John Calipari has traditionally played lineups involving the core five positions, which would include one power forward and one center. Well, for potentially an entire month, the Kentucky Wildcats starting power forward Nate Sestina will be out.
Sestina gave size down low, secured rebounds and was able to pound the paint on both sides of the court. The grad transfer from Bucknell has averaged 7.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Now, they’ll do without him, and they may opt to play three guards, Kahlil Whitney and then either a EJ Montgomery or Nick Richards. Not long after Sestina’s injury was revealed, Calipari said he experimented with small-ball lineups in practice today, something Kentucky needs to start embracing more even without Sestina being hurt.
The guards are easy to predict as Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley would line the court. The remaining two positions are up for grabs. At one time or another, each of those players have been Kentucky’s best players, whether it was Maxey vs. Michigan State, Quickley vs. Evansville or Hagans vs. Utah Valley.
Then, it’s either be Whitney or Keion Brooks, both five-star freshman, at the four, and then obviously Montgomery or Richards at the five to give some size. So, it’s technically small ball, but Kentucky may still outsize most lesser competition.
“I want to try him (Whitney at the 4), and I’ll tell you why. He’s more physical and if we’re playing another team that has a 6-6 physical guy, I think Kahlil can play him better, and I’m not sure there’s any fours that can guard him,” Calipari noted during his Wednesday meeting with the media.
Based on those comments, Whitney stands to benefit the most from Sestina’s absence. The freshman wing hasn’t had the kind of playing time he probably hoped for thus far into the season, as he’s averaging just 19.5 minutes per game and has played just 26 total minutes over the last two games. He also just shot 1/7 vs. Lamar, though many of those shots were jumpers.
However, a big part of that Calipari has mainly been playing Whitney at the 3, where he’s competing with the guards for playing time. Getting him in the post and working on his offense there could help him find a more defined role before the schedule heats up.
The Wildcats better figure it out because their days of playing non-conference competition will be coming to a close soon. After just four more games, they’ll have to prepare for the undefeated Buckeyes.
They’ll have back-to-back games against Ohio State and Louisville, who will likely be the No. 1 team in America next week after Duke’s stunning loss. UK needs to know their best lineup before these season-defining games kick off.