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UK Basketball: Thoughts and Observations from loss to Kansas

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There are positive takeaways from the loss but the negatives cannot be ignored.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Kansas Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The 65-62 loss the Kentucky Wildcats suffered to the Kansas Jayhawks in the Champions Classic marks the first time John Calipari has lost to Bill Self in college basketball’s premier nonconference event.

Overall, the Cats are 4-3 in the Classic and 2-1 versus Kansas. This marks the third loss in a row to the Jayhawks: one at Kansas, one at Rupp, and this latest one on a neutral court.

Whatever the head-to-head record may be in recent years, Kentucky goes farther in the tournament than Kansas almost every season. So congrats on the regular season win, Self.

I felt that Kentucky was the better all around team: they were deeper, they were more talented, and they have the superior coach. But the freshman mistakes ended up being their doom.

That being said, I’m pleased with the game overall. There are some certain things that need to be addressed, and one thing that was addressed at halftime, but that’s to be expected.

Here is what I think:

  • Kevin Knox was the star that Kentucky needed to compete in that game. After a couple of shaky games to start the season, Knox showed the country why he’s the fifth ranked player in the country. His stroke was smooth, he rebounded the ball well, and defended better than most of his teammates. I think this is exactly what he needed going forward. Look out.
  • There were times in the first half that Kentucky’s offense looked really, really good. That was when Quade Green was running the point and the offense was flowing through Knox.
  • Sacha Killeya-Jones was a revelation. With Nick Richards no-showing, Kentucky had to have someone produce in the post. SKJ answered the bell with 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He looked comfortable and confident. Add 20 pounds to him and he would have given Azuibuke fits.
  • Kentucky actually shot the ball better than Kansas, 41.8% compared to 35.3%. They also shot free throws at a higher rate. The killer: three point percentage. Knox was the only Cat to hit threes. Get one more guy to contribute and the game is a different story.
  • After being embarrassed on the boards in the first half, John Calipari adjusted and the ‘Cats evened it up at 39 for the game. Much of this was due to SKJ playing more minutes and Knox giving a great effort with seven rebounds. The one thing Richards did that was positive in the second half was rebound the ball better.
  • Defensively I thought Kentucky played really well. The worry going into the game was that Dovonte Graham, Legerald Vick, and Malik Newman would kill us from the perimeter. That wasn’t the case. They shut down Kansas from beyond the arch and closed off the driving lanes.
  • The difference for Kansas was Udoka Azubuike. The Cats didn’t have anyone that could guard the 7’2 280 pound big man. Kansas would dump him the ball and he would get fouled or dunk the ball. That interrupted the flow of the game for Kentucky. Luckily they won’t see many more players like that.
  • One major quibble I had with John Calipari was that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was handling the ball in crunch time instead of Quade Green. I understand what Cal wants from him on defense, but offensively the ball doesn’t move on offense with Shai and he doesn’t look as comfortable as Green with the ball at the point. Cal even stated that he should have had them both in the game with four minutes to go.
  • PJ Washington was beyond bad but Calipari had him in late as well. I don’t know why Wenyen Gabriel wasn’t on the court at the end of the game. Washington was a black hole on offense. Everytime the ball went to him, Bill Self would double team him which caused Washington to turn the ball over or take a bad shot. Gotta work on passing the ball out of those situations.
  • 50/50 balls almost all went to Kansas. The effort to track down loose balls and long rebounds just wasn’t there for Kentucky. This, like everything bad that happened, is fixable.
  • Hamidou Diallo was OK. I prefer him driving to taking jumpers because of how inconsistent he is. He gave max effort but again found himself in foul trouble in the second half.
  • Going forward, SKJ should be starting over Nick Richards until further notice. Richards is going to be a project that’s hit or miss all season. SKJ seems more stable and can hold his own on both ends of the court.

Now Kentucky has a feast of cupcakes in front of them which is a good thing after going through a bit of an early gauntlet with Kansas and Vermont back to back. There’s no rest as Kentucky is back on the court again on Friday.

Now that Cal knows what he has, he can really start implementing the offense and establishing his line-ups. They have the rest of November to do that.

December looks to be tough as they will face Harvard (H), Virginia Tech (H), UCLA (N), and Louisville (H).

Even in a loss, this team has a great deal of promise. Is this a team that can make a deep run in March? It’s not clear at this point. We still need another offensive threat and we need to see what this team looks like with Jarred Vanderbilt.

I like my team.