That wasn’t pretty. UK cruised to a blowout win, but the Cats didn’t look pretty along the way. There were plenty of nice moments but UK looked disinterested and it was the sloppiest this team has looked when you take into account the blue/white scrimmage and the Bahamas trip.
With Duke just 11 days away and one exhibition to go it wasn’t the most promising performance. Here are five takeaways from UK’s 94-66 win over Transylvania.
1. The Win:
For a 28-point win it could have been better. On the one hand I can understand UK sleepwalking through the game tonight. It’s Transylvania, this group has played four better teams already and the group is probably ready for Duke. But while I understand that sentiment it’s still not right. UK hasn’t played against another opponent for months and it was the first time playing a game (Blue/White scrimmage not included) at Rupp Arena for a lot of the players. They should have been more pumped up and ready to go.
So, that was slightly disappointing. UK still had really nice flashes, I still believe they’re one of the top teams in the county and they will have a chance to beat someone by 50 next Friday for one final tuneup before the Duke game, but they were sloppy tonight.
On my radio show this morning I said there were three things I wanted to see. We saw a little of all three but there are still questions.
More specifically I said I wanted to see how UK guarded the perimeter. We know the bigs won’t get pushed around and will be able to protect the rim, but I wanted to see how the guards would do.
The first half wasn’t great. UK came out slightly sluggish and the guards seemed OK allowing the Transy guards to funnel into the bigs. That can work just fine, but if you’re going to do that you can’t get caught standing. The guards would just watch the action in the paint and allow Transy to kick outside. The Bats hit nine threes on the night. They also had more ease scoring in garbage time, but I’m not too concerned about the final four minutes.
Defending guards that much smaller than you is challenging. I’m not making an excuse for UK’s first half, but it’s not what UK’s players are used to you have to play a different style of defense.
I thought the second half was better from the entire team, but especially the guards. I think when they pressed it woke them up a little bit and I’m sure that’s something we’ll see throughout the season.
E.J. Montgomery is incredibly versatile offensively but I thought he was the weak link defensively from the nine guys that will compete for playing time. I hope he looks better next week.
3. Three-point shooting:
I said that I was snake-bit from last season and I wanted to see UK hit some outside shots. They did fine in the Bahamas from deep. The first game in the Bahamas was unsettling but the final three games were good from the perimeter.
Tonight was horrible. Only one made three against a D3 team. Obviously UK didn’t need to hit from the perimeter, and to have the offensive production they had with just one three is nice, but sheesh.
UK can’t win a national championship without being a good outside shooting team. You don’t have to be elite but you have to be able to be versatile in your scoring. Heck, the one three that went in hit every part of the rim.
I don’t think three-point shooting will be an issue, but if UK can’t consistently hit from deep it’s going to hurt UK’s biggest strength: interior offense. If Kentucky can’t force defenses to guard them outside, we’ll see the usual “pack it inside” defense from UK’s opponents.
Let’s hope it was just an off night and the Cats are much better next week. I think the shooters are there but we didn’t see anyone create their own shot.
4. Attacking guards:
I wanted to see UK’s point guards, specifically Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, attack the rim. I saw enough from Hagans but Quickley’s overall game was disappointing, but especially getting to the rim.
UK’s point guards won’t have to shine this season. It’s probably slightly more important they do a good job facilitating and hitting open shots than attacking inside, but like I already mentioned, versatility is important. The more those two can get inside the more outside shots they will create for the teammates, but it’s also important to get to the line.
I think Hagans is going to be a star by the end of the season, but I was surprised to see him look so much better than Quickley tonight. All season there will probably games where Quickley looks better then the next game it’s Hagans, but I really like Hagans upside. He has John Wall and De’Aaron Fox speed, but not as in control/the finisher just yet.
5. Moving forward:
Kentucky will take on Indiana University of Pennsylvania in seven days and the Cats could certainly look a lot sharper. As long as UK hits more outside shots and isn’t as sloppy (14 turnovers against this competition isn’t idea) then it will look much better next week, but if the Cats have back-to-back sloppy exhibitions it won’t have fans feeling warm and fuzzy heading into the Duke game.
And that’s really what these exhibitions are all about. Kentucky is trying to workout the kinks as soon as possible so they can put themselves in a position to get a resume building win in the first game of the season. Tonight had some good moments but lacked inspiration. That won’t be an issue for the Duke game, but I’d still like to see my three keys executed next week.
The perimeter defense can get better. The outside shooting must be better. I loved seeing Hagans attack tonight, but it’d be nice to see more out of Quickley next week.
I’m as pumped as anyone for the football game tomorrow but it’s nice to have basketball back.