To the common fan, yesterday’s news that Reid Travis will have to miss at least two weeks with a sprained right knee would seem like a blow for Kentucky; however, you’re not the common fan. You’re a Kentucky fan, which means you know the game better than most, so you realize that this could be a blessing in disguise for the Cats as we get closer to March.
Will Reid being out affect the Cats in the short term? Obviously. The two-week time frame includes games vs. Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and potentially Florida. Not having Reid will hurt in some cases more than others. Auburn and Ole Miss are both guard-oriented teams, so Kentucky can afford to play a smaller lineup. Reid had a huge impact on the Tennessee game because he took care of Grant Williams down low, allowing PJ Washington to shine. Having Reid would certainly help Kentucky contain Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford; however, not having him will force Kentucky’s three other bigs, namely Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery to step up.
How many times have we heard John Calipari say that Nick Richards is the key to Kentucky winning a national championship? Countless. Throughout the season, Richards has made baby steps of progress here or there, but continues to be inconsistent. Same thing for EJ Montgomery, who, at times, has shown glimpses of being a transformational player for the Cats. Remember his 11-point, 13-rebound performance vs. South Carolina? Nick and EJ are averaging 10.7 and 13.9 minutes per game, respectively; those numbers will most certainly go up in Reid’s absence. With the brass ring of minutes in front of them, the hope is both will elevate their games and build their confidence.
“One guy’s misery is another guy’s opportunity,” Cal said on last night’s call-in show. “So now you have Nick and EJ, now you have that opportunity to get extended minutes. Now, any clutter you were hearing — you should be playing more, etc. — alright, now there it is.”
A better Nick and EJ will lead to a better Kentucky. The most obvious area in which they can contribute is rim protection. Kentucky’s 24th in the country in blocks, with 4.85 per game. Nick leads the team with 1.3 blocks per game, followed by PJ Washington with 1.1 and EJ with 1.0. On offense, that jump hook Nick showed off in the Tennessee game could become a deadly weapon.
“That jump hook he has, unstoppable,” Cal said. “His ability to block shots, his ability to go get rebounds that other players can’t get because he’s seven foot tall.”
On the flip side, if EJ can hone that jump shot he’s shown us on occasion, he could be a matchup nightmare, but with Reid out, Calipari just wants him to focus on the glass.
“At the end of the Missouri game I thought EJ was fabulous against [Jeremiah] Tilmon. He sat him down, he used his quickness, he used his length and he stopped trying to mud wrestle. In EJ’s case, be that active guy, be that secondary scorer. Put yourself in position to go get rebounds, make us different. Reid gave us that. Well, guess what EJ, you’re going to have to give us some of that now.”
With Reid in the middle, PJ Washington’s been able to showcase other parts of his games, such as his three-point shot, but with Reid out, he’s going to have to move back inside.
“I told PJ, now you’ve got to be that guy. We have no one else to go roughhouse. You have to be that guy. And that’s what’s going to make it hard for PJ but let’s just hope he has to hold the fort down for a couple of weeks and we get Reid back and go.”
Maybe even further than we would have gone before.