When NCAA Tournament time rolls around, John Calipari is no stranger to making a tweak or two.
Typically in March, we hear about some kind of tweak Cal is making for his Kentucky Wildcats as they enter the postseason. Often times, he’s mysterious about whatever chance he is tinkering with, but this year, he revealed one tweak he’s looking at.
During his Monday call-in show, Cal talked about a unique tweak involving center Nick Richards and power forward EJ Montgomery.
“We had Nick and EJ in together,” stated Cal. I said let’s put these two together and let’s play like this.”
Calipari added that he’s expecting a breakout game from one of those two at some point during the Big Dance.
But Calipari also discussed how he’s made tweaks throughout the year before stating, “We did some tweaking today, and hate to tell you, we’re not done yet.”
It will be interesting to see what that could entail. Cal went on to say that anyone could be ready to have a hero-like performance, whether it be Immanuel Quickley or even Jemarl Baker.
One tweak that Cal could make is pressing more. This team has wreaked havoc at times when pressing, but we’ve only seen it for small spurts. Pressing more could definitely be a big boost to Kentucky’s defense if they execute.
As for playing Nick and EJ together, that would certainly be a different kind of challenge for opponents. On paper, it seems like a great lineup for defending the paint, as EJ stands at 6-10 with a 6-11.5 wingspan. Nick is even longer at 7-0 with a 7-5 wingspan.
They’ve used their size great at times in defending the rim, as EJ is averaging 2.9 blocks per 40 minutes, while Nick is up at 4.5. Against teams with bigs who do a lot of the scoring in the paint, that can be beneficial.
However, many of Kentucky’s opponents in the Midwest Region feature guard-heavy lineups that can do a lot of damage from the perimeter, including North Carolina, Houston, Auburn, Wofford and Seton Hall.
Kansas with Dedric Lawson is a good team to use this lineup against, and Kentucky actually did some when the two teams faced off in Rupp Arena. Lawson scored 20 but did so on 7/18 shooting, a mere 38.9%. Nick and EJ combined for six blocks in that game.
Of course, even those other teams have bigs who can do damage in the paint, so having a Nick/EJ lineup for small stretches could be beneficial vs. certain lineups. Even the Terriers, who are known for star sharpshooter Fletcher Magee, have a 6-8 big man in Cameron Jackson, who averages 14.6 points and 7.5 boards per game.
The problem is Nick and EJ have gotten pushed around or blown defensive assignments to feel good about leaving one of them in too long, let alone both. They have gotten better, but they still have work to do to become an effective duo on the court together.
And for what it’s worth, Cal mentioned getting a call from an NBA personnel today about Montgomery’s progression. Perhaps the freshman forward could catch more NBA attention if he has a big showing in the Big Dance.
“We did some tweaking today, and I hate to tell you, we’re not done yet.” - Cal— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 18, 2019
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