Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: 5 Things We Know for Sure About the Wildcats
After playing probably their most complete game of the season against LSU over the weekend, beating the Tigers 74-50, the Kentucky Wildcats followed it up with a convincing 69-44 spanking of Tennessee, which would have been even worse without some hot three-point shooting from the Vols in the first half.
Now 8-0 in SEC play with eight games to go, we're starting to see something from this team that we have been waiting for after their spectacular, but oftentimes frustrating, play so far this season.
There's still plenty of time for the team to grow and continue to get better. I'm hopeful that they will start peaking at the right time the same way that last year's team did, but with a higher ceiling. However, I think it's pretty clear that we know these five things to be true right now.
Defense Must Jump Start the Offense
Too often we've seen this young team come out and take way too long to get going offensively. They seem unsure of themselves and plenty of times the offense has stalled and players start forcing plays that they shouldn't be forcing.
But when Kentucky comes out and hits a team in the mouth defensively, the offense picks up right along with it. Blocks and defensive stops that lead to runouts are what the Wildcats live for. They want to get out and run. And once they start doing that, they start to feel more comfortable with the ball. They get into a groove.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the one guy who is always ready to play, started picking up Tennessee's point guard full court to start the game. That intensity carried over to the rest of the team.
I'm not saying Kentucky's 11-for-11 start was a direct result of their great defense to start the game, but I think it definitely played a part.
Marquis Teague Is Still the Weak Link
I've been hard on Marquis Teague this year. I'd say too hard, probably.
He's a freshman point guard. You can't forget that. The standard was set far too high with John Wall and Brandon Knight before him. Teague is neither of those players, and we should have never expected him to be.
That being said, he is the weak link on this team, or at least the rotating six that start. And that's less of a knock against him as it is a testament to how good everyone else has been all year.
But Teague's passes can be lackadaisical, his jump shot is still suspect to say the least and for some reason he has a tendency to miss layups. And Kentucky has to be okay with it, because there are no better options.
Marquis Teague is not going to win UK any games, but he has the ability to lose one for them if he's not careful. If he plays responsible and doesn't try to do too much, I believe that Teague can be good enough. And with all the talent surrounding him, that's all he needs to be.
Terrence Jones Is the Key to a Championship
Before the LSU game, I got into a debate about how Terrence Jones was the one guy that Kentucky needed to step up the most. After these last two games, I not only think it's the key to a UK championship, but I think it's possible.
Yes, Jones will disappear for long stretches of time, that's going to be a given. But I think he's getting to the point where he'll show up when the team needs him. The aggressiveness he showed against LSU and UT, it definitely looks like he has gotten his confidence back that went missing for so long after the Indiana game.
Jones does not need to be the best player on Kentucky every game, thankfully. That's just not going to happen. But if they are going to win the NCAA Championship, Jones has to be the best guy on the court for at least one of those games.
We're Going to Have to Wait for Next Year for Kyle Wiltjer
I was excited for Kyle Wiltjer. A big man with legit post moves who was supposedly automatic from three? I was ready for a young Dirk Nowitzki.
Even though he's had some solid games this season, Kyle Wiltjer is too much of a defensive liability, a bad rebounder and just not athletic enough to fit with this team.
I still have a lot of hope for Wiltjer. I think he's going to get better and, most of all, more confident...it's just not going to happen this season.
He's going to steal some minutes and maybe knock down a shot or two, but that's about all we can expect from him right now. That's not so bad for a freshman on a championship contending team, but I would have liked to have him be a more dependable part of Kentucky's bench.
Kentucky Has Two Very Special Players
Two years ago, Kentucky had two special players. John Wall was unbelievably fast and talented and DeMarcus Cousins had the body of an NBA veteran (if the mind of a child). Ultimately, they disappointed with an Elite Eight loss to West Virginia and some horrid three-point shooting.
Last year, you could maybe call Brandon Knight a special player. He was a freshman point guard that put a Kentucky team on his back with his leadership and shooting ability on the way to a Final Four.
This year, Kentucky once again has two very special players. Anthony Davis has already set a UK record for blocked shots in a season, makes more difference on the defensive end than any player I've ever watched and has perfected the alley-oop to an art form.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is not especially a special player from a talent standpoint, but his motor, competitiveness, defense, aggressiveness and any sort of intangible you can think of has made him a force to be reckoned with and an honest-to-God player of the year candidate.
Kentucky has been spoiled with "special players" ever since Calipari came along, but these two guys really do stand out in their own way. These are the kinds of special players that can win you a championship. It didn't happen two years ago, but the Wildcats have been blessed with a second chance.
We can only wait to see how things turn out this time, but no matter what happens, it's going to be a hell of a ride.