Let's suppose, for just a second, that we don't get Derrick Jasper and Jody Meeks back for the Florida game. There is still a player who can make the difference, and that guy is Perry Stevenson.
Perry Stevenson has started exactly one game this year -- against Tennessee Tech. Everyone in the Big Blue Nation respects the work and heart that Mark Coury has shown, but we also know that he really isn't the guy you want to have as a Division I starting center or forward. He gives us hustle and meaningful effort, but he is limited by his lack of quickness and ability to play around the rim. He is a fine support player and "glue guy," as Gillispie called him last night, but as a starter, he limits us both offensively and defensively. I'm not knocking him, I love the guy and he is a very important support member of this team, but we have to face reality here about what his demonstrated ability is.
So who do we need to have in his place early in the game? A Perry Stevenson who can give us more punch offensively by being more of a threat around the rim, and defensively by being a shot blocking presence. He enables us to run the high-low more effectively, he is developing a reliable jump shot in the 12 foot range, and his confidence is beginning to get high enough for him to have a real impact on the game. But most importantly, I feel he is the guy who can get UK off to a faster start in games. So what is the big deal about a fast start? Let's look at the numbers:
Basketball State has the score of each game listed at various times throughout the game, and these times vary a bit for each game. So what I did was take the first score under 15:00 left in the first half. What we see by analyzing this is that UK has won every game but one in which it leads at around 13:00-14:00+ left in the first half of the game. Note the game we were ahead in that we did not win. It's also interesting that so far, the Cats have not won a single game in which they were behind between approximately the 13-14 minute mark in the first half. This is not exactly the kind of analysis that you would call statistically valid, but it is a data point in a larger picture of how this year's version of the Wildcats have fared in games. Sadly, we have a lot more "loss" data than we would ever hope to have at this point in a season.
So it looks like this -- when we get off to a good start, our odds of winning appear to be greater. That makes sense, but Kentucky has had teams before that would get off to bad starts and come on late. This team appears to need a good start to have it's best chance to win, and for this particular group, that means tough defense from the opening tip. I think Perry Stevenson can give us the extra oomph we need to get off early, and give us our best chance to win. Even with Jasper and Meeks both available, I think we need Stevenson in there early to give us the combination of quickness and leaping ability. Yes, he gets pushed around, but the Vanderbilt game showed the kind of things you can do to turn a disadvantage into an advantage, by being crafty and determined. Already we have seen Stevenson being stronger with the ball and more confident taking the pass outside the paint. He may never develop the hands of a Patrick Patterson, but most of the difference there is the confidence that comes with game experience -- something Perry is finally starting to get. He now knows how strong you have to be with the ball, and a game is way different from practice.
So here's to the health of our injured players, but if that fails, here's to Perry getting it done in practice -- and earning a start.