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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Blue-White Scrimmage Provides Better Look At The Team

Coach Cal says he isn't coaching effort because he doesn't need to, and that this team is getting practice done early because they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish.
Coach Cal says he isn't coaching effort because he doesn't need to, and that this team is getting practice done early because they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish.

Tonight at 7:00 PM, the Wildcats basketball team tips off the Blue-White scrimmage.  This is an important event in that it is more of competitive than just a simple exhibition of dunks and  3-pointers like we had at Big Blue Madness.  In this game, we will actually see some defense (if not a great deal of it) and get some idea just what this year's version of the Wildcats brings to the table.

Even though it is just an intra-squad scrimmage, the Blue-White game gives us a peek into where the Wildcats are as far as teamwork is concerned, and who will be doing a lot of what in the first few games of the season.  As the season progresses, we'll see roles change just like always, but this game generally defines, at least to some extent, the type of basketball we'll be seeing out of the Wildcats early this year.

Guy Ramsey at Cat Scratches says this game is Calipari's "laboratory:"

With a versatile, talented and deep roster this season, there isn't a thing Calipari has taken off the table in terms of how his team will play. The way his players talk about all the different philosophies and sets the team has toyed with in practice, Calipari almost sounds like a mad scientist.

First of all, it takes a confident coach to be willing to change what had become "his system," namely the Dribble Drive Motion that he made famous at Memphis, and be willing to integrate it with other offensive systems like the pick and roll, or a regular low-post offense, as dictated by his talent.  This is often known as doing something "out of your comfort zone," something that Calipari demands not only of his players, but is also clearly willing to embrace personally in his coaching.

For those who think John Calipari isn't a great coach because he's never "won the big one," this is an example of why he truly is great.  I can't think of a single Division I coach other than perhaps Louisville's Rick Pitino (and nobody seems to doubt Pitino's credentials) who has been willing to embrace other offensive systems to this degree, and Pitino is not nearly as willing as Calipari.

Calipari has done that his entire career, and it is a big reason for his success.  He did it at Memphis when he installed the DDM.  He did it last year when he started initiating the offense with handoffs between Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson.  He's already talking about doing it this year with the pick and roll.  This is how you innovate in college basketball -- by doing things that look like they might work, but that you have never or rarely tried.

With all that said, let's go to the man himself for comment.  Watch the whole thing, then I'll highlight some points:

In here, Calipari explains why he hasn't run the pick and roll that much before -- why bring two defenders to his best player when he doesn't need the help to get open?  He used the example of John Wall, explaining that running Wall on the P&R, the defenders would have both gone under the pick and prevented the drive, forcing Wall to shoot jumpers -- just what the defense wants Wall to do.

But this year is different, and Calipari is using the pick and roll to initiate the DDM.  This year, when the defender goes under to take away the drive, they have to always be aware of who it is.  If Teague is the guard you might get away with it, but if it's Lamb or Miller, you're giving up an open three to a 40%+ shooter. If the defender tries to fight through the pick and gets hung on the screen, it forces the inside defender to rotate or the screen defender to switch to a mismatched player. 

Say Davis or Jones is the screener for Lamb and the defense switches.  Now, you have a guard on Davis or Jones and a big trying to chase Lamb to the basket.  That's not Josh Harrellson out there, that's Davis or Jones with guard skills at 6'9"+ and a 36" vertical. Lamb can kick back to the screener, if needs be, for a drive, an open three or a post-up. If the wing defender rotates, you have an open shooter in the corner.  Tough to guard.

Another thing I found interesting was how Calipari is constantly trying to innovate his own system and picks the brains of the NBA coaches who come to watch the Wildcats practice.  Who else in college basketball does this?  I'd like to know, because I'm thinking it is unique, and incredibly smart.

It's hard not to be encouraged by the statement from Coach Cal that he hasn't had to coach effort at all.  How awesome is that?  Listening to him talk about these guys, it's hard not to feel like this year is finally the one that gets us back to the top of the mountain, and the way these kids are approaching this season could not be more correct.

I can't wait for that first tip.