Sun Nov 03 09:31pm EST
Jalen Whitlow had a victorious return from injury against Alabama State, rushing for 101 yards and passing for 186.
With an injured ankle, Whitlow's runs were limited -- meaning we had more opportunities to see him pass the ball against a less-than-stellar secondary.
How'd he do? Well, he completed 16 of 26 passes with two touchdowns. Unusually, though, he was more consistently accurate on deeper throws than shorter throws, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.
Let's take a look at Whitlow's passing chart:
At first glance, that assessment from Brown may seem wrong. Whitlow completed:
-- Seven of nine passes behind the line of scrimmage (77.8 percent)
-- Six of nine from 0-10 yards past the line of scrimmage (66.7 percent)
-- Three of eight from 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage (37.5 percent)
Besides the usual declining rate of success as you throw further down the field, though, the context of each of these throws matter.
I counted four throws in which Whitlow's pass was significantly off. Here they are:
-- A swing pass to Raymond Sanders four yards behind the line of scrimmage.
-- A six-yard pass toward the sideline to Demarco Robinson.
-- A six-yard out-route to Ryan Timmons.
-- A 21-yard pass down the sideline to Sanders.
Of those three, four were on short-to-intermediate throws.
And each of those four were bad misses, either behind the receiver's momentum or a few yards short/wide of him.
"By no means perfect," Brown said. "You all watched it."
"I don't know, just short-armed it or something," Whitlow said when asked about the short routes.
So those have to get fixed, especially against better opponents when every yard through the air is crucial and the routine plays, as Brown continually harps on, must be made.
However, Whitlow's passing down the field showed improvement. The throw to Borden, for example, was beautiful -- it wasn't against good coverage, but he still had to fit it 20+ yards down the sideline in stride, and between the corner and the safety.
"That was good to hit that one," Stoop said.
What's more, some incomplete throws down the field were on target. The 35-yard bomb to Badet was just slightly out of the back of the end zone, but it nestled right into his hands. The 18-yard deep throw to Timmons was on the money -- it was jarred out by a quick collision (and may have been influenced by Timmons' previously injured shoulder).
All in all, a strong showing by Whitlow.
Just what Kentucky wanted to see from its banged-up quarterback as it enters the final stretch.
Sat Nov 02 04:21am EDT
Derek Willis has nearly lit Rupp Arena on fire through Kentucky's Blue-White Scrimmage and its exhibition win over Transylvania, scoring a combined 27 points on the back of 7 of 9 three-point shooting.
The offensive onslaught has led to strong buzz about Willis forcing his way into the rotation.
But his defense -- at least, the defense he played against Transy -- could jeopardize that.
"Derek gave up more than he scored," coach John Calipari said of Willis, who scored six points. "You can't be in the game."
Let's take a look at some of the individual defensive lapses.
Play One: Leaving the Corner Three Open
One of Calipari's biggest no-no's is leaving the corner three open. Here we watch Transy run a screen above the arc, and on the opposite side of Willis (bottom of the screen). As the guard tries to get the edge, Willis -- well, Willis doesn't really do anything. He's kinda-sorta helping contain the drive, but his man is also drifting further and further toward the corner, and away from him.
Watching the GIF, you see Willis stay in exactly the same spot as the entire play unfolds. Just can't do that. He has to keep the proper distance between his man and being able to help on the drive.
Play Two: Leaving the Perimeter Unnecessarily
On this one, watch Willis (top of the screen) follow the ball and end up way out of position. As Transy drives the ball on the opposite side of the paint, three players -- Randle, Harrison and Cauley-Stein -- are all around the basket to corral and deter the driver. He pitches to another player on the baseline, who wiggles his way under the basket.
Willis, for some reason, decides that his three huge teammates are not enough and starts to dip down into the paint to help. That leaves his man wide open, and when the ball swings to him, Jarrod Polson has to scramble to cover for Willis. Then, nobody is left to cover for Polson.
Losing Sight of His Man
On this third play, Willis (bottom of the screen) gets caught losing track of his man momentarily. He's guarding his man on the perimeter, in the corner, but gets stuck paying too much attention to a rolling screener coming his way (despite Randle being in front of him).
As Willis hovers near the edge of the paint, his man takes off around the arc. Willis recognizes the movement a beat too late; he's further hampered by a screen that he runs directly into. He makes up enough ground to force a long three, but against a crisper, taller opponent, falling that far behind on a play is crucial.
