Sizing up Kentucky's post-season prospects

Herald-Leader sports columnistMarch 14, 2011 

Darius Miller applauded with the crowd during UK's victory over Florida. Miller has averaged 18 points the last four games.


Reasons to believe in the Cats

1. The long ball. Kentucky can shoot the rock from distance (13th in the nation in three-point shooting at 39.7 percent at the end of the regular season) and can do it from multiple positions. For foes unfamiliar with the Cats, the long-range bombing of Doron Lamb (47.4), Darius Miller (46.0), Brandon Knight (40.6) and even DeAndre Liggins (36.1) should make UK very hard to guard.

2. Finally, it's Miller time. In UK's final six regular-season games, Darius Miller averaged 16.5 points and shot 53 percent from the floor. It's no coincidence that Kentucky went 5-1 with a two-point win over Vanderbilt and a tough road victory at Tennessee in that stretch. If the Mason County product has finally shaken free from the self-imposed passivity that often has seemed to constrain his game, it could lift the Cats to the proverbial next level.

3. TV Timeouts. In the NCAA Tournament, the "media timeouts" seem longer than the Star Wars trilogies (both of them, viewed back-to-back). For Kentucky, which essentially plays only six players, long timeouts figure to be a boon. So while foul trouble or an injury could be fatal to the Cats' very short bench, fatigue should not be an issue.Reasons to fret over the cats

Reasons to fret over the Cats

1. Size matters. North Carolina's long front line bothered the Cats. Georgia's physical front court hurt Kentucky. Alabama's rugged JaMychal Green gave UK fits. Vanderbilt big man Festus Ezeli took it to the Wildcats in Rupp Arena. It is an article of NCAA Tournament faith that matchups are everything. If you are a UK backer, you don't want to see the Cats draw foes with athletic, physically powerful front lines.

2. Late-game pressure. Maybe the Cats turned the corner with close victories in the final week against Vanderbilt in Rupp and Tennessee in Knoxville, but the fact remains UK was 1-6 during the regular season in games decided by five points or less. In a tournament where execution under late-game pressure tends to be paramount, that is a daunting stat.

3. Too young for a (big) dance? Last season, UK had the most talented roster in the country but it was a kiddie corps with four freshmen in the top six players. Eventually, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Co. ran into a veteran, physical foe (West Virginia) playing a quirky 1-3-1 zone defense and went down in flames. This year, Kentucky again relies heavily on freshmen. Are Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb talented enough to compensate for their lack of NCAA tourney experience? UK's Final Four hopes rest on the answer being yes.

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