The Kentucky Wildcats have been deemed too young and too immature to live up to the hype that has been bestowed upon them, but if you take a close look, you will see signs of maturity in this young squad.
Kentucky was beaten badly on the boards in a loss to Baylor last Friday, which was the start of the “they’re too young” talk, but they bounced back in a big way by making an improvement on their previous weakness: rebounding. That seems like a sign of maturity to me.
Kentucky not only dominated the glass, they made an in-game adjustment on the defensive end that also showed that the Wildcats are starting to piece it all together. They were getting beaten in the first half on ball-screens, but they switched everything in the second half. That led to a lot of long jumpers for Boise State and helped aid Kentucky in their 70-55 victory.
All the long jumpers by Boise led to a lot of rebounds for Kentucky, and with Andrew Harrison running the point, that meant a lot of fast breaks. With Willie Cauley-Stein having the foot-speed to switch with any position on the floor, there were no disadvantages for Kentucky. In the rare occasions when Cauley-Stein got beat, he has arms the length of the equator, and was able to block shots from behind, with nine to be exact.
The Wildcats will have a size and athleticism advantage against almost every team in the country. We all know they have the talent. You don’t get a five-star rating as a high school recruit by being a bum. But these are all kids; they are young and don’t like to listen or do what their told, just like all other youngsters in the world. The progress that this team has made from their loss to Baylor is so evident, and that was only four days ago.
When we go back and look at the team that lost to Michigan State, we can safely say this isn’t the same team.
With each passing month, week, game and practice, a team can get better or worse. No team stays the same. You can honestly say that this team is getting better. Take the end of the first half and beginning of the second half for example: Kentucky took five straight shots in the paint that led to easy buckets or free throws. When the game was within five points, they stopped chucking from the outside even though James Young was on fire in the first half, and they took the ball to the rim.
In the second half when Boise started to shut down the Kentucky transition game, the Wildcats went in the post to Julius Randle, where he either used his size and skill advantage to score, or passed out of a double-team to an open teammate.
Against Michigan State, this team played too much one-on-one, didn’t get their teammates involved, didn’t move the ball and forced long shots. Against Baylor, they played with a lack of desire or urgency, and both of those immature acts were corrected and nowhere to be found against Boise.
Kentucky was faced with adversity and found a way to overcome it. They improved in both instances. If that isn’t a sign of maturity, I don’t know what is. There isn’t much that John Calipari can do about his team being young, but as long as they keep growing and progressing, we can drop the immature tag concerning this team.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury