Kentucky Basketball is 9-2 through its first 11 games with a huge non-conference matchup against arch-rival Louisville this Friday at home before SEC play gets underway on Sunday vs. Georgia.
For a team that starts five freshmen, the Cats appeared to be fine with just one loss (to Kansas) entering last Friday’s game with UCLA. But after an upset loss to the Bruins in New Orleans, the Cats really need to bounce back with a win over the Cards.
Kentucky played Kansas tough, who was ranked fourth at the time of their November 14 meeting, falling to the Jayhawks by just four points. They beat Vermont and Virginia Tech, and were able to overcome adversity in both of those victories.
They gained some valuable lessons against lesser competition in other games, but in terms of resume, they need more victories against power-five opponents. Louisville gives them that opportunity this Friday at home.
So who has been playing well? Who can we expect to improve? Who desperately needs to step up?
I’m glad you asked...
Knox has lead the Wildcats in scoring in five of their 11 games this season, only falling short of double digits once (when he went 1-9 from the field against Monmouth). He has been the Cats most consistent scorer and at 6’9” the freshman has helped Kentucky in the rebounding category too, averaging 5.6 per game, good for second on the team.
If Kentucky needs one guy to score in crunch-time, I’m giving the ball to Knox. He has proven to be the most dangerous weapon thus far on the Kentucky offense.
Diallo has scored 18 or more for the Cats in each of his last five games. The freshman wing man has shown versatility as an outside shooter and in showing his ability to penetrate to the basket. Diallo is averaging 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game to go along with 46 percent shooting from the field.
Diallo is likely to declare for the NBA Draft after this season. I would expect him to be a late first-rounder to early second-rounder at this point. He has plenty of athleticism and upside, but needs to show more maturity, increase his basketball IQ, and continue to work on his outside shooting.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been the most consistent floor general in my eyes this season. He seems to move better than Quade Green and create more opportunities for his teammates to get open looks. He leads the team in assists with 4.2 per game, and is second on the team in 3-point field goal percentage (.400) and free throw percentage (.857). Not to mention the 6-6” point guard is much better defensively than Green.
I gave Nick Richards a lot of grief early on this season because he seemed to just be coming out soft early on. That’s when you have to reel things back in as a fan/analyst and remind yourself that this is an 18-year-old playing college basketball for the first time.
Richards has shown much more effort and toughness of late and leads the team in rebounds with 6.5 per game to go along with 8.5 points per game. The freshman big man also leads the Cats in field goal percentage at .649.
As much potential as he has, I could see Richards testing the NBA waters this offseason, but I believe he would benefit from returning to Kentucky for another year and developing more as a college player. I think ultimately that will be the decision he makes.
But who knows? If he could get to a point where he is projected as a late first-rounder, maybe he’ll go. He looks like he’s capable of becoming a that kind of impact player this season, but he’s still got plenty of work to do.
PJ Washington hasn’t been playing poorly for the Cats this season, he has just lacked consistency on the offensive end. Washington starts at the four spot, but his 6’7” height is more suitable for a swing forward. He has been solid for the Cats defensively and is averaging 9.7 points per game and 5.4 rebounds.
As I said, not bad numbers, but you’d certainly like to see him get that up to about 12 points and 7-8 rebounds by the end of the regular season. Time will tell if he’s able to do that.
The good thing is I think we see PJ back in blue next year. I think he is struggling to find an offensive identity and hopefully, with another year of experience, he’ll be able to do just that.
It’s hard to say Wenyen’s stock is still down after a solid showing where he came off the bench to score a season-high 16 points against UCLA Friday. When he first subbed-in against the Bruins, it was clear the sophomore wanted the ball and was getting it.
But like with Washington, consistency has been lacking in Gabriel’s offensive game. He also has been streaky with his rebounds totals, pulling down more than four rebounds in five of his 11 games. And there have been three games where Wenyen only came away with two boards total.
That should not be happening. His effort and energy are certainly there, it’s just a matter of harnessing that energy. He did well on Friday and I think he’ll certainly be trending up with another performance like that one.
I don’t know if it was just a long week for Quade Green, but he played the worst game of his short career against UCLA last Friday. The freshman went just 1-of-7 from the field and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Bad shooting day aside, Green seemed sluggish off the dribble and didn’t seem to defend any Bruin very well. Look, players have off-games. I hope Quade Green is able to bounce back against Louisville and find his groove.
But if he continues to show a lazy demeanor like he did against UCLA, his playing time will shorten as will Kentucky’s chances of making a run in March.