The Kentucky Wildcats are in the midst of a pretty impressive stretch. In nine basketball games, the 'Cats are 7-2 and have played, in my opinion, one bad half that led to a head-scratching loss at Tennessee. The other loss came at Kansas in which the Wildcats competed from start to finish and took the Jayhawks to overtime.
But their most impressive streak has been the three games they have played since losing to the Volunteers. This is what they have done to their last three opponents:
80-61 vs. Florida
82-48 vs. Georgia
89- 62 at South Carolina
They are scoring 83.7 points per game and allowing only 57 points in this stretch. The team has looked as impressive on both offense and defense as they have all season. Florida and South Carolina are right now safely in the NCAA tournament, so the Wildcats aren't beating chumps.
I'm not sure we were expecting this kind of run after last week's loss to Tennessee, but John Calipari's team looks like a different group. So what was the catalyst that sparked? The obvious and the most logical answer to this is the outstanding play of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray. In this three game stretch, they have been putting up historic numbers for Kentucky.
Ulis is averaging 19.6 points per game, 10.3 assists per game, and only one turnover per game. Jamal Murray is averaging a mind-boggling 28.3 points per game, is shooting 58% from three and 54% from the field. Those are insane numbers, and not just because of the volume, but what is the most impressive is the efficiency with which they are playing. The best back-court in the nation is no longer a debate as Ulis and Murray have this team rolling.
Kentucky is beating teams down thanks to Herculean efforts from Ulis and Murray, but they have also been doing this without Alex Poythress. Marcus Lee and Derek Willis have been playing extremely well as the starting center and power forward. Isaac Humprhies has also been giving the Wildcats some valuable minutes off of the bench. He isn't scoring much, but he is rebounding, blocking shots, and defending the paint. Skal Labissiere is still a work in progress, but he also has been steadily improving and doesn't look like a lost sheep on the court.
So where does Alex Poythress fit into this when he returns? With six games left in the regular season and the SEC regular season title in their sights, the Wildcats have something that works right now. John Calipari will have a tough decision to make when Alex is healthy. He is a senior and one, if not the best, athlete on the team.
But I would suggest caution here. I think the starting line-up of Ulis, Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, Willis, and Lee is the best five for the 'Cats. This is the most offensively potent line-up that Cal has and Lee provides better defense for the middle than does Poythress.
Poythress isn't a stranger to being the sixth man off of the bench and I think he would be best utilized this way. He can be a change of pace and a match-up problem coming in the game. He is much more comfortable playing the four than he is at the five, and can trade defense for offense when subbing for Derek Willis. Willis needs to and deserves to start. The team is just better with him on the floor, but a healthy Alex is a great sub and is a weapon coming off the bench that of which many teams do not have the luxury.
Cal will have his six to seven man rotation set for the postseason. With a core of Ulis, Murray, Lee, Briscoe, Willis, and Poythress, with a combination of Skal, Humphries, Dominique Hawkins, and Charles Matthews depending on game situations.
Of course the key to all of this is consistency on the part of Marcus Lee. The three guards and Willis have been steady before and during this stretch. Like the bulk of the season, the success of this team will lie with production from the middle. Lee has been giving the 'Cats what they need with a little help from Skal and Humphries. If this rotation in the middle can continue to produce with a healthy Alex Poythress coming off of the bench, there isn't a team that would want to face that squad come March.