The Cats have clawed their way back to #13 in the rankings and I think that’s about right. This UK team is good but not great, but outside of Duke, I don’t really see any potentially great teams out there yet. And, fortunately, Duke’s really only dangerous when they’re the underdog, so I say keep voting them #1! Sacrilege, you say? Nah, rankings don’t matter. And even if Duke was ranked #82, they’d still get to play in Greensboro or Charlotte all the way through the tourney! Put the expectations on them and they’ll melt, heaping adulation on them is the only way to wilt them! Rooting for Duke to finish #1 just goes to show how ultimately meaningless rankings are--dude, we’ve got a tournament in basketball! When the season’s over we’ll KNOW who is #1 and not merely the most loved by lazy sportswriters.
I’d say UK right now is a solid 3-seed for the tourney and that’s fine, just fine. And we've got an excellent opportunity to get up to a #2 or even a #1 by year's end. The looming conference schedule will give us the real picture of UK’s potential. Jones and Knight are dynamic players that give UK the ability to hang with anybody on any given night. I think that gives us a better chance in a tournament setting than the night-in/night-out grind of the regular season. We’re lacking size inside (Free Enes!) and this squad is young. The beautiful thing about conference play is the familiarity of it: you know your opponents and you know they’re gunning to beat UK every time out. So even though the Cats should be better than everyone else in the conference, we’ll get plenty of competition and that brings maturity, forges a team identity and gives Coach Cal plenty of opportunities to remind these kids what’s on the line.
How are the players doing so far? Depth in the middle and foul trouble threaten to dampen this season. But that's not a comment on who's there, only who's not there.
Terrence Jones is averaging a robust 10 rebounds per game. Combined with Harrellson’s 9.3 per night, the two of them account for almost half of UK’s total rebounds. Props to them, but its a depressing statement about the rest of the team: no one’s crashing the boards, no one’s got size, no one’s got a nose for the ball, no one’s out-hustling his opponent. Tough to win when only two guys are doing all the clean-up work. Jones has been the whole package. He handles the ball well with both hands, can drive to the basket almost at will, runs the floor well on offense and in transition defense, is a decent outside shooter, a fine rebounder, a good shot blocker and an all-around hustler out there. He sucks from the foul line, which negatively impacts his points per game, and he has a tendency to overplay his hot hand (ie, taking back-to-back 3 pointers). He’s young and that’s what young players do. He’ll be gone next year, believe that, but hopefully we’ll get to see him evolve over the next few months.
Brandon Knight is knocking down 3’s at a 34% clip, not alarmingly awful, let’s call it the low side of average. But he’s taken twice as many (65) as Darius Miller (32), who’s shooting 53% back there! Like all young phenom PG’s, Knight relies too much on chucking up jumpers than doing the dirty work of distributing. He runs the break well but this team doesn’t run up fast break points the way, say, last year’s team did. His half court presence is solid and calming but his creativity is still developing. Knight has more turnovers (38) than assists (37), but since he plays the most minutes and handles the ball more than anybody, this assist-to-turnover ratio is perhaps forgivable. But it ain’t doing anything for his lottery chances! If he thinks he’s a one-and-done talent, well, he needs to become that rather than thinking it. But maybe that’s good for us: Coach Cal hasn’t had a 2nd year PG in a while, what with Rose, Evans and Wall all going pro right away. It’ll be good for both of them, I think, to see how Cal imbues this protege with maturity. I'm curious to see Knight after 70 games under his belt rather than the 35 or so he'll get this year.
DeAndre Liggins has 34 baskets in 84 shots; Miller has the same amount of baskets on 13 fewer attempts, while Lamb has made 6 more baskets in only 3 more attempts. Liggins is getting to the FT line, which is good; but he’s a less than 60% FT shooter, which is bad (Shaq bad!). Liggins needs to give up the ball sooner and learn to hit his free throws. Liggins plays hard and, occasionally, can really take advantage of his opponent. But, while he’s a natural athlete, he has never seemed like a basketball player to me. And despite his hard work, he still doesn’t. Defensively he uses his length and quickness to good effect, but offensively he tries to do too much (largely because Miller tries to do too little!). I’d like to see him use a little more wisdom in picking his times to be aggressive and include his teammates more. He drives well and gets fouled a lot, if he could effectively get more open looks for Miller, Lamb and Knight, then he could be a real asset rather than the flailing wild card he is.
Josh Harrellson has played 160 more minutes than Jon Hood and has 3 FEWER free throws. Dang, Josh! I know he doesn’t shoot much or have the ball in foul situations, but just a hint of aggressiveness would be interesting to see. He’s starting to play with more swagger lately and hopefully we’ll see more confidence in his jumper, his ability to finish off the break and his shots in traffic. He doesn’t have to dish off to the super-freshmen every time, though its like he’s like he has to endure electro-shock treatments if he fails to do so. Oh, I understand that Harrelson is there to provide service for Knight and Jones, but he can serve them well but getting to the free throw line a little more or posting up once in a while.
Darius Miller is averaging 10 points per game. As a 50% 3-point shooter, he’d be averaging 13 if he took just TWO more shots per game. Two more! Just take ‘em, dude! Not since Randolph Morris has UK had a player that made me pull me hair out as much as Miller. He’s got game but I wonder about his desire. I know he's got it in him, but will he ever show it?
Doron Lamb is a having a fine freshman year. Now he just needs to keep it going. 10 games doesn’t make you a star and he’s got a long way to go to prove that he was worthy of the hype that surrounded him coming out of high school. He’s well on his way, no complaints. I’d like to see his defense tighten up, more consistency from the outside and more free throw attempts. And if he needs to pry the ball out of Liggins’s hands, then so be it.
Eloy Vargas is averaging 12 minutes per game and he’s played in all 10 games so far. Really? I feel like I’ve barely seen this kid play and yet he’s got two full hours of game time in. Uh, he’s got long legs...I think he speaks Spanish...seems like a nice guy...
Jon Hood still hasn’t developed into the player I hoped he’d be. I’m not asking for a lot: 8 minutes a game, maybe 2 shot attempts, a blistering FT% and enough hustle to make himself useful on defense. If he could get hot from the outside, he could fill it up against a team like Alabama or Georgia and somewhere along the way we might really need a big scoring night for someone unexpected. Well, HE is the unexpected! He’s got length and he’ll find his shooting touch eventually, he just isn’t making the most of the time he’s been given. Is he on his way out?
Stacey Poole hasn’t played much but has occasionally looked like he is worthy of more playing time. With another Calipari recruiting class on the way (and who knows, maybe we’ll get to see Enes next year), his prospects for playing time aren’t getting any better. He needs a bust-out performance, a signature play to establish himself in the rotation. Otherwise, he’ll face the choice of languishing way at the end of the bench or heading off to somewhere like Murray State.
Here's a random observation to get you ready for Winthrop: UK is averaging just under 20 3-point shots per game. The distribution: Knight 6.5 per game, Lamb 3.7, Miller 3.2, Jones 2.7, Liggins 2.5. Obviously the game is too fluid to ‘coach’ this, but I’d like to see Miller and Lamb take more, everyone else take less. Something like: Miller 5, Lamb 4, Knight 3, Jones 2, Liggins 2, Hood 1. I don’t know how you implement that, that kind of discipline is impossible to coach, but, you know, this is just my gut instinct.go back