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What will Calipari do now?

Elliott Hess | UK Athletics

Elliott Hess | UK Athletics

Elliott Hess | UK Athletics

To platoon, or not to platoon — that is the question.

The devastating loss of Alex Poythress leaves Kentucky without its starting forward and best pure athlete, so John Calipari has a difficult coaching decision on his hands, one day before North Carolina comes to town.

Does he reload his platoons and stay the course? Or does he abort and abandon the two-team system?

There are so many options and combinations at his disposal, and it will take more than a game or two to figure out what’s best long term. But for now, something has to be done on the fly to make up for the loss of No. 22.

Let’s start with the simple option: insert Derek Willis into the Blue or White platoon. Whether it be starting alongside the twins, Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein or replacing Trey Lyles in the second wave while Lyles moves up, Willis may see his number called for a regular appearance in the 10-man rotation. Cal said at the beginning of the year that Willis will be used as a reserve for an injured forward in the two platoons; well, Kentucky has its injured forward.

If Cal doesn’t trust Willis as a full-time contributor but wants to keep platooning, he could go small with the White team by promoting Dominique Hawkins. Hawkins and Tyler Ulis would make for an undersized backcourt but their ball pressure would be suffocating. Booker would slide over to the three in that look, giving UK a platoon that could match up well with a quick opponent. Of course, Booker could also play with the Harrisons, keeping Lyles on Team White to make up for the lack of size at the guard position. That could be a situational call made on a game-by-game basis.

And then there is abandoning Operation Platoon altogether and going with a traditional eight-man rotation. Many fans hope this is the route Calipari takes, but I think Cal is too stubborn to give up on the system he spent the entire fall marketing. Cal wants platooning to work because his biggest critics say it won’t. He wants it to work because it’s never been done before, like winning a national title with freshmen and sophomores had never been done before. And above all that, Cal wants equal playing time for his players because they deserve it, and it worked through the first 10 games of the season.

Who knows what’s going through Coach Cal’s mind right now; he was just blindsided with a horrible loss at a terrible time of the season. Alex’s injury comes at the beginning of UK’s toughest three-game stretch on the schedule and the Cats have no time to toy with new schemes and rotations. They’re left to reevaluate what they spent over a quarter of the season practicing, all on the fly, with North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville as the practice dummies. It’ll be interesting — and nerve-racking — to see how it all plays out.

My guess is Cal will stick with the platoons, rotating Willis and Hawkins as the tenth man. But if Willis and Hawkins can’t consistently produce, Cal can’t be too hardheaded to give up on the platoons.

We’ll have a better idea of what he plans to do in about three hours when he addresses the media at 2:00 pm.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

11 Comments for What will Calipari do now?

  1. Mc12
    11:11 am December 12, 2014 Permalink

    I don’t think a lot will change, but he’ll just have more flexibility at the 3. If a team zones us, you may see Booker (or Ulis) get a few more minutes. If we’re playing a physical team, Lyles may get a few more minutes. If a team is up-tempo you may see Aaron get a few extra minutes at the 3 with Ulis at the point.

    It can be used to make adjustments based on the opponent rather than how it was going.

  2. TJY
    11:25 am December 12, 2014 Permalink

    I want to see the Platoon System continue. Our energy and constant defense is why the other teams are fading in the 12-8 minute mark of the second half. I would try Willis on the Blue Platoon because they are more experienced overall. The White Platoon needs Lyles strength more than Willis shooting. It will probably be the same with each Platoon having a guest star to run with. Or just never take Willie off the floor and I will be happy.

    • CatFan26
      11:41 am December 12, 2014 Permalink

      I agree. I think Lyles needs to stay on the white platoon and Willis can be inserted into the blue platoon. The only question being IF there is a close game at the end, Lyles may swap with Willis for the last several minutes.

    • UK Big Board Update
      12:55 pm December 12, 2014 Permalink

      Why would you swap Lyles at the end in a close game?

    • CatFan26
      1:06 pm December 12, 2014 Permalink

      The blue team will be on the floor at the end of a close game. So at the end Lyles should stay on the floor instead of Willis since he is the better player. Why would you not have Lyles in at the end?

  3. Sublem
    11:25 am December 12, 2014 Permalink

    With Willis starting on either platoon, that gives us a threat beyond the arc.

  4. lexslamman
    11:45 am December 12, 2014 Permalink

    I think the biggest hangup about Willis has been the question of his athleticism – can he be a high-level D1 defender?

    Last year you could see, even in his limited minutes, that he was a fantastic offensive player but his D and his strength skills, like rebounding, just weren’t there yet. This year Willis has had the benefit of the year of experience and conditioning and he’s come back stronger and with more lateral quickness. He’s ready to step into the White platoon, enabling Lyles to move up to the Blue platoon. Easy fix.

  5. sammydog
    11:54 am December 12, 2014 Permalink

    Love his offense but Willis will be a defensive liability. He could be hidden in a zone defense but Cal will never go zone.

  6. BlueDeuce
    12:12 pm December 12, 2014 Permalink

    Add Willis in where Alex was…that platoon has the best change to mask his defense with Willie and Karl. Lyles has to stay with the second platoon for rebounding and shooting. When things get close or late game, Cal will put the best team on the floor to win anyway. I think this will allow them to keep playing the platoons and then game situations will determine if Cal should go away from the platoons.

  7. Bledsoe's Biceps
    2:11 pm December 12, 2014 Permalink

    I’ll be stunned if Cal abandons the platoons or a slightly “tweaked” version of it. The only way he goes to an 8 man rotation is if the wheels fall off and some players stop contributing. It’s not impossible, but it’s not likely. He has to get minutes for these guys, to maintain the team chemistry.

  8. Ken Grizzle
    3:20 pm December 12, 2014 Permalink

    While we can’t say for sure just exactly what Cal will do because of Alex’s injury there’s one thing for sure He won’t do–Push The Panic Button! He’ll have a plan,no doubt a good one at that,and things will work out for the fans and team. Maybe get us focused 100% of the time during games.