The Kentucky Wildcats did not play their best in this week's first game against Morehead State. The offense was sluggish and the Cats had to play from behind most of the night until pulling out a 81-70 victory in the end.
Big Blue Nation was ready to see their team step up and improve against Long Island University, their next opponent. Kentucky did just that and won in a 104-75 rout, improving their record to 4-1 on the year and gaining some important momentum heading into next week's action.
With that being said, it is time for another round of report card grades for the key players in Friday night's game for Kentucky.
Julius Mays played a fantastic game against Long Island University. In fact, this is the sort of game that Mays should be having more often, as his play was very beneficial to the overall team success.
First of all, he came to Kentucky with a reputation as a scorer, and he lived up to that billing by scoring 15 points. Nine of those points came from the perimeter as he drained three shots from behind the arc.
Meanwhile, he gave his best point guard impression and dished out six assists, good for second best on the team. Most important of all is that he only turned the ball over once. For a young team with so little experience, Mays' ball security and smarts become very important and were on full display against Long Island.
Overall, he played great and hopefully continues to have that type of game throughout the season.
Did LeBron James make an appearance last night in Rupp Arena? Not quite, but Archie Goodwin did put on his best "King James" impression against Long Island. His all-around game was on full display, and he had his best game in a Wildcat jersey so far this year.
Goodwin poured in 22 points, doing what he has been doing all season long. He has become the go-to scorer and shot creator for Kentucky, who has struggled with its offensive sets with point guard Ryan Harrow out. Goodwin's scoring ability has been sorely needed, and he has risen up to the challenge.
However, he did so much more than that against Long Island and nearly finished with a triple-double. Archie pulled down nine rebounds and dished out nine assists to go along with his 22 points. Add to that a couple of steals and a block and he was clearly the premier stat sheet stuffer from the game.
He was clearly the best player on the court against LIU-Brooklyn, and his all-around stellar play, combined with his incredible scoring punch, gives Archie Goodwin the top grade of any Kentucky player from this game.
Alex was Robin to Archie Goodwin's Batman Friday night, coming through in a big way with yet another game of over 20 points and eight rebounds. It is his third such game of the year so far, as Kentucky is beginning to receive consistent night-in-night-out play from Poythress, which can only be a good sign moving forward.
The amazing thing about Alex's scoring is that it is not necessarily prolific, and it is also extremely efficient. You never realize how many buckets he scores because many of them are off of rebounds, broken plays or cleaning up around the rim. In the meantime, he rarely misses a shot.
For example, he shot 9-of-11 from the field against LIU-Brooklyn. As opposed to Goodwin, who forces up too many shots and is always actively looking for a shot, Poythress gets his buckets within the flow of the offense. However, he did commit two turnovers and four fouls, so those need to be worked on in the near future.
He is also becoming very reliable on the glass and is arguably the team's second-best rebounder. Poythress had nine boards against Long Island and has pulled down seven rebounds or more in four games this season.
In other words, Friday night was a continuation of what he has done all season long. For the Wildcats, that is a very, very good thing.
The discussion surrounding Kyle Wiltjer continues on as he submitted yet another subpar game and showed little to zero growth as a player. We all know that he is talented and can score, but he even struggled to do that against LIU-Brooklyn.
Seven points is simply not going to cut it for Kyle. He should be challenging Goodwin and Poythress for the team lead in points and instead is regressing into a bench role as a spot-up shooter.
Wiltjer showed off a lot last season, including his three-point shooting which has been great all year but was off against Long Island. He only drained one shot from deep and missed three, which was an oddity for Kyle.
Meanwhile, his defense was suspect at best yet again, with the one exception being a blocked shot that you can see in this video!
For Kyle Wiltjer to earn more playing time, he has to improve at moving without the ball, being more aggressive in the paint and getting his teammates involved. To his credit, he did just that against LIU-Brooklyn by tallying five assists, including one incredible lob pass to Willie Cauley-Stein. That part of his game was impressive.
But he also finished with seven points and four rebounds. Those totals need to rise in order for Kyle to earn more playing time, which dipped down to 20 minutes on Friday.
Nerlens Noel is emerging as one of the three most consistent players on this roster, along with Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. He posted another incredible all-around game of 18 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and five assists.
He did so while shooting 9-of-11 from the field. Granted, this was going against a smaller frontcourt, but nonetheless his numbers were nearly as impressive as his effort level. Noel played hard every single minute and was constantly chasing after loose balls, grabbing rebounds and playing tough defense.
Noel has begun to come into his own as a playmaker, which you can tell from his five assists. He is making more passes to Wiltjer and Cauley-Stein inside as he is becoming more familiar with their game and style.
As for the blocks, it is clear that Nerlens is a pogo stick who should end up challenging for the national lead in blocked shots by the end of the season. As for now, Noel is playing great basketball and is one of the most talented players in the country, regardless of class.
After disappearing in a few games, notably against Duke, it appears that center Willie Cauley-Stein will be just fine as this year's premier backup big man in the country. He received very few minutes against archrival Duke, but Friday night he showed that he is capable of becoming a major contributor.
Cauley-Stein played well against Long Island and scored 12 points, hauled in eight boards, blocked four shots and did not commit a turnover. Those are key stats to observe, but watching him play really impresses you.
We could see Cauley-Stein's athletic ability on display, and it is a perfect complement to that of Noel's. Willie played very effective on defense and affected tons of shots, let alone blocking some.
However, it was his offense that came through against Long Island. Cauley-Stein showed off an array of post hooks, spin moves and drives that resulted in easy and effective shots for him. Being that he is seven feet tall, he will not face many teams in the country who have backup big men who can match up with him.
Jarrod Polson played a decent game against LIU-Brooklyn. There was nothing memorable or particularly inspiring, but he served well as a backup point guard and appears to be a solid player in the rotation from this point forward.
He only scored five points, but one of those buckets was a three-pointer, which is hopefully a sign of things to come for Polson. He would be of great use for this team if he can develop an above-average three-point shot.
Polson also distributed the ball well and generally ran Calipari's offense well. His one assist and two rebounds may not show that off too well, but he certainly didn't hurt his team while on the court and started plenty of fast-break opportunities.
Therefore, it was a decent night for a player who figures to see more playing time in the near future as Ryan Harrow's status is still up in the air.
Feel free to leave your comments and post your own grades below the article, or start a discussion with me on Twitter @PaulAbles.
Also check out Kentucky versus Long Island highlights on this YouTube video made from yours truly.