John Clay: Ten things we think we know about UK

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 5, 2013 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

With no basketball game Saturday, and the Southeastern Conference schedule dead-ahead, time to look at 10 things we think we know about this Kentucky basketball team.

1. Ryan Harrow is the point guard. This was fully expected before the season, but became a serious issue when the North Carolina State transfer was a November no-show thanks to a mysterious illness and other issues.

Since then, Harrow has been trending upward, turning tougher. Why the slight specimen even got kudos for getting punched in the face (accidentally) and not letting it affect his play last time out in UK's romp over Eastern Michigan

Over the past four games, Harrow has 17 assists, six turnovers and is averaging 16.8 points per game. He's become a consistent scoring threat.

2. Willie Cauley-Stein keeps improving. No player on the entire team may have as much upside as the 7-footer.

He's earned a starting spot, and one NBA prospectus is even bold enough to rank the freshman as the eighth-best player in this summer's draft.

3. Alex Poythress is undergoing a college adjustment. He's just doing it in front of everyone.

The freshman from Tennessee seems like a nice kid, even a shy kid. That's good, except if you are John Calipari and you know you can get more from your freshman forward out on the court. Cal wants a nastier and more assertive Poythress. The project continues.

4. Missed free throws equal losses. In Kentucky's four losses, the Cats made 42 of 76 free throws for 55.3 percent. Not the only reason UK has four losses, but a big reason UK has four losses.

5. Better on the glass. Remember the Maryland game in which the Terps claimed more offensive rebounds than UK grabbed defensive rebounds? Remember Duke's flurry of follow shots that helped beat the Cats?

UK has shown consistent improvement in that area since then. All part of the learning curve.

6. Nerlens Noel is a natural-born thief. The freshman arrived with a noted reputation for shot-blocking, but has exhibited extremely sticky fingers in the college ranks.

Noel has at least one steal in every UK game but one. He has two or more steals in 11 of 13 games.

Last year, Anthony Davis made 54 steals in 40 games. This year, Noel has made 34 steals in 13 games.

7. John Calipari is still in discovery mode. The coach has used different starting lineups each of the last three games. He's using a computerized monitoring system. He used an early-morning conditioning routine. He's a man on a mission to get the most out of his young team.

8. It's hard to know what exactly to think about Archie Goodwin. At times, the freshman guard is a scoring machine. At times, he is completely out of control.

He was both against Louisville, out-of-control followed by the scoring force that got Kentucky back in the game.

The Cats hope to see a lot more of the latter during the conference season.

9. This brief break from play could go either way. I was on Louisville radio Friday with Mike Pratt and Bob Valvano and offered the opinion that having seven days off before the SEC opener was a good thing.

The radio hosts, both former coaches, disagreed. Both said they would rather have time off for rest and practice later in the year. Pratt mentioned that then, before the tournaments, you might need the time to get an injured player healthy.

Now that I think about it, they're probably right.

10. This team can be very good. How good? That is the overriding question.

I would have said a Sweet 16 berth was the ceiling for these Cats. Given their recent strides, I'd be willing to entertain the idea of a possible Elite Eight bid.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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