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What to Like, Not Like about Kentucky Before Champions Classic

The ‘Cats are off to a 2-0 start. There’s been good and bad. Let’s take a look the positives and negatives so far.

NCAA Basketball: Canisius at Kentucky
“I like your pic on Instagram from three days, Sacha, but I can’t get a follow?” -Cal, probably
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

As the Kentucky Wildcats look to win their first premier matchup of the young season against former UK target Miles Bridges and the Michigan State Spartans on Tuesday night, there’s a bit to take away from the first two games against Stephen F. Austin and Canisius.

The first thing is, Edrice “Bam” Adebayo is a Dwight Howard clone. It’s not just his game. It’s how he looks, too.

I know you don’t like the Howard label, Bam ... but, bruh.

If that’s not Dwight Howard’s little big brother, then I don’t know who could ever be.

This is something that I not only found fascinating, but hilarious, along with a few other subjects surrounding the pre-Champions Classic start for the Wildcats.

(One of those things is not the next Nike uniforms. I’m probably in the minority of liking the checkerboard trim, but the slim look is just bad.)

Let’s take a look at what I liked and didn’t like about the 2-0 start for the ‘Cats, starting with De’Aaron “Swiper The” Fox filling in the role of “ridiculously-good Calipari point guard” already.

What I liked: De’Aaron Fox is really good and really fast

You’re going to hear this a lot this season: De’Aaron Fox is good.

Really good.

Case and point:

Keeping on the Adebayo subject for a minute, he made a really nice defensive play on this block by moving his feet and knocking the ball back to Fox, who goes coast-to-coast in what will likely be a common trend this season for the Wildcats.

The shooting percentages aren’t there just yet (he’s only shooting 40.9 percent from the field and hasn’t made a 3), but his ability to play quickly like John Calipari wants him to and to create for others is going to make him one of America’s most dangerous players this season.

Coming out of the gate with 12 assists (a Kentucky record for a debut) against the Lumberjacks was a sight to see. He’s so creative with the ball and utilizing the pick-and-roll/pop game.

Enjoy him.

What I didn’t like: The transition turnovers

A reminder that’s needed for every Kentucky game in the early portion of the season: These kids are young. This is college basketball. It’s not high school basketball when you can do whatever you want on the floor in terms of playing in transition.

However, something that was notable was the ‘Cats playing at warp-speed (which is good), but they had a few mistakes in the first two games.

Fox was guilty of this a couple times against Stephen F. Austin and Canisius as well, but this Isaiah Briscoe play shows that not everything’s been perfect in two blowout wins and that’s expected.

Wenyen Gabriel made a nice defensively play in getting the steal and getting the ball up to Isaiah Briscoe. Briscoe has the big Isaac Humphries (more on him in a few) up ahead and Gabriel running the floor with his extremely long, Nerlens Noel-like strides.

But, Briscoe tries to euro-step around the defender, instead of kicking ahead to Humphries or like Doris Burke suggested on the broadcast for ESPN/SEC Network, dropping the ball off to Gabriel for a potential slam and/or foul.

It’s a little mistake in the end, but the ‘Cats can’t afford these simple turnovers against the likes of Michigan State, North Carolina, Louisville, etc.

Play fast, but playing under control and with poise is why the Wildcats will be deadly this season.

What I liked: Holy crap, Derek Willis and Isaac Humphries

Who are these guys?

Wow.

The performance dropped off for Derek Willis in the Canisius game, but both he and Humphries came out of the offseason looking like new players.

Willis is one of the most experienced guys on the roster, while Humphries shedded some pounds in the offseason and looks like one of the glue guys for Calipari off the bench in the rotation.

The duo has combined to average 16 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game in the first two games.

Look at this play to tie the game from this past Sunday. Humphries is doubled on the right block, but the spin to the baseline and the jam got the ‘Cats out of any trouble on this possession.

When did Humphries ever look this light on his feet last season?

As for Willis, he’s bounced back from the off-court troubles to have one of his best games as a Wildcat in my opinion against Stephen F. Austin (and he’s had some good ones).

The ‘Cats played good defense on this possession, starting with Humphries “icing” the pick-and-roll that the Lumberjacks tried to run here.

Humphries basically stole the ball and the kid’s lunch money away, which led to Derek Willis’ tryout to become Kentucky’s quarterback for the in-state showdown against Lamar Jackson and Louisville at the end of the year.

Fox picked up the outlet pass from Willis and Gabriel handled the rest off the lob.

What I didn’t like: Mychal Mulder should be playing more than five minutes a game

Yes, I’m a frequent NBA viewer, so I’m a fan of and have become accustomed to small-ball lineups. It works. You just have to understand how to utilize it.

Mychal Mulder could be a sneaky weapon for the ‘Cats this season as a part of a proposed five-man unit.

It’s no secret that Kentucky will struggle to shoot from the perimeter this season. It’s been a frequent issue for the Wildcats since Calipari’s arrival, but with four Final Four appearances since 2010-11, you tend to overlook those struggles because of the talent.

A tweak that would be interesting to see for the ‘Cats would be to see Mulder inserted into a four-guard lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk, Mulder and if you don’t want to go completely small if you’re Calipari, you can have Adebayo/Humphries as your fifth man in the middle.

I loved this play because Mulder could easily be used in a Doron Lamb/Darius Miller role as a shooter that can help open those lanes for Fox and Briscoe to create on the drive.

You’d have seemingly three ball-handlers in Fox, Briscoe and Monk (who can shoot it), with Mulder as the designated shooter and Adebayo/Humphries, or Willis if you really want a small-ball look, which could be really fun.

Like Willis, the ‘Cats will need Mulder’s shooting. And he can shoot it.

I understand there’s only 40 minutes in a game, but just like the hockey-line rotation of two seasons ago, Calipari will change things up. He’s not scared to do that and it’s been proven. This could be a tweak that could pay off down the line.

Overall, the ‘Cats will be fine. This team is so loaded and has the potential to be amazing on the defensive end with their athleticism.

They’ll be tested on Tuesday night against Sparty. Miles Bridges is a big problem. He’s going to be such a weapon for Tom Izzo this season.

But, it’s a test that could show how good this team will be.