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Tyler Herro proving he’s much more than a scorer for surging Wildcats

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And he’s making John Calipari look prophetic in the process.

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Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

In Kentucky’s convincing 71-63 win over Kansas, star freshman Tyler Herro could not find a scoring rhythm, going 0/4 on three-pointers and 2/9 from the field.

Herro’s two made shots were impressive contested driving layups, but for the most part, the Jayhawks’ perimeter defenders were able to make Herro’s night difficult.

This still managed to be one of the better performances from Herro in a Kentucky uniform, despite just the six points. An outstanding defensive effort from the entire Kentucky team was instigated by Herro. He took the challenge of guarding the Big 12’s leading three-point shooter, Kansas senior Lagerald Vick, and completely took him out of the game.

Vick made a pull-up mid-range jump shot out of a pick-and-roll at the 18:27 mark of the first half and a layup at the 12:43 mark. From that point all the way until there was 1:18 left in the go in the game Vick was able to do literally nothing. No shots made in four attempts, no free throws attempted and just one assist for the Jayhawks’ second-leading scorer in that stretch.

Vick’s first three-ball came at that 1:18 mark on what was a broken play that resulted in a wide-open look; and he would make another one 15 seconds later. Prior to those threes, Vick had not even attempted a shot since the opening possession of the second half.

Even if his name wasn’t being screamed from the rafters or being talked about on SportsCenter after, Herro made a big impact in what was one of Kentucky’s best wins of the season.

“Tyler didn’t make shots, but I thought played well because now he’s defending and rebounding,” said Calipari. He doesn’t have to make shots every time.”

Again, this is the Big 12’s leader in three-point percentage at 45.5% while shooting nearly seven a game. A player like that having next to no impact throughout the entire game speaks volumes to just how important Herro is to this team.

After the game, Kansas head coach Bill Self praised Herro for what he was able to do defensively.

“I thought Herro is really an underrated defender in my eyes, from what I saw,” said Self. “I thought he did a good job on (Lagerald) Vick, really good job, I thought he denied him the ball. We tried to fake-screen him a few times and do some different things, and he always seemed to get through it. I think he’s a very active, very good player.”

The insertion of Ashton Hagans into Kentucky’s starting lineup has led a defensive upbringing for this team, and it’s benefited nobody more than it has Herro. Similar to the story of Devin Booker, a flamethrower scorer from the perimeter has proven to be so much more.

Herro is an outstanding gap stopper in his ability to work around screens and make plays in passing lanes. Now he’s able to suffocate and shadow on the perimeter, to cut off clean looks from outside.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming, however. Back in the Bahamas, John Calipari actually said Herro was challenging to be Kentucky’s best defender. We’re starting to see that play out, as Herro and the rest of his teammates are really buying in on the defensive end, which now has Kentucky ranked No. 11 in KenPom defensive efficiency.

But that’s not all Herro has done when his offense is off. He’s also quietly one of Kentucky’s best passers, especially when it comes to getting Kentucky’s bigs in good position to score in the post.

After getting four assists Saturday, Herro has now hit that mark in three of his last four games. He also grabbed five boards and is averaging 5.2 rpg over his last six outings.

Herro’s maturity as a scorer had already began to lure NBA interest. With his improvements and now consistency as an off-ball defender, he makes Kentucky a true title contender; even if he winds up staying shorter than everyone initially anticipated, as the 2019 NBA Draft may be in the cards now.

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