When it’s all said and done, the word that may best define the 2010-2011 season for the Kentucky Wildcats is “close.”
Close in victory. Close in defeat. Close to great. But not quite there.
The Cats lost another nail biter on the road, this time in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Coliseum by a count of 81-77, giving them losses in three out of four games during a crucial stretch of SEC play. Vandy was led by a masterful performance from John Jenkins, who dropped 32 and scored on what seemed like every meaningful possession.
Kentucky is dangerously close to falling out of the top 25, but due to a slew of quality wins and a high RPI, is in no trouble at this time of missing out on the NCAA tourney.
With that said, UK is struggling. The team is flat out exhausted, showing signs of fatigue from playing a short rotation all season.
It’s hard to say what the Cats will do in postseason play, but one thing is clear—the heartbreaking losses on the road in the SEC will make these kids a forced to be reckoned with next year. If the freshmen don’t leave early.
Liggins is gaining confidence and coming close (there’s that word again) to fulfilling his lofty potential. Liggins re-entered the game Saturday with about 8 minutes to play and sitting on four fouls. He promptly took a huge charge, hit a long three to give UK its first lead since the first half, and then pulled down a swooping rebound in traffic on the defensive side of the ball. This mini-stretch demonstrated everything Liggins brings to this team. But a late turnover and several instances of over-penetration and ill-advised passes also showed his tendency to fade.
Knight is as quick as they come. He can get to the rack at will and has a knack for hitting high arching bank shots in the lane. He is also a solid three point shooter, despite an unorthodox shooting form. But Knight is nowhere near the physical specimen of Calipari’s recent heralded guards. He is a shooting guard playing point guard with an average handle at best. Last year at this time, the BBL was adamant that both John Wall and Eric Bledsoe were ready for the NBA. We’ve watched Knight closely and do not feel the same way. We have no idea what his handlers, friends and family may be telling him, but we have to hope no one with an ounce of sense is advising him to think about the NBA after this season. He could be a great three- or four-year player with an outside chance of developing into an impact performer at the next level. But a Derek Rose or John Wall he is not.
Lamb is a silky smooth slasher and shooter with absolutely no fear. He consistently steps up and makes free throws or big shots coolly and calmly. But if Knight is far from ready for NBA ball, Lamb isn’t even in the conversation. His feet are still a bit slow and it shows on defense, where he has trouble keeping opposing guards in front of him. And his athleticism is simply not there, at least at this point. He is only 18 and we firmly expect him to develop physically and emotionally. He could be an all-time Kentucky great, and we think it will be fun to see how he holds off the incoming class from taking away valuable minutes.
We’ve talked about Jones ad nauseum this season. He is a total package. Can go right or left off the dribble, has a quick first step, and can score from anywhere on the court. When he rebounds and blocks shots, he can completely change and/or take over games. We think he will leave after this year, and we agree with that decision. He has worlds of upside and his stock is high right now. We’d love to see him return, but in today’s one and done game, Jones fits the bill for early entry. Still, we think he’ll need a couple years in the league before he’s able to make a name for himself.
Thank god for Harrellson. He isn’t much of a scorer, other than garbage points. But he has rightly earned a spot in the hearts of the Wildcat faithful due to his high energy and aggressive style of play. Quite simply, Harrellson is a warrior in the post, battling for tough rebounds, blocking shots, taking charges and just generally giving you everything he’s got. If he stays out of foul trouble, he’ll give UK 30+ minutes of irreplaceable PT the rest of the season.
Even in Calipari’s tiny 6-man rotation, Miller is no more than a role player with the ability to occasionally give you 10 points. He is good at making threes early in the game when there is less defensive pressure. But in crunch time, Coach Cal has no interest in keeping him on the floor for long stretches. Miller has worlds of talent, but just doesn’t have the mentality to make him a star. With a boat load of studs coming in next year, we expect Miller’s minutes to drop in 2012-2012, which is sad given the fact that he could provide much needed senior leadership.
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