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Pikeville Bears at Kentucky Wildcats: Belated Postmortem

Finally getting around to examinng the Pikeville game in detail. There was a lot of good, but also some bad.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the first exhibition game is over, I wanted to do a full-blown postmortem.  Since we are lacking advanced statistics, I had to create my own from the box score. They will be necessarily limited (I currently lack sufficient time to make them extensive), but they will give us an idea on how the team performance went. It was a little difficult to track due to the high pace of the game (78 possessions), so distilling it all down will help put it all in perspective.

But before we get to all that, let’s look at a 50,000 foot view of the game. Obviously, the teams were mismatched, but Pikeville was not afraid to face the more talented and much taller Kentucky. They went out there and played hard, made a number of challenged shots as well as some open ones, and played Kentucky even for the first half of the first half (I guess that’s not really a thing, but we don’t do "quarters" in college basketball). Pikeville did all they could to be competitive, and it really helped that they had a hot shooter.

Kentucky’s size forced Pikeville to take a high number of low-percentage shots. Anytime they tried to get closer, they ran into 6‘10" or taller guys blocking their shots. The deficit of size for the visitors distorted their offense significantly, and that makes it harder to judge how truly effective the defense would be against a team with more size.

What isn’t hard to judge was the excellent effort on defense by Kentucky. I was very impressed by that, even if it was sometimes inefficient and imperfectly applied. Last year, getting the team to play good defense was a major challenge outside of Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dominque Hawkins. This year, there seems to be a significant, even astonishingly higher level of commitment to defense. I know that makes you all happy.

The other remarkable thing was how well Kentucky got into transition. The shots that were not lob dunks were layups on runouts. It’s too early to tell for sure, but one thing about this Pikeville team is that they are quick. Kentucky still got down the floor for fast breaks, largely because the guards didn’t have to worry about offensive rebounds. Already, this team runs much better than last year. Last year’s team had an adventure on every fast break early, and it was as likely to be a turnover as a layup.

Finally, I thought defensive transition was good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good, and it looks like an improvement over what we saw at Big Blue Bahamas.

Box Score

Four Factors

Pikeville at Kentucky Four Factors

  • Kentucky’s effective FG% was ridiculous. What can you say? When most of your shots are dunks, your eFG% is going to be really high.
  • Offensive rebounding looks really impressive, but considering the size disparity, I don’t consider it particularly noteworthy. Suffice it to say that Kentucky did pretty much what they were expected to do.
  • Free throw rate was disappointingly low, but to be honest, so many shots were taken from 4 feet in, you don’t expect a lot of fouls.  The drives that were attempted in the half-court usually resulted in a pass to a more open shooter, another good sign.
  • Turnover percentage was solid considering the time of the year, but UPike didn’t put any significant pressure on Kentucky’s primary ballhandlers. What is fairly impressive is how the bigger guys were able to avoid turning the ball over against the smaller Pikeville players. I was also fairly impressed that UK turned Pikeville over at a higher rate despite their size.

Team observations

  • Kentucky bulks stupefyingly huge against college players. It likely won’t be this noticeable again, but wow, it looked surreal seeing them alongside the tiny team Pikeville fielded.

  • This team already runs the floor much better than last year ever did. That’s such a relief, and so nice to see.

  • In the half-court, there were too many times where Kentucky lacked movement away from the ball.

  • Kentucky had 29 (!) assists. That’s just ungodly. A lot of them were lobs, but there were numerous non-lobs where we saw guys with makable shots turn them down to get a teammate with a better look the basket. What was even more impressive is that they rarely overpassed.

  • 22% from three. Not sexy, and not nearly good enough.

  • 70% from the free-throw line is acceptable, but considering who was shooting, it should’ve been better.

  • 10 blocks seems like a lot, but against a team this small, color me unimpressed. To be fair, though, most of Pikeville’s shots came from the perimeter.

Individual observations

  • Karl-Anthony Towns was great all night. He missed only one of 11 shots, and made both his free throws. He could’ve used more than five rebounds. Game ball.

  • I thought Willie Cauley-Stein played really well. He played his game, and didn’t try to do too much. That spin to the basket for a dunk was filthy. Willie was 5-5 for 10 points, but he missed two free throws badly, and from time to time, he’d pull his patented disappearing act.

  • Andrew Harrison really deserves runner up for the game ball. Nine assists and five points, he was a point guard first. Taking a page out of Tyler Ulis’ book.

  • Trey Lyles looked great for a guy that’s "behind." He didn’t shoot it great at only 5-10, but he hit the glass hard with eight rebounds to go with his 11 points.

  • Aaron Harrison did not have a great day. He missed all his threes, but like his brother, he had zero turnovers and played a solid game.

  • Alex Poythress played well, made two of three 3-pointers. I didn’t like the fact that he only managed three rebounds.

  • I thought Marcus Lee played great. He had eight rebounds to go with a very efficient eight points. He did have a team-high three turnovers.

  • Dakari Johnson also had a very efficient 13 points on 6-7 shooting to go with eight rebounds. He also made his only free throw attempt.

  • Devin Booker had a really good game. He got out on the break and he shot a pleasing 50% from the arc, as well as making all his free throws for 16 points.

  • Dominque Hawkins couldn’t throw it in the ocean from a beach on Hawai’i, but he defended well.

  • Derek Willis only made 1 shot, but he got a couple of rebounds in only six minutes.

  • E.J. Floreal had a very impressive dunk. He’s really good, and before he leaves UK he may become a factor off the bench.

Tying it all up

This was an exhibition, so obviously there is little to be learned from it other than a few fundamental things. The huge size mismatch made it even more difficult to draw real conclusions, except that it does seem that our big guys are able to handle the ball well enough against a smaller team, although this team doesn’t contain much Division I talent, as solid as they were.

Still, the willingness of the players to accept their roles and play reduced minutes in order to further the team’s objectives is impressive. Yeah, we still have to acknowledge the legitimate questions about how well they will continue to play this way throughout a long season. Not only that, but how will John Calipari manage minutes in more competitive games? He’s intimated that the "platoon" system isn’t a suicide pact, and that if one group were playing better than the other, they would get the lion’s share of the minutes.

I assume that will eventually trickle down to the individual as well as the platoon level, as we saw the platoons broken up as the game progressed. In the end, I don’t think it’s going to matter all that much, because these young men seem willing to lose themselves in the team, and if that turns out to be true, there is no way to measure their ceiling, except to say that it is very, very high.

Next Sunday, we have Georgetown College in the final exhibition, and then very shortly after that, the season begins.