Play Four: Overcompensation
Willis was struggling defending the arc for most of the defensive possessions he was involved in. Calipari was on him about it, too, throughout the game. Which led to Willis (top of the screen) over-playing his position at times and getting caught doing so -- like on this one, where he seemingly tried to beat his man through the screen, leading to a backdoor cut that didn't quite materialize but was threatening enough.
Ultimately,these defensive failings are an okay kind. They're more freshmen mistakes -- and remember, Calipari only recently started teaching defense -- than anything else. Does Willis have some serious improvement to do on that end to uphold his chance of more playing time? Yes. His footwork, timing, and most importantly, attentiveness need to be better.
But these are the kinds of mistakes you can fix. They aren't issues of physical deficiencies. Still, they need to be remedied, or else the impact of his hot shooting will be minimized.
Wed Oct 30 09:42pm EDT
It's a scrimmage, but that doesn't mean it's not significant basketball.
There were a lot of takeaways from the Blue-White game. Andrew Harrison was hurt (so no judgment from me on his play) while Aaron Harrison took over in the second half and displayed shot selection he was "proud of." Willie Cauley-Stein showed that he may be the most athletic 7-footer in the country; Dakari Johnson showed he may be one of the most physically tough 7-footers in the country.
But the three players I thought moved us closer to definitively knowing what we will see from them: Julius Randle, James Young and Alex Poythress. Let's take a quick look at each in turn.
Ummm, what a freak athlete. The dude's 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, and he pulled off so many outrageous things for a guy that size it took two hands (at least) to count.
Of course, there were the highlight-reel plays where he crossed up, in turn, Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee on the perimeter for powerful dunks.
Randle's perimeter game is still evolving, but you can see why Calipari has made a concerted effort to get him to play on the outside. He's got a good handle, has an array of moves that, while not fully polished, are more than serviceable, and -- well, who can guard him? When a smaller defender is on him, Randle will bully him into the paint. When a bigger guy is on him, like Cauley-Stein or Lee, he'll blow by them (and those two are some of the most agile big-man defenders in the country).
"I don't expect anything less from him," teammate Willie Cauley-Stein said. "So you gotta try to figure out how to stop it. I mean, good luck."
But here's another play that was less flashy but equally, if not more, important. Randle got the ball on the extended block, Cauley-Stein on him. After receiving the ball, with no hesitation or killing the offensive flow, Randle sealed the baseline with a quick drop-step, spun and drove to the basket. With scoring options closed off, Randle continued on the perimeter before making a quick, efficient pass to a cutting Poythress.
Not only talented, but smart, play from the freshman power forward. Check it out:
Crazy, crazy stuff from Randle.
Young had been the most-hyped player in practices over the last month. We didn't see much of his game in the Big Blue Madness scrimmage. We saw all of it in the Blue-White version.
He splashed jumpers, which was considered his biggest strength coming into college. But he also drove from the perimeter on multiple occasions, whether off hand-offs or even in isolations, like here, and looked as smooth as his jump shot doing it:
I was even more impressed with his defensive play. Young was very active on the perimeter, and while I wouldn't consider him a lock-down on-ball defender, he's tremendous off the ball. He has great awareness of how to play passing lanes, while remaining just close enough to scramble back to his man. Here's a great shot of Young, who crept off the direct line from Hood to Poythress to deflect it, chase it down and finish with a dunk:
"James Young is what he is," Calipari said. "That's what you saw today. What James Young could be is -- forget about just scoring the ball and getting to the rim. He can really defend. He comes up with balls and steals."
Young was ranked No. 11 nationally. That's high. But for him, that might have been too low.
The enigmatic sophomore was considered to be in a position battle, of sorts, with Young over the summer.
I don't think there's any doubt Young has locked up that spot heading into the regular season.
It's just one scrimmage, so small sample size -- but while every other player was showing at least multiple flashes of what can make them great, Poythress underwhelmed. He disappeared, had a quiet game, and when he was involved in the action it just felt ... off. Here Poythress has the ball in transition, a head of steam, and Cauley-Stein to beat. He dips his shoulder, gets by him, and then -- has no control. Semi-stumbling, he chucks the ball up, ricocheting off the underside of the rim.
His ball handling and control on drives left a lot (a looooottttt) to be desired last year. While it looks like it's improved, it's still far away from being good enough to initiate much off the bounce.
"I think Alex is playing better," Calipari said. "Be a finisher; you're not a play starter. That's not what you are."
An example of that? This offensive rebound, to start the game. Poythress needs to do more of this; he's physical and athletic enough to crash the boards hard and get easier putbacks.
