It's basketball time in the Bluegrass! The season has finally begun, and the Kentucky Wildcats faced off against a worthy foe in last year's NCAA first-round opponent, the East Tennessee St. Buccaneers.
Congratulations to the Buccaneers for giving an excellent account of themselves and coming into Rupp Arena as fearless and determined as any team ever has. ETSU has an outstanding coach in Murray Bartow (son of Gene Bartow, John Wooden's successor at UCLA and former coach of UAB), and his experienced and talented players gave a strong performance against the young Kentucky Wildcats. But the Wildcats did not get the #1 recruiting class in the nation for nothing, and even though the Bucs were much more experienced, they were not as talented. The result was a convincing Kentucky victory.
I must say that it is hard to judge teams when they shoot the ball as well as UK did. The old axiom is that good shooting makes up for a bunch of mistakes, and that proved to be the case more often than not tonight. It isn't that the Wildcats played poorly -- to the contrary, as a team they played very well, arguably their best game of the season so far. But that does not mean that they played flawlessly.
For once, let's take the observations in a good/not-so-good/so-so format. First, the good:
Terrance Jones backed up an excellent performace against the Dillard Bleu Devils with an even better one tonight -- a double-double in his first official game, 25 ponts, 12 rebounds 2 blocks 3 steals and a couple of assists. No turnovers. As they used to say in Mortal Kombat, "flawless victory." Game ball.
- Brandon Knight did exactly what he must do every game -- take care of and distribute the basketball, and score when needed.
- Doron Lamb just amazes me. He is so quiet, so casual, and yet he will suddenly do something amazing. The guy reminds me of Gerald Fitch -- he seems to cruise along, and you look up and he has 20 points and 5 rebounds.
- Nice work tonight by Josh Harrellson. Despite having some foul difficulties, he did a lot of good, hard dirty work that we desperately need now that Kanter is not an option. Forget his points. He got some rebounds, 7 in limited minutes, and turned the ball over only once.
- DeAndre Liggins led the team in assists with 6 and scored 14 points. Overall, not a bad outing, but he only managed 3 rebounds. We need more than that from him, and his defense was not as impressive as it has been.
- How well did this team shoot? Pretty well from 2, outstanding from 3.
- 10 turnovers? Did Kentucky ever manage so few last year? I'll have to think about that a long time ...
- Kentucky defended the three rather well.
- Darius Miller had 11 rebounds. That was the good.
- 18 assists. That was good. Not great, but good. This group of 'Cats should rarely have fewer than 20.
- 19 offensive rebounds? I don't feel like trying to calculate OR%, but that number looks pretty good to me.
- ETSU got 7 points off turnovers, and UK got 15. That's good, not great.
- From where I sat, I thought UK hustled pretty well tonight. Several scrums on the floor encouraged me, but we have to be stronger when we get rebounds.
- Darius Miller disappeared in the second part of the first half, and John Calipari made him disappear for about 8 minutes in the second. He has got to assert himself more on offense, and play better defense. Overall, an unacceptably weak performance from UK's leading returning scorer.
- Eloy Vargas is out of shape, out of wind, and simply not a factor. He has a long way to go to be able to contribute. If he were not 6'10" and 260#, he would have ridden the pine as long as Jarrod Polson.
- Kentucky's team defense was not good. The 'Cats gave up far too many easy shots, as evidenced by the fact that ETSU shot 50% in the first half. On most nights, they would have been within single digits.
- Free throw shooting has to improve, particularly Terrence Jones.
- Only six steals? That could have been better.
- The Dribble Drive was so-so. It had its moments, but overall, I thought that Kentucky could have run it better.
- Second chance points -- 16-9 UK. Not great.
Overall, this was a good effort by a young team against an experienced and athletic opponent. I am very satisfied, overall, with how Kentucky performed. Yes, the defense was not very good, but at this point in the season, it was about what I would expect. I thought the rebounding, given our lack of real size, was quite satisfactory overall.
All in all, a good start. This was not a victory that could be taken for granted, ETSU has been a tournament team the last two years and will likely be again this year. It's hard to be disappointed in a 23 point win against a team of that quality.