Michigan St. Spartans 78, Kentucky Wildcats 74:  Postmortem

Jonathan Daniel

Kentucky's youth movement wasn't quite up to the task of defeating a talented and experienced Michigan St.

The 40-0 talk is now officially out the window, and none too soon for me. Now, we can concentrate on talking about the team we actually have, not the team that we will have in three months. Nor do we have to worry about the distraction of the media yakking about all that nonsense. Kentucky is now just a highly-ranked team, not the top ranked team, and they can get better a little faster without having to drive themselves crazy with expectations. Now, we just expect them to win out, a pedestrian 39-1. I'm not sure about you, but I'm fine with that.

Congratulations to the Spartans on a job well done. They had to hang on a little bit at the end, and they can get better than they were tonight. The reality is, and anyone who knows college basketball realizes this:  MSU will get better, but Kentucky will get a whole lot better. And they need to.

There will be a temptation on the part of some fans to blame individual players. Please just stop it.  It's just wrong. No talk about body language and crap like that. This team isn't just an unfinished product, it isn't yet a product at all. As I said before, at this moment, they are less than the sum of their parts. Don't get used to that, it won't last long. You'll have forgotten all about this in a month.

So what I want everyone to do is take a deep breath and treat this as the meaningless loss it is, and it is, you know. This one game has absolutely no impact on Kentucky's chances to win the NCAA tournament. It has absolutely no bearing on a #1 seed unless Kentucky loses a lot more games than this. It has no bearing on anything, really, except a nice win for Michigan St. fans to take home and admire, and a "morality play" for the low-grade morons masquerading as scolds to scoff at Calipari. Don't worry, folks, he can take it. So can we. Embrace the hate.

Okay, now to the game:

Team Observations

  • Wow, was Kentucky's transition defense awful, or what? That's job one. We cannot be letting teams run out on us like that. Michigan St. killed us in transition, and I was way wrong about which team would win a track meet.

  • I think missing 16 free throws and turning the ball over 10 more times than your opponent is usually a recipe for a loss. Frankly, it's usually a recipe for a blowout, which this game manifestly was not.

  • Many of you were accusing me of negativity when I pointed out that 32% from 3 wasn't good enough, but it just might have been in this game. Unfortunately, we only shot 20%, and there is no excuse for that from this team.

  • 18 offensive rebounds, 8 more than Sparty. Folks, out-rebounding a Tom Izzo-coached team is hard. This team absolutely crushed them on the glass. What do you think that bodes for the rest of the season?

  • Only 8 assists from this team tonight. That tells you a lot about what went wrong. Kentucky didn't run any kind of a meaningful offense. There was rarely a dribble drive. In fact, Calipari went to a straight-up low post game in the second half and abandoned the DDM altogether. Not a single pick-and-roll was run all night long.

  • How many times did you see this team break off defensive possessions, and completely fail to be in position on offense, and make incredibly bad decisions?  Don't get used to it, this may be one of the last times you see it.

  • The team completely failed to communicate the whole time. I can't wait to hear what Coach Cal has to say.  Spacing was horrible all night long, and it let MSU play much bigger and better than they were.

Individual Observations

  • Julius Randle had 27 points on 9/14 shooting, 9/15 from the line, 13 rebounds, 1 assist and 8(!) turnovers. He single-handedly brought Kentucky back, but he mitigated his impact by mistakes.  Julius absolutely must learn how to share the ball out of double-teams.  Still, he has to get the game ball.

  • Loved Alex Poythress' game tonight. Loved it. He was a major factor with 7 points and 12 rebounds in 27 minutes. He also had 3 blocks and only 1 turnover. Alex played outstanding defense and deserves an honorable mention for the game ball.

  • Andrew Harrison was awful tonight for whatever reason. He just doesn't yet have a feel for the size and speed of the players at this level. 11 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound and a Marquis Teague-like 4 turnovers.

  • Aaron Harrison was even worse than his brother, 1/7 shooting for 3 points, 2 assists, 1 block and 2 turnovers. Both Harrisons were defensive liabilities.

  • James Young was a mixed bag. He kept us in the first half, but he played extremely poor defense, especially in transition, and didn't shoot the ball well from three. His line was 19 points on 7/16 shooting 2/5 free throws, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a turnover.

  • Willie Cauley-Stein had a fair game, but I didn't like the way he ran the floor in transition on defense. 5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 turnover.

  • Dakari Johnson had a solid game, 2 points and 5 rebounds in only 14 minutes, but he missed all three of his free throws. He has to get a handle on the hand-checking, though, because he picked up 4 fouls and at least 3 of them were hand-checks.

  • Marcus Lee only played 1 minute, but he forced a miss and got a rebound. Really a lot of production for such a short stint. I liked it.

  • Dominique Hawkins had an unexpected 6 minutes with Andrew Harrison both in foul trouble and in trouble with Coach Cal. He didn't impact the stats except for a foul, and he didn't play particularly well defensively, although he hustled.

Folks, there are a lot of things I could say about this game, and most of them would not be favorable. But unlike the last game when I was critical of many things, this was a much different test, and I think it is a test they passed — not with flying colors, by any means, but more like a C-.

Five days from now on Sunday, Kentucky will take on the Robert Morris Colonials, the team that knocked last year's team out of the NIT in the first round. I expect this game to go ... differently, and John Calipari has no end of teaching tools from the tape of this game.

So buck up, Big Blue Nation. Nobody likes to lose, but if we are going to lose them, now is the time. This team has nothing but upside.  Calipari said he hoped the team would "fail fast."  Be careful what you wish for.

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