Personally, I don't see Poythress being anything more than a solid rotation player who fills in either the small forward spot (when one of the Harrisons or Young is sitting) or the power forward spot (when Randle is out). But I don't think he'll be any more of an impact player this year than he was last year. From exclusively a team standpoint, I think they're fine if Poythress gives UK what he did last year. But from his standpoint, it might be another frustrating year or stop-and-start progress.
Ultimately, the Blue-White Scrimmage showed us exactly why everyone touted these players, and this team, so much. There is still a lot left to be learned and plenty of action to unfold. But make no mistake, this team is supremely talented on an individual level. Now we get to see how it comes together.
Mon Oct 28 09:12pm EDT
At least one computer system agrees with the humans -- Kentucky is the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.
ESPN analyst Dan Hanner's projections are based on 10,000 computer simulations. Those say Kentucky could finish as high as No. 1 (where they started, and where most predict they will end up) and as low as No. 13 in the country.
The median offensive efficiency ranking for UK's offense is 120.4, which would be just behind the 2012 title team among Calipari's UK groups.
The median defensive efficiency rating is 90.0, which would trail both the title team and the 2010 team.
That jives with Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which project UK's offense to rank first nationally (but with a 34th-ranked defense, UK is slated at No. 5 in the preseason).
Of course, stats-based projections are difficult to give full weight to because of Kentucky's heavy reliance on freshman, which are (obviously) harder to input into a system than returning players with a data base already established for their play.
But I think they're right about one thing: Kentucky will not have problems scoring the ball. There are simply too many weapons that will share the court at one time.
It's on the defensive side that UK must be great. Of the last eight years, John Calipari's teams have been among the best in the country seven times; last year was the exception.
He's got better players now, but they must buy in to the defensive side of the ball.
Sun Oct 27 09:35pm EDT
When I talked to Bud Dupree last week, one of his comments surprised me.
I asked how he'd evaluate his play in the first half of the year. I -- and his coaches -- thought he'd been playing pretty well. Dupree had less to say.
"I feel like I'd been playing OK," Dupree said. "I could be playing a lot better. Hopefully the second half of the season I can make a lot more plays for my team."
He started doing just that against Mississippi State, racking up 13 tackles and a sack.
He was clearly, as defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot has called him, the best play on Kentucky's defense.
Let's take a look at some components of Dupree's great game.
Dupree's biggest contribution is a pass rush off the edge (and this is especially important with Za'Darius Smith's production waning in SEC play). He can do that from a defensive end or outside linebacker spot.
Check out two sacks that showcase Dupree's variety of moves, which he said was a point of emphasis over the summer as he transitioned to playing defensive end more often.
In this one, with UK sending just a four-man rush, Dupree beats the right tackle to the inside with a swim move before chasing down the quarterback. Others were involved in the play, but it was Dupree's quick burst through the offensive line that set everything in motion.
And here's another, at the end of the game, when Mark Stoops and Eliot sent a six-man rush on fourth down with the game hanging in the balance. The numbers overwhelmed State's offensive line, but Dupree was again the catalyst. He beat his man to the outside this time, using his speed and quickness to burst around the edge.
Containing the Edge
Dupree talked last week about the responsibilities of the defensive end against the read-option, a play Mississippi State loves to run (unlike any other opponent UK has faced so far). Maintaining his gap and staying solid on the edge was crucial, he said, and he played the read-option well throughout the game.
For the most part, Dupree maintained the edge, leading to State quarterback Dak Prescot keeping the ball for himself. But Dupree has enough athleticism to dive inside to assist on a tackle once Prescot made his choice. Check him out here, at the top of the defensive line.
Stopping the run
Dupree played a lesser role in this, as Mississippi State preferred to run up the middle (and to the other side of Dupree). But he had one play that showed how nimble and quick the former linebacker is.
On a run to the right edge, Mississippi State's right tackle tries to chop block Dupree (bottom of the defensive line), diving at his legs to take him out. Dupree hops back, avoiding the brunt of the hit and staying on his feet, then recovers quickly enough to lunge out and take the running back down for a two-yard loss.
All told,Dupree was a monster against Mississippi State, even playing at less than 100 percent. With a defense that still needs some work (but is showing significant improvement for the future, I believe), Kentucky needs more of the same down the stretch from Dupree.
Fri Oct 25 07:45pm EDT
Max Smith had a chance to make his case for Kentucky's quarterback position.
It didn't go very well. Smith completed 18 of 34 passes, but he was largely ineffective at moving the offense. Those 18 completions went for just 160 yards (51 of which were from Timmons on the long screen-play touchdown).
One big reason: most of Smith's throws were designed to be short passes.
"We’re running stuff in the game that we think we can execute," Neal Brown said.
