Kentucky Wildcats 76, Transylvania Pioneers 42:  Postmortem

Julius Randle was the man tonight. - Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky wins convincingly, but also exposes many flaws. In other words, this was a great game at this point in the season.

The Kentucky Wildcats got their first test of the season today, and even if it was a very simple quiz, they didn't exactly pass with flying colors. Instead, it was more of a half-hearted effort that will do much to motivate this talented, but still somewhat clueless team.

A hearty thanks to the Transylvania Pioneers for coming in to Rupp Arena and demonstrating to these young stallions the value of teamwork, passion, and a refusal to accept the role of whipping boy. Eventually, Kentucky mastered this small and relatively less athletic Division III team, but not in the first half and not by a particularly wide margin.

While some may be concerned that Kentucky didn't look very good in this game, I was actually encouraged by it. Kentucky looked much better last year, but wound up being a markedly inferior team as a Kentucky squad. This season, they made it look easy at times and at other times looked like they were consciously trying to make Transylvania look good by surrendering unchallenged 3-point shots, which Transy promplty dropped as though they were layups. After halftime, the team came out and held Transylvania scoreless for over 5 minutes in the second half, and took command of the ball game.

Observations

  • I thought Aaron Harrison did a respectable job as backup point guard. No, he wasn't as polished as his brother, but he was serviceable. He only had 2 assists, though, and 8 points, but he had zero turnovers.

  • I loved Julius Randle on offense. He was too often MIA on defense, but that's just normal for a freshman who is used to being the dominant scorer. He gets the game ball with a double-double 16-12, but he had 5 turnovers.

  • Alex Poythress had a horrible first half, but really came through in the second. He didn't get enough rebounds, though, and in my mind, is coming off the bench right now.

  • James Young is scary on defense, and scary on offense. He was cold from outside tonight, but he managed 9 points,3 steals, a block and 5 assists. That a good line with no turnovers.

  • Derek Willis shoots lights-out, but defends like a blind man. He really needs to concentrate on closing out on shooters and using his length as something besides a novelty.

  • Dakari Johnson will be overlooked, but he arguably deserves a piece of the game ball. He had 9 points, 8 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a turnover.

  • Willie Cauley-Stein is not giving up his nominal starting spot to Johnson easily. He was solid as well with 7 points, 7 rebounds, 4 (!) steals and a block.

  • Jarrold Polson was a leader out there. 5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal.

  • Jon Hood did what he does, and had a scintillating ally-oop dunk that brought the house down. 2 points, 1 assist.

  • Dominique Hawkins had an assist, but didn't impact the score sheet otherwise.

  • Marcus Lee didn't get in until late, but when he did, he made an impact. 3 points, 2 rebounds, a block and a turnover. But Lee did some nice things on defense, and really brings the team a lot of energy.

Overall, this game will provide a lot of fodder for Calipari to work on the team. There are many blown assignments, many failed executions, any number of players taking plays off, tons of mental mistakes, even some decorum issues when the bench failed to properly applaud a teammate's play. In short, this was a "teachable moment" for Coach Cal and the team, and falls right into his wish that they "fail fast," so that they can move past it and prepare for the really important stuff.

Despite much to criticize, I'll leave most of that to the coach. This team has remarkable skill, and really isn't all that far from where they need to be at this point in time. The good news is they have three more games to get there, and that will have to be enough.

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