Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Takeaways from Northwood Exhibition Game
The Kentucky Wildcats started their college basketball season on the right foot, defeating Northwood 93 to 61. John Calipari played with many different lineups, and the potential is there for Kentucky to have a great year.
That said, this is not the No. 3 team in the nation right now.
In the first half, Kentucky turned the ball over 11 times. Credit Northwood for stealing the ball six of those times, but unforced turnovers were a constant. The Wildcats struggled from the line. Kyle Wiltjer only scored 12 points.
Yes, it's clear that Kentucky has the building blocks for a deep run in March. But mistakes were made. Inexperience was apparent.
Here are my takeaways from the Wildcats' first exhibition game of the year.
Archie Goodwin Is an Offensive Threat
Archie Goodwin led the Wildcats in scoring, dropping 22 points in 30 minutes of play.
He was 7-of-12 from the field, 1-of-2 from beyond the arc and 7-of-8 from the line.
That stat line should tell you that Goodwin may be the most complete scorer for the Wildcats this season. He was great at attacking the rim. He showed his range. What may be the most telling, however, was his seven points from the foul stripe.
If Goodwin can hit free throws, opposing teams will have trouble stopping him. He'll draw plenty of fouls if he continues to attack the rim like he did against Northwood. He drew fouls but wasn't out of control—he did not pick up an offensive foul.
He also showed his youth. Goodwin had five assists and five turnovers—not shabby, but not great against an NAIA team.
Goodwin looks like Kentucky's best scoring threat right now.
Kyle Wiltjer Needs to Assert Himself
Every Kentucky starter scored in double figures.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 12. He was 5-of-8 from the floor and 2-of-3 from three.
Not a bad offensive stat line in 23 minutes of play. But on the boards, Wiltjer was invisible. He had one rebound.
It doesn't help that he's playing with beasts in the paint, like Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. But Wiltjer struggled mightily on the boards last season, and it's clear that may be a challenge for him again this year.
Sure, he is perimeter oriented. But Ryan Harrow grabbed three rebounds. With his size, Wiltjer needs to get down low and command rebounds.
Offensively, one would expect Wiltjer to average over 12 points per game on the season.
I expect guards to be looking for Wiltjer more and more as the season progresses. He's too efficient on that end of the floor to only score 12 points.
Don't Crown Ryan Harrow, at Least Not Yet
Ryan Harrow looked good.
The next great John Calipari point guard? Maybe.
Offensively, Harrow looked had the look of someone that had played in the Dribble Drive Motion for more than one year.
Five assists and two turnovers is a promising sign, and 5-of-6 from the free throw line looks good for a slasher like Harrow.
A strong performance of 15 points, five assists (only two turnovers) and four steals should excite the Big Blue Nation.
But he was playing against 5'2" Tyrone Davis, and Calipari only played Harrow for 24 minutes. He was clearly the quicker guard, and the small amount of turnovers is a great sign for him as a floor general.
We'll have to wait and see how Harrow plays against a bigger point guard. If he can consistently reproduce what he did against Northwood, he'll be another first-round pick for Calipari.
Julius Mays Is Just What the Wildcats Needed
If Julius Mays stayed at Wright State (or transferred somewhere other than Lexington), the Wildcats' offense would have an entirely different feel.
Mays is a great combo guard. He can play point or shooting guard with Archie Goodwin. He can play shooting guard with Ryan Harrow.
His stat line wasn't overly impressive (six points on two three pointers, two assists, one turnover, four steals), but he did what John Calipari asked him to do.
He moved the ball up the court quickly and effectively. His offensive repertoire appears to be solely on the perimeter, which is a fine complement to Goodwin's slashing style. Just don't expect Mays to drive to the hoop.
Defensively, Mays was active. He had four steals and he played within himself, only committing one foul.
It looks like Mays will fit right into Calipari's core rotation of seven players this season.
The Twin Towers Are Official
Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel combined for 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting, 20 rebounds, six blocks and just two fouls.
There shouldn't be any question as to whether or not these two can play together. Noel played 28 minutes, WCS played 27. Both looked as good as advertised.
Offensively, the two don't have much range. But that isn't their game. They are physically imposing on the low block, and they took full advantage against Northwood.
If they could improve one aspect of their offensive game, it would be from the line. The two were a combined 3-of-6 from the stripe.
You may not need a defensive breakdown of the two—blocked shots were a constant, and Northwood struggled to score inside (only 22 points in the paint compared to Kentucky's 48). But both looked to block too many shots instead of staying on the floor.
It's a simple problem that most freshmen encounter, and it is something that John Calipari will be harping on in the film room.
It's a scary thought that these two can improve on the defensive side of the ball.
Is There a Bench?
For 37 minutes, John Calipari only played seven players.
In the last three minutes, Calipari went to Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood, two Kentucky natives that have a chance to crack Calipari's rotation.
Both had great offseasons. Polson is more confident. Hood successfully recovered from his torn ACL. Both were expected to see minutes when it mattered, not in mop-up duty.
That was not the case against Northwood. Calipari was comfortable staying seven deep.
It will be tough for Polson and Hood to see more than five minutes per night. According to Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio, Hood will see more minutes against Transylvania on Nov. 5.
Calipari says he will work Jon Hood into the rotation next game vs Transy
—Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) November 2, 2012
Hood had a smooth jumper at the end of the game against Northwood. His shooting skill may be enough to see extended minutes if other Kentucky guards struggle.
Calipari's Defense Can Be Elite
Length is abundant for the Wildcats this season, and the players know it.
Kentucky blocked 12 shots and had 11 steals. They were aggressive all night, forcing 18 turnovers. Closeouts were quick and effective. Northwood only shot seven free throws.
On a negative note, there were some clear mental lapses.
There were times when Northwood scored an easy bucket after Kentucky didn't get back on defense. Players bit on pump-fakes too often, looking for the highlight block instead of playing sound defense.
Aside from Alex Poythress' four fouls, the Wildcats stayed out of foul trouble (even if fouling out was not a possibility).
The Wildcats were scrappy, though. In one instance, Archie Goodwin blocked a Northwood fast break layup. The ball bounced towards another Northwood player, who was then blocked by Julius Mays.
Plays like that are a great sign moving forward. There are faults, but all can be corrected. Hustle, however, cannot be taught.
Fast-Paced Offense Is the Way to Go
A total of 91 points looks great on the box score, but that doesn't show the struggles that the Kentucky offense had in their first game.
Turnovers were abundant, something that is to be expected from such an inexperienced team.
Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, two freshmen that may be Kentucky's most complete offensive weapons, combined for nine turnovers.
Kentucky shot 68 percent from the foul line—a problem that nearly every John Calipari team faces.
A combined 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc is a great sign moving forward. For a team that was expected to struggle from the outside, it was good to see four players hit at least one three.
No player shot more than three three-pointers. This team played to their advantage, which was in the paint. They executed on offense surprisingly well for a team with so little experience.
If Kentucky can push the tempo and force the ball to the paint, they'll be a tough team to stop.