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Kentucky Basketball: Big Blue Madness Postmortem

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The 2014-45 season is officially kicked off here in the Big Blue Nation. Here's what we saw.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Big Blue Madness is once again in the books for the 2014-15 season. As you all know, I’ve backed off the hype machine this year after last season’s roller-coaster ride that left us both exhilarated and emotionally exhausted. Last night’s events made me think about how last year seemed so very promising in the beginning, like this one, and then reality struck home with a vengeance. Ironically, this season’s team actually looks like they’d have a significantly better chance of running through the season undefeated than last year’s, yet nobody is talking that talk, and you won’t hear it from me now, either.

Let’s first do the intro video:

The production was typically slick and had all the same grandiose, carnival-style elements that we’ve come to expect from Big Blue Madness. The crowd was vast and wild, and I have no doubt whatever the recruits in attendance were wowed by the spectacle. It was awesome, as it should be, and Kentucky once again sets an unreachable standard for the season kickoff event. At some point, ESPN and it’s joint ventures should just acknowledge that compared to Kentucky’s season kickoff, no other event comes within light-years in terms of pageantry and entertainment value. It’s been that way for years, and it didn’t change one iota last night.

I find it interesting that John Calipari professes not to care for Big Blue Madness. I consider this a likely affectation rather than a genuine feeling — I think he doesn’t care for delivering the speeches, and in a way, I don’t really blame him for that. I think the "Enough talking, let’s ball" and dropped microphone was his way of saying that in typical Coach Cal style.

I know the production takes a lot of effort, but for a school like Kentucky (which is a sort of oxymoron — there are no schools "like Kentucky" in this regard) the fan intensity demands a celebration of the new season, and while the Big Apple celebrates the New Year like no other place, Kentucky sets the bar for the celebration of the new basketball season, and in much the same way.

How many college coaches can have music stars introduce them? Probably more than we think, but it never hurts to have a connection with the young men other than basketball, and music is a great connection to have.

So lets get to the observations about the basketball team:

  • Both Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein looked good. They moved well, the jumped well, and Lyles looked better than I’d hoped, especially shooting the ball from the perimeter. WCS took a couple of jumpers outside the immediate area of the basket, and his form looked good even if the shots didn’t go in. He looked confident taking them. That’s a step forward.

  • The Harrison twins look better, but the are pretty much the same players that they were last season, except they both seem a bit more athletic. The ally-oop to Aaron is a play that they rarely did last season. I’d like to see them back-cut their defenders more this year, they can both finish at the rim. Their body language was great.

  • Dominque Hawkins’ jumper looked solid last night. I really hope that continues, but I expect him to be streaky. Overall, 3-point shooting looked competent, but didn’t exactly knock my socks off.

  • The body language of the team was impressive, exactly as it should be. This is a confident team, but one that appears to keep the cockiness under tight control.

  • Alex Poythress did exciting things. If this young man only understood his potential, he could be a top five draft pick. If he ever learns to handle the ball as well as he finishes at the rim, and can make a few jump shots, there’s no telling how good he can be. He just needs time to internalize just how gifted he is, and learn to use them to his advantage. He’s getting there, he made a deep jumper last night that looked effortless. I’m still not sanguine he can play the three, though, but we have time.

  • Tyler Ulis looked good, although I thought Andrew did a good job of forcing the ball out of his hands a couple of times. That’s something he really couldn’t do last season, and is a nice surprise. Practicing against Ulis has paid dividends already for Andrew’s defense, if last night is any indication.

  • Karl-Anthony Towns showed us a couple of times why getting shots off near the basket is going to be a genuine challenge for opponents next season.

  • Devin Booker really seems to get his place on the team, and he is more athletic than advertised. His jumper looked good last night, but it has to get better. We need him to be the guy that opponents run to when he gets the ball.

  • Very happy with how Dakari Johnson looks. He’s slimmed down and added muscle to replace the baby fat, and he still loves to bang down low.

  • Marcus Lee looked fine, he did what he does. He has to develop a game away from the basket eventually, but for now, he’s fine where he is.

  • Derek Willis is going to play this season, and a lot more than people think. he’s a superb wing passer and is developing into a dangerous perimeter shooter. Add that to his absurd length, and he’s definitely rounding into form.

  • Ballhandling is the thing that worries me the most about this team. I know it was just practice, but the ballhandling seemed lose to me.

Overall, this is what it always is — a lot of fun, and a chance for the Big Blue Nation to get a look at the team before the season begins in earnest. This year, we had a chance to evaluate them even before school started, which I think will get this group off to a very fast start. They will be significantly ahead of their early competition, and that’s something that would have really help last year’s squad in the early going.

Thank heaven there’s none of this "officiating emphasis" to distract Coach Cal. All he needs to do is worry about his guys, and we’ll be just fine. It may not seem like it, but I am very confident in this team and I am expecting great things. Having said that, I know they’re not perfect and that there could be a lot of pitfalls ahead, but in my opinion, this years version of the Wildcats ls far ahead of any other team that Calipari has coached during his tenure here, including 2011-12.