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Reid Travis has been Kentucky’s best player

Through eight games — and to the surprise of pretty much nobody — grad transfer Reid Travis has been Kentucky’s most consistent and overall best player so far.

NCAA Basketball: VMI at Kentucky
Through eight games with Kentucky, Reid Travis is averaging 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to say with a kid in his fifth year of college basketball, but Reid Travis’ level headedness stuck out like a bright light after Kentucky was hammered by Duke in Indianapolis.

“I think as we go back and watch the film and get better ... I love our group of guys,” Travis said after the loss in the media room full of cameras and reporters. “I think everyone was hurt and I think when we watch the film, we’ll get better.”

Travis has remained true to his word personally, following up his 22-point, seven-rebound performance against the Blue Devils by averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds on 56.6 percent shooting for the Wildcats, who haven’t lost since the infamous beatdown handed to them by Duke’s super freshmen quartet and a default player from NCAA Basketball 10 named Jack White or something.

Sure, many probably expected a guy who had already played 98 career games in college to be further along than the youth of these current ‘Cats, but without his production ... dare I ask, where would Kentucky be as a unit right now? (Probably not 7-1.)

What’s made him so good since the opening night loss other just being an experienced big? Let’s take a look at him ... specifically in the UNC Greensboro win, shall we?

Doing the little things right makes a big difference

When you do the little things on the floor correctly, good things can happen. Sometimes they happen in the strangest ways, but they do happen.

Here’s a possession early in the win on Saturday where Travis grabs a defensive rebound, quickly finds a guard to start the break and then trails the play all the way to the basket, where he misses a putback dunk, but the ‘Cats do a good job with their second chance opportunity, leading to Travis being fouled at the rim.

Travis did everything right here except the obvious part of making the big two-handed putback dunk. He, along with Keldon Johnson (who did this quite a bit it seemed like on Saturday) made the extra effort to go gather the missed dunk, and then the ball worked itself around to PJ Washington, who made a great pass leading to Travis being fouled.

Stay with the play and you’re bound to catch a break or two.

Doing the little things right is going to make a big difference for Travis and Kentucky in this rugged stretch of games to close out 2018.

Travis is a better defender than he’s given credit for

Remember that play where Zion Williamson flew past a Kentucky defender and threw down a dunk that I’m pretty sure could’ve been felt from those outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse?

Take a guess at the guy he blew past on that play. (You’re only gonna need one.)

Sure, UNC Greensboro ... although a pretty good mid-major bunch ... isn’t exactly Duke, but Travis did a good job on the blocks against their active bigs and when he had to guard out on the perimeter, he did a good job of moving his feet, keeping his hands up and not fouling.

Travis did an excellent job here making up the tiny bit of ground he lost on the left-to-right crossover dribble, took the contact on the spin and stayed with him, and used his length and strength to stay in a good defensive position to force a pretty bad shot.

Travis isn’t lightning quick on his feet defensively, but he stays in a good defensive stance, continuously moves his feet and forces a turnover on Isaiah Miller. Kentucky’s guards had a hard time staying in front of Miller at times, so seeing this was encouraging for the ‘Cats.

He’s such a smart player

There’s three plays that come to mind from the UNCG win that stuck with me watching it back.

The first one is this sequence that was one of the better ones of the entire games for Kentucky.

Not only does Ashton Hagans make a great play defensively and starts the break with an outlet pass to Tyler Herro, Herro shows good patience in pulling the ball back out when UNCG got back in transition.

The ‘Cats took their time, reset in the half-court and Hagans finished off this sequence with a beautiful entry pass to Travis, who used his frame and strength to finish at the rim. It seems like Travis is always in good post positioning, which is important in the Kentucky offense for their bigs.

The second play is another Travis post-up that leads to a foul call and free throws, but notice what happens in the whole play, too. You can hear Calipari yelling from the bench because Hagans doesn’t know what the next move is and Travis throws up the one-finger circle motion (like Jimmy Dykes noted in his commentary).

When in doubt, get the ball to your fifth-year senior and get the hell out of the way. He always makes himself available for an entry pass. It sounds so simple and probably unimportant to some, but he’s always a target in the half-court and that’s needed at times with this mostly inexperienced Kentucky bunch.

I loved this because I’m a sucker for callbacks to things that happened earlier in games, movies, video games, etc.

After Isaiah Miller brought the house down in transition to put the ‘Cats down five points a few minutes into the second half to put Big Blue Nation on edge even more, the ‘Cats push quickly and Travis shows a little range to can a needed triple.

Here’s the callback.

Travis shows a nice head fake, puts the ball on the deck going to his left and throws down a two-handed slam to send Rupp Arena into a frenzy.

(Note: Kentucky didn’t trail for the rest of the game after this play.)

Some of this may not seem important in the grand scheme of things because Kentucky still can’t guard perimeter jumpers and their offense (with this much talent) gets into way too many ruts. It’s December and nobody’s perfect, but Travis has been perfect in his role with the ‘Cats so far.

Having a fifth-year guy like him can make all the difference in the end when he’s doing so much good for this team already. It’s clicking for him, but it remains to be seen if it’ll click for everyone else.