Well, the season began in the absolute worst way possible… with a 34 point loss to Cam Reddish and the Duke Blue Devils. Since then, it has been a wild ride. They won 7 in a row after Duke, none of them too pretty besides Monmouth. Then they lost a heartbreaker against Seton Hall in the Garden… in overtime. The Cats started to turn things around after that. Their stretch in December was a game on Saturday, a week of practice, then another game Saturday. This helped in a big way, as we saw the emergence of the star of the team, Ashton Hagans.
Going into North Carolina, Kentucky had yet to have a breakaway star. But in that game, much like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander against Louisville last season, Hagans broke out. Hagans had 7 points, 4 assist, 3 rebounds which does not sound like much, but he had 8 steals and +11. No one knew what to expect against UNC, especially since the last big game we got blown out, but this game changed the perception of Kentucky, or so we thought.
Kentucky then went on to beat Louisville, handily in the YUM! Center which is always the best feeling in the world. But then they fell off and really haven’t been the same since.
After losing to Alabama by 2 in Tuscaloosa, Kentucky has fallen off. The last three games, Kentucky goes down immediately. Against Texas A&M, they went down 10-0 early and eventually won by 11. Kentucky is definitely showing some promise, but here is what needs to improve and it is only one word….consistency.
Kentucky may have two of the best big men in the league in PJ Washington and Reid Travis. The thing is, they’re either hit or miss. Reid is a bully. A huge game changer and when he’s on, Kentucky is on. But, since Alabama, Reid hasn’t really been himself. A big issue with Reid is his inability to play against athletic, quick bigs. But, he had put that suspicion to bed until recently. With Reid, you have to get him involved early and often, then you avoid the issue and get his confidence up and moving. With PJ, it’s different. He’s either there or not and you never know which one will show up. As KP (Kenny Payne) said, “when we win or lose I always look at PJ’s line, if he played bad we probably lost.” Just as I said with Reid, PJ needs to get going early. I think the first possession should always go down to Reid or PJ and the 2nd should go to the other. If they start fast, Kentucky will beat anyone.
Keldon Johnson is the best player all around. He can bring 20+ every night or he just gives us an easy looking 15+ and 10+. Keldon is a special athlete and right now, I think he is the only one that is NBA ready, but a lot can change.
Tyler Herro is a special player, but with him, again, it’s consistency. Against Louisville and Texas A&M he was lights out. Other games he’ll miss a ton and just lay low which can’t happen. He has improved a ton on defense, which has allowed Cal to play him more minutes, even if he isn’t making shots.
Quickley and Hagans are my two favorites. They plays balls to the wall, every second of every game. Both of them are the best defensive players we have and have both improved their offense which is a key for Kentucky moving forward.
And of course, my player that I wish would succeed the most, Sophomore Nick Richards (s/o @kysportsradio). Richards has played some minutes recently, but against Texas A&M, he changed the game. His shot blocking ability and the fact that he is so aggressive (sometimes) on the boards make him a special athlete. But, he is really hit or miss. I wish more than anything that he becomes the reason why Kentucky wins #9 this year, but he will have to be more consistent in order to do so.
Kentucky has a lot of time left, 16 games left to put it in perspective. I think they will win 12/13 of those. I think they will finish in the top 20 and probably enter as a 3/4 seed. They have a lot of time left, with still a ton to prove. I’m circling January 26th. The game at Rupp against Kansas could change my opinion on everything…but until then this team is Sweet 16 at best. I hope I am wrong, but I just do not see them winning it all. My pick right now is Tennessee…..but don’t count out Cal just yet…..
Categories: NCAA Basketball