UK has the look of future a No. 1
Kentucky appears to have the potential to take over the No. 1 rankings
Hyped freshman Anthony Davis was a shot-blocking force against Kansas
Both Kansas and Kentucky have strong starting fives but thin benches
|(2) Kentucky||(12) Kansas|
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NEW YORK -- What we learned from No. 2 Kentucky's 75-65 win over No. 11 Kansas in the inaugural Champions Classic:
1. I'd prefer to have two different answers to the "Who's No. 1?" question, depending on the tense. Now, it's North Carolina. The Tar Heels have more experience and far cooler heads than do the Wildcats, I expect Carolina to win when the teams meet in Lexington on Dec. 3. UNC is a fully formed power, whereas UK is still in the experimental phase. But after seeing the Wildcats on Tuesday, I'm convinced they have the potential to be better than Carolina by March. UK looks like the No. 1 of the future.
The Wildcats' first half was abysmal, particularly the performance of the latest in coach John Calipari's fellowship of one-and-done point guards, Marquis Teague. The younger brother of the Hawks' Jeff had six turnovers (including four in the first 3:08) against zero assists, and just one point. He looked lost, and they went into the break tied 28-28. "We don't believe that we have to truly play together yet," Calipari lamented. He said after UK's season-opening blowout of Marist that Teague had briefly "lost his head," and it had not been recovered on the way to New York.
The current version of Carolina is not capable of playing that sloppily, because its point guard, Kendall Marshall, is a maestro. And yet ... it isn't capable of the breathtaking display of defensive athleticism that UK used to break open the game in the second half, either. Anthony Davis (who had seven blocks and helped hold KU star Thomas Robinson to 11 points) is John Henson with more range. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (who added three blocks, and helped lock down KU's backcourt) can be a perimeter stopper like no other. Terrence Jones can hold his own on the block. The Wildcats have a long ways to go with offensive chemistry and emotional control -- the game was rife with post-dunk posing, and inter-team yapping -- but the talent is there to win a national championship. Calipari's project, just as it was last year and the year before, is harnessing it in time for the NCAA tournament. "It's not talent that wins, it's good teams that win," he said. "Last year, we ended up having an outstanding team, and did not have the talent of this team."
2. Anthony Davis is ... well, what is he, exactly? A despondent Robinson -- who had his rude introduction to focal-point status by being double-teamed by Jones and the 6-foot-10 freshman forward with the two-mile wingspan -- was asked if there was anyone like Davis in college basketball. "Not at all right now," Robinson said. "No." Not since Kevin Durant arrived in Austin in 2006 have we seen such a strangely long, lithe and athletic specimen in college basketball, and Davis is a much different package -- his offense is more limited to lob-dunk-collecting, but his defensive impact is superhuman.
Many Twitterers suggested this evening that Davis (who had 14 points, six rebounds and seven blocks) is, in fact, not human. That he's an alien, sent from another planet as a shot-blocking mercenary. When he goes through medical examinations at the NBA Draft combine next year -- prior to him being taken with the No. 1 overall pick -- we will get conclusive answers. HIPAA laws shield Kentucky from having to reveal anything. I'm leaning towards extraterrestrial, though, for one reason: the aliens' basketball breeding project spent so much time focusing on his defensive-reaction skills that they forgot to give Davis human eyebrows. The unibrow is a dead giveaway.
3. Both teams' depth issues need to be monitored. Kansas has the best starting lineup in the Big 12, but its defense and athleticism drops off sharply when it has to go to the bench. The Jayhawks can ill afford to have Robinson or very-underrated center Jeff Withey get in early foul trouble, because its first two forwards off the bench, former walk-on Justin Wesley and Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young, are not physical presences. When incoming freshman Ben McLemore (a four-star shooting guard) and Jamari Traylor (a three-star power forward) were ruled ineligible in the preseason, it put KU at a massive disadvantage.
As for Kentucky, Calipari went with only a six-man rotation on Tuesday: Teague, Doron Lamb, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones and Davis, with Darius Miller coming off the bench. Calipari said he wants to play freshman Kyle Wiltjer 15 minutes per game, but it seems that he'll have to earn them with tougher D. The biggest question for UK is less about numbers than it is personnel: If Teague doesn't come along as a playmaker and a leader, who will step up as the primary creator? Lamb can serve as a backup point, but his optimal role is as a Reggie Miller-like screen-runner. Miller, the only Wildcat who had more assists (4) than turnovers (2) against Kansas, might make sense. He's far more of a point forward than a point guard, but he's a savvy senior, and what this volatile team needs most is a steady hand.