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Kentucky Basketball: Calipari Went To Jarrod, But Can He Keep Going There?

Jarrod Polson gave Kentucky a big lift in relief of Andrew Harrison on Saturday. How much should Polson play?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

We are seeing the obligatory "Is Jarrod gonna play today?" style post extolling Jarrod Polson's virtues and suggesting he get more minutes coming up around the Internet. I knew we would see this the minute Polson have a solid game in relief of Andrew Harrison for two reasons — there are an irrational number of people down on Harrison because he hasn't lived up to their expectations, and there are a smaller but still significant number of people who are sold on the idea that Kentucky boys are just plain better than all these imports in the areas of hustle and effort. Consider:

I have said all season Polson needs to be in the floor. I’m not saying he needs to be playing 25 minutes a game, but he should at least be playing 10-12 minutes, because he brings leadership and toughness to the team that nobody else seems to bring.

I am sympathetic to this idea only because it's clearly a good thing to have Polson somewhere in the rotation. He seems to have a nice air of calm to go with his hustle that's not quite there with Andrew Harrison. I think 10-12 minutes is too much for Polson unless we're winning huge, but I don't think 5-10 minutes is too much, even in close games.

The thing is, and we need to keep this in mind, is that we don't win the national championship with Polson running the point for a significant amount of time. The author seems to get that, and while we may disagree with about how much is "significant," I don't think he's off the reservation of reality.

I do hope you all realize that, and if you don't, I'm going to have to accuse you of putting on some kind of blinders. You can take my word for it, or you can live in your world of delusion. It's really up to you. But either one or the other Harrison supported by Dominique Hawkins getting most of the reps at point is what we have to have to be successful.

As a quick point to illustrate what I mean, lets' see who looked better, statistically, among Kentucky's best point guards to date at this point in the season:


Click on the table above for a bigger view.  Some stats reflect 12 games while others reflect 13, depending on where the Louisville game fell.  These stats reflect each player's performance up until the Louisville game.

What we see here is that, on balance Andrew Harrison has been right there with most of Calipari's other point guards other than John Wall, and I don't think anybody would dispute that John Wall was nearly as remarkable a college player as Anthony Davis was.  Note that I left out Ryan Harrow's year because it simply wasn't useful.

Harrison compares particularly closely with Marquis Teague, who is more like Andrew than either Wall or Brandon Knight.  Aaron is a better free throw shooter than Teague, but his shooting percentage from 2 is significantly worse, which is the biggest negative other than fouls.  Notice that Andrew is fouling at a prodigious rate normally reserved for hyper-aggressive or clumsy big men.  That's reflected in his defense, which obviously doesn't show up on these stats but is dutifully reported by JLeverenz's Defensive Score Sheets

Andrew's minutes are down for one big reason — he is fouling too much.  His struggles shooting the ball, I think, are reflected mostly by his shot choices, which haven't been that good.  The biggest problem right now is that his fouls are causing him to have to sit long stretches, preventing him from getting into a rhythm offensively, and even running the team.  This is making him look worse than he might otherwise be.  His assists vs. turnover numbers are solid, but he is getting even fewer assists per game than Knight, which is probably more a function of his fewer minutes than anything else.  But even with that considered, his assist numbers aren't as eye-popping as we might hope.

Calipari was careful to point out that Polson adds only one thing when he comes in; energy (I think he also adds a sense of calm and leadership). Hawkins adds more than that, but neither one of them are capable of playing to the level of Andrew Harrison, and that is just a plain fact. Aaron, his brother, is the de-facto point guard when Andrew isn't in there.  Hawkins generally plays off the ball, although when Polson plays, he plays the point.

The #1 thing Calipari has to do with Andrew is to get him to defend better without fouling.  Offensively, he is good enough and will get better, but his poor defensive technique is killing him, and hurting the team.  While Andrew assumed his usual mid-first half seat on the bench in the last game, Calipari could be seen instructing him as to what Polson was doing to make the team better.  I have no doubt a major focus of Camp Cal will be getting Andrew to internalize better defensive technique so he can spend less time watching and more time playing.

All this will hopefully make Andrew a better player. He got a chance to see the other day where he could have made a much greater impact on the game, and my biggest criticism of Andrew other than defense is that he has to learn to distribute the ball first — he's trying too hard to be a primary scorer, and he has to be a secondary scorer. On defense, he is standing upright and grabbing. Calipari needs to address this specific tendency in individual workouts with him. His height, when he stands straight up on the perimeter, is a big disadvantage.

Andrew will get better.  His struggles very much mirror those of Teague at this point, although in different areas.  Teague (Wall and Knight as well, for that matter) were having more trouble with turnovers.  Andrew is having trouble defending at the college level.  Just as Teague, Wall and Knight addressed their turnover issues, Teague has to address his foul problem and defensive failures.

As for Polson, he just needs to be there when we need him, like he was the other day.  He is a defensive liability, but he is a leadership asset and is very cunning on the floor were Andrew is just green, despite his vastly superior size and skill.  Harrison needs to learn Polson's sense of calm, poised effort, and if he can, he'll be one of the top point guards in the country by the time March rolls around.