Last night’s contest against the Missouri Tigers was another typical road game for the Kentucky Wildcats of recent vintage. Teams have discovered that sticky man-to-man defense is more effective against the Wildcats than the zone, that theory pioneered this season by Vanderbilt a couple of games back. The prevailing theory was the a zone defense was the best way to slow down Kentucky but the result of that was generally to provide easy offensive rebounds and open looks that Devin Booker, Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis have been making lately.
Missouri did a good job with their man-to-man defense last night, although it produced an inordinate number of fouls which they simply could not absorb, and Kentucky could and did. By the middle of the second half, Mizzou was in genuine foul trouble and wound up having three of their best players disqualified. By that point, Kentucky was firmly in control, if not running away with the game, and the Wildcats toughed out another victory. Missouri deserves credit for their defense, and their offense was better than many have been against the Wildcats lately. Kudos to them for the effort.
Kentucky didn’t shoot it well last night, particularly, but they were relatively efficient because of their many trips to the line and the good percentage they shot there. 73% as a team is good.
Defensive rebounding was excellent last night, and against a man-to-man, that makes it doubly good. Anything over 75% is going to make me happy.
Offensive rebounding was so-so. You’d expect UK to do better than 35% against a team they tower over.
I hate when turnovers get up around 20% and higher. It just drives me nuts. I know it’s going to happen, but in this game, UK let Mizzou out-effort them going for lose balls, and put the ball in position for it to be taken. That needs work.
1.10 points per possession is not going to win you any offensive efficiency awards, but on the road, it’s not that bad. Teams generally shoot worse on the road, even good offensive teams.
We keep holding teams under 0.9 points per possession, and it’s rare for a team that does that to lose.
Pick and roll defense was poor last night. UK was "showing" and "hedging" last night, and the help defender kept getting lost, but it wasnt’ always his fault. The "hedge" defender has to force the ballhandler to change direction away from the basket for this to be effective, and Karl-Anthony Towns had a hard time doing it right. That gave the help defender too little time to get back to his man. Also, the help defender didn’t help a couple of times, resulting in a clean roll and dunk. We have to clean that action up, or go back to switching the pick and roll.
I think I know why Calipari has stopped switching. It’s mainly because you need to be able to do both, because sometimes you wind up in really unfavorable matchups switching the pick and roll that can lead to easy baskets. You need to be a threat to guard the pick and roll multiple ways.
Also, I’d like to see Calipari start trapping the pick and roll with Towns or WCS. It should be very effective with their long arms when they gets help, and if you can force the ballhandler to pick up the ball, you’ve nullified the play. It gives defenders more time to rotate back to their area and eventually their man.
Andrew Harrison gets the game ball for last night, and it has been a while for him. He was extremely efficient, rebounded the ball, assisted, and had 3 steals. He did have 2 turnovers, but for the way he plays, that’s not bad.
Aaron Harrison also had a good night, and he gets an honorable mention. Have you noticed that these two seem to have good and bad games at the same time? Twin thing, I guess. Aaron wasn’t terribly efficient, but he did a lot of good things, including getting 3 steals and 2 assists with no turnovers.
Willie Cauley-Stein was more or less invisible for most of the night. He didn’t seem to be himself, and he has a tendency, as we’ve seen before, to have games where he plays a lot of minutes bet seems to blend in to the background. But he did hold Missouri’s best player to only 10 points, so that’s something. He only got 3 rebounds, though, which is not good.
Karl-Anthony Towns had a pretty good first half. He did some nice things offensively, but missed too many easy shots. You can tell that a lot of his post moves are recent vintage, and he just needs to get better at them. He made a lot of nice, clean moves to free himself, then missed the hook. The second half was mostly frustration, and he fouled out.
Dominique Hawkins continues to improve every game, and his three-point shooting continues to get better. He’s beginning to develop some confidence in that shot, and it’s good to see. He also had 3 rebounds, not bad for a 6‘0" guard.
Devin booker was due for a step back, and he took one last night. He was inefficient and many of his shots missed badly. Booker still hasn’t learned to shoot well on the move or off the bounce yet, but he’ll get there. He also had 4 turnovers, way too many for a guard of his skill.
Dakari Johnson continues to struggle with challenged shots. But he always works hard, gets rebounds and gets to the line, and last night, he made 4 out of 5 free throw attempts, and looked really good on all of them. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.
Trey Lyles did some good things out there, but he was inefficient. He did get five rebounds, though, and made a nice assist.
Tyler Ulis played fine. He didn’t wow anybody last night, but he was efficient and had a couple of assists. He had a couple of pretty bad turnovers, but that’s going to happen to everybody from time to time.
Marcus Lee fouled out, and I don’t think he played great. He had one pretty put-back dunk, but only 1 rebound. He has to be more aggressive offensively than he was.
Derrek Willis logged some cleanup minutes, had a bad turnover and a rebound.
Tying it all up
Nobody is going to consider a 54-foul game a thing of beauty, but it was a convincing victory and put Kentucky to 20-0 for the first time in the John Calipari era. Kentucky is still not quite a statistical favorite to go undefeated from here to the end of the regular season, but they are getting close — KenPom has them at 45.7% to reach the end of conference play with a 0 in the loss column.
One thing I liked about this game was that Kentucky did a good job of grinding out a tough, foul-ridden contest without letting it distract them. There was not a lot of negative body language, the Wildcats made mostly good decisions despite the fact they didn’t play particularly well, and they won in convincing fashion in front of a sold-out, hostile crowd. Most importantly, they did it in a workmanlike, unhurried way that leveraged most of their advantages — size, depth, talent, and the way the game was being called. The young guys had more trouble, but the older players have seen this before and it showed.
Some people have been disappointed in the number of games where Kentucky didn’t look like worldbeaters, but this is just typical Kentucky fan jaded thinking. Every season has these, even 2011-12 and in other good seasons. You can’t play good every single game, especially when you’re as young as Kentucky still is. They still find ways to win without too much drama, even when they don’t look pretty doing it. It doesn’t bother me one bit, although just like the next UK fan, I want to beat every team 100-0.
So now the 2014-15 Wildcats have set a new mark. Let’s see if we can make it better tomorrow against Alabama.