With the sudden loss of Alex Poythress for the season and minor injuries to both Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, the North Carolina game has suddenly morphed into something of a "red alert" situation. Kentucky’s calling card this season has been ridiculous depth, and even with all three players out, the Wildcats are still hardly in deep trouble when it comes to depth — they still have enough for most normal teams.
But this is not a normal team. The way Kentucky has been used to playing is giving everything they have for four minutes or so, then taking rest. With depth becoming an issue, they won’t be able to do it that way anymore. The players are going to have to be a little more careful how much and when the expend energy.
Now, I get the feeling that both Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, one if not both, will be available for the North Carolina game. Calipari could afford to be very careful against the Columbia Lions, although the Lions gave a very good account of themselves on Wednesday. Holding Ulis and Booker out was quite likely precautionary to let their minor dings heal up for Saturday, so they can be as near 100% as possible.
In the unlikely event that Ulis and Booker will be unavailable as well as Poythress on Saturday, that could obviously have a major effect on the team in a negative way. Yes, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis are both ready, willing, and fully capable of rushing into the breach and keeping the levee from breaking, but they will have to bring more than we’ve seen previously if they are to replace the production of the two guards, and neither of them is capable of replacing Poythress to any meaningful degree other than as a warm body. Physical freaks like Poythress just don’t come around every day.
If there is an upside to having no Poythress and more Willis, it’s that Willis is a more confident shooter from the perimeter, and right now we need better perimeter play. The problem is, Willis is not yet a great defender like Poythress, and North Carolina will try to exploit that. As far as Hawkins is concerned, he brings defensive pressure but just isn’t as useful on offense as either Booker or Ulis.
Having one less big person available also means Kentucky has to be a little more careful when it comes to fouls. UK has pretty much been playing as hard as they can and letting fouls come where they come, but with a significant piece of that puzzle now gone, it will require a minor adjustment in the front court.
But the real adjustment would be in the back court, if Ulis and Booker are unavailable. All of the sudden, you’re down to one point guard and two combo guards (Aaron Harrison and Hawkins), and that’s not where the Wildcats need to be from an efficiency standpoint. It probably means a lot more minutes for Andrew and a few more for Hawkins, and with Andrew’s propensity to foul, that gives me some minor indigestion.
Let’s just hope Booker and Ulis are available. If so, I think we can minimize the impact of Poythress’ loss as much as it is possible to so, and give Kentucky their best chance to win. If all three are down, this game gets a lot more interesting, and it is always plenty interesting enough without any injury impact.