Nobody ever said defense optional basketball isn't fun to watch. Well, wait, allow me to amend that statement -- UK does play pretty good post defense, allowing opponents to make only 19 of 61 two-point shots (31.3%) through their first three games. But when opponents make a combined 33 of 69 three-point attempts (47.8%), as did Miami and Sam Houston State, their abysmal two-point average is rendered a little less meaningful.
As the numbers shout to us, the perimeter "defense" ain't pretty, but isn't it good enough (for now) that these 'Cats are capable of illuminating the scoreboard at a blissful rate, especially if teams choose to run and gun. Of course, some of UK's future opponents will opt for the Morehead blueprint of slowing the game down by using up as much of the 35-second shot clock as possible. What's encouraging, though, is that these youthful 'Cats have been tested by both offensive philosophies, and have thrice come out the winner. But, as sure as Nicholas Cage will drop a cool two-million on a Cessna, UK's competition level will be increasing in the very near future. For a look at where the 'Cats need to improve, and where they are thriving, follow me after the jump.
Let's begin with the ugliness:
UK's opponents are shooting a combined 37-88 from beyond the arc (42.0%), and averaging 73.7 points per game -- With Miami's Nick Winbush, and Sam Houston State's Corey Allmond setting new Rupp Arena opponent three-point shooting records in back-to-back games, it's quite obvious to all, that Kentucky's perimeter defense is laughable. Now, while many of the interminable three-pointers were well-guarded, the object of the game is to deny the ball to the guy doing the Tony Delk impersonation -- Sorry, Tony. It was your Rupp record of nine made threes that was also shattered Thursday night.
One of the strengths of John Calipari is his ability to teach defense. I'm confident he will now crawl into the ear of his charges and aggravatingly stay there until the perimeter defense is immensely improved.
UK has committed 62 turnovers (20.7 per game) to only 44 assists (14.7 pg), while their opponents have committed only 40 turnovers (13.3 pg) to 47 assists (15.7 pg) -- Freshmen guards, folks. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe have committed 28 turnovers between them, to go along with 24 assists. I expect the current ratio will improve with time, and with the understanding that not every pass has to be made to look more difficult than it is.
That is all.
UK is shooting 64.2% from the free throw line -- At the current (unacceptable) pace, this UK team will have the second worst free throw percentage of any Wildcat team since 1989-1990 -- Surprisingly, the '98-'99 'Cats posted a 63.9% free throw mark for that 28-9 team -- On the plus side of the equation, UK has made more free throws (52), than their opponents have taken (43).
No player for UK, though, other than Eric Bledsoe (84.6%), is making their free throws at an acceptable rate -- Wall is at 68.2% (15-22), and DeMarcus Cousins has made only eight of 15 (53.3%), even Patrick Patterson at 53.3% (8-15) is well below his career average of 75.3%.
I have to believe time is a factor in these stats. Or more pointedly, practice time. Afterall, Calipari is busy coaching his offense, and hopefully soon, his defense, and the time spent on free throw shooting is diminished. But, Cal did note during his Sam Houston State post-game show with Tom Leach, that Friday's practice would be spent on the free throw line -- Even if he didn't mean it, those were wise words to impart on the impatient masses.
Fellas, you all have the code to Craft. Use it.
DeAndre Liggins and Darnell Dodson in the doghouse -- Gentlemen, wake up and realize both of you are in a position to be a part of something special. Take a cue from Cousins, and come to the realization that it's either Cal's way, or the highway.
DeMarcus Cousins (14.7 points per game), John Wall (20.0 ppg), and Eric Bledsoe (15.0 ppg) are averaging a combined 49.7 points per game -- I didn't think they would be this good, this soon. All three players are shooting the ball very well, with Cousins making 52.9% of his shots, Wall an even 50.0%, and Bledsoe 48.3%. Wall and Bledsoe have also put to rest (for now) the concerns many fans had about their outside shooting -- Wall has made 3-6 three-point tries, and Bledsoe 6-12 (50.0%). I realize three games for Bledsoe, and two for Wall, isn't a test sample vast enough to gauge future results, but the beginning is sure encouraging. As for Cousins -- Just, wow! He's not only shooting the ball well (for the most part), but more importantly, he's been beastly on the boards, corralling 32 total rebounds (10.6 per game), 15 of those of the offensive variety. One of the by-products of Cousins' domination of the low post is that, finally, Patrick Patterson has been liberated from the shackles of the double and triple-teams he's faced over the last two seasons, which might be one small reason why Patterson is 23-29 from the floor (79.3%) this year.
