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Kentucky Wildcats 81, Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket 58: Postmortem

Kentucky was -- scary. Scary good.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket took on the Kentucky Wildcats today in Nassau, and the outcome, to me at least, was surprising.  Chalons-Reims, in case you haven’t heard by now, was in what is known as the ProB division of French basketball last season. They won that division and have now been elevated to ProA. So this is a group of former college and high-level European players who have matured into full-grown men, professional basketball players in their own right. The Wildcats, somewhat surprisingly, dismissed them by a rather lopsided 81-58.

We really appreciate Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket coming to play against the Wildcats, and help us get ready for the season. They are also helping themselves get ready, and keep in mind that Kentucky has already had more practice than Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket so far this season. I’m sure Chalons-Reims is capable of better than they produced today.

Kenny Payne coached the team while Tony Barbee and Coach Cal watched from high in the stands, and I must say, if this game is indicative of Payne’s coaching ability, he is in desperate need of a raise. Kentucky shared the ball, they played with a purpose, they mostly defended and they manifestly offended.

Box Score

Team Observations

  • This was something we probably should not have expected to see this early in the year. Kentucky was patient, they were aggressive, and they defended hard if sometimes not particularly well.

  • The zone defense was unbelievably effective, holding Chalons-Reims without scores for long stretches. Chalons-Reims struggled to get off any kind of a clean look during many zone possessions.

  • It’s hard to overstate the difference in mental, as well as physical maturity in the players this season. It really is astonishing. I knew this team was going to be good, and I now suspect that they are going to be really, really good. Possibly great, and possibly very great.

  • Honestly, I was unprepared for this kind of performance against a team of this quality. Chalons-Reims is a good team, and Kentucky treated them like the New Jersey Institute of Technology or something.

  • Transition defense was much better than in the game against Puerto Rico. It still needs work, but it was improved today.

  • Man to man defense is still a work in progress. Communication is an issue, as is proper rotations. At times, the defense was downright ugly, but Kentucky’s length and athleticism made up for a lot.

  • Kentucky dominated the glass, but they should do that against most teams not in the NBA. I can’t talk to percentages because I don’t have them and don’t have time to calculate them.

Individual Observations

  • Karl-Anthony Towns was a revelation. In the first game, he played well, but looked like a freshman. In this game, he looked like a #1 draft pick. He scored on a variety of moves, dunks, and drives, and defended very hard if not particularly well. 19 points 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes of playing time. He also had three assists, one of them a beautiful look-away pass.

  • Alex Poythress was right there for the game ball. He just flies and bounces around the court higher than anybody 16 points and 8 rebounds, one assist. Honestly, he’s been the most consistently productive player on the court. He also defended very well.

  • Andrew Harrison had a fine game, 5 points, 6 assists and three rebounds. He was exactly the player we need him to be offensively. Defensively, he could have played a bit better, I think.

  • Aaron Harrison was fine, but he really didn’t produce much. We need Aaron to score, and 5 points out of him is just not enough production. But he was sharing the ball willingly, took no bad shots (he just didn’t make the open looks), and was a good teammate. He was adequate defensively.

  • Marcus Lee played fine. He only had three rebounds, which I think is too few, but he had seven points and an assist. He menaced a lot of shots defensively, but he was out of position too often.

  • Devin Booker didn’t have a particularly good game offensively. He was 1/6, and took a couple of shots he probably should have passed on. However, he was pretty good defensively for a freshman. I must say that surprised me.

  • Tyler Ulis is everything we need him to be. When he and Dominique Hawkins are on the court together, the defensive pressure they put on is quite significant. But Ulis is also a fine point guard, and he’d be starting for almost any other school in the nation, possibly even at Duke over Tyus Jones. He’s quick, he shares the ball, he can make the three, he has terrific handles. His size is both a negative and a positive, which is often true when you get out of the prototypical size range, just as it is with Andrew Harrison. Ulis had 6 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds.

  • Dominque Hawkins also played very well. He was a pest on defense and showed some offense, making a nice three, a couple of very nice cuts and a dunk in traffic. He had 7 points and an assist.

  • Derek Willis was up and down. He made a nice three, but turned the ball over too much (three). he had five rebounds and two assists, and he’s still the best wing entry passer we have, but he’s got to learn who he’s passing to.

  • Dakari Johnson had a solid outing with 10 points and four rebounds. On the negative side, he turned the ball over three times, two of them due to poor footwork

  • EJ Floreal and Tod Lanter both played, and Lanter had a rebound.


This was a game that could be the harbinger of something truly extraordinary. I don’t want to beat the drum too hard or engage in excess hyperbole, but I’m being as objectively honest as I can when I say that Kentucky looked like world-beaters tonight against recognized, quality former NCAA players, some of whom were drafted by the NBA but never played. This Chalons-Reims isn’t the San Antonio Spurs, but they had high Division I talent and players that are full-grown men playing against boys — and the boys made them look pretty bad.

The most impressive thing about this is that a performance like this in August got everybody’s attention, and no mistake. Jay Bilas accurately pointed out that the second squad of this Kentucky team, even without Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein, would likely be in the Top 25, and today, that was really, really easy to believe.

I have been keeping my powder dry about this team until I saw them in person, but I must tell you, this was somewhat terrifying. Honestly, against this team right now, I’m not sure the 2012 national title team could be them two out of three with all this depth and talent. It’s a little bit scary.

Perhaps this was just an unusually good game. I’m going to suggest that is likely, and perhaps in the face of a meaningful game, the Wildcats won’t be quite as good. But folks, I’m not sure that’s right — these guys are only going to get better, and no Kentucky team in my memory has ever in any game shared the ball any better than this team did today. Perhaps the Suffocats, but it’s close. They were that good offensively, and that unselfish.

More, please.