Exhibition season is now over, and it ended creating almost as many questions as it answered.
Normally in this space, I would grade the team on it's most recent performance, but unfortunately, I only saw the last 10 minutes of the game. My attempt to record it and review it later failed due to either a technical malfunction or operator error, and I'll have to figure out what that is, because the odds of me missing at least one more game in this season are pretty high.
So instead of a comprehensive grade for each player who saw action, I'll give my overall comments about the part of the game I saw. It looked to me like the team is still struggling with Gillispie's defensive scheme, which is significantly different than that employed by Tubby Smith. Smith played a variant of the ball-line defense which tends to pack the defense in close to the basket and allow longer shots. Gillespie plays a pressure defense not unlike that used by Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan, although he doesn't pick up full-court very often. His objective seems to be to push the ball as far away from the basket as possible, Obviously, this creates situations where cuts to the basket cause help situations, and the players haven't quite got the whole knack of help rotation in this scheme.
I think it will take awhile for Kentucky's defense to become effective, but if Gillispie can get total buy-in from the team, I think it will be outstanding. I thought the effort looked pretty good, but the Wildcats seemed to weaken considerably in the second half, and in the last 10 minutes of the game basically played a team we out-talent 2-1 to a draw. Not terribly impressive. Turnovers continue to be the bane of the Wildcats, and last night was no different, as we'll see in a moment. In addition, Kentucky seemed to struggle quite a bit on the defensive boards in the second half. The Cats must have dominated the glass in the first half to wind up with an overall rebounding advantage, because Seattle repeatedly got second chance opportunities on the offensive end.
Patrick Patterson apparently had another very productive game, and we saw flashes of the passion I have been telling you about, and he already showed signs of floor leadership that I didn't expect to see quite this soon. That is encouraging to me, but we'll have to see how Bradley responds to Patterson's assertiveness. One thing you can be sure of -- it will increase, and sooner or later, the two are going to have to come to grips with their roles as leaders. Patterson is a dynamic, strong-willed and competitive young man, and he backs that up with great talent and desire.
Other than that, I saw very little of Crawford since he fouled out with about 6 minutes to go, but he looked fine in the short time I saw him, making a nice three from the corner and forcing a turnover with excellent pressure. Michael Porter showed up in this game, and Mark Coury had the game of his young life, apparently. I saw AJ Stewart show up early in the play-by-play, so I assume he started. Overall, we won the game, but it was a lot more competitive than I think it should have been.
So with the exhibition season now over and the real deal about to begin on Tuesday, I have done a quick and dirty "Ken Pomeroy" style statistical analysis of the two exhibition games, since they won't show up anywhere else. I just analyzed a few stats, and for the team only, just to give us some idea where we stand. You can find the raw statistics at the UK site.
So basically what I have done here is compared the numbers for our last two games with the raw numbers from the 2007 season, and entered where we would have ranked in 2007 if we had averaged those numbers for each game. Note that the numbers from our two games have not been adjusted for strength of the competition, so while they look good, you have to keep in mind that they are against weak competition.
The things that jump out to me are probably the same things that jump out to you -- turnovers and steals. The turnover numbers for these two games are flat out awful, and represent a serious problem that needs to be immediately addressed. Also, the lack of steals against Seattle illustrates in stark relief, at least to me, the difficulty the team is having adjusting to the new defensive scheme. Overall rebounding is a stat I didn't analyze, but since Kentucky outrebounded Pikeville by only 31-27 and Seattle 40-33, I can't imagine that Gillispie is pleased at all with that part of the game.
Where the Cats have done very well is in offensive and defensive efficiencies, and thier assist rate -- UK's assist rate is particularly good, as much from what it says about the team's willingness to share the ball as for the strength of the stat. Offensive rebounding also shows up strong, but given the competition, I would say that these are not that laudable. Blocks also look good, but considering the competition, I don't think there is too much we can take away from that -- remember how Stevenson started last year.
Tempo is definitely faster than last year so far, and we have heard Gillispie complain about it not being fast enough. If that was true for Pikeville, he must be quite unhappy with that stat from the Seattle game.
So Kentucky has positives, but also a few glaring negatives to overcome. That should surprise nobody, as the Cats are breaking in a new coach, a new offense, a new defense, and several new players. Some bumps in the road should be expected and anticipated.
I hope everyone will add their observations and analysis to mine in the comments below.