Kentucky basketball opened its preseason Bahamas trip by demolishing Puerto Rico, 74-49, on Sunday, then doubled down on Tuesday with a 93-57 win. The losing side was fielding the reserves from its national team, but the decisiveness of the wins still sends a message that the preseason hype surrounding this Wildcats squad is not just wishful thinking.
Obviously, any conclusions drawn from two exhibition games have to be taken with a serious grain of salt. That said, here are the most striking lessons that UK’s early outings offered for Big Blue Nation.
1. Platoon substitutions could be just what this team needs
Kentucky isn’t just the deepest team in the country—it’s the deepest college basketball team in many years. John Calipari is testing out his plan to substitute in NBA-style platoons (with similar minutes allotted for the first and second units) to encouraging effect against the Puerto Ricans.
Freshman Devin Booker, replacing James Young in the starting five, has acquitted himself respectably, tallying nine points in the first win. The second unit has seen Marcus Lee putting on a show at power forward, scoring nine points in the opener and 14 (12 on dunks alone) in the second contest.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns is not going to wait his turn
Another star for the Wildcats reserves has been freshman Towns, who’s fighting for minutes at center with Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein (the latter of whom is currently inactive as he rehabs a broken ankle). The newcomer racked up 10 points and seven rebounds in his first game in a Kentucky jersey, leading the reserves.
Even with Cauley-Stein out, Towns’ fast start can’t help but catch Calipari’s eye. Whether or not his vaunted three-point shot gets on track—and it hasn’t yet—he’ll be pushing the offensively challenged junior for playing time all year.
3. There’s reason for optimism about the defense
The 'Cats are far from full strength on D, with neither Cauley-Stein nor fellow shot-blocker Trey Lyles healthy enough to risk playing. That they’ve looked sharp against respectable (if not spectacular) competition looks like a great sign for what they’ll be able to do when their big men are back.
One reason for that success is the energy provided by the second unit, which saw Lee, Derek Willis and freshman Tyler Ulis notch two steals apiece in the opener. Another is that Big Blue is just plain big, a major factor in holding the opposition to 33 percent shooting from the floor in that game.