s hope UK looks drastically better than they did tonight, but don’t expect or anticipate that happens by the time UK plays North Dakota on Wednesday night. It’s going to be a process.

Come Wednesday night let’s expect and hope to see UK look better. Let’s hope the communication is better, defensively there are less errors and the Cats need to clean up the mistakes. It’s a long ways to March but the potential is there from this group. It’s going to be a process but it can still be a fun process if you let it.


Article written by TJ Walker

31 Comments for T.J.’s TAKES: For now, let’s stop worrying about March with this group

  1. Just saying
    9:23 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    I would say Coach Cal is way ahead of you TJ. He takes his teams one game at a time every year.

  2. michaelb
    9:35 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    I’m glad you see something good in Hagans . That makes one of us . He’s playing like a high school junior

  3. Kat4Life
    9:36 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    Agree with every one of your observations. I am particularly miffed at the play of PJ Washington so far this year. He has been horrible on both ends of the court. More than a few “experts” include him in their SEC POY discussions…..and maybe that potential will come out, but he is playing like a middle schooler right now. Dribbling off his foot, stupid fouls, charges, forced shots, and bad defense.

    I do not think Hagans has merited significant mins, and he will almost certainly be back next year, no one and done potential there at all, no offense at all……needs a lot of maturation, and given his age and tenure that is to be expected. He’s a 5-10 min “change of pace” guy.

    I think you start Richards, Montgomery, Johnson, Green, and Quickley…… me, that’s your starting 5.Get starter mins to Travis and Washington. Herro may develop, but right now looks like a slow, white kid……one that can’t shoot, yet.

    • syrin23
      11:21 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      It’s not just that, the EFFORT isn’t there, and you can really see that by the way Keldon plays.

      Herro does not look like a slow white kid, and I always wonder why people always have to mention skin color as if announcing to the world they are a bigot. BUT, he is the best pass lane defender and help defender on the team. He is FAR and away the best entry pass player on the team without a close second. He looks like someone who was told his shot selection was bad so he didn’t look for his shot at all. Hagans looked like the slow one. He closed out on the shooters slow and got burned by straight line drives.

    • michaelb
      11:57 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      That’s the 5 for right now ! Agree. I hope quickly can become a superstar by league play . He’s already the best we have (shockingly)

    • davis2319
      1:37 am November 10, 2018 Permalink

      lol Travis is going to start over Nick Richards 10 times out of 10. This might be the dumbest reply I have ever read on here. Travis puts up 22 on Duke and was one of the only players to show up for us and you want to put Richards in who had 8 points against Southern Illinois? Thank God you aren’t our coach or we wouldn’t win a game.

  4. michaelb
    9:37 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    This team is scaring me , I haven’t seen this much crappyness since 2013 . Pj is just a shell of his former self . Reminds me of Alex poytheress. Alex had a dominating game at Duke one time then never seen him after lol

  5. N-UR-i
    9:39 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    This team could get better, but they are not anywhere near a decent team yet. They are a below average power 5 team and need a lot of work to become average.

    The coaches underperformed on this team.

  6. Blue Jesus
    9:47 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    “For the first time this season the Cats have some momentum”

    I suppose you don’t include the Bahamas as part of the season, but we had a ton of momentum coming out of that. (And if you don’t include the Bahamas, then when you say “for the first time this season” you mean… after two games?)

    • N-UR-i
      9:49 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      That line was amateurish. We were a better team in August.

  7. Eazy19035597
    9:58 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    Have fun. We were supposed win it all this year. Thats fun. This much under achieving is unacceptable

    • bigbluebanana
      11:01 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      According to many of our “fans” we are supposed to win it all every year. We put these expectations on these kids, then get salty when they underachieve. That’s the definition of projecting. This team will be right there with everyone else come March.

  8. dcforuk
    10:07 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    How many guys played (what was the rotation) in 2010. 2011 was a six man rotation. 2012 was a seven man rotation with Kyle W. getting limited mins as the 7th. Is there any legitimacy to Cal’s system working better with 6-7 man rotation?

  9. jaws2
    10:07 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    The analysis on defense is the same story for the last 5 years! We can’t defend the 3, are terrible in the pick and roll, and get beat off the dribble by the likes of SIU. If this can’t be corrected we’re in for a very frustrating season.

    • syrin23
      11:22 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      So you are starting to learn they don’t teach elite players to play elite defense in the AAU circuit. That’s not Cal’s fault.

