It was another less-than-stellar performance as UK finished its exhibition schedule with a 86-64 win over DII Indiana University Pennsylvania.
Kentucky didn’t seem overly motivated for the second straight game and it has left fans asking what happened to the Bahamas Cats. Tonight’s five takeaways will touch on the win, UK’s sloppy play, the experienced bigs, UK’s guards and looking ahead to Duke.
1. The Win:
Yikes. I’m not changing my preseason expectations because of tonight’s ugly win and I’m certainly not panicking, but it was another disappointing performance. If Kentucky plays with this effort against Duke it will be a blowout. UK could lose the Duke game and even that wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the Cats haven’t looked like a great basketball team since August and that’s somewhat concerning.
Some credit needs to go to IUP. UK didn’t play great, but IUP was legitimately good. They hit plenty of outside shots, but they were a smart team that played really well together. They took advantage of UK’s freshmen and made Kentucky work for the majority of their baskets. I would have thought that IUP was a MAC team, maybe C-USA. Certainly not DII. I watched Bellarmine take on Louisville and IUP looked much better.
UK did what they needed to do to get a win, but that was about it. Here are a few pros but mostly cons from Friday’s performance.
2. Sloppy Play:
Having more turnovers than IUP isn’t good (14-1). If the Cats didn’t have the Bahamas tour I could understand tonight’s turnovers, but UK has been playing and practicing together for over three months. They took care of the ball in their first outings against real competition and that was against grown professionals, not a DII team.
There’s too many players trying to do too much. Hopefully it’s just a one-game mindset because they thought they were going to crush IUP and they could play more aggressively, but there’s a difference between aggressiveness and carelessness. UK’s going to need several players to go into attack mode, but you can’t force the issue if it’s not there. It wasn’t there tonight for Keldon Johnson and that didn’t stop him from trying to take any and every player one-on-one. There will be games where doing less will do more for Keldon and the Cats.
But some of the passes were troubling tonight. Simple entry passes. Post, elbow, panic balls at the perimeter. Most of it seemed to be errant passes from the freshmen, and they’ll get better, but easy passes need to be easy. That’s a good way to blow a lead and allow an opposing team to start a big run.
3. Veteran Bigs:
Thank goodness for Reid Travis and P.J. Washington or else tonight would have been a different story. Both players are going to be incredibly important to UK’s success this year, but they’ll be more important for Kentucky to avoid upset losses. UK will rely on their consistency and even when other players struggle this season odds are you can count on Washington and Travis to bring the energy.
Washington is going to be a stud. I think he will be one of the best bigs in the country and we’ll be talking about how great of a decision he made returning for a sophomore season. We always saw flashes from Washington last season but he’s going to be more consistent this year and that high level of play will be the norm. I’m loving the way he’s moving without the ball. Maybe chalk it up to thinner PJ, but he’s catching the ball while in momentum more than just being set. It makes him more versatile and allows him to start with a head of steam. It’s fun to watch.
Travis is as blue collar of a Kentucky player that the Cats have had in years. He bumps, he grinds, he shines. In all seriousness, I love the way he talked with his teammates tonight. He made sure everyone was in the right spot and when UK’s lead was cut to seven he was caught on TV chatting with several players. It appeared he was trying to get them to lock in and finish off IUP.
Leadership is important, folks.
4. Guard play:
Kentucky’s not going to have the season it wants if it doesn’t have better point guard play. Things will get better, and Quickley, Hagans and Green will all improve, but one of those three will need to be good (or great) for the Cats to be able to beat Duke. The three combined for eight points, seven assists and four turnovers. One player should be putting up those numbers with half the turnovers.
I get it for Quickley and Hagans. I didn’t expect either to be elite in November, but Green’s disappointing night is concerning. When the younger guys were struggling he should have been able to step up and run the show, but he was just as shaky as the other players.
The most disappointing part was their defense. I was more disappointed with UK’s defense overall tonight than anything else. They were better against Transy, but they were really bad tonight. IUP had smaller guards, so maybe that had something to do with it, but these guys are going to need to guard Tre Jones and probably Cameron Reddish on Tuesday. They have a long way to go and not much time to get there.
Tyler Herro was the the best guard tonight. Five threes was special and it’s going to be a blast watching him grow as a player and as a scorer. The sky is the limit for that kid and it’s probably best we all enjoy his likely lone season in Kentucky.
5. Moving forward:
Bring. On. The. Blue. Devils. Ready or not, here they come. No. 2 vs. No. 4 in Indy on Tuesday night and the Cats will have the entire nation watching them the next time they take the floor.
There’s no doubt there’s some boredom from this team. They’ve already shined against professional teams. They put on a show at Big Blue Madness. They want the big stage and it was clear they weren’t overly interested in meaningless exhibitions. Let’s hope that was the biggest contributor to UK’s poor play over the last seven days and they will be able to turn it on against Duke.
Washington and Travis won’t allow UK to be blown out. The Cats will have the advantage inside and those two should thrive, but Kentucky needs one more player to have a big game. Maybe it’s Johnson. Maybe it’s Herro. Maybe Green surprises us and steps up in a big way and hits some threes. If one of those three have a big game, along with Washington/Travis, UK will be in a position to win the game. But there’s no doubt Cal will get his team’s attention after tonight.
Bring it on.