Seeing as some days in the year 2020 almost feel like we’re living in the middle of the apocalypse, Wednesday night more than likely brought a sense of peace, normalcy and some pre-Thanksgiving Day smiles with the return of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball at Rupp Arena.
The Cats, a 25-point favorite coming into the season opener against Morehead State, not only covered for you bettors looking to make a couple quick bucks before the holiday, but looked like a legitimate top-10 team in the process of winning by 36 points to push their all-time mark against the Eagles to 11-0.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was missing his lone returning scholarship player in Keion Brooks Jr., who was sidelined with a lingering calf injury that’s limited him in preseason practices, but still played 13 guys, eight of which played more than 17 minutes.
Brandon Boston led the way with 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, one of four guys that reached double figures on the evening. Terrence Clarke, the other piece of Kentucky’s potentially dynamic duo this season, provided a lovely 12-point, four-rebound, four-assist, three-steal stat line, while both Davion Mintz and Devin Askew each chipped in with 12 points.
Wednesday wasn’t a victory with excitement like the Michigan State opener at Madison Square Garden a year ago, but in terms of gauging how good this team can be a few months from now, it’s a great starting point and something the Cats can build off of with a couple extra days to prepare for Atlantic-10 title favorite Richmond after Detroit Mercy backed out of their matchup on Friday night due to COVID issues within their program and a Champions Classic showdown with No. 6 Kansas looming this coming Tuesday night.
The tape was overall a pleasant viewing experience for the Cats. They made life miserable for Morehead State offensively, holding the Eagles to just 34 percent shooting on 50 shot attempts, including 18 misses on 21 3-point attempts with 20 turnovers. Morehead scored .692 points per possession and turned Kentucky’s 15 turnovers (one of the few negatives) into just seven points.
Boston and Clarke were both good because, well, it’s because they are good
You’ve heard me say it a bunch already and you’ve heard a lot of over people around here and around the college basketball world say it, but Brandon Boston and Terrence Clarke are going to be a special 1-2 punch this season.
All in all, the pairing combined for 27 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals while Clarke finished as a +33 on the night and Boston coming in as a +34. Their FDr’s (fouls drawn rate) were both over 4.5 on the night with Clarke’s at 6.8, despite only combining to take six freebies in the win.
For Clarke, he showed off a couple of nice runners, which is just a perfect plus to add to his offensive game, while also finding other ways to contribute offensively without the ball in his hands like this:
That’s a good pass to the corner from Ware, but Clarke gets the headlines here because well, don’t blink. pic.twitter.com/iOzwzqjYKp— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
My favorite play from his individual performance didn’t come on the offensive end from him and among the many pluses from Wednesday night, that’s definitely one I wasn’t expecting to have on the list.
This is so good from Clarke.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
He leaves his man to assist on the drive then reads the pass out to his man perfectly for the steal and then a foul. pic.twitter.com/KZpExRykbV
Clarke plays this possession fantastically by flowing off his man to cut off the baseline driving line and then reads the eyes and the ball movement to perfection to pick off the pass and then run down the floor where he was fouled at the rim. You’ll see the highlight-film dunks from him aplenty, but becoming a true two-way stud with sequences like here for this team just makes them all the more dangerous when this unit truly starts to jell in the latter months of the season like you see with past Calipari-coached teams.
As for his running mate, Boston’s more than likely going to lead this team in scoring because, well, he’s really good at it.
One of the big things for Boston this season is playing through contact. The initial shot wasn’t great, but he stayed with the play and got rewarded for it.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
(I’m still not used to the Pop Smoke hair. I was getting used to the giant poof from his SC days.) pic.twitter.com/1dIV23laPo
This play stood out for me because this is something Boston’s going to have to be consistently doing this season. He’ll face more resistance and physicality in the SEC and in Kentucky’s non-conference slate for that matter, but growing into that long frame and filling it out is going to be key in making plays like the one you see above. He’s not going to make every shot, although in same games he might because he’s that good, but when he attacks the basket, being able to contribute like this with second-chance, hard-work buckets count just like the easy ones do.
