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T.J.’s TAKES: UK’s defense isn’t great

Sunday’s 92-82 win over VMI was strange. Kentucky was horrible defensively and the game was much closer than it should have been, but there wasn’t the sense of panic from UK fans and certainly not from the team. That was the strange part.

Besides that it was a pretty poor performance. UK was able to score with ease, but that was to be expected against such a small and inferior opponent. But not being able to get stops against that small and inferior team was the story of the night.

Here are five takeaways from UK’s win.

1. The Win:

Yikes. There was no sense of urgency from the Cats tonight and while Kentucky likely thought they were in control all game, one or two stops from the Keydets would have made things interesting. Luckily UK’s offense was in sync, but I have to imagine John Calipari is pretty surprised with how behind his team is defensively. We’ve seen in it every game but this team will have stretches that are nightmarish on that end of the floor.

I still think a good chunk of it is effort, but tonight you do have to tip your cap to Bubba Parham. He was on fire and VMI’s entire team had a stellar shooting night from outside.

Parham’s threes, whatever, he was in a zone and UK made him work for the majority of his threes. But things were too easy for the rest of VMI. Defense is a major concern for this group.

2. Defense:

Allow me to go into more detail. Before getting negative I do want to defend UK a little bit (be patient). VMI plays a wonky style, they were on fire and Bubba had one of the wildest performances in Rupp Arena history. This UK team clearly struggles to guard smaller teams and once Kentucky gets in the meat of its schedule they won’t have to worry about weird mismatches having players guard dudes that are several inches shorter.

But Duke wasn’t small and had similar size as the Cats, and they torched UK. There’s no denying that Kentucky’s just a bad defensive team at this point and time. I think the potential is there to be a good defensive team at some point, but I’m skeptical if this can ever be an elite defensive team.

Tonight the Cats struggled defending the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop and that’s been the case all season. Calipari teams are almost always horrible defending the pick-and-roll to start the season but they seem to figure it out come March, so I guess we’ll just need to be patient. But in the meantime, when UK can’t guard the pick-and-roll/pop it’s leading to wide open shots. Most are on the perimeter but the Keydets also had several uncontested layups tonight.

It’s a little disappointing seeing a sophomore PJ Washington get beaten so much defensively. We know how good he is and we’ve seen him have great defensive games, but they seem to be few and far between and I don’t think it’s because of talent. Although maybe Washington gets a slight pass for his poor defense because he was a beast everywhere else. 19 points and 18 rebounds for the sophomore.

3. Bubba:

How about Bubba Parham? Fans will complain about tonight’s win, and I get it. Hell, I just did when writing about UK’s defense, but you do have to give it up for Bubba. 35 points and 10 of his 11 made field were from the perimeter. That. Is. Nuts. When VMI was beaten by 39 Pittsburgh (yup… Capel’s team), he had 16 points and only hit three threes. Obviously he was on fire tonight and we’ve seen a lot of players do that at Rupp Arena, but UK’s defense deserves some credit.

It’s easier to say this when UK wins, but I do appreciate how Kentucky fans appreciate a good opposing performance at Rupp. I remember UK fans giving Elston Turner credit back in 2013 when he went off for the Aggies, and there have been several players before that have received an ovation from UK fans. Props to those at Rupp.

4. Guard play:

I praised UK’s guards after Wednesday’s game, but here we are again. Immanuel Quickley had a nice string of solid performances but that ended tonight. Tyler Herro couldn’t put back-to-back good games together. Ashton Hagans was one of the few bright spots defensively, but he continues to bring nothing to the table offensively.

But thank goodness for Quade Green. He was the only UK guard that brought it tonight and I’m starting to think the Cats are going to be dependent on him being consistent. 17 points and three threes was exactly what UK needed. That’s too much to ask from Green every night, but double-digit scoring and at least two threes isn’t too crazy.

We have to look at this big picture and realize it’s only November, but UK’s backcourt seems unreliable outside of Green. Defensively there’s much to be desired, too.

5. Moving forward:

Well, here we go again. I said after UK’s ugly win over Southern Illinois fans should take things game-by-game and not look too far ahead, but after the North Dakota performance on Wednesday I was as guilty as anyone thinking that UK had the blowout win they needed and the Bahamas Cats may be back.

