Kentucky Basketball: Report Card Grades for the Wildcats' Win over Maryland
The Kentucky Wildcats kicked off their basketball season with a hard fought victory over the Maryland Terrapins. Both teams played well but Maryland was the aggressor and exposed a lot of holes in this young Kentucky team.
John Calipari has plenty of lessons to teach his players as there were plenty of good and bad things to takeaway from the contest. For more information on this, read the following slides for a five-part report card with letter grades on the Wildcats' first game of the year.
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Jarrod Polson Becoming the Hero: A+
Who ever expected this to work? If a college basketball team required Jarrod Polson to be their hero and win a game for them, then that team is asking an awful lot. At least we thought so before his play in the Maryland game.
Polson was the best point guard on the court and played absolutely terrific against the Terrapins. His 10 points were more important than a box score would tell you, as each score came at an absolute critical juncture of the contest.
Whether it was stealing the ball and converting tough layups, crashing the offensive boards and cleaning up after missed shots or simply not turning the ball over during crunch time, Polson did everything and more that any Kentucky fan could ever ask of him.
If he can continue to play well in crunch time and provide a lift off the bench, then Jarrod should find himself solidified with a legitimate role in coach Calipari's rotation this season.
Maryland out-rebounded Kentucky by a margin of 54-38.
That tells you all that you need to know about the report card grade shown above. Simply put, there is no legitimate reason why the Wildcats should ever get bullied around that badly on the boards anytime again this season.
Nerlens Noel is the dominant shot-blocking center. Willie Cauley-Stein is the versatile seven-footer who gathers steals, blocks, rebounds and points like it is nobody's business. Kyle Wiltjer is the 6'9" forward who has to hit the boards just to earn his playing time on floor.
Meanwhile, Alex Poythress also has the potential to be a tenacious and effective rebounder at his position.
All of these guys disappointed last night in the rebounding department, and that has to stop right now. Most alarming of all is a statistics mentioned in this article,
Most amazing of all are the 28 offensive rebounds that Maryland cleaned up. On one hand, there were a lot of long rebounds that bounced away from Kentucky’s men in the post. However, there were also plenty of opportunities for Wildcat players to grab loose balls or hold onto rebounds that they simply lost out on.
This simply has to stop before they take on Duke. I am sure that Calipari has noticed quickly and is showing plenty of video to the players before the next game in Atlanta, Ga.
Kyle Wiltjer's Box Score: A
Kyle Wiltjer played a picture-perfect game against Maryland. He is a player who needs to fill up the stat sheet in order for Kentucky to reach their full potential this season. He did just that in the team's first game of the year.
First and foremost was Wiltjer's scoring output. He drained four of his six three-point attempts en route to a team-high 19 points. Kyle scored from all over the court and consistently made a big shot when the young Wildcats needed a lift.
However, there is more to Wiltjer's game than scoring. At least, there should be, which has been John Calipari's focus with Kyle, so far, this season. He knows that the kid can score, but he needs to see more aspects of Wiltjer's game in order to keep him on the court.
Against the Terps, Kyle hauled in six rebounds, blocked three shots and dished out two assists. Those are exactly the type of secondary statistics that he needs to post on a consistent basis this season. If he does so, then the Wildcats have a big year ahead of themselves.
Team Post Defense: B-
The inside tandem of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein was fairly effective against Maryland, but they still committed too many mistakes to come away from their first game with glowing reviews.
For Noel, he blocked three shots and contributed on the boards, but he was absolutely manhandled by Terrapin center Alex Len. Noel challenged a lot of shots and attempted numerous block attempts, but Len could not be stopped that night.
With that being said, Nerlens was in somewhat of a crossroads last night. He played with energy and shined on defense, but he still gave up a ton of points. In the end, though, I chalk up a lot of that to playing against an experienced former NBA lottery pick in Len.
As for the rest of the post players, they did reach double digits in blocked shots as a group. This is normally a positive sign to build upon, but it's not when you give up 28 offensive rebounds. When it all comes down to it, the post players are most responsible for collecting rebounding and giving their offense more possessions.
Kentucky's post players did not do this enough last night but were lucky to get away with a victory. Even though the squad defended fairly well, they were out-hustled and out-worked for the majority of the game. That cannot happen again if this team wishes to contend among the country's elite teams in 2012-13.
Julius Mays' Leadership Qualities: A
The lone senior on the team's main rotation was clearly the vocal leader of the Wildcats last night. Julius Mays transferred to UK this season after playing for NC State and Wright State during his first three seasons of college eligibility. He is now riding out his senior year with a young and inexperienced Kentucky team that needs leadership.
Mays fulfilled that role to near-perfection. For starters, he scored seven points and kept the defense at bay when he was open in the backcourt. He was also constantly yelling at his teammates and giving words of encouragement and advice when the team faced adversity.
He was a calming presence on the court, and the younger players seemed to respond well to him. With the regular point guard out of the game with flu symptoms, Kentucky needed another player to step up and provide emotional support to the roster.
Mays did just that and could be seen talking to teammates during timeouts, constantly communicating on defense and yelling at the younger players when they made mistakes. He was also a great cheerleader for the guys when they made good decisions, specifically in the first half.
It is this sort of leadership that the team will need moving forward, especially considering their age. Even though Mays is a first-year senior, his leadership and big-game experience will be invaluable to the younger players on the team as they advance further into the season.
Tweet your thoughts to me @PaulAbles. Also refer to this great article on key takeaways from the game hosted on The Kentucky Blog.