UK Men's Basketball

Six ways to draw a first impression from Kentucky’s Blue-White Game on Friday

Point guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) and Quade Green (0) were flanked by Jemarl Baker, left, and Hamidou Diallo during Kentucky’s photo day last month. Baker won’t play Friday night because of continuing knee soreness.
Point guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) and Quade Green (0) were flanked by Jemarl Baker, left, and Hamidou Diallo during Kentucky’s photo day last month. Baker won’t play Friday night because of continuing knee soreness. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Cawood Ledford, the iconic play-by-play announcer for Kentucky, took pride in not attending Big Blue Madness. He said the sound and fury signified nothing. For a first impression of a UK team, he preferred the actual basketball on display at the Blue-White Game.

With that in mind, here are six reasons the Blue-White Game on Friday night can provide a viable first impression of Kentucky’s team for 2017-18:

1. It is a dress rehearsal for UK’s point guard candidates.

Unlike past years (John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ulis, De’Aaron Fox), UK does not seem to have a singularly talented player to play point guard.

“Last year we had three point guards on the floor almost all the time,” Coach John Calipari said this preseason. “Now, you’re going to have either one or none that are like true point guards.”

The long and short of it, literally as well as figuratively, are freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is listed at 6-foot-6, and Quade Green, who is 6-foot.

Gilgeous-Alexander already has a growing reputation as a defender. “He’s disruptive,” Calipari said at Southeastern Conference media day Wednesday. “Like really disruptive.”

Green has described himself as a “dog,” the trendy term for tenacious competitor.

“You could play both together if you wanted to,” Calipari said. “Both are going to play. How we finish games, we don’t know yet. Will it be Quade? Shai? Who’s the better free-throw shooter? Who’s better with the ball? . . . We don’t know yet.”

Maybe the Blue-White Game can offer a hint of answers to those questions.

2. UK can show its perimeter shooting will be at least adequate enough to keep defenses reasonably honest.

Neither Big Blue Madness nor Pro Day featured good perimeter shooting. With opposing teams expected to sag defenses into the lane and invite UK to shoot from the perimeter, shooting would come in handy.

This is an annual concern. UK wants a fast-paced game which gives its superior athletes time and space to impose their will. Opponents want to slow the game down and enhance the importance of perimeter shooting.

“Well, our forte is not going to be ‘That’s a shooting team,’” Calipari said at UK’s media day. “But how many of my teams have been that? My teams have always been downhill runners, fast in the break, unselfish moving the ball (and) lane touches. That’s what I would expect this team to be.”

Jemarl Baker, who is billed as one of UK’s better shooters, is not expected to play in the Blue-White Game because of continuing knee soreness.

At SEC Basketball Media Day, Kentucky coach John Calipari said Wenyen Gabriel is one of the three best players on the team. Gabriel gives his reaction and Hamidou Diallo talks about the sophomore.

3. Fan fascination with a zone defense might get a test.

UK fans annually suggest that the team play zone. Calipari annually teases about doing just that, then the Cats play the one defense the coach trusts implicitly: Man-to-man.

Right on cue, there’s been more talk this preseason about a zone. Calipari said playing zone in practice helps condition the players for what they’ll see from opponents this season.

A zone in a recent practice had players 6-7, 6-6, 6-10, 6-9 and 6-10, Calipari said. Said Hamidou Diallo, “We cover different spots on the court so easily.”

This served as a setup for a Calipari punch line.

“It was so big,” he said of the zone lineup, “and we won’t play zone.”

4. UK can prove it will not rely on talent alone.

Calipari has spoken about his talented players having to learn how to play winning basketball. This means playing each possession with competitive zeal. This might be especially true for a team talking about being reliant on defense.

At SEC Basketball Media Day in Nashville on Wednesday, Kentucky coach John Calipari said UK will play Morehead State in an exhibition game on Oct. 30. He also gave an injury update.

5. The Cats can show how far along they are in the process of meshing as a cohesive unit.

Any touch pass might rate a standing ovation. More than ever, this year’s Blue-White Game is a glorified exercise in getting acquainted. This is mostly true for fans learning largely a new cast of characters.

But it’s also true for teammates, especially in a setting featuring game conditions (referees, thousands of fans, etc.).

6. Fans can judge the improvement made by returning players.

Calipari has spoken of Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones being “way better” than last season.

Diallo, who has been billed as a freakish athlete who needed to polish his basketball skills, has said he is a “totally different player.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Friday

Blue-White Game

What: UK’s annual intrasquad scrimmage

Where: Rupp Arena

When: 7 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

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