Kentucky Wildcats 95, Montevallo Falcons 72:  Postmortem

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The second and final exhibition game is in the books. What did we learn? Plenty, some good, but some bad.

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, the Kentucky Wildcats came out with the intention to show that they had improved since their somewhat disappointing showing against the Transylvania Pioneers.  I'm not sure they accomplished even that.

First of all, congratulations to the Montevallo Falcons.  They really played hard and frankly, are a very good team for Division II.  The Falcons took it straight to the Wildcats, and displayed all the traits that the Wildcats lack at this point, in some measure at least. They may have lost by a significant margin, but they fought every single inch of the game, which was never uncompetitive.  For a Division II school to come in and play the #1 ranked team in the country in Division I so tough, it raises questions.

Team observations

  • Despite their willingness to share the ball, which is laudable, this team really isn't running smoothly on offense.
  • Defensively, Kentucky does so many things wrong. They either don't help or over-help.  They don't switch timely and so far, team speed has given them trouble.  They go for every shot fake and tend to crowd themselves under the basket, making rebounding more difficult.  Yes, I know it's early and yes, I know they'll get better.  They need to.
  • The old saying, "Be careful what you wish for" comes to mind when Calipari wished for this team to "fail fast."  Defensively, they absolutely are.
  • Defense in college basketball is hard.  It requires a commitment and determination that we don't see yet.
  • The offense will get better.  Right now, we have a bunch of pieces mostly running at random trying to get better.  They will, trust me.  2011-12 looked this bad in their first few games, although they defended markedly better.
  • Turnovers are always a problem with these young teams early.  Keep in mind that our starting point guard, Andrew Harrison, has yet to play a minute of college basketball.
  • As a team, Kentucky shot the ball very well from everywhere:  58% from the floor, 45.5% from 3, and 72% from the line.
  • The calling card for this team will be offense, but they have to get some kind of defense to go with it.

Player observations

  • Julius Randle continues to show that he is almost unstoppable offensively.  He does so many things well, it's really hard to get them all listed.  Another double-double with 21  points on 9-13 shooting, 11 rebounds, 1 block, 1 assist.  Game ball.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein probably deserves to share the game ball.  He was a force of nature in the second half.  He had a very Anthony Davis-like line:  12 points, 4 rebounds, 6 blocks, 2 assists and 1 steal.
  • James Young had a good, but not great game, and that includes the wild attempted save that scored 2 points for the Falcons.  He had 16 points on 6-13 shooting.  He was only 1-6 from three, though, along with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 1 steal.
  • Aaron Harrison had 10 points on relatively poor 3-8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 7 assists (!) and zero turnovers.  Aaron is a really good passer, I must say.
  • Jarrod Polson, conversely, had 8 points, only 1 assist and 3 turnovers, but he shot the ball fairly well at 3-5.
  • Marcus Lee only played 3 minutes, got a couple of rebounds and made a couple of free throws.
  • Alex Poythress had a pretty good game offensively.  He shot the ball well at 4-6 for 10 points, and had 4 rebounds in only 17 minutes.  That's pretty productive, if you ask me.
  • Dakari Johnson had another solid outing.  When he was in the game, you had to double-team him or he would just back you down and lay it in.  He was 3-4 shooting for 9 points and had 5 rebounds in only 15 productive minutes.
  • Jon Hood had a really good game.  He had 4 points on 2 of 2 shooting to go with a rebound in only 11 minutes.  He has really gotten better.
  • Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis barely played.  Willis did have 4 rebounds, which I liked.

Overall, it was a game that could have been much better.  Kentucky was just unable to stop the Falcons as much as they should have, although they did have their moments.  John Calipari has lots of things to help him teach these guys on both sides of the ball, but only a few days to do it before UNC Asheville invades Rupp Arena to kick off the regular season.

Right now, Kentucky may be #1, but they don't look much like it.  Yes, Randle is awesome, Young is much better than advertised and WCS is improved, but what we have is a team that is less than the sum of it's parts right now.  Kentucky can get away with that for a while, but come the ides of November, they have to prove themselves against a national title contender.  Will that be enough time?  I'll put it this way:  I'm not sanguine about it at this point, but I am hopeful.

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