Last night’s game against Montana State University was expected to be an easy Kentucky victory, and it was. The Bobcats came in severely undersized, inexperienced and under-talented compared to the Wildcats, and it showed up in the game despite Kentucky’s early 0-10 start shooting the ball. That drought did not last, and even while it was going on, Kentucky’s defense was too stern a test for MSU to score on.
The Montana State Bobcats may not have played well, but they played hard and they never quit trying. That’s all you can ask of a team in a situation like this, and coach Brian Fish should be proud of the effort of his team if not their performance. MSU is young and small, and they need to get bigger an more experienced to be able to compete effectively against teams like Kentucky. I get the idea that Fish has the Bobcats moving in that direction, and we appreciate their participation and effort.
For Kentucky, you are going to see some statistics that you might be surprised to see, given the start the Wildcats got off to. There still remains a lot of work to do before this Wildcats team is ready to enter the much more difficult grind that is the SEC season, but they are making solid progress toward that goal. As of this moment, they most definitely deserve to be at the top of the NCAA rankings.
Montana State box
I have never seen a team held to 40 points per 100 possessions before (.4 points/poss.). That’s not good, that’s crazy. Last season, I’d be willing to bet UK couldn’t have held a good high-school team down that low. The defensive prowess of this season's Wildcats is becoming legendary, and we haven’t even reached the middle of the pre-conference season.
Pay attention to this number: 15.7% steals. To give you an idea of how good that is, the Suffocats only managed 11.3% steals, and the 2005 team with Rajon Rondo, the best team UK has had in this stat since Ken Pomeroy began calculating it, averaged only 13.5%. This is a very different kind of Wildcats team.
Kentucky blocked 31.6% of Montana State’s shots. Consider that for a moment.
Eight turnovers, 11.4%. That’s real good. Of course, MSU didn’t pressure on defense.
This may surprise you: Offensive efficiency was 1.23 points/possession or 123 points per 100 possessions. That will win almost every game you’re in if you play any defense at all. But given the low shooting percentages at the half, I really didn’t think the Wildcats could get that high. I was wrong.
Kentucky’s depth, contra the early predictions of the know-it-alls, is having a very pronounced effect on teams, both from a fatigue standpoint and because they present a significant contrast in styles.
We don’t even get to complain about free throws in this one. 74% is quite good enough.
There’s always something, though — 3-point shooting stank once again at 26.9% despite 3-5 from Devin Booker and 2-2 of Tyler Ulis.
I’m not going to run down the entire list of players, just the guys that stood out to me.
Tyler Ulis had a great game, a point guard’s game. He had 8 points on perfect 3-3 shooting, every one of those shots was perfectly within the offense and a thing of beauty. He had 5 assists, only 1 turnover and 2 steals. He gets a share of the game ball.
The other guy that gets a piece of the game ball is Karl-Anthony Towns. All he did was make 4-5 shots for 8 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers and 6(!) blocks. Ulis and Towns share the game ball, and both richly deserve it.
Devin Booker was an honorable mention for game ball honors. He made 6-8 shots including 3-5 from the arc, had 2 assists and 3 steals.
Aaron Harrison is in a terrible shooting slump. He played well otherwise, but his main job is to make 3-point shots on offense. He went 1-6.
I like how Willie Cauley-Stein played, it seems like he was involved in every minute of every play. He didn’t stand out on the stat sheet, but I was always seeing him. That’s how a good player has great games without big numbers.
Derek Willis gave some good minutes today, especially rebounding the ball. He got 5 boards in only 12 minutes. That’s impressive.
Dakari Johnson had another good, steady game with 13 points and 8 rebounds. He also got a couple of blocks and a steal. He may be the most consistent player on this team, the anchor of the reinforcements.
Tying it all up
This is one of those games where you can’t learn all that much, but at this point we don’t need to learn much. Unlike last year, this Kentucky basketball team has established a clear, unambiguous identity, and it has done so almost from the opening tip. Kentucky 2014-15 is on a mission to be the best defensive basketball team in the modern era, and I’m not just talking about at Kentucky, I’m talking about ever.
Kentucky is putting up gobsmacking defensive numbers on weak teams, and equally remarkable ones on the only really good team it’s played. It’s noteworthy, too, that they are no slouch on offense, putting up very solid numbers that look like they can only improve. Could this be the first team in KenPom history to average over 1.2 points per possession while allowing only 0.85 or less? Stay tuned, Wildcats fans.
One thing that needs to happen is for Aaron to get out of this unfortunate shooting slump. He needs to do whatever Devin Booker is doing to fix that, because if he wants to play at the next level, he has to be a reliable shooter from outside, and we know he can be because we’ve seen it as recently as last March and April.
Next up for the Wildcats is UT Arlington, tomorrow night at 7:00 PM in Rupp Arena.