Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Jordan Brand Classic Game

Last night, the incoming foursome of Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Kyle Wiltjer, and Marquis Teague put their mark on the Jordan Brand Classic in Charlotte, North CarolinaJohn Wall was on hand to represent the Wildcats, but mostly it was a celebration of North Carolina current and former players, including the game's namesake.

I can't find an official box score yet, but the post-game press release indicates that Anthony Davis was the co-MVP along with James McAdoo, who will be reporting to Chapel Hill to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels.  Davis had 29 points (second only to LeBron James' 34 in 2003 as a historical high), 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots.  He was very impressive around the basket in every conceivable way, and Jay Bilas remarked that Davis' hands were so good that "... [Davis] could catch a BB fired from a BB gun."

Overall, Kentucky's incoming freshmen played very well in this game, much as they have at all the all-star games they have played in so far. For those who missed the game and would like to see it, I understand that ESPN 3 has it available for watching over the Internet, if your provider allows it.

I'll have comments on all the UK guys, and a few select others, after the jump.

Game observations:

  • Anthony Davis was truly remarkable.  He has a calmness to his game that belies his years, and as Jay Bilas observed, nothing tossed in his general direction escapes his hands.  More than that, Davis is stronger inside than his slight frame would indicate, and he is so quick off the floor that there is almost nothing you can do to keep him away from either the rim or the ball.

    The most impressive thing about him, other than his rebounding, was how many shots he affects on defense.  Forget the four blocks -- Davis cause another six or eight shots to be missed badly just by his inside presence.  DeMarcus Cousins was a fine shot-blocker at Kentucky, but he is nowhere near Davis in that particular discipline.

    Another impressive thing about Davis is how he finds space to jump near the rim, and when he jumps, he is always way, way above the rim.  It is nearly impossible to keep him from getting up quick enough to snare rebounds above the iron, and I have rarely seen a player his size who gets almost every ball he touches.  He is certainly worthy of the #1 ranking he carries from ESPN.

    Davis obviously needs to bulk up.  His shoulders are fairly narrow, so he is never going to be a DeMarcus Cousins type power player, but he needs a lot of work on his core and upper body.  He could use a better left hand

  • Marquis Teague was the second most impressive of the Kentucky signees after Davis.  Teague showed remarkable passing ability along with an explosiveness that I was unaware he possessed.  While quickness and direction-change may be his stock-in-trade off the bounce, that kid explodes off the floor when he wants, and can beat absolutely anybody off the bounce.

    Teague has a nice left hand and goes either direction very well -- not as well as wall, but he finishes wit the left hand better than Brandon Knight.  He is not as fast as Knight, but he is in the same range, and is probably a bit better off the bounce than Knight is.  His shooting form is actually good, and even though he is not known as a shooter, he showed that he can hit perimeter shots last night.
  • Michael Gilchrist was not as impressive in this game as he has been in others.  He seemed to be a bit less interested, and even though he scored impressively enough and showed some excellent skill, some weaknesses revealed themselves.

    Gilchrist is far too right-handed, and it's not hard to understand why. When you are as gifted as he is, you really don't need a left hand in high school, but he will need it at Kentucky.  Job 1 for him is to develop that left hand, particularly to finish with.  He goes left okay, but he always wants to finish with his right hand, and in college, he is going to have a lot of shots sent to the cheap seats if he doesn't develop that left hand a lot more.

    Gilchrist's shooting form is also unsound.  He looks very much like a right-handed Terrence Jones when he shoots, and that form will not stand up to big games.  He heeds to move that release closer to the center of his body, or even a little bit to the right.
  • Kyle Wiltjer is not very athletic, but we knew that.  What he does very well is get post position and get rebounds.  He had several tip-ins in the second half that showed exactly why he is ranked so high despite being far the least athletic of anyone in the game.  His size, skill, and patience, particularly on offense, show remarkable maturity.  Of all the UK players other than Davis, he showed the most promise as a rebounder due to his sheer size and long arms.

    Wiltjer is also a confident and excellent shooter from the perimeter all the way out the the NBA line.  Calipari has not shown a tendency since he has been at Kentucky to have big guys take a bunch of threes, but in Wiltjer's case, it is a genuine weapon.  But Wiltjer's real value to Kentucky lies in his ability and desire to post up hard and well, and he has a variety of moves around the basket that make him very valuable as the post in the Dribbe Drive Motion and in pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop sets.  He is also an excellent weak-side rebounder -- not as good as Davis, but very good in his own right.

    What Wiltjer needs to work on is strength.  He looks very un-defined in his upper body, and improving his core strength would really improve his inside game.  He also needs to develop a little more explosiveness off the deck, although he does possess a good motor and a high basketball IQ.
  • James McAdoo was very impressive also.  His range is remarkable for a player his size, and the North Carolina Tar Heels could hardly have done much better than getting him.  He also possesses solid athleticism and was very much a man on the inside.
  • Tony Wroten's game was really good.  Kentucky gave him a very long look but decided not to offer him, and even though he was even better than Teague as a pure passer and has terrific size at 6'4", Teague is clearly a better all-around basketball player.  Wroten will nicely slide into Isaiah Thomas' position for the Washington Huskies, and once again you have to figure them as one of the favorites to win the Pac-10/12/whatever.
  • Bradley Beal, Florida Gators recruit and Gatorade National Player of the Year (the same award Brandon Knight won last year) was also very impressive in this game.  For a 6'5" guy, he really showed a willingness to mix it up inside with the big boys.
  • Khem Birch, who is headed to the Pittsburgh Panthers, played great defense and lead both teams with 5 blocks.  His arms seemed endless, and his willingness to mix it up inside despite his rather slight frame was impressive.
  • Austin Rivers played fine, but I really thought several others were more impressive.  Still, I like his range, his size, and his shiftiness off the dribble.  I wouldn't describe him as explosive in any part of his game, but because he can make shots, you have to guard him honestly.  He'll be a fine player for the Duke Blue Devils.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Kentucky signees, and I think we all are anxious to see what the team will look like next year.  There really isn't much news as far as which if any of the UK guys will declare, and Harrison Barnes of North Carolina dodged the question last night when he was asked.

If Kentucky loses less than three players, they figure to be nearly a co-favorite with North Carolina for next year's national championship, and those two teams will be head and shoulders, on paper, above all the rest.  That's a very exciting prospect for me, because North Carolina is one of Kentucky's closest rivals in program measures, and the possibility of a UNC-UK national championship game would be the biggest NCAA basketball draw in many years, and undoubtedly would create record crowds and TV viewership.

This is an exciting time to be a University of Kentucky fan, and last night's JBC game just gave us more reason to be thrilled about next year's team.  The talent level, regardless of who leaves, will be the highest at Kentucky in many years, and it promises to be an outstanding season for the Wildcats.

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