In the up-and-down season known as Kentucky basketball in 2012-13, there has been one player who has dictated the success of the Wildcats. That person is freshman Alex Poythress.
It won't be any different when it comes time for the SEC tournament and possibly the NCAA tournament. Poythress will be the key to Kentucky winning any games in March.
Fellow freshman Nerlens Noel stole headlines before he tore his ACL and recently was named SEC Newcomer of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and named to the All-SEC team. Archie Goodwin, another McDonald's All-American coming into the year, took some of the spotlight away from Poythress due to his ability to score the ball, while also being a polarizing figure due to his erratic play.
Even in Kentucky's recent win against Florida, it seemed like Willie Cauley-Stein would be the key the Wildcats' postseason success.
However, it will be the on the shoulders of the 6'7" Poythress. It's been an odd season for him as his play has mirrored Kentucky's roller coaster year. However, Poythress is second on the team in points and rebounds as he averages over 11 points and six boards a game.
Alex Poythress challenged himself yesterday. Why now? "It was just time to grow up," he said.— Ben Roberts (@NextCats) March 9, 2013
Poythress provides a mismatch for Kentucky's opponents nearly every game since Noel went down with his season-ending injury. By sliding Poythress to the power forward position, it usually charges a bigger and slower player to guard him.
Poythress has shown the ability to play outside by hitting on over 41 percent of his three's. He has also proven he can play in the lane by finishing some thunderous dunks this year and provided a nine-point, 12-rebound effort against Florida. Most of those points came on offensive rebound putbacks as well.
The other advantage of having Poythress play the four is now four players can handle the ball for Kentucky. The Wildcats suddenly become tougher to press and have the ability to run more, something that fits Kentucky's style better than the half-court offense.
Who will be the key to Kentucky's postseason success?
If you look at Poythress' game log from this year, simply looking at his stats you can figure out if Kentucky won or lost the game. In Kentucky's three best wins this year, Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss, Poythress is averaging 15 points and 8.6 rebounds. In contrast, to losses against Louisville, Texas A&M, Florida and Georgia, he is averaging a mere seven points and 4.75 rebounds.
What makes Poythress even more valuable is the lack of depth behind him. Kentucky doesn't have another player that can play either forward and guard four different positions. With Poythress out of the game, Kentucky must go bigger and slower by playing Kyle Wiltjer and Cauley-Stein or go small by bringing in Jon Hood.
Teams will be focusing on limiting Cauley-Stein's touches in the post as well as not allowing Goodwin to drive into the paint once the postseason starts for Kentucky. This will allow Poythress to take a game over.
Alex Poythress is like a smaller version of Tim Thomas. An unbelievable talent --- just doesn't know how to play hard on every possession.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 30, 2013
If he wants to, of course.