Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kentucky 72 - 40 Kansas (Indianapolis, Ind.) (No. 2,143)

So I was driving home late last night, and I was extremely nervous because I had been worried about this game all day and I was afraid to check the score on the radio.  Finally, I couldn't take it anymore, so I checked WCKY -- 1530 AM out of Cincinnati -- and heard Tom Leach say that the Cats were up 35-20 late in the first half.  I quickly turned the radio off.

That sounded pretty good, I thought.

As I was turning into the driveway, I checked the radio one more time.  UK led 38-28 at the half.

The last few minutes of that half didn't go so well, I thought.

So I dashed into the house, found my UK cap, turned on the TV, tuned in the UK broadcast (XM Radio Channel 91), updated the blackboard in my basement ("KY 38 KS 28 Half 2"), and started pacing back and forth.  One of the first things I heard was Tom Leach telling us that UK's second platoon would be starting the second half, as it did in the first two games.

I braced myself, and waited to see what was next.

At first, I just had the impression that UK looked really sharp and focused on defense.  And then, I was pretty happy that UK's lead was growing.  And pretty soon we were almost five minutes into the second half, and Kansas still hadn't scored, and I thought, "this second platoon looks really sharp."  Then the first platoon came in, and they were even better, and UK's lead kept growing and growing.

Finally, with only about 5 minutes left in the game, I stopped pacing.  I stopped yelling at the TV.  I stopped worrying.  And I realized that for a really long time -- in fact, pretty much the whole time I was watching -- UK hadn't done anything I could complain about.  I mean, I'm sure they did stuff that Calipari could complain about -- but he's a professional coach, and knows a lot more about the game than I do.  But from my perspective, as an amateur fan, I couldn't see that they were doing anything wrong.  On defense, everyone seemed to be in place and every shot was being contested.  There were multiple UK guys going hard to the basket for every rebound, and the ball was immediately being pushed up the floor.  When UK had an easy shot, they took it -- when they didn't, they pulled the ball out and ran a play.  There were almost no Kentucky turnovers (they had only 6 for the whole game).  They out-rebounded Kansas 47-42.  The Cats did miss free throws (they were 16-26 from the line in the game), but I hardly notice that anymore.  It was just a wonderful, spectacular, unbelievable performance -- complete and total domination on both ends of the court.  To see UK do that to Kansas in only the third game of the season was extraordinary.  (On the UK message board someone later posted that it was UK's biggest margin of victory against a top-5 opponent since 1951).

And it never stopped.  UK just kept pulling further and further away, like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes.  With a minute to go, both teams were playing scrubs, and the Cats were still padding their lead.  (Derek Willis finished with 5 points in 4 minutes).

To be honest, I haven't seen anything like it since the 1996 team.  I don't just mean that I hadn't seen anything like it from Kentucky -- I don't think I've seen any college team look that dominant since 1996.

Now this game will hang over the Cats like a shadow for the rest of the year, so we should get a few things straight:

1.  Kansas was only 15-27 from the line, only 3-15 from three-point range, and only 8-41 from two-point range.  Yes, a lot of that was UK's defense, but Kansas was unusually cold.  There will be other games where the Cats will catch a red-hot team.

2.  It is simply not realistic to expect any group of college players to bring this level of intense effort to every single game.

3.  As the year goes on, smart coaches will find new ways to attack the Cats.  (For example, I think we're going to see a lot of zone defenses).

4.  Once you get to the NCAA Tournament, one bad night can end your season no matter how good you are.  Just ask John Wall.

Having said that, it was an awesome display by the Big Blue last night.  Virtually the entire college basketball world had assembled in Indianapolis for this early-season double-header.  ESPN had their whole team there.  Every big columnist was there.  Coach K was there.  Izzo was there.  Many, many people were wanting to mock Calipari, to tease him over his inability to figure out a way to use all of his highly-ranked players, and ridicule the whole "platoon" notion.

But last night, Calipari's players made him look like a genius.  For all the hype surrounding it, the basic idea behind the platoon system is very simple:  if no player is on the court for more than 25 minutes, then all the players should be able to defend with an extremely high level of intensity.  And if those players are generally longer and quicker than their opponents, the other team will not only find it difficult to score, but will be worn down as the game continues.  (Kansas scored only 12 points in the second half last night.)  That type of defense should lead to big victory margins no matter what.

It's still too early to see what the finished product will look like.  But for now, the Cats appear to be on a very happy path.


  1. I'm going to start paying more attention when John Calipari makes these statements that are generally considered to be just hyperbolic--like when he has said that he is coaching UK as a non-traditional team, that the time UK got those five guys drafted in the first round was such a historic day in the history of the program, about how Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being drafted so high after taking so few of the championship team's shots was such a big deal ... all of that stuff. All of those statements felt a lot more substantive and meaningful watching this Kansas game the other night.