This Kentucky team is quietly becoming a juggernaut. Regardless of what happens tomorrow in the SEC Tournament finals, UK could be a tough out for anyone in the NCAAs.
The margin for error is thin, but as we've heard so many times all year, Kentucky is probably the nation's best team 1 through 6. And the chemistry is actually getting better.
Through two games in the SEC tourney, the Cats have now beaten two teams that took them out in the regular season. In both games, UK got mostly subpar efforts from its two leading scorers--Brandon Knight and SEC Freshman of the Year Terrence Jones. But the Wildcats were able to win with defense, rebounding and balanced scoring.
Coach Calipari is also doing a good job of recognizing matchups and calling timeouts at opportune moments. The Cats took advantage of Alabama's foul trouble today and found a way to score in the paint. It doesn't hurt that this team is full of lethal shooters.
Unfortunately, the Cats suffered two late injuries to DeAndre Liggins and Doron Lamb in the closing minutes while holding a big lead. Liggins appeared to walk it off after a rolled ankle. But with Lamb, it's uncertain. The BBL thinks he will likely sit tomorrow and be ok by next week. It will be tough sailing to win the SEC without him.
Some quick player recaps:
Doron Lamb. Despite his uncertain future, this guy is an assassin. He is a truly deadeye shooter coming off curls anywhere in the 15-22 foot range. His defense has also improved, and he has enough size and length to cause problems for opposing guards.
Brandon Knight. The jury is still out on whether Knight will stick around next year. But the BBL sincerely hopes he does. He gets better and better every game out. His ball fake step move vs. Ole Miss showed off his crazy skills. For a stretch in the early second half vs. Alabama he was simply uncheckable. His handle is questionable at best, and we think he's more of 2-man playing point. But Knight can flat out fly to the goal and finish in traffic.
Terrence Jones. Jones is MIA right now, but it's not killing UK because he is still playing good interior defense and rebounding inside with the trees. Unfortunately for TJ, he has had to make the most of this season while playing out of position, and it's starting to show. He's having trouble finishing up close and hasn't had enough touches on the perimeter to get any kind of rhythm going. As long as he plays unselfish basketball though, UK doesn't need him to go for 20 and 10 every night.
DeAndre Liggins. We know Liggins is a defensive wizard, and that the importance of his intensity and leadership are impossible to overstate. But against Bama, Liggins also showed some offensive aggressiveness and knocked down a couple threes. He sees the floor better than anyone on UK's roster and consistently wows you once or twice a game with a Magic Johnson pass. Bottom line: he stuffs the stat sheet. Saturday's line went 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists, while virtually erasing any backcourt production from Alabama. If D-Lig plays like that in the tourney, Kentucky is an undeniable Final Four threat.
Darius Miller. As UK Homer has said a few times on the BBL this year, Miller is UK's best offensive player, in terms of total package, and probably the team's second best athletic specimen. With his back to the basket, Miller is unstoppable. Coach Cal, recognizing this, is calling plays for Miller on the block when the Cats need a bucket. He also makes nearly half his jumpers. He may never be the star we all think he can be, but Miller has rounded into a dependable offensive weapon.
Josh Harrellson. We will finish with Josh because, quite simply, this guy exemplifies everything about this UK team that we like. He hustles, he shows emotion, energy and strength. He is a warrior on the interior and a magnet for the ball. He scores around the basket and cleans up the glass. When Harrellson plays well, the team plays well, and right now he is playing himself onto the SEC All-Tournament team.
What's it all mean?
This team is playing with confidence. We hope the Lamb injury isn't too serious because with his scoring punch, Kentucky has about as many offensive options as any team in college hoops. When all six of your guys can run, play defense and put the ball in the basket, you have a shot to go a long way. Right now, the Cats are playing their way toward a high 3 seed. With a first round draw in Cleveland, the Cats would put a lot of fans in the seats and be a favorite to get to the tournament second weekend.
We'll be back tomorrow with more breakdown after the Cats face the Vandy-Florida winner.go back