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Shaking Off The Rust

I don't know about you, but I'm shaking off the basketball fan rust. Its been a while! I suppose some of us have been focused on gridiron exploits. Some of us have finally rinsed out the distaste of the previous coaching staff and are diving head-first into the new season. Most of us are still trying to learn about our new coach and are anxious to see the team in action. Last night, Gillispie's Wildcats were finally put on display for us, the Big Blue Nation.

Most of us saw the obvious good (Meeks' incredible scoring, Patterson's debut) with the obvious bad (turnovers, the team looking tired in the second half). But since most of us are still shaking off the rust, we didn't see what could be a potentially bad sign for the season ahead. Fortunately, a few of us noticed the terrible decision by our new coach. I am saddened -- as someone who pretends on the Internet to be a basketball "expert" -- that I didn't notice it until it was brought to my attention. It is my duty to inform you, my Big Blue Nation brothers and sisters, about this travesty.

Coach Gillispie did not wear a blue-colored item during yesterday's game. In fact, his tie was *gasp* yellow! In the first game of the year! Fret not, for UK Athletics have been notified of this situation. We don't want this small dressing mistake to escalate to Bill Belichick proportions.

The reason why I missed Tie-Gate was because I was swimming in the on-court action and analysis. But I was hesitant to take too much away from this one game; an exhibition game, which is basically a glorified practice for both teams. As I was looking for the little things that could possibly define the season, two things stood out to me that some of you may noticed or thought about.

Defense and Fouls

I was eagerly waiting to see how our defense looks in action. Boy howdy, did I love the effort and the execution on Wednesday. Extending to challenge the passing lanes, smart traps and good team help. They looked completely sold on the idea that defense needs the effort -- something that last year's team could never seem to commit to in the late season. Coach Gillispie in his post-game press conference wasn't too thrilled with our second-half defensive play (Thanks to the Herald-Leader's John Clay for the audio file):

Really you gotta guard the ball. They just spread us out in the second half, we weren't in what we like to call "strong help position". We like to pressure the ball. We weren't forcing guys to get the ball to the middle of the court. We were allowing too many straight line drives to the basket. When the drive straight to the basket, its always a penetrate and pitch situation. You have to force them to go side-to-side, so that your help can be more helpful. But again, as you get into condition, as you understand your opponents a little better and understand what they trying to accomplish, I think we'll have stronger help. ... We probably require guys to put more pressure on the ball than most teams, or we try to.

With this kind of defense, what can we expect during the games that matter? Fouls is the first thing that comes to my mind. The defense we saw last night against Pikeville is similar to that we saw during Billy's last year at Texas A&M. Last year, Billy's Texas A&M squad averaged 19.5 fouls in 34 games and had 22 foul outs. In comparison, UK averaged 16.1 fouls in 34 games and 4 foul outs. This means our opponents will be heading to the charity stripe often. It may also mean that our starters may be seeing more sitting time on the bench if they happen to pick up a few early fouls.

One of our starters that will need to stay on the floor as long as possible is Patrick Patterson. He looked great and will probably be our primary inside scoring option. However, like Randolph Morris and the other talented UK Big Men before Randolph, Patrick may find himself on the bench if a team tries to knock him out. Patrick's footwork on defense looks good, so I hope he is quick to learn that his defensive skills dictate how much real playing time he'll get.

Another result of our aggressive pressure defense will be action from our bench -- not just because of the increase of fouls, but also to maintain stamina levels. I could see at least 4 of our non-starters averaging nearly 10 minutes a game during the season, much like Pitino's teams. Our limited frontcourt may lead to some more smaller-sized lineups middle or late-game -- although we didn't see the expected "four-guard" lineup during the Pikeville game.

The benefits of such an aggressive defense -- limiting opponent's field-goal percentages, forcing turn overs and wearing down your opponents -- are sure to outweigh the liabilities we will have implementing it.

Rebounding and Turnovers

From the Courier-Journal:

They committed 21 turnovers and gave up 12 offensive rebounds. UK won the rebounding battle only 31-27. And though the score was never in doubt, the Cats were in a second-half shootout, outscoring the Bears 48-37.

"Giving up 37 points, no disrespect, but that's too many points in a half, no matter who you're playing," Gillispie said.

Some of you may be concerned this may hold to a season-long pattern. However, I am not concerned. Coach also said in his post-game conference that the team wasn't yet in game shape: "We kinda wore out at the first half, wore out during the entire second half." Remember the team had an hour-long full-speed practice several hours before the Pikeville game. With as much improvement that we've seen with the overall conditioning of the team, I have little doubts that our boys will be worn out further in the season. And I expect the rebounding and turnover numbers to improve, once stamina increases and team rebounding discipline is practiced further.

They, too, are shaking off the rust, I suppose. So that's nothing to be too concerned about, until it starts popping up later in the season. Like that shameful yellow tie.