Coming off a big win against Duke on national TV, the Big Blue call-in air waves suddenly filled with chatter about 40-0. November madness.
Many things fuel such speculation: Kentucky’s usually tough December schedule, while full of big names, does not have the usual degree of difficulty. None of the big time opponents (UCLA, Arizona St, Ohio St, and Louisville) are currently ranked in the top 25. The SEC, much like last year, is perceived to be down. Since John Calipari became the Wildcat coach, the Cats are almost invincible at home, 104-4.
Speculations fuel the Big Blue fan base to thoughts of perfection that were so tantalizingly close last season.
But there are plenty of minefields along the way. As has been stated often, every game against Kentucky is the other teams’ Super Bowl. After the Cats humiliated UCLA last season, the Bruins have surely circled Dec. 3 on their calendar for their Super Bowl when the Cats play at Pauley Pavilion.
In the SEC, both Vanderbilt (17th) and LSU (23rd) are ranked; and the Cats must play each of them twice; plus the rest of the usual, yearly SEC grind. An out-of-conference game Jan. 30 in Lawrence, against No. 4 Kansas will be a grueling road test for the Cats in what is sure to be a very hostile environment.
Last week against Duke, UK’s three guards played about as well as any trio could. After only two games together, it already looks like they are the best backcourt in college basketball. Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe complement each other very well because of their versatility, moving between point guard and off guard with ease. Coach Cal has talked a lot the past couple of seasons about his desire to have “position-less” basketball players.
On Friday night in Rupp, Wright States’ own three guards did not back down from their counterparts, but UK played well enough to hold a lead the whole game, winning by a score of 78-63. Ulis, Murray and Briscoe had a combined 49 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Their offense is very effective, but they also excel on the defensive end with aggressive and disruptive play. Reserve guards Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder also played significant minutes and contributed to the victory. Kentucky seems well stocked in the backcourt.
Frontcourters Skal Labissiere and Marcus Lee had solid games, but were a combined 1-6 on free throws. Alex Poythress came much closer to being the “beast” Coach Cal wants him to be with a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds). Freshman big man Isaac Humphries had to sit out the game with a bruised foot.
Still growing as a team, Kentucky, though uneven against Wright State, gave fans many reasons to dream of a very successful season. It is truly amazing how Coach Cal can get new groups of players to blend together so well, so quickly. After six years on the job, no one should be surprised.
Kentucky is a good team and will continue to get better, but fans shouldn’t put those 40-0 expectations on them.