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New Year's Resolutions for the 2020 Kentucky Wildcats

How can Hagans, Maxey, Richards and the gang improve at the turn of the decade?

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

With the calendar officially now in 2020, we’ve got all got some sort of New Year’s resolution we’re looking to achieve, as promising or hopeless as it may seem.

For the Kentucky Wildcats, they were starting to look hopeless after a two-game skid in Las Vegas dropped them to 8-3 before SEC play even starts, but a massive win over Louisville showed us this team still has a lot of promise if they make the right improvements.

Here is a look at what needs to happen for each Wildcat to help this team reach its potential.

Tyrese Maxey

Some consistency would be nice. The random 27-point conniptions are swell—the only way to peel my eyes off the LSU-Oklahoma game, where my new son Joe Burrow tossed seven touchdowns! (Salvation, Bengals!) It was too predictable that Ty would explode vs. Louisville. Every year, sans Quentin Snider, Kentucky and John Calipari always find a guy to either break out of a slump (Maxey & Herro) or breakout entirely, a la Shai or Dominique.

Maxey inverted his 24% mark from 3 coming into the game and ideally he continues shooting this way; which means he’ll be 0-9 with 5 turnovers vs. Mizzou next week.

Ashton Hagans

There are still 1-2 turnovers per game from Ashton that evoke the Nicholson-ian rage pictured below—for example, his overtime bobble on an open around that led to Jordan Nwora’s only three of the day just four seconds later vs. UL. A boneheaded decision here or there could be fixed by I’m just nit-picking. Hagans finished with 8 points and 8 assists and One Steal and Slam That’s Still Echoing Down High Street, controlling the offense for all 43 minutes he was on the court, prodding the three-point arc, kabobbing through Mack’s mimeo pack-line defense.

Despite the single-digit scoring output, Ashton dominated the point guard position, whirling like a four-finned ceiling fan on the ball defensively and cue-balling Maxey and Richards’ big games on the other end. Usually a goat for Kentucky’s struggles since last January, Hagans is scampering towards the Calipari Point Guard Pantheon, leading all Cal lead guards in assists per game (7.3), even surpassing the Yoda of UK hoops, Tyler Ulis.

Nick Richards

There is no new resolution for Nick Richards. If you think we as Kentucky fans are entitled to more out of a 20-year-old Jamaican relative basketball-newbie, then, well...

I mean really, after the back-and-forth disaster first two seasons in college for Nick and the progress he’s made just this season, he is untouchable. Showing up and saying “hey” in the Utah and Ohio State games would have been nice, but, as is annual with Kentucky, the Louisville win cured all ails.

Immanuel Quickley

Attack the basket, my friend. Against Louisville, perfect defense was played by IQ. He eliminated a (get a load of this) preseason All-American! Jordan Nwora lead UL in scoring every game this year except this one, credit IQ. The poor backup CBS anchor on the post-game show couldn’t pronounce the kids’ name, probably because he was a mere overtime cameo in terms of mattering in this game.

Immanuel also shot the basketball well, converting a pair of threes, all of his free throws and a couple mid-range floaters. His deep shooting is stabilizing and the defense is elite, now I hope Calipari (and the entire team) endorse more driving attacks from Immanuel going forward.

EJ Montgomery

EJ is just sophomore Nick Richards. Shoots the mid-range surprisingly well, grabs the requisite rebounds and erases opposing shots every once in a while. Well, he just doesn’t do enough good (most of the time) to excuse his 3-5 plays a game where the camera flashes to Cal and he’s pulling his hands across his face like they’re cemented together.

In the Louisville game, for instance, Montgomery corralled several huge rebounds late with Enoch and Williams smothering him, never losing control and delivering the ball to Ashton safely. He also converted an off-the-dive dunk from Hagans and another transition layup. Easy plays, so ones typically botched by our tallest bigs. EJ also air-balled a hook and let his man drift away for threes on other possessions.

For EJ, I just want him to become the best rebounder possible and a Think Twice About It shot-blocking threat. Offensively, he’ll improve as his comfort level rises, and his jaunty mega-fist-pumps and wide-mouth howling have me convinced he’s piecing things together under Cal.

Nate Sestina

My dream is for Calipari to use Sestina as a 6-8 sharpshooter. Just run him off screens. Pick-and-rolls, over and over and over again, just he and Ashton; our slick initiator and grandfather sharpshooter maze-running the top of the key, looking for drive to the basket vs. a slower big or popping with most reliable three-point threat. A celestial enterprise last Saturday against Ohio State that Louisville disarmed with utility ace Dwayne Sutton, but down the road, and in most contests with the hideous SEC, it will work.

For Nate, who looks fully recovered from that over-blown wrist hiccup, I want him shooting more threes and posting up smaller defenders up more often (scored two baby-hooks over Nwora, who isn’t all that small at 6-7, 225). He’s sure shown his effectiveness, and at just five field goal attempts per game. Much too low.

Keion Brooks Jr.

What an enigma. Aside from poor passing and absent smart decision-making, Brooks is a spectrum oscillator, totally unpredictable game by game; effective sometimes as a spot-up mid-range shooter, other times as a hectic rebounder, seemingly never thriving in more than one or two aspects at a time. You can’t always control your shooting, even as a sniper, just watch the 2016 Golden State Warriors in late June. Effort, rebounding, focus, physicality, are what Keion can control every time he steps on the court.

Brooks must consistently remain 100% locked-in, engaged with his teammates, and always fighting, then the easier shots will come and with more confidence.

Kahlil Whitney

The 11th-

ranked player of the 2019 recruiting class (per 247) , a five-star dazzling 6-6 athlete cheered as “position-less” coming into college, hasn’t reached double-digit scoring since before Baby Yoda strangled popular culture. Whitney sure is position-less—practically un-deployable anywhere on the court.

At power forward, Buckeyes forward Young zipped around the court two weeks ago much too fast for Mr. Whitney and physically whupped the formerly projected 16th pick in the upcoming draft. And against small forwards, Whitney holds up well defensively, but believes a height advantage of even just an inch is a green light for contested threes.

Making things worse is Kahlil is now watching others take his minutes, as he logged less than three against Louisville.

For him, come to play every day with the same listening and learning-openness that Nick had during his first years.

Johnny Juzang

Play more? Defend better? Make a three? Johnny J just hasn’t been able to establish any kind of role for this team. Whether that’s due to a loaded backcourt, his own inability to make threes, or his phantom defensive issues (I think they’re overblown), Calipari just isn’t playing him. I still like the kid long-term, just hope he doesn’t follow fellow Californian Jemarl out the door eventually.