Am I being a little knee-jerky and overreacting by starting an article about Kentucky basketball with the lyric to a song that was written in the aftermath of Bob Marley having been diagnosed with cancer? Absolutely.
Taken in a much lighter context, and looked at from the point of view of this young Kentucky team, I think it’s a fitting lyric.
“Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the ‘and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won’t you help to sing
This songs of freedom
‘Cause all I ever have:
There, those lyrics aren’t quite as heavy.
Regardless of some hillbilly trying to look intelligent comparing a basketball team to one of a great musician’s most symbolic songs, the fact remains that today, Kentucky is out for redemption. Thursday night’s piss-poor effort at Notre Dame showcased the team’s flaws. There was little offensive rhythm, the defense is still suspect, and, most surprisingly, the team didn’t seem to try.
To paraphrase Calipari in the post-game, Poor offensive showing can be excused. Lack of effort and lack of defense can’t. Today, UK takes the floor to put that behind them.
A lot of the negatives from Notre Dame can be chalked up to a young team in its first road game getting punched in the mouth. But again, the lack of effort can’t be defended. I expect a MUCH more focused team today, on both ends of the floor. A home crowd will certainly help, especially a home crowd that is ready to help these guys redeem themselves.
In the big picture of the season, Thursday night doesn’t matter in the sense of a loss or rankings. But it matters a ton in the sense of how much this team can improve going forward. After recent home contests against Morehead and LIU-Brooklyn left fans a tad uneasy about the team defense, the Notre Dame showing helped solidify those fears a little.
The good news? Redemption starts today, at home against Baylor. So what should we expect?
For starters, look for Cal to have a shorter leash than usual regarding effort, especially on defense. Many have noted that Nerlens Noel and Julius Mays are the only ones who really gave it everything Thursday night. Look for at least one or two more to follow suit today.
My choice? Alex Poythress. I’m going to compare his performance against Notre Dame to Terrance Jones’ disappearance at Indiana last year. We know how that turned out for Terrance. Let’s hope the same applies to AlPo.
I’m torn on Archie Goodwin. Part of me thinks he will return to his driving, scoring ways, but the biggest part of me thinks Cal keeps him in check and plays him more at the two. That’s what this team needs going forward.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle Wiltjer sees reduced minutes if his shot isn’t falling early. He’s still a liability on defense, and if he’s not scoring, he’s useless at this point.
Look for Ryan Harrow to get several minutes today, especially if Wiltjer struggles. Other than the 7’1″ Isiah Austin, Baylor’s biggest players get little playing time, so assuming (big assumption) Kentucky shows up ready to bang the boards, they can afford to go small if necessary.
Two players to watch for Baylor today are Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson. They lead the team in three-point percentage, and that is a huge Achilles heel for UK at this point. As for Austin, I’m not terribly worried about him. He’s over 7′ tall, yet averages less than a block per game, and doesn’t even lead the team in rebounding. His 8.2/game is second to Cory Jefferson’s 9.0.
For UK, Noel may be limited by Austin, especially if Baylor goes inside early to draw fouls. Willie Cauley-Stein will most likely get valuable minutes, and his production will be needed. Also, expect big things from Poythress. I don’t see him having two bad games in a row.
Archie Goodwin, as I said earlier, is a toss-up to me. I think he gets his, and has a big game, but I expect it to come in a different way than careening down the lane every time.
As for the home winning streak? I think it stays intact. UK has only lost consecutive games once under John Calipari, and that was a road game against a ranked Florida squad.
I don’t have any predictions about the shooting percentage today, but I will say I’m confident in the defense. Cal may be yanking guys out left and right, but before the end of it, he’ll find five to play hard for him.
I’m also gonna make the bold prediction that Archie Goodwin will pass on the fast break at least once.
Cats beat Bears, 78-67.