Kentucky WildcatsLast evening, I took the opportunity to watch the replays of both the Cornell-Wisconsin game and the Kentucky-Wake Forest game. Watching these two games back to back gave me a very interesting perspective, which I thought I might share.
On offense, Cornell displayed amazing adeptness at moving without the ball and maintaining great spacing on the floor. They also moved the ball across the court extremely well. While some of their shots were contested, a large majority were not. Translation? Cornell shot very well from the field and buried their opponent.
On defense, Cornell, again, positioned themselves well on the court against Wisconsin. Their help defense, when needed, was stellar. Wisconsin rarely drove to the basket and contented themselves with moderate movement of the ball around the perimiter. It appeared as though Cornell found a way to be a step ahead of Wisconsin on nearly every play. Translation? Wisconsin rarely got to the rim and dealt with hands in their face the entire game and got stuffed by their opponent.
Kentucky's offense continually pushed the ball towards the basket. Off the ball movement and screens freed up numerous open looks in close. When the inside lanes were blocked off the movement of the ball inside-out resulted in a large number of barely contested 3's, which sank with great frequency. Wake Forest attempted to counter the speed and penetration with muscle, but as the fouls mounted, the gap widened. The ability of Kentucky to keep their cool in the midst of all that banging helped them sidestep the distraction, to a point. While Kentucky worked hard at staying focused through the hard fouls, their performance at the free throw line suffered, perhaps, indicating that they were a bit frustrated by the thuggery. They are really not as bad at free throws as their second round game indicated. Translation? Kentucky shot very well from the field and buried their opponent.
Defensively, Kentucky pressured the ball at all points. They kept the ball out of the hands of their lightning quick guard, Ish Smith, and when he did manage to penetrate, he faced a gauntlet of trees that forced him to alter his shot that rendered him ineffective. Wake Forest was never able to get any kind of rhythm going in their offense, especially with so many of their players facing foul trouble. Translation? Wake Forest rarely got to the rim and dealt with hands in their face the entire game and got stuffed by their opponent.
The upshot of this analysis is this: Cornell faced a team that played in to their style perfectly. Wisconsin rarely drove the basket and displayed a passive defense that allowed Cornell to move the ball at will, setting up wide open shots. The obvious difference between Cornell and Kentucky, when watching them play back to back, was speed. Kentucky players are constantly moving on offense and defense and their speed opens up opportunities on both sides of the ball that are hard to negate. Cornell did not apply a lot of pressure to Wisconsin. They didn't need to. Perhaps they are a team that can apply pressure, but their team speed did not appear overwhelming by any stretch.
One thing is sure. Cornell will not be facing a team that plays into their style. If Kentucky, continues to push the ball offensively, and maintain their defensive intensity, utilizing their amazing speed and shot altering ability, it is highly doubtful that Cornell can handle the speedy Cats. When I first watched Cornell, I thought, "uh, oh." When I followed that by watching the Kentucky, I thought, "Speed kills, and the Boys in Blue have that in abundance."
Translation? Focused, energetic Kentucky equals relatively easy win.