And for good reason.
Against Mississippi State, Smith completed just two of nine passes that traveled 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage.
Take a look at his passing chart:
Almost everything was designed to be thrown underneath.
Smith showed why. By my count, seven of his incompletions -- all of which were at least five yards downfield -- were just poor throws, missing their target.
The receivers didn't help, to be sure. UK dropped five throws, all of which were on screens behind the line of scrimmage.
But it was clear that Smith isn't an effective downfield passer.
And that just doesn't work for Kentucky's offense.
"Yeah, our passing game’s gotta get better. I can talk all I want, but our passing game’s gotta be better," Brown said. "We’ve got to complete balls down the field and we’re not doing that. Until we do that, we’re going to struggle."
Thu Oct 24 09:43am EDT
A pretty random note, but I know some are really into the uniform stuff.
So here's the unique thing going on tonight when Kentucky plays Mississippi State: UK is playing with custom thigh pads that display the UK logo and the player's number. (Also, UK is going blue/white/blue for the jersey combination.)
Via the UK Equipment staff, here's the final product:
And here's what it looked like in assembly.
Wed Oct 23 03:24pm EDT
Kentucky and Texas El-Paso are attempting to play a game in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1966 "Glory Road" game, according to Darren Hunt, a TV reporter covering the Miners.
According to UTEP coach Tim Floyd, as relayed by Hunt, the two programs are trying to play on Martin Luther King Day in Maryland, at the site where the original game was played.
That 1966 game, between an all-white Kentucky starting five and an all-black Texas Western starting five (they are now UTEP), was a historic game that has been chronicled in movies, documentaries and books.
Sat Oct 19 08:44pm EDT
You already read from John Wall and Anthony Davis themselves. (Didn't you?)
Now hear from those who coach and play with and against the two former No. 1 picks out of Kentucky.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams:
"He's worked on his game so much this summer. His ability to allow himself to be coached and also keep his edge and that hunger that he has to be a great player. If he keeps that, he's going to be as good as he wants to be. But I have no issues with Anthony at all. I pray to God I can coach him for as long as he can play.
"The thing that has changed for him from last year to now is his confidence and his ability to take chances and explore because he's put the work in. I don't think he worked as hard as we've pushed him since we've had him. And I think that builds a lot of confidence. It's just cool to see him out there on the floor believing in his ability and believing that he can go after guys, and block shots and play with energy and have an effect on the game that only 10 people in the league can have. And he can do it at 20 years old."
Washington coach Randy Wittman:
On Wall: "He's evolving. He's a young kid that's made some great strides since he's played for me. John's got to be an extension of me on the floor. He's really grasped that in the last year and a half. It's still a work in progress. I think he needs to continue, and I think he's taken a step that we've seen already in a leadership role. He's been around the block a few times now. So it's time for him to help and mentor other players from that standpoint."
On Davis: "The rookie year's always a learning experience. I think he evolved as he went through the grinder of an NBA season. I would think that he's probably a totally different player today than he was a year ago at this time. He's a player that can do multiple things. Very versatile player. Very high basketball IQ. That's what makes him good."
Former Florida guard Bradley Beal, who was in the same high school as Davis and called him "my guy."
"He's grown a lot. He's gotten a lot stronger than he was in high school and college. He's very versatile. He can shoot the ball, drive to the basket, and definitely block shots. He has a lot of things in his arsenal that he's able to do. He creates a lot of problems for bigs. He's acting the way he's supposed to. He's a hot commodity. People knows who he is. He acts the right way. He shies away from things he shouldn't be doing. He's a cool dude. Cool role model to people. Respects all his fans and respects other people as well."
New Orleans guard Brian Roberts, also in his second NBA season
On Davis: "(His first year) was kind of rough on him, having injuries, kind of being up and down. And also being the No. 1 pick and having all eyes on him. It was kind of tough on him."
On how good Davis can be: "There's no telling. There's really no limit to what he can do. He has all the skills. He's one of those players that comes around every so often. He has the talent and drive to become a player that's going to be remembered for a long time."
Jeff Withey, a Pelicans rookie and former Kansas center who lost to Davis in the title game:
On recalling that game: "I just remember Anthony having a big impact on the floor defensively. I remember it was hard for our guards to get layups. That was such a long time ago. I honestly don't remember that much about it. I try to blank that out of my mind."
On how much better Davis is now: "He's gotten so much better in the last couple years. In practice, he's so much better than what he was. And he was already a good player in the championship game. He just keeps on getting better. Just offensively. He has a killer mindset now. His footwork's a lot better. He's stronger."