They’re not.

This UK team still has some major flaws, but luckily they have months to figure it out. We have evidence that this team will be able to put up points and I’m not concerned offensively. I did like the way they pounded VMI inside. There was a major advantage to be had in the paint and the Cats executed by scoring 42 points in the interior.

But how far this team can go in March will depend if they can eventually turn the corner defensively. The Cats get Winthrop on Wednesday in what will likely be another sleepy atmosphere. UK will (obviously) have a major talent advantage, but the Eagles can put up points. This will be a good chance for UK to try and lockdown defensively, but if the Cats have another poor performance defensively it will be time to panic.

Panicking isn’t fun, so let’s hope there’s better effort on that end of the court on Wednesday.


Article written by TJ Walker

28 Comments for T.J.’s TAKES: UK’s defense isn’t great

  1. 72uksprinter
    8:35 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    T.J.’s TAKES: UK’s defense isn’t great
    What defense?

    • michaelb
      8:49 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      72 uk sprinter . Did u run track ?

    • E11Q
      10:17 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      Biggest issues facing UK this year both coming from the guard position.

      1) They don’t have a guard that can penetrate and get to/finish at the rim at will, a la Wall, Bledsoe, Fox, etc.

      2) They don’t have that “lock down” guard that can stay in front of a ball handler either (this isn’t just based on Bubba’s performance tonight either). Wall, Bledsoe, and Fox could all lock up a guy when needed and I’m not sure if we have that guy on the roster. Same kinda problem that we had the year after KAT’s group left. That team was better offensively, but not very good guarding the perimeter off the bounce and they got killed by teams that had a guard who could penetrate at will, like Yogi Ferrel.

      3) Also, Cal running this 3 out 2 in offense with two bigs playing stationary on the blocks is going to hurt you against teams that make a bunch of threes. We traded 2’s for 3’s tonight and it killed us. If UK doesn’t have an unusually accurate game from the 3pt line tonight (28-35 from the stripe) they lose this game.

  2. Bigblue7982
    8:37 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    They were hitting contested fadeaway 3’s.

    • michaelb
      8:48 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      What about the 15 times that slow white guys would slash to the rim for a dunk / layup / finger roll / make extra pass to the one or 2 guys that hadn’t hit a three on us yet. Yep they were doing that half the time .

    • Sublem
      8:53 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      “15 times” no, that did not happen at all LMFAO

      In fact, their 2pt FG percentage was atrocious.

    • CATandMONKEY
      9:01 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      Well, VMI scored 57 on 3’s and 5 on free throws. That leaves 20 points. 10 shots. Maybe all of them were as you describe.

      Agree that there were too many breakdowns on D,for routine situations.

    • E11Q
      10:32 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      Look, the bottom line is that was a horrific matchup for UK. Teams that are going to hurt UK are teams that pull their bigs away from the rim and run a lot of PnR or Dribble Hand-Offs because, unlike our best teams, we don’t have bigs that can guard effectively guard on the perimeter, which means we can’t switch at all five positions like the best teams Cal’s had (like Davis, Cauley-Stein, Patterson teams).

      Knowing how VMI played, and then seeing their offense (which is MUCH more motion based than ours) you knew that it was going to be a rough matchup. Their 5-Out based offense was very well designed. Dribble from the point to the wing, wing man back cuts forcing the help defender in the corner to slide towards the block to help on the cut, straight into a dribble hand off to the man in the corner who gets a free run because his man is out of position due to the fact that he has to help on the back cut, which in turn forces our bigs to hedge hard to allow the on-ball defender to catch back up to his man. And they ran it to perfection.

      That was a very well coached team that executed their offense very well and also had a guy play the best game he’s every played (had 4 made 3’s total in the previous 4 games). I’m more disappointed in the fact that we kinda started to coast when the lead was pushed up to 19. I’m chalking this up to the fact that this was a horrific matchup for UK and VMI had an insane night from 3pt land. If we played them again tomorrow night, we’d beat them by 30. They’ll never shoot like that again in the history of the school haha.

