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UK Basketball: Kentucky Is In The Zone, Defense That Is

So, feeling pretty good after escaping Memorial with not just a win, but a signature win. First victory by a #1 team in Nashville in over 20 years. The Cats not only play a crushing first half, but they manage a comeback from a lapse in the second to overcome a Vanderbilt team loaded with scorers and veteran Seniors who knew how to handle late game situations. You have the confidence that with only five games remaining in the SEC, and only two of those away, that the Cats have passed the test that so many experts and talking heads said would trip the Cats up along the way. Think an SEC undefeated season is forthcoming and that the Cats should steamroll their way through the rest of the season and into the NCAA's with the #1 overall seed and that they should be playing close to home and enjoying the fruits of John Calipari's labor, right? Right.

Just don't think there won't br some more bumps along the road.

The path to the NCAA Championship in April is going to be frought with potholes and detour signs. And almost every one of them is going to be tied to a Zone Defense. More after the jump.



I know what you are saying, we have seen zone defense already, and we have beaten it every time. Well, almost every time. But the obvious truth about this UK team is that the zone is the only hope anyone has of beating them. You cannot guard them man to man. Davis and Jones are too good, too fast, and too athletic for one man to handle. The zone allows for teams to slough off down into the paint and collapse on those two with two or three guys at once and try to negate that advantage. Teams know this, and from here on out they are going to continue to try and exploit that advantage. The Cats can counter, and can do it with relative ease, but only if certain things happen, and they need to happen now.

First, Darius Miller needs to have a long talk with the man in the mirror. This team cannot allow officiating, no matter how poor, to dictate the terms of the game. Darius Miller cannot help break a zone sitting on the bench with three fouls 10 minutes into the first half, or three minutes into the second. It cannot happen. Doron Lamb and his Robin Hood-type 3 pt assault rely on Miller being on the opposite side of the floor waiting to hit his own 3 pointers in the creases of that same zone. Beating the zone requires three men on the perimeiter with the ability to knock down outside shots. Dick Vitale pointed out last night in the midst of the Cats second half struggles that with only two players at the top of the key passing the ball back and forth, the zone just slides from one to the other. The key is having three men, spaced well apart on the perimeter to burn those sliding guards when they over pursue the pass. With Miller at the 10 O'Clock and 2 O'Clock positions, and Lamb sliding down into the corner, the zone must come out to defend, and then Jones and Davis can overcome a one on one, or even two on one down low. Not to mention that Miller has that uncanny ability to work his way into the middle of that zone and get that floating 12-15 footer inside the foul circle. Teague and Lamb need to be practicing that same move so that they too can make it difficult for defenses to hide inside that zone and wait for Kentucky to shoot the three to get out of it. Now, my ego does not allow me to think that I have discovered something that Coach Calipari does not already know. But the players need to address it themselves. Miller needs to know that he must be on the floor and not concerned about fouls to be effective. Yes, Kentucky is talented enough to overcome these things. They showed that last night. And other than the last game of the season down in the swamp, they will probably not face an atmosphere that difficult again this season. Lucky them.

The win last night was impressive, just allowing for the hostile environment, that is for sure. But it is the circumstances that got us in that hole to begin with that the Cats must address, and they need to do it now so that it does not rear it's ugly head again. I was very impressed with what they did in spite of what they had to overcome, however, they shouldn't have been there in the first place. I have full confidence that Cal knows this and is up this morning coming to this same conclusion. I just hope that the team is doing the same. This group has come so far and done so much in such a short period of time. They do not need to let something simple trip them up.

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