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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: Watching the Big Blue Bahamas Edition

Want to know what to watch for during Kentucky Basketball’s trip to the Bahamas? Here are a few ideas.

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Tuesday Morning Quickies.

Today’s big story, and really, the big story for the next several days, is the UK basketball team’s trip abroad to the Bahamas for a few basketball games against international competition. The last time we had a trip like this was back in 2014, when the team returned and went 38-1, losing to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals in Lucas Oil Arena in Indy.

This year is different, and yet kind of similar. The 2014-15 team was filled with returning players (7), mostly sophomores along with a couple of juniors, one of whom (Alex Poythress) was injured early. Joining them were the obligatory complement of standout freshmen, including now-NBA stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.

This season, Kentucky again has more than the usual number of returners — four sophomores and one senior transfer. It also has a diverse group of talented freshman who bring shooting, size, strength, and leadership to the squad. It isn’t quite as promising as the 2014-15 team was, in some ways, but I think it has the potential to be nearly as good.

Mark Story writes today about what savvy UK fans will be watching for during the Big Blue Bahamas. He lists a number of good things to pay attention to, including who will emerge as point guard, shooting, chemistry, and a few other things. These are all fine, to be sure, but I have my own list:

  • Passing — Who lets the ball stick in their hands, and who moves it? Who is effective getting the ball to their teammates in the right spots? Who eschews high school tricks for short, sharp, effective passes?
  • Communication — Who talks on defense, and who is quiet? Who know when, where and how to set screens? Who displays leadership when things get tough?
  • Penetrate and kick — along with pick and roll, getting into the painted area and kicking the ball back to open shooters is the most coveted skill in the game. Who can do that well?
  • Shot selection — Who knows a good shot when he sees one, and who knows that a better shot is available even when he has a good one?
  • Defensive intensity — Who will work hard defensively? Who takes defensive possessions off?
  • Free throw shooting — The line has often cost Kentucky the opportunity to win games. The best Kentucky teams have shot the ball well from the line, and the ones who struggle have not. Who can we count on to get to the line and score?
  • Transition defense — This is often a bugaboo for freshman-dominant teams, and teams with big players. Will the big men run, and will the guards remain in position to defend a fast break?
  • Perimeter shooting — Who can knock down the three with confidence and consistency?
  • Physicality — this should be a very physical team, but will it be?

Anyway, that’s my checklist. It’s probably different for everyone, but for me, these are the things that will provide a barometer for the future. Failure on several of them is inevitable, and there is a long time to go before the games count. But it would be nice to see some of these boxes checked off early, as some of them were in 2014.

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