The best defense is a good offense.
That's how the saying goes, right? And with the amount of scorers on Kentucky's team this year, that could very easily become the squad's mantra. The only problem with that is that they're going to need that defense to get the offense going.
Thankfully, John Calipari has never been of the "just outscore them" mentality. While his dribble-drive system and high scoring players get the press, it's been his emphasis on tough man-to-man defense that has fueled much of his success.
It certainly helps to have guys like Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel patrolling the paint. Blocks lead to fast breaks, which lead to points, which lead to runs. But a well placed stop with a rebound can work just as well sometimes.
The fact of the matter is that Kentucky is a young team. They are prone to mistakes as their 16 turnovers against Div. II Montevallo showed. No matter how much they score, if they allow a team, any team, to stick with them, they open themselves up to problems.
Let's take a look at early in the second half of the Montevallo game. Kentucky is leading by just 10 when James Young knocks down a three. Back on defense, Willie Cauley-Stein uses his length to almost get a steal and disrupts Montevallo's offense.
They end up throwing the ball into the corner where Jarrod Polson almost makes the steal and then follows it up with good hand-in-the-face defense.
Aaron Harrison grabs the rebound and immediately looks down the floor. His teammates are already streaking down.
Harrison ends up taking it himself, and the quick offense and penetration causes defensive confusion, and James Young is left alone to cut to the basket for an easy dunk. 15 point lead.
On defense, Cauley-Stein again uses his length and gets a block. Notable that he displayed great patience by not jumping early.
Suddenly Kentucky has a 5-on-2 advantage.
Cauley-Stein misses the shot, but Alex Poythress is there for an easy put-back dunk. Seventeen point lead and Montevallo timeout.
Montevallo was hanging around in single digits in the second half, and just like that Kentucky blew it out to a 17 point lead. Their lead would never get back to single digits.
Obviously, not all of Kentucky's offense is going to come on fast-break opportunities like this, but you can see from that first possession that they created their own fast break out of nothing but a miss. This offense is at its most unstoppable when it's using the momentum created from their defense.
Cauley-Stein is going to be a great defensive spark plug, and their other big guys of Julius Randle, Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee all have the potential to make some good defensive plays at the rim.
On the front-court side, Calipari has consistently praised the defense of James Young. If he can be a stopper and the Harrison twins play good close-out defense, then those five big men I mentioned earlier just need to secure the rebound, and they'll be off.
What I'll be looking for in the Wildcats' first game of the year against UNC-Asheville is going to be stops and quick scores after those stops. If they can get a good defensive base early on, there's no telling what this team will be capable of.
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