First of all, thanks to the Tritons from the University of Missouri-St. Louis for coming in and giving it all they had tonight. Obviously, UMSL was a vastly over-matched team. They had many new players and are a Division II school, so we really can't take many deep lessons away from this game. But in the micro view, we saw some things, most of them encouraging.
Patrick Patterson was impressive of course, but we expected that to happen. Jodie Meeks ran amok, as I said he likely would. The Wildcats were vastly superior to the Tritons in speed, athleticism and skill, as expected. No surprises, nothing new under the sun.
Except ... well, a surprisingly cohesive offense that, unlike last year at this time, looked very much like it had a purpose. For heaven's sake, the offense looked ... well, for lack of a better word, intentional. Like they were doing it on purpose, instead of at random and without a clue, like last year. The defense was intense -- long, lean, quick and consistent. The second team played just as hard, intense, and almost as proficiently as the first team. In short, it looked like a University of Kentucky basketball team is supposed to look, even if they are facing a tougher team in practice every day than they did tonight.
What I liked was the intensity of this group, the lack of a desire to deviate into showmanship. No fancy passes, no reckless shots, nothing but consistent, fundamental basketball played by a bunch of skillful guys. It was very much a best of old school basketball mixed with modern athleticism. It was fast when it needed to be, and deliberate when appropriate. In an unusual twist, neither the offense nor the defense seemed out of sync when the pace changed, something that I have seen all to often in teams that either like to press the pace or play a deliberate style. In two words, it was opportunistic and steady.
Obviously, much of the success of this effort was caused by the size of the mismatch, so all the forgoing observations probably have no relevance to ultimate reality. Still, this is the time of the season to really get excited, scarf up some calories and get our passion into overdrive before we face the inevitable, and early, test of how good this team really is, in the form of the consensus #1 team in America at their place in 15 days in front of a nationally televised audience. If the 'Cats are not ready, they will be exposed in an affair that most of us will still be trying hard to forget by Thanksgiving.
But before I/we start waving a white flag, there is an awful lot to be encouraged about. This is a much more talented team than I expected, and I expected a lot. The summer has been particularly kind to Michael Porter and Josh Harrellson, and that will be my segue into general player evaluations:
- Patrick Patterson -- he still looks a step slow and an inch short on his vertical, but his intensity is just as powerful. All he needs is a few games to get his mojo back 100%.
- Michael Porter -- Physically, he is now ready to play point guard in the SEC. Mentally, I'm not quite sold. His shot did not look good tonight, and his defense was good but not great against inferior competition.
- Ramon Harris -- Tremendously improved in every area, but most noticeably ballhandling. Defensive genius.
- Perry Stevenson -- His confidence with the ball in his hands is vastly improved, but he still tends to disappear a bit on offense. He needs to be more assertive. Defensively, he is still an eraser.
- Jodie Meeks -- This kid is frightening in his ability to put the ball in the basket. His defense needs significant improvement, as does his desire to take the ball to the hole. But frankly, even if he never learns to play great defense, he is an amazing scorer and athlete.
- Josh Harrellson -- If this game is any indication, we could have another Scott Padgett on our hands. It's remarkable how similar his game is to Padget's. Harrelson's offensive footwork was fine, but he was often out of position on defense.
- DeAndre Liggins -- Still raw, but his skill and talent are remarkable. He made some fantastic passes from the wing, and just as I said in previous posts, loves to advance the ball rapidly with the pass. He can dribble and rebound a little, too. Defensively, he is inconsistent, but it's clear he's working hard and will be a very good defender.
- Jared Carter -- Improved, but I am not sure how much of an impact he will have. He still has work to do on both sides of the ball.
- Darius Miller -- He was great. I did not expect him to be that good, but he surely was excellent in almost every phase. His defense could be better, but it was pretty darn good.
- Kevin Galloway -- He played some of the best defense I saw, very aggressive and sharp. Got beat once off the dribble, so he isn't Ramon Harris yet, but he raised his stock with Gillispie tonight if he continues to give that kind of defensive effort.
- Donald Williams -- Looked lost, needs time.
- A.J. Stewart -- Absent for whatever reason.
OK, we'll have more on this later. Have fun with it. This game was just an exhibition, but feel free to be enthusiastic. Basketball season is here. I am content.