The Kentucky Wildcats officially kicked off the 2012-13 NCAA basketball season with an exhibition victory against NAIA school Northwood. There were many observations to take away from the game and analyze, but by far the most significant and impressive was the team's usage of a "twin tower" lineup throughout the contest.
This refers to John Calipari inserting centers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein in the game at the same time. Noel stands 6'11" and Cauley-Stein is a legitimate seven-footer, so there was interest heading into the contest to see how they would play as a duo.
Fortunately for Cat fans, they looked absolutely wonderful in the team's first exhibition game. Each player showed off his length against an admittedly undersized squad in Northwood; though, that much was to be expected. Check out the following excerpt from The Kentucky Blog, which discusses some of the advantages that they have playing together:
The reason that this could work and become extremely effective for the Wildcats is that Noel and Cauley-Stein are not your typical big men. They are long, agile, quick, can handle the ball, possess great footwork and compliment (sic) each other on the court. Each player deflected a lot of shots and passes and created plenty of havoc on defense.
This led to fast break opportunities that both players took advantage of. Noel converted some nice pick-and-roll sets with some powerful throwdowns, while Cauley-Stein showed off his running skills on a few mid-court steals that he collected. Each of them can handle the ball just fine in the open floor and are also fast for their size.
The two were effective on offense, but that was not the main takeaway. Noel and Cauley-Stein played dynamite defense together. Both players have great footwork and elite agility. They were actually very effective guarding the perimeter players and keeping the guards in front of them.
The two centers were quick enough to catch up to the opposing guards when they tried driving around Noel or Cauley-Stein. What is even more impressive is that as both players funneled their perimeter assignments inside, the other guy would slide over and provide help defense, often times leading to a blocked or altered shot.
As Cauley-Stein wreaked havoc on the perimeter and the middle of the zone, Noel dominated in the paint and blocked four shots. He kept nearly all of them and play and showed off great timing and body control to avoid fouls while swatting away field goal attempts.
To cap it all off, just look at their stat line from this game to further understand that this could be Kentucky's key to success this season:
Beyond the statistics, it was evident that each player enjoyed playing next to the other.
In closing, there is a lot of positive momentum coming out of this game in large part because of the effectiveness and excitement that the "twin towers" lineup brought to the court. For at least one night, it worked.
Now the question is how it will evolve when playing against better competition during the regular season. There will surely be plenty of bumps along the road, but the duo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein could be starting something that could lead Kentucky back to the Final Four and beyond in 2013.