Transylvania Pioneers 28, Kentucky Wildcats 74:  Postmortem

Nerlens Noel demonstrates the left-handed dunk a la John Wall. - Andy Lyons

The Kentucky Wildcats demonstrated incredible defensive intensity, and second half offensive prowess, to handle the Division III Transylvania Pioneers tonight in Rupp Arena.

First of all, I want to apologize for the lateness of the postmortem. I had to eat, and then attend to a few other matters before sitting down to write this piece.

Second, I want to thank Transylvania University for making the four block trip to Rupp Arena and giving us their best effort tonight. Transylvania is an experienced and talented team, and that really showed in the first half tonight when the Pioneers held the game to within 9 points, and forced (or more correctly, accepted) 10 Kentucky turnovers in that half. We appreciate the effort, and the Pioneers helped prepare us for the difficulties to come, which happen to start Friday in New York City against the Maryland Terrapins.

Third, I know this was a Division III team, but Kentucky's team defense tonight was... incredible. In fact, in the second half, the UK defense produced the same kind of result as another famous Kentucky team, the Suffocats, albeit in a rather different way. It looks to me like this team intends to make defense its calling card this year, and John Calipari will undoubtedly be pleased with that. To hold the #16 ranked Division III team to just 28 points is quite remarkable.

Observations:

  • Willie Cauley-Stein was a leader out there tonight in every way. He brought energy, intensity, and basketball smarts to the floor for the Wildcats. His hustle was contagious, and when it caught on, Kentucky became a good-looking team. 4-4 from the field, 4-4 from the line, and 3 steals. 4 rebounds is a little low, but still -- game ball.
  • Nerlens Noel really picked it up in the second half, and amazingly proved that he could guard guys half his size. His hands are unbelievable, and if he were slightly more skilled on offense, he would be a genuine horror. As it is, he played extremely well in the second half, and his stamina has noticeably improved since the last game.
  • Archie Goodwin gave a good effort, but he proved that he is still a freshman. His decision-making was suspect at best, and he had 3 turnovers and should have had 3 more. Transylvania did a good job of stopping his drives, and he really didn't recover too well from that. Still, his hustle and energy were impressive.
  • Kyle Wiltjer was cold, and although he made some nice moves, he must play better. Too many weak passes, too weak with the ball, and just not good enough to justify playing him more than 15 or 16 minutes a game, if that's all he brings.
  • Alex Poythress defended well, but really made some bad decisions with the ball, and tried to score when it just wasn't there. He has got to learn to value the ball more, and not to force things, which he did all the time. It didn't work, and he didn't look good at all on offense. Defensively, though, he was really solid against much smaller men.
  • I was really unhappy with what I saw out of Ryan Harrow today, and evidently Calipari was as well, because he was on the bench to start the second half. He got better, but we need more out of him than he has given in these exhibitions.
  • Julius Mays was spectacular: 4-8 from 3 and 2-2 from the line for 14 points and 5 assists. When he went down, the collective moan from the Big Blue Nation was audible all the way to Jeffersontown. Fortunately:
    Thats a good piece of news. He could have legitimately gotten the game ball, and we will need him if we have a chance to be great.
  • Some good activity tonight from Jon Hood, but we need more production out of him.

Overall, this was a performance that could change things. Defensively, this was the best I have seen a Wildcats team in many years, and it was vastly superior to what we saw against this same team last year, from a defensive perspective. If this team is going to defend this well against other squads of better talent, then college basketball might just have a repeat national champion. The defense was that good. Yes, this is a Division III team in Transylvania, but this was a defensive tour-de-force by any measure.

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