  10. kjd
    10:24 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    It’s a process as usual. Kind of like cutting baby teeth.

  11. BigolBlue
    10:35 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    Nit maybe. Im not worried about march. This team has 0 shot at title

    • bigbluebanana
      11:04 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      Oh, NIT for sure everyone. Coach bigolblueballs knows all. I’m starting a petition at to have Cal replaced by ol” blueballs himself…we’ll never lose again. And by golly, he’ll recruit them solid Kentucky boys that play for the name on the front of the jersey and stay for 11 years. Can’t wait!

    • syrin23
      11:24 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      This team is a lock for the Final Four. This is the most optimism I have had about a team in quite a while. This team WILL learn to play D. This team is already an ELITE rebounding team which is REALLY hard to coach, and they will get the TO’s under control. There is no glaring weakness that can’t be fixed like lack of rebounding, lack of effort, bad shooting. This team has all the pieces, they just aren’t in place yet.

    • BigolBlue
      11:33 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      8 seed vs duke 2nd rd lose by 50

    • davis2319
      1:44 am November 10, 2018 Permalink

      Syrin23, you can’t fix effort buddy. It’s a choice by the individual to apply it. Hopefully they do, but it is a huge, glaring weakness that can’t be fixed by a coaching staff. Hate to break it to you

  12. Jiminy Crickets
    10:42 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    If this team is top 10 I feel sorry for college basketball. “This team is tough, they finished 2nd in the MVC”. Say that out loud, then realize the 2nd best team the the MVC has UK down in the 2nd half. This team looks exactly like last year, offensively average, and defensively challenged. Last year we lost a ton of games, had the easiest road to the FF in NCAA history…. well you know, lost to KState missing their best player. After all the KSR hype about this team, it’s hard to not be disappointed. Auburn is up 30 over #25 Washington, we struggled to beat southern Illinois

    • bigbluebanana
      11:05 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      The first best team in the MVC was in the final four last year. In context then, by default, tonight wasn’t bad.

  13. blukat
    10:46 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    I am a UK grad. I laugh at all of these posts concerning the prospects of our team after one or two games! People are judging this team by 1 or 2 GAMES!! These are kids, not machines. So many opinions from basketball internet “experts” that can hide behind their screens. I am never embarrassed by our team, but am always embarrassed by the ridiculous UK “fans”. I, as many of my fellow UK grads will agree, have to explain to people that we root for UK, but do not condone the idiocy of our “fans”.

    • Jiminy Crickets
      10:51 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      Get off your high horse UK grad. I graduated from UK, my daughter graduated from UK. It’s ok to voice frustration with a team of a school or followed probably before you were born

    • Jiminy Crickets
      10:54 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      If you want to support your team, then do so, but attacking integrity of fans is no different than the “embarrassing ridiculous UK fans” you call “idiocity”

    • bigbluebanana
      11:07 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

      Good point blukat, are we seeing crickets resort to the dark side here? Did combatmedic98 offer him a job on next year’s staff? Is he salty enough? Stay tuned Cat fans.

  14. Aar
    11:14 pm November 9, 2018 Permalink

    I agree. It’s time to look at the small picture. One game at a time. One player’s development at a time. I liked Johnson’s energy and his ability to create in the open court. I liked that Richards found ways to help the team. I liked that Green used the two man game with various teammates to spark the game winning run. That’s what a glue guy does. I liked that Quickley took Green’s lead and did the same. I liked that Montgomery found a way to get in on the action. Those “green shoots” are the foundation this team has to build upon. Will Johnson, Richards, Green, Quickley and Montgomery bring the same demonstrated performance from the second half of this game to the start of the next game? Which teammates will step up and join them? My vote is Washington and Travis. They can get themselves going. Herro’s gonna need some time to figure out how to get the separation he needs at this level. This feels much better than Tuesday night!

  15. bigbluehank
    12:53 am November 10, 2018 Permalink

    If they keep playing like this, they’ll be lucky to be playing in mid-March.

  16. davis2319
    1:42 am November 10, 2018 Permalink

    Everyone hopping on the Nick Richards hype train after Southern Illinois. I am a diehard fan and don’t get me wrong and I want to see players and our team succeed, but if you all seriously think Nick Richards will amount to shit while he is here you don’t watch the games. He was IRRELEVANT all of last season, and IRRELEVANT against Duke. One game with 8 points and a lot of rebounds and everyone is singing his praises. PJ could have the same stat line and everyone would say “what’s wrong with PJ, he is having a tough time”. Idiots