Welcome, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, to the first exhibition game of the 2014-15 basketball season. Tonight’s game is against the Pikeville Bears. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pikeville, it is in southeastern Kentucky in the heart of coal country, about 150 miles east southeast of Lexington. This is both your game preview and the live game thread.
Pikeville is an NAIA school, and one with a really good basketball team. Pikeville is ranked #2 in the NAIA national top 25, and you can expect them to be talented and disciplined. No, they should not threaten Kentucky at all, but they will play the Wildcats hard, just like they did the Louisville Cardinals last season. The Bears wound up losing 90-61, but they gave Louisville a strong effort.
Pikeville and Kentucky last played in the 2010-11 season, which is fitting, since that was also the last time the Wildcats had the pre-season foreign trip, that time to Canada. This whole season is set up similarly to 2010-11, but the big difference is how much more talented and deep Kentucky is this season compared to Brandon Knight & Co.
What to look for
We can expect to see platooning this game as John Calipri tries to refine this system and figure out what the best lineups are. One thing I am not sure of is how stable the platoons will be, or if they will change somewhat game to game. We’ll start getting some idea of that tonight.
Beyond the platoon concept, we need to pay close attention to transition defense. This was a problem for Kentucky last season, a problem in the Big Blue Bahamas, and a problem to some extent in the Blue-White Scrimmage. Somehow, Coach Cal has to get these guys to stop easy transition baskets. That won’t matter so much early, but by the time we get ready to play Kansas, it will matter a lot.
Pikeville is likely to be smaller and quicker than UK, so we’ll see if the Harrison twins, who are the most blameworthy when it comes to transition defense, handle that. They should have some experience by now having to deal with Tyler Ulis and Dominique Hawkins.
Kentucky’s size should make rebounding and shooting inside the arc very difficult for the bears. If that doesn’t happen, Kentucky may have to adjust their lineups early.
Turnovers were kind of a problem in the Blue-White scrimmage. We would hope, by now, that turnovers would start a decline, particularly in the backcourt and in the older of the two platoons.
Three point shooting needs to improve. I expect a lot of threes from Pikeville, so it will be instructive to see how well Kentucky guards the line.
Offensively, look for good defensive footwork. I saw too little of that in the Blue-White scrimmage.
What we want to see tonight is a step forward from the Blue-White game and from the Big Blue Bahamas in terms of ballhandling, 3-point shooting, transition defense and free throw shooting. I bring up free throw shooting as a general problem, but it’s really specific mostly to Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. Those guys have to step up to prevent being targeted by "hack a Shaq" rules in close games. If they can’t make a reasonable percentage (60+% is good enough), Calipari is going to have to take them out in close games. Fortunately, we do have Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. to step in, and making free throws is no problem at all for him.
Talk about the game in here, both prior to and during the game. If the thread gets stiff, we’ll put up another one, never fear.