Teague looking like floor leader UK needs; more from rout of Gators
Freshman Marquis Teague has cut down on his shots and is thinking pass first
Anthony Davis is America's top defender, but is he the national player of the year?
It was hard to watch this rout and not feel UK is the frontrunner to win national title
What we learned from Kentucky's 78-58 win over Florida on Tuesday at Rupp Arena:
The Marquis Teague Project is making progress. John Calipari does this every year. He takes a five-star recruit with all the physical tools to be a great point guard, and melds him into someone who can actually run a team. The first few months with Teague were a real struggle, though, and the Wildcats were sometimes winning despite him. It's clear he's not John Wall or Brandon Knight, but on Tuesday, Teague finally looked like a guy who might be able to pilot a title team.
He knocked down a few threes, finishing with 12 points, but most importantly, he took the fewest shots (six) of any of the top six players in UK's rotation and finished with a season-high 10 assists against five turnovers. That is the ideal version of Teague: A floor general who thinks pass (or lob) first, gets Anthony Davis and Doron Lamb heavily involved in the offense, and scores only like a role player.
After the game, Teague told the Louisville Courier-Journal, "We enjoy winning, so if I've got to take less shots for us to win, that's what I'm going to do." Calipari's message is getting through, and the chart below is statistical evidence, showing that the five-game running averages of Teague's shot percentage (percent of overall team shots taken while on the floor) and turnover percentage (percent of possessions that end in turnovers) have both been on a relative decline since the Louisville game on Dec. 31.
Davis remains the most enjoyable player to watch in America, in small part because of his lob-collection skills (if L.A. is Lob City, Lexington is Lob U), but mostly because he might be the best defensive player we've seen in college basketball this decade. He had four blocks to raise his season total to 116, and freaked out Florida -- the nation's No. 2 most-efficient offense -- so much that it shot its worst effective field-goal percentage of the season, at 39.7.
Is Davis the national player of the year? I'm hesitant to go that far yet, just because we have two other deserving candidates who dominate their team's offenses and make huge contributions on the defensive glass. Those would be Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. Davis dominates on D and is a catch-it-and-dunk-it dude* on offense. He's amazing at that, but T-Rob and Sullinger work like mad to create offense in the post, which has to count for something.
(* I was looking through Synergy Sports Technology's offensive stats on Davis and this is the one that stuck out: 69.8 percent of his shots are logged as "around the basket non-post-ups." He converts those at an absurd 1.667 PPP. The only star who's semi-similar to Davis is Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe, who has 60.4 percent of his shots logged as around the basket non-post-ups. Ratliffe converts them at 1.578 PPP, which is a very impressive rate for anyone not named Anthony Davis.)
In some ways, particularly on offense, the Wildcats are an ultra-balanced team. When it comes to intensity level, though, that's not the case. In the UK solar system, freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the brightly burning sun who gives energy to his orbiting teammates. They feed off his hustle and there are stretches in games where his energy is so great that he takes over.
Consider the impact that MKG had on the first 13 minutes and 31 seconds of the game, during which UK took a 23-17 lead. There were nine offensive rebounds available to the Wildcats, who grabbed four of them. Gilchrist got three of those. There were 16 defensive rebounds available to the Wildcats, who only grabbed nine of them -- but six were pulled down by Gilchrist. It was his hustle that let them take the latter part of the first half, and never look back. He finished with a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double. Although yes, I realize Florida is an awful road team, and yes, I know Kentucky has yet to win a tough, true-road test, it was hard to watch what MKG, Davis and Teague did Tuesday and not leap to the conclusion that the Wildcats are the clear frontrunner in the national title race.