UK Men's Basketball

Bilas: UK reaped nothing from rout of Asbury, but rewards will come this season

Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo (3) grabbed a rebound from Asbury’s Alex Dennis (20) during Sunday night’s exhibition.
Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo (3) grabbed a rebound from Asbury’s Alex Dennis (20) during Sunday night’s exhibition. palcala@herald-leader.com

The big question about Kentucky’s team this season revolves around defense and whether the Cats will protect the rim like its best teams of late.

There’s no question that Kentucky is the class of the Southeastern Conference.

Kentucky got nothing out of Sunday night’s exhibition rout of Asbury.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas made those observations Monday during an hourlong teleconference previewing the upcoming 2016-17 season.

When asked about this coming season’s version of a Three Tenors backcourt compared to last season, Bilas said, “Kentucky is deeper and their guards are a little bit more explosive.

“Last year, I thought they’d attack the basket. It turned out they were not as capable of doing that.”

Opponents played off Isaiah Briscoe, which clogged the lane area and made drives to the basket more difficult.

“You’re not going to be able to lay off this year’s team as much,” Bilas said.

Bilas called freshman De’Aaron Fox “a great defender” with “the chance to be one of the elite defenders in the country.”

As with freshman-dependent teams, a question mark going into the season revolves around defense. An ability to defend without fouling and limiting opponents to one shot will be areas to watch to see how well Kentucky defends.

There is no question about Kentucky’s talent, Bilas said.

“Outside of Duke, this is the most talented team in the country just from pure basketball talent,” he said. “It’s just young talent.”

Shot blocking with rim protectors has been a key element of UK Coach John Calipari’s teams. Bilas wondered aloud if Kentucky will excel — by Kentucky standards — in that area.

Bilas likened trying to score inside against Kentucky in 2014-15 to “throwing a Frisbee through a forest.”

Said Bilas: “I’m not sure they have that.”

Kentucky rolled to lopsided victories in its two exhibitions games. The Cats beat Clarion by 57 points, then rolled to a 156-63 victory over Asbury on Sunday night.

When asked what Kentucky got out of the the victory over Asbury, which resembled a glorified layup line, Bilas said, “It’s kind of a useless exercise, honestly.

“It’s like saying what do players get out of games with regular students? The answer is nothing. You get an opportunity to get hurt. That’s pretty much it.”

When told that UK led Asbury by 100 or more points on several occasions in the second half, Bilas said, “That’s ridiculous.”

Bilas said he had been advocating for a change in preseason competition. Instead of exhibition games, teams like Kentucky should be free to play “real” games with the stipulation that opponents must be mid-major schools within 100 miles of campus.

As for the SEC, Bilas all but declared Kentucky the champion-to-be. Florida, Texas A&M and Georgia should also be NCAA Tournament teams, while Arkansas, Alabama and Vanderbilt might contend for bids.

“Obviously, Kentucky is the best team by far,” Bilas said. “Or should be the best team talent-wise.”

Other SEC teams “have to beat Kentucky to sort of prove to the committee they are legit,” Bilas said.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Next game

Stephen F. Austin at Kentucky

What: Regular-season opener

When: 7 p.m. Friday

TV: SEC Network

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