      And let’s give credit to VMI for making adjustments to the defensive adjustments we made to them. In the second half we tried switching ball screens, tried face-guarding Bubba, tried trapping him off ball screens, and tried going over the top of screens. Bubba just made plays and when he couldn’t get his own shot, he got the ball to open teammates (especially when we started trapping him off ball screens at the top of the key) and his teammates did their job by making open shots.

  3. michaelb
    8:45 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    I want a Bubba Parm jersey !
    Hey this team has to drive coach completely nutzo. Defense is nothing more than an afterthought with this team . Especially the back court d. These guys don’t even care either . It shows that it clearly doesn’t bother them to watch a player do whatever he wishes .

    • 72uksprinter
      8:59 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      michael b,
      I was on the UK track team when the peach baskets still had bottoms.

  4. michaelb
    8:46 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    Herros charges could go eithe way. I’ve seen thousands of instances where it’s called the exact opposite after the whistle

  5. BTownUKFan
    8:49 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    6 blocks, 6 steals. Nothing to sneeze at. Most of the failed pick and rolls were because Nick Richards seemed to get lost on the switches or not make the switch at all. People forget we go through this every year. You have young guys not used to playing any defense and you are teaching them to play team defense and to stop well coached teams. Cut these guys some slack, they’ll be fine. How many times you let Parham take those 16 threes in a game and he hits 10? Not very many.
    GO CATS !!

  6. jytruebluefan
    8:51 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    This game is a game that’s difficult to assess defensive because VMI was making every show they threw up lol

  7. Jiminy Crickets
    8:52 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    Other than 2012 and 2015 when has UKs defense been great under Cal? Calipari teaches straight man2man and switch on all screens. Teams pass ball 2-3 tines while setting screens, and get the matchup they want…. that’s it

    8:52 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    Do we/should we have a rim protector?
    Would be ok with blocks by committee. Takes some pressure off the guards out front, maybe decreasing fouls?

    I don’t have an answer. I get reimbursed exactly Zip for my basketball accumen…and I am probably overpaid.

  9. N-UR-i
    8:52 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    We could contend for the MAC conference title.

    • bigbluebanana
      12:45 am November 19, 2018 Permalink

      There’s some teams over there you can go root for you dumb sardine, we’d be a lot better without you.

  10. BTownUKFan
    8:55 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    Whoever is panicking over Kentucky basketball in November is an idiot and needs to get a life.

    • CATastrophic
      9:03 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink


    • Wade
      11:11 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

      We are bored though and not happy. Yup! Who’s your favorite player so far? This train will pickup speed I hope!

  11. CATastrophic
    9:02 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    Take a few deep breaths and calm yourself, TJ. This is nothing new in the Calipari era. 18 year old starters = offense ALWAYS precedes defense in early season games. Particularly perimeter defense. I have only very few doubts that this lineup will come onboard as defensive lineups have each of the past 9 years (‘cept maybe for the N. Noel year :-0). Way too early to pass judgement on these young fellas. CLEARLY so much talent we are blessed with. Like Calipari, I wouldn’t trade them for any other Division I lineup in the country.

  12. BTownUKFan
    9:27 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    Here’s what you take away from this game. The bigs fought for defensive and offensive rebounds. Quade is not afraid to take the big shot. E. J. is going to be a rim protector. The team did not let VMI’s tenacity disrupt their game plan. P.J. was a beast on the boards. Teams are going to score lots of points because we shoot early in the shot clock more often than not. If you are a gambler take the over on every Kentucky game. This team will get better. Herro will get his mojo eventually.

  13. SGD
    9:34 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    This is what you get with wanna be AAU stars. Overinflated egos that don’t know how to play basketball. The true stars are going elsewhere. Cal’s teams have become so mediocre, that we are supposed to celebrate because we make the 2nd weekend of the tournament. His BS has become tiresome. Maybe he should go and coach in the G league.

    • bigbluebanana
      12:47 am November 19, 2018 Permalink

      You can go root for any other team cheech. Go on, we’ll be okay without you.

  14. henderblue
    10:31 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    Idiot right there ^^^

  15. henderblue
    10:34 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink

    I would add one other thing to your summary BTown…we get everyone’s best shot. And they brought it tonight.

  16. Cincy Cayt
    11:43 pm November 18, 2018 Permalink