Kentucky Wildcats 93 vs. Northern Kentucky Norse, 63:  Postmortem

Andy Lyons

This was a game in which the Wildcats showed us just a little of how dominant they can be.

Finally, for the first time so far this season, the Kentucky Wildcats gave us a decent look at what this basketball team can be when it plays well on both ends. They didn't play that well, mind you, and only did it for a while, but they are, and will continue to improve every game.

Thanks to the Northern Kentucky Norse for the ballgame. The Norse played hard, but struggled to shoot the ball today against a much taller, more athletic team. They got some open looks, but unlike Friday against Purdue, they weren't able to make them, and they just didn't get as many as they needed to challenge Kentucky. Northern Kentucky is a tough young team, though, and they will get better.

The Wildcats put together their best 40 minutes so far this season, and even with that said, they could be so much better than this. The Wildcats challenged the Norse on the perimeter and made is much, much harder for Northern Kentucky to get open looks than other teams they have played so far this season. That was wise, because NKU can really shoot.

Team Observations

  • I thought the defense was much, much better, both in intensity and execution. Calipari wanted to see them play 30 seconds of defense on every possession, and even if he didn't get that every possession, he got it on a fair number today.

  • The offense looked better. It still isn't a good representation of the Dribble Drive Motion, but it is getting there.

  • Free throw shooting was much better at 68%. That's still not nearly as good as it should be, but improvement is what we're looking for here.

  • In this game, perhaps more so than any other so far, Kentucky leveraged their size and individual athletic ability to a much greater effect. They had 51 total rebounds to 23 by the Norse.

  • 3-point shooting is still not close to where it needs to be at 32%

  • 12 turnovers is solid. There were several unforced errors, though, that need to be ironed out.

  • The zone defense did not look very good to me, but let's give it a chance. I don't think we'll see a lot of it in the next few games.

  • Unlike last year, this team doesn't seem to have a communication problem, or at least, not as big a problem.

Individual Observations

  • Unlike last game, Julius Randle dominated the stat line with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists (all in the first half) and a block with 2 turnovers. The problem is, that line doesn't even communicate just how dominant he was, and he does this in every game he plays.

  • The Harrison Twins both had very good games, Andrew with 13 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists with only 1 turnover, and Aaron with 16 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block.

  • Alex Poythress continues to impress, but he disappeared a bit in the second half. He wound up with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal, but he was really playing well in the first half. The second, he blended into the background.

  • Willie Cauley-Stein had another solid effort with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 1 steal. He didn't have a single block, though, which is a definite negative in my view.

  • Dakari Johnson is virtually the same every game. He got 7 points and 4 rebounds in only 17 minutes, a steal, an assist, and a block.

  • James Young seemed off today on offense, almost like he wasn't confident. He played well defensively, but 5 points and 1 rebound is not what we want to see out of him in 27 minutes. The 27 minutes, though, was second on the team, and tells me he was defending well.

  • Marcus Lee was not nearly as productive this game as last, but he still played well, totaling 3 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in only 14 minutes.

  • Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins all played for 6 minutes at the end of the game.I think Hood played the best of the 3 with 5 points, a rebound, and an assist.

Overall, we should be pleased and proud of this effort, because it was a very good one. There are still far too many plays on both sides of the court where somebody quits or messes up, but that's to be expected with a young team. The thing is, these guys are really making solid progress game-to-game, and they really need to.

Michigan State is next, and that will be an early exam to see where this team is, and I think Kentucky is ready enough for this test to have a good chance to win the game. MSU has the advantage of experience, and they are plenty talented, but nobody has an answer for Julius Randle, and the truth is, I don't see how anyone guards this team man-to-man.

Defensively, I am less sanguine. Kentucky's defense is not up to the Spartans executing sharply, and MSU will try to control the pace of the game as they always do, and force it into the 60's if they can. If they are successful, it will be tough for Kentucky to win. But we'll have more on that later.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, given the stringencies of scheduling, I think we're about as ready to play Michigan St. as we have any right to expect for a team so young and a game so close to the season tipoff. This was a good final tuneup, and the 'Cats look good enough to have a chance.

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