All Calipari needs these three to do is to mentally mature at a rate standard for 18-19 year old athletes, and he'll eventually have something very special on his hands.
As a team UK is shooting 53.3% from the floor, and 40.4% from beyond the arc -- Darius Miller is the only 'Cat shooting less than 46.0% from the floor -- Miller is 9-20 (45.0%) on the season, but, over the last two games Miller has become more confident in his shot, resulting in him making 9-16 from the field (56.3%), and 4-8 from the three-point line (more on Miller later).
The rest of the 'Cats look like this -- The above-mentioned Patterson - 23-29 (79.3%), 3-6 from the three-point line (50.0%), Cousins - 18-34 (52.9%), Wall - 11-22 (50.0%), 3-6 from the three-point line (50.0%), and Bledsoe - 14-29 (48.3%), 6-12 from the three-point line (50.0%). Two other newcomers are also shooting the rock with aplomb -- Darnell Dodson - 9-18 (50.0%) and 5-12 from the three-pont line, and Daniel Orton - 3-6 (50.0%).
The surprisingly high three-point percentage UK is shooting surely soothes the tensions (among the fans) built up over the summer concerning UK's long-range threat possibilities. If UK's perimeter shooters are able to keep their cumulative percentage at or over the 33-35% range, the big fellas in the paint, and the penetrators should continue to have room to work.
It's all about taking good shots -- With the fast break points UK wil be scoring off the primary and secondary breaks, the team's shooting percentage should remain high, but if they regress ... well, let's not think about that.
UK's interior defense is allowing opponents to make only 39.2% of their two-point shots (while the 'Cats are making two-pointers at a 57.3% rate) -- Driving the lane against this group of killer 'Cats has thus far proved to be less than wise thinking. Compelling evidence is the fact that Patterson, Cousins, Orton (who has six blocks in 35 minutes of play), and company are averaging 9.0 blocks per game, which, as we've seen, forces teams to shoot from the perimeter. Simply and bluntly put, if the 'Cats desire to take full advantage of their exceptional post defense, it is Kentucky's perimeter defenders' responsibility to deny and pressure just as vigorously as the post players.
Interior defense was thought to be a team strength coming into the season. So far, so good.
UK has out-rebounded their opponents 128-82 on the season -- Once again, the low post performers are doing as they should -- Dominating the boards. And unlike the previous few years, the 'Cats are crashing the offensive glass with gusto, snagging 47 offensive boards in only three games (15.6 pg).
Here's a number to crunch -- Patrick Patterson, who we all know is a rebounding machine, has 31 rebounds in 100 minutes of play. DeMarcus Cousins has grabbed 32 rebounds in only 64 minutes of play. Yikes!
Will UK post such strong rebounding numbers against the likes of North Carolina, Connecticut, Louisville and the teams of the SEC? I don't know, but I know this: In order for UK to overcome some of the freshman-type mistakes they are likely to make throughout the year, offensive rebounding in particular, and rebounding in general, has to be areas possessions are gained for this UK squad.
But once again, so far, so good.
Darius Miller the last two games -- In Kentucky's first game against Morehead, Miller was 0-4 from the field (0-3 from the three-point line), with five turnovers. A collective, "What's up with Miller?" could be heard throughout the Commonwealth. But the man from Maysville has responded in UK's last two games with 9-16 shooting (56.3%), and 4-8 three-point shooting, to go along with zero turnovers.
With Miller, it's all about confidence, and not pulling his shoulders back on his shot (per coach Cal). If the young man is feeling good about himself, and if he starts the game with a basket or two, he fulfills his potential, but if not, he struggles. He needs to just r-e-l-a-x, and allow himself to get into the rhythm of the game. With all of the talent surrounding him, he shouldn't have to worry about doing too much. Do that, and he'll continue to shine.
The John Calipari/Tom Leach post-game interview -- I've been listening to the Kentucky coach's post-game interview for decades, and never have I heard a coach so willing to talk. I promise the Leach family, Tom will have ample time for Christmas shopping and the like, because now all he has to do is ask one question per segment ... Cal will do the rest. In these interviews, Calipari reminds me of Ross Perot, minus the Texas twang. His stream of consciousness analysis is both highly entertaining, and I feel, genuine.
Of course, coaches tend to lecture in "coach-speak" when doing these types of interviews, but Calipari doesn't seem to have designs on misleading anybody, or hiding anything. And it doesn't hurt that Cal likes to hear himself talk nearly as much as Rick Pitino.
If you have an opportunity, catch the show. It's worth the 20 minutes.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!