It's hard to really get a good sense of a team like Kentucky when it's playing an opponent like Northwood (who?), but since this is the first time we've seen John Calipari's fourth Wildcat squad in action against anybody but itself, we'll take what we can get.
In the Cats' 93-61 win, we saw lots of good, equal amounts of bad, but just enough to give us an idea of how good this team can be. Last year in the first exhibition, we saw right away that Anthony Davis had a ton of talent and that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a game-changing shot of energy.
Let's see what we can learn from this year's introduction to the team.
With the team basically wiped out from last year, Kentucky doesn't have a guy like Terrence Jones or Doron Lamb that it can default to when in need of a bucket. That was a big question coming in.
It seems like Archie Goodwin might be the answer.
Goodwin drove the ball fearlessly, showed great touch around the rim and even knocked down a good-looking three. But the thing that really made me stand up out of my seat were the two chase-down blocks he had...the athleticism on this kid.
There were times where he got a little out of control, and Cal hinted at a possible attitude problem during halftime Thursday, but I'm already excited to see what he can do.
One of the biggest reasons Kyle Wiltjer couldn't stay on the floor last year was that he couldn't compare to the rest of the players on the team defensively, and the team thrived on defense. Unfortunately, it seems like that hasn't really changed.
However, I doubt that Calipari will have the luxury of sitting him very much this year. Wiltjer is one of the few players in the country that needs to be watched no matter where he is on the floor. He's got the best range on the team and a solid collection of post moves. Offensively, he's about as versatile a weapon as you can ask for.
Defensively, though, he's still too slow. Plenty of Kentucky players got beat on closeouts, but Wiltjer consistently got beat, period. Adding to the problem was his one, lone rebound. Thankfully, UK has guys like Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein to help hide him, but will teams learn to take advantage of Wiltjer? Or will he be able to figure out a way to overcome those concrete feet?
My biggest complaint about Marquis Teague last year was his inability to finish at the basket. It does not look like Ryan Harrow has the same issue. He really impressed in that area, as well as showed off some serious speed at times.
That being said, control is going to be huge with him this year. He got out of control every so often and tried to do too much, and it really hurt him. Harrow only had two turnovers, but his shooting and decision making struggled at times. He also could be a little tougher going to the basket, which Calipari pointed out in the All-Access show, but overall, I was very pleased with his performance.
One big thing that remains to be seen will be how well he can run the show. Five assists are a great start and he's obviously going to be a scoring threat, but Teague did a great job of getting everyone involved and putting the Wildcats in position to succeed. If he can do that with the twin towers and Alex Poythress, this team will be dangerous.
Julius Mays seems like the kind of guy that can come in and give you a shot in the arm, play some great on-ball defense and hit a three or two. Reminds me of another guy from Calipari's first Final Four run.
As the second guy off the bench, you could do a lot worse. I think Mays is going to get some serious minutes this year, especially if they need him as a defensive substitute for Wiltjer.
I liked what I saw.
Maybe my expectations for Alex Poythress were too high coming into this season. I sort of thought he might be Kentucky's MKG this year. He has that strength and an NBA-ready body, but I didn't see the energy out of him that I was looking for.
Instead, Poythress reminded me more of Terrence Jones. The kind of player who doesn't really know what he wants to be and has a tendency to disappear at times.
I think there's a lot of potential there, and it certainly showed when he collected himself and played with control, but too often, he looked out of sorts and was almost clumsy with the ball. The three-point stroke was a pleasant surprise, though, and I think he'll become a great rebounder once he learns how to use his body a little bit more.
A combined 11-of-13 for 25 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks. Not bad for a debut.
I was most impressed with their hands catching the ball and their touch around the basket. It really does seem like if they can get in good position and Ryan Harrow or Goodwin can penetrate and find them, Kentucky is going to score. Offensively, they are a much bigger threat than should be fair at this point.
Defensively, it was a mixed bag. Their closeouts are horrendous right now. Cauley-Stein, in particular, sometimes seemed a little bit like a chicken with his head cut off, bouncing around the court. And other times, they went for blocks when it put them out of position to get the defensive rebound. Northwood had 17 offensive rebounds, and that falls mostly on these two.
I don't think, as was the case with Anthony Davis, anybody is going to be okay with them taking jump shots for a while. Cauley-Stein took a 15-footer at one point, and hopefully that will be the longest shot he takes all year. They will thrive around the basket, especially since they have such quick guards.
Kentucky made 6-of-9 three pointers, but I have a feeling that threes are not going to be a huge part of its arsenal this year.
The two guards, Harrow and Goodwin, are both more inclined to drive than to pull up. Although Poythress knocked one down from deep, I somehow doubt that'll become a trend.
That leaves Wiltjer and Mays as the two players most likely to launch a trey, and they are not going to be players with the ball in their hands the majority of the season. The ones they took this time were really wide open.
I think threes will still come in handy, as much as they would for any team in the country, and I'm encouraged by how the Cats shoot a good percentage. However, this is not going to be the usual Calipari Kentucky team that averages 650 three-point attempts per season. Look for them to shoot even less than last year's 567.
Last year's Kentucky team essentially played six guys, with Wiltjer getting a mere 11 MPG. This year, it looks like he is most likely going to settle in with seven guys, with Mays and Cauley-Stein as the subs.
Apparently, Jon Hood is going to get some more play against Transy, but I would be really surprised if he saw substantial minutes this season. Health is going to be a factor.
Last year's team was lucky when it came to injuries, with the exception of a stretch with Terrence Jones and the period when every time Kidd-Gilchrist hit the floor, he acted like he broke a clavicle. However, this team will need to stay on the floor. I'm not sure I'm ready to see a lot of Jon Hood or Jarrod Polson in meaningful situations.
As I mentioned before, Kentucky gave up 17 offensive rebounds, which is just not something that should be happening to a team with this kind of size.
They're young, so they'll eventually learn to properly situate themselves and not sacrifice positioning for blocks, but it was still very frustrating to see Northwood come down with so many boards.
Defensively, there were multiple lapses in getting back on defense. That, and Northwood didn't seem to have much trouble flashing a pump fake and going past a Kentucky defender.
Defense was the cornerstone of last year's team. It was what got the offense going, whether it was a big block by Anthony Davis or a few stops in a row. This year's squad could probably use the same kind of boost to get going. Defense can do wonders for a young team's confidence.
Hopefully, we can see a change sooner rather than later.
Yeah, I know, allow me to state the obvious.
Of course they're young. Every Calipari team is young. But this one is different than any he's had up to this point.
In 2009-10, John Wall and the gang had Patrick Patterson as a guiding force. In 2010-11, the freshman class wasn't as talented and the Wildcats had to lean hard on vets like Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins. And last year's comparable freshman class had Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller to guide them.
This year...nada. Wiltjer is not the kind of guy who is going to step up and be a leader for this team. They are starting completely from scratch. How will that affect this team when they first get hit in the mouth?How will they react in their first SEC away game?
Obviously, they have the talent to win a championship, but this kind of youth is completely untested in Calipari's previous systems. Will that talent rise to the surface, or will the inexperience overwhelm them when they face the pressure of talented D-1 schools giving them their absolute best? Because you know they will.