That’s a good look-ahead find from Clarke off the miss in transition and like, yeah, Brandon Boston is good. pic.twitter.com/ZQcoUtKf57— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
Yes, I too am in love with Isaiah Jackson’s potential, thanks for asking
OH MY GOD, ISAIAH JACKSON. pic.twitter.com/Vqq0MAtlPw— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
I’m moving my poker chips with Isaiah Jackson’s face on them to the center of the table because I’m all in on this kid.
It didn’t take long to see why Jackson’s been getting rave reviews about his preseason activity, specifically on the defensive end, but he also provided some solid things on the offensive end as well, which already feels like such a bonus when it comes to his minutes on the floor.
I’m not even to the U16 TO yet and I already love Isaiah Jackson in the open floor. (Another thing: Kentucky’s length is already bothering Morehead a bunch early on.) pic.twitter.com/19JAVIXyyk— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
He did tweak his ankle in the midst of the blowout, but Calipari noted after the game that despite some minor limping, he should be just fine with a couple days until their next game.
Still, it’s hard not to get excited about what he can become when he’s doing things like this:
More like Isaiah Jacks n, IMO. pic.twitter.com/O0oJgAJkrh— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
He can windmill from the free-throw line. He can run the floor with fluidity and strides that are about as long as The Iron Giant’s. He can clean up the glass. The shot form looks rather nice for a kid his size.
All I can say is buy your stock now because the price is going up quickly.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Calipari goes to the post on the first possession out of the break. Sarr gets doubled and makes a really good crosscourt pass to Clarke. The shot was bad, but the follow from Jackson was good. pic.twitter.com/BzSUtB0Zm5— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
Askew got the start, Calipari played him and Mintz together for a bit, and that should absolutely be a thing
Coming into this season, the plan appeared to be that Davion Mintz would assume the starting point guard duties with Devin Askew, who should be in the midst of his senior year at Mater Dei High School, as the backup.
Askew was named the starter, providing four assists with four turnovers, but did cash home a pair of triples, scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting and did a good job doing little things on the floor like moving without the basketball within in the offense.
Meanwhile, Mintz chipped in 10 more points with three assists, two turnovers and also splashed home a pair of threes on three total attempts with a jumper that showed his capabilities as a perimeter shooter.
Jimmy Dykes raved about Mintz’s shooting performance prior to Wednesday’s opener in the closed practices and it was clear to see why in a couple instances.
Easily my favorite sequence of this game so far.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
Morehead sets a backscreen on Sarr into the post touch and Ware does a nice job covering over to help on the low block.
Off the miss, Kentucky comes back quickly and Mintz gets to the open space for the easy catch-and-shoot 3. pic.twitter.com/g6mqlXfACl
Overall, both players appeared to understand their role on the floor. On top of initiating the offense in the half-court, both guys moved without the basketball to find soft spots on the floor, took open shots when the defense leaked them and in Askew’s case, got to spots on the floor where he felt comfortable.
When I wrote about Askew earlier in the year, I said one of his best traits offensively is getting to where he wants to get to on the floor. Two-man screen action with Sarr and hits the elbow jumper with ease.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
“He shoots a really good ball.” -Dykes pic.twitter.com/QUnMPSb7Dt
Hello there, Cam’Ron Fletcher
If you gauged the consensus on what was the most pleasant, but most surprising part of Kentucky’s blowout win, most would say the productivity of Cam’Ron Fletcher.
In just 17 minutes of action, Fletcher scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out three assists with a steal off the bench and provided a thing or two for Calipari and the coaching staff to think about in terms of his playing time when sorting out this rotation as the season moves along.
Morehead’s zone isn’t imposing by any means, but Kentucky moved the ball fairly well against it. This is just a good, simple reversal of the ball (with a nice ball fake to the middle) when Morehead overstretches defensively in the left corner and Fletcher cans a corner 3. pic.twitter.com/JhIARqlCeE— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 26, 2020
The 2014-15 hockey line rotation was an anomaly, but when KBJ returns from the calf issue, that’s seemingly 11 guys that could log realistic minutes for Kentucky this season, plus the returning Dontaie Allen from the ACL tear during his senior season in high school. It’s just one game, but Fletcher continuing to have performances like Wednesday is going to make it tough for Calipari to keep him on the bench because when you have a kid laying out for loose balls with a 30-point lead, that’s someone you want on the floor.