Kentucky is currently ranked fifth, the highest they have been since losing by 34 to Duke, the first game of the season. With a record of 18-3, the Wildcats are in prime position for March. Everything seems to be falling into place for them and it all started with PJ being the player everyone thought he would be.
PJ is the player of the year for this team. He leads the team in rebounding, averaging 8.4 a game but over the last 3 games he has had 13, 12, and 12. Along with those double digit rebounds, PJ has scored 20, 26, and 15. PJ has been a huge part of this recent surge and the season begins and starts with him. I think of PJ has the motor of this team. Like Kenny Payne said, “if we play good or bad the first thing I look at is PJ. If he did well, so did we.” PJ is the heart and soul, without him this team goes nowhere. If he plays aggressive, it allows other players to get going, just like Reid. If this continues, here comes #9.
Ashton Hagans and Quickley are the 2nd most important player behind PJ. Ever since they came along once Quade left, this team has been completely different. They play with a spunk and it all starts with Ashton against Louisville. I’ve talked about Ashton before so I won’t harp on him too much, but if this team wins #9, he is a huge reason behind that. Quickley is just like Ashton. He is amazing defensively but he also has been working well offensively. The main issue with Hagans and Quickley was their shooting ability, but they have both been working on this and if they continue to find success shooting, this team will get the 9th.
Reid had been going through as funk, until recently. Reid is an absolute beast if he gets going early. Reid is one of those players than can change the outcome of the game if he is involved. The main issue with Reid is if he doesn’t get going early, he’s pretty much going to be useless. But, Kentucky has been getting him involved recently. He’s averaging 12 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, which has improved recently. Reid has to stay steady. We need Reid. We need his aggressiveness, his body, and his lovely shot. Reid is one of those players that can easily get 10 and 10, but Kentucky needs him to do that consistently while taking on the big, athletic bigs from other opponents. Reid struggles against athletic bigs, but if PJ and Reid continue to play this well together and continue to help one another out defensively, this team could bring home #9.
Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Jemarl Baker need to be consistent. The main struggle of this team as of late is their offense. These are three of the most important offensive players they have, especially their 3 point shooting. Now, Jemarl is the 3 point guy. He needs to knock down his shots and not force them and he’ll be fine. Tyler is they guy we can most count on, right now. He has stepped up defensively, as pointed out by multiple coaches including Bill Self. If Tyler can continue his domination defensively, I trust his shooting enough and know it will start falling eventually. He needs to keep up the defense to remain special. Keldon is everything. We need Keldon to fight. He seems to be one of the main issues we have right now. He starts slow consistently and Hagans has to wake him up occasionally (see below). If Keldon can come to play, like he did before conference play started, this team will get #9.
Another huge part of this Kentucky team is Sophomore Nick Richards. Nick Richards is one of those players that we expected so much from and he just did not deliver…yet. Richards has been stellar as of late. He plays maybe 5-10 minutes a game, but within those minutes he records anywhere from 4-8 rebounds plus 2-4 blocks. Richards needs to keep playing aggressive when he comes in, because if he does, Reid and or PJ can truly get a breather and will allow them to be fresh down the final stretch. Richards may be the X-factor for Kentucky to get #9, but there is a final piece to this puzzle…his name is EJ Montgomery. EJ needs to be like Nick. He needs to come in, get some blocks, hit some shots, and allow Reid and or PJ to relax and get some rest. If he continues to dominate like he did against Florida, this team gets #9.
This team had the opportunity to be special. To me, it starts with PJ and Keldon. Can they be consistent for 6 straight games? If those two are playing their best, Kentucky is hard to beat. You know Hagans will bring his A game day in and day out. Herro will knock down shots, Reid will get rebounds and fight. This team is probably the 3rd best team in the nation currently, behind Duke and Tennessee. Kentucky has 2 HUGE games against Tennessee coming up, I expect them to split them. If they split them, I feel confident for Kentucky and their opportunity to defeat Duke in the National Championship. Let’s go get 9.