If you listen to either Chuck Klosterman on Grantland or Frank Deford on NPR, you’d think that if Kentucky does what is expected this weekend and wins the national championship, it would be the end of college basketball as we know it. While I realize that neither Grantland nor NPR is the best place to get informed sports opinion (pop culture, maybe, but not sports), this is pure and utter nonsense. This is the fourth year in a row that John Calipari has amassed an amazing boatload of recruits (starting with Derrick Rose) and somehow college basketball has continued. Did college basketball end when the Fab Four brought their collected talents to Michigan? College basketball has changed. You can either whine about how it used to be – something Deford excels at – or you can enjoy it for what it is.
Another thing that bothers me is what people are missing when they complain about Kentucky. Calipari has not only brought in this amazing amount of talent, but he has them playing like a team. He has accomplished this consistently during his reign with the Wildcats. Two years ago, I thought Kentucky with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins had the best team. They would have been the best team last year if Enes Kanter had been allowed to play. This year, they are even better because they play defense. I expect Louisville to give them a better game than on Dec. 31, but I also think Kentucky will win. Let’s take a look at their players.
Calipari made headlines prior to the season by calling Lamb Kentucky’s best player. It was pure coaching hyperbole, but Lamb may be the Wildcats’ best shooter. He has played well in the NCAA tournament with 16.8 points on 56.8% shooting from the field. In the first two games, Lamb stayed on the perimeter and made seven threes, but just one free throw. Against Indiana and Baylor, Lamb has been attacking the basket and has made 20 trips to the free throw line (making 15). He had ten points on 1-for-7 shooting against the Cardinals in the previous match up, so he strikes me as a medium good play.
Based mainly on his 24-point performance against Iowa State, Teague is overpriced. He a season-high 14 shots in the game against Iowa State and followed it up with another 14 shots against Indiana. The problem is that he only made four field goals against the Hoosiers and fell off to eight points against Baylor. Teague scores when the opportunity is availed to him, but he is not a primary offensive weapon for Kentucky. Add in the fact that he only converted 31.2% of his threes and I’d stay away.
People like to nitpick Davis’ game, but I am a big believer in his talents. He is not a takeover scorer yet, but his mid-range jumper is becoming increasingly consistent. Because Kentucky has so many offensive options, Davis is often left open by the opposing big on the perimeter. When Davis is open, he can make his 15-foot jumpers and has shown a willingness to take threes. The 6-foot-10 is spectacular around the basket. He is a good offensive rebounder and enjoys good communication with his teammates which leads to easy dunks. Davis has scored 15 or more points in four of his last six games and is a nice bargain. He had 18 points on just four field goal attempts against Louisville on New Year’s Eve (he was 12-for-13 from the line).
Not to toot my own horn, but I correctly predicted Miller’s drop off in the game against Baylor. After equaling his season high with 19 points against Iowa State and Indiana, Miller scored just eight point against the Bears. The 6-foot-8 senior played 35 minutes, but took just six shots. He had just seven points in 32 minutes against Louisville on New Year’s Eve. Like Teague, Miller is overpriced and will have to shoot the lights out against Louisville to justify his salary. Since he already shot well in two games during the tournament, my guess is that he won’t be able to do it again.
I really like Jones. He has found a way to fit into a team in which he is not the number one option. In his freshman season, Jones was the top offensive option for much of the season, but it seemed like he sulked when Calipari went away from him. This season, he has not sulked and has put forth tremendous effort on defense. His stats have been sacrificed, but he is a capable scorer. The problem for Jousters is that he had just two points in 30 minutes against Louisville in the previous meeting. It was just his second game back from a dislocated pinky. The other problem is that he has only scored 32 points in his last three games. I’d take a risk on him in this one.
While I think Kidd-Gilchrist is a good player, I think he has become somewhat overrated. He is a strong defender and a good rebounder, but in halfcourt offense, he is merely average. Kidd-Gilchrist has his best games when the Wildcats are able to turn defensive stops into fastbreaks. When he is charging down the court, Kidd-Gilchrist is not going to pass. He is excellent at slashing to the basket and converting. With the Cardinals defense secure, my guess is that he doesn’t get many opportunities. On the other hand, the freshman had 24 points and 19 rebounds on New Year’s Eve, so he may have what it takes to dominate Louisville on the interior.
The Wildcats generally go with a six-man rotation, Calipari throws a few minutes to Wiljter each game. The 6-foot-9 freshman from Portland, OR comes in and hits a three, then sits down. In the last three games, he has played no more than seven minutes and taken a combined five shots. He has hit all three of his three-point attempts, but unless terrible foul trouble hits the forward trio above, Wiltjer won’t fulfill his contract.
For the second straight season, Polson sat on the Kentucky bench and rooted on his teammates. He played ten minutes in the blowout win over Penn State on Nov. 19 and played 21 minutes in the rest of the season. He has not played since Mar. 1.
Beckham transferred from Mississippi State after the 2010-11 season, but did not play much. He last played on Mar. 1 with Polson in a blowout win over Georgia. He won’t play against Louisville, even though he is a native of the opponent’s city.
Like Beckham, Vargas transferred to Kentucky from an SEC school. He started his career at Florida and this was his second year on the Kentucky bench. Vargas did make brief appearances against Baylor and Indiana, but has not scored since Mar. 1. Yet, he is the best bet of the $40,000 Wildcats.
Long is a freshman on Kentucky. That would make him gold in most respects, but the 5-foot-9 guard only played 17 minutes this season.