Kentucky team capsule
COACH: John Calipari, one year at Kentucky, one year in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (SEC)
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Kentucky simply will do what it does in the first round against 16th-seeded East Tennessee State, meaning the Cats will get their transition game going while getting their bevy of newcomers experience in the NCAA Tournament before an intriguing second-round game vs. the Texas-Wake Forest winner. The Buccaneers, champions of the Atlantic Sun tournament, don’t have nearly the offensive firepower (31.0 percent behind the arc) to hang with the Wildcats. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson should have no trouble establishing the low post vs. the undersized Bucs.
GO-TO GUYS: Freshman guard John Wall probably will be the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Freshman DeMarcus Cousins, the big fella, likely won’t be far behind. Junior forward Patrick Patterson is a potential lottery pick. Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe is no slouch. So, take your pick. No doubt, though, it all starts with Wall. Who would you rather have with the ball in his hands late in a game? West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler? Ohio State’s Evan Turner? In his first game in Kentucky blue, Wall took an inbounds pass with six seconds left, raced down court and pulled up for a 15-foot jumper that beat Miami of Ohio. He never stopped amazing, earning SEC Player of the Year honors after averaging 16.8 points and 6.2 assists in the regular season.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: They keep coming out and playing with a sense of urgency. Really, that’s about it. Kentucky’s starting five, from top to bottom, is the most talented, most explosive, in the nation … and, yes, that includes Kansas. The Wildcats have multiple ways to score and can always fall back on their defense, which doesn’t get talked about enough — Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only about 38 percent from the field. It all adds up to a big margin of error for UK, with the primary concern being what John Calipari calls the "immaturity" of his young team. Can the Cats be counted on to react well to the NCAA Tournament?
STRENGTHS: John Wall is a fiery, multi-talented leader, capable of a double-double with points and rebounds — or with points and assists. Eric Bledsoe has a super first step, averaging just over double-digit points and hitting a respectable 36 percent of his 3-pointers. He would be a first offensive option on many teams. But what makes Kentucky mostly recession proof on offense is its play along the baseline, as DeMarcus Cousins (averaging a double-double with about 15 points and 10 rebounds) and Patrick Patterson can own the low block for easy buckets. The inside-outside game creates a pick-your-poison decision for opponents, as Kentucky shoots 48 percent and averages about 80 points. The Wildcats can impose their will and use their athleticism to speed teams up, which will be important as early-round undermanned NCAA opponents might try to muddy up the game and throw all kind of junk defenses at Kentucky in a what-do-we-have-to-lose philosophy.
WEAKNESSES: Kentucky is not a great shooting team. Before the SEC semifinals, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl even gave the rival Wildcats a little jab about that because Kentucky was 9 of 41 from 3-point range in two games against the Vols in the regular season. Then the Cats made 8 of 22 while routing Tennessee, increasing their season percentage to 34.4. Late in the regular season, though, Kentucky went through a four-game stretch in which it was 12 of 73 (16.4 percent) from behind the arc. With DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, Kentucky is an excellent rebounding team, but John Calipari lamented his team getting "out-worked" on the glass late in the season, which goes back to the team’s youth, which goes back to consistent effort, which remains the top worry.