Saturday, Aug 21 at 8:12 PM
My wife’s sister and niece are in town from Alabama (War Eagle territory, but her husband and family Roll with the Tide). This week, we packed up the kids and drove to see my mother-in-law and another sister in Lexington. They went shopping; I got the heck out of there and went to the movies.
I went to see the Expendables. I thought it was going to be better, but I should have known. Oh it was worth the six bucks, and it was vastly superior to toting the kid in and out of clothing stores, but all together, The Expendables, meh.
After a fairly dominating regular season in 2009-2010, the Kentucky Wildcat basketball squad ended with a fairly “meh” performance in the elite 8. We all know it’s always basketball season in the commonwealth, and this week Calipari’s Cats trumped their football brethren both in Lexington and here in The Ville for sports headlines with a televised three game exhibition jaunt to Windsor, Ontario Canada.
Predictably, the Cats went 3-0, easily sweeping their way through two “battles” with the U of Windsor and a “challenge” from Western Ontario. Maybe equally as predictably, the wins and good feelings this trip generated has some Cats fans wondering if John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and the rest of the 2010 Wildcats were ”The Expendables” when it comes to the continued success of the program.
I mean Knight was a sensation, regularly scoring and also regularly drawing the defense and finding open players on the perimeter and under the basket. Doron Lamb had a rough start, then a couple of 20 point games. Darius Miller looked like a whole new player, and D’Andre Liggins was the best possible version of D’Andre Liggins one could imagine. Meanwhile, John Hood and Josh Harrellson, anchored to the bench a season ago, also showed glimmers of productivity.
So it’s all good in Calipari’s Kingdom, even if the competition was a little undersized and less athletic; even if the Ohio State Buckeyes, a top 10 team a year ago- but not an elite team, won their games by 50 on their visit a year ago.
Let’s look a little closer at what we saw up there. The performance of Knight had at least one Cat fan I know proclaiming he will be better than Wall. Is this possible, the number one pick in the NBA draft, playing the part of Sly Stallone in The Expendables?
Well, here is where that talk is coming from. Wall, for being a point scoring, speed machine had fits of turnovers. Calipari and the rest of Big Blue Nation were alright with them due to the mercurial nature of the point guard. For the season, Wall averaged four turnovers to go with his 6.5 assists per game. In the three games in Canada, Knight had 5 total turnovers.
This has UK fans dreaming of a John Wall, without the turnovers. While I hesitate to get too excited considering the competition, eh, Wall’s best three game stretch all last season was a 28 assist, 7 TO stretch (Hartford, Long Beach St and Drexel). In that stretch, Wall averaged a shade under 16 points per game, while Knight averaged 25. Knight played roughly 4 minutes per game more than Wall in his stretch.
So there is some “there” there. Me and my sphere of influence aren’t the only ones to take notice. Our friends over at aseaofblue.com pointed this out and it prompted a response by a blogger at ESPN.com.
Where Wall would seem to not be “expendable” is in the intangibles. He was the team leader and pace setter for last year’s bunch. While he wasn’t a great shooter, he took big shots and usually made them. He may have been the fastest player with the ball I have seen. Yes that includes Rondo. How do you replace that? We shall see.
Which brings us to the 30 pound housecat in the center of the room, replacing Patterson and Cousins. In Canada, swingman Darius Miller and bench man Josh Harrellson manned the post for the most part (heralded freshman Terrence Jones put in a solid 9 minutes before leaving due to injury). This is not a replacement for Cousins, let alone he and Patterson.
Of course, Wildcat fans will tell you help is on the way. That help is 6-10 power forward Enes Kanter out of Turkey and 6-11 juco transfer Eloy Vargas.
Kanter does look good no? Don’t believe it? Check out the Youtube highlights from the Nike World Basketball Summit game where he broke Dirk Nowitzki’s game scoring record, single-handedly keeping the World team in the game until the end. Listen to the announcers “hard to believe he’s only 18 years old” (he was 17); “something special”; the “bull from Istanbul”
UK fans should be excited IF he can get cleared by the NCAA to play. His situation is well-documented on the web. Feel free to email me and I will give you the short version if you don’t want to look it up.
Eloy Vargas is still finishing some core courses to get eligible for fall and could not travel with the team this summer. Both these players are long and at a minimum can defend while Knight, Miller, Lamb and co. dribble drive their way to points.
All in all it was nice to see some hoops played in August. The Cats do have reason for optimism. My gut reaction is you can not simply put Knight for Wall, Miller for Patterson and Kanter for Cousins and hope to be near as good as you were a year ago; which, by the way, wasn’t near good enough for the championship starved Big Blue nation. Wall, Cousins and Patterson (and Bledsoe and Dodson and Orton) are not “expendable”
Right now I see the Cats as a top 20 team. Judging off their summer trip to Canada, I am not comfortable proclaiming them a top 5 team, but there is no way I can say they will be average.
I know the numbers on the 2010 freshman rankings are even better than the 2009 ones. I just can’t help but think of North Carolina a year ago, a team loaded with freshmen, who were trying to relplace the heart and soul (Hansborough and Lawson) of the team from the year prior, that never got it together. While I was very impressed with the performance of the freshman in Canada, I worry about that.
I also worry about the competition they played up there and the fact that a good (not great) Ohio State team was far more impressive up there a year ago. I worry that Harrellson and Miller have looked good against smaller opponents before, only to fade in big spots.
At any rate, there is plenty of time before the opening tip to get better, and players have taken leaps of improvement before. The team looked good, but Wildcat fans better hope this team is unlike the movie The Expendables: Looked great in previews, lots of stars, but altogether “meh.”