Kentucky Coach John Calipari compares the current Kiddie Cats to his UK team of 2013-14. Dependent on freshmen. “Veterans” in the form of sophomores (in that case, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein). Growing pain in the form of defeats.
But at least in one respect, a comparison to UK’s team of 2014-15 might be in order. The team that won its first 38 games came to mind Tuesday night when Calipari used the P word.
After Kentucky beat Mississippi State, Calipari talked about setting a rotation that might eliminate players pouting about minutes.
“For me, it’s kind of like the year I had two platoons . . . ,” Calipari said. “I don’t have to do any subbing. I know these five are going in, and these five are going in.”
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The UK coach suggested that a variation on the platoon system of 2014-15 would remove playing time from his list of concerns. “Now, I can worry about coaching, which I’ve got to do with this team,” he said.
On a Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference Thursday, Calipari spoke of specific goals for minutes played.
“You don’t want anybody playing more than 30 minutes,” he said, “and maybe down to 28 minutes.”
Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are averaging 32.4 and 30.5 minutes per game, respectively.
Ideally, players would play no more than 28 minutes, assuming neither foul trouble nor a teammate’s poor performance dictates otherwise, Calipari said.
Calipari also spoke of Jarred Vanderbilt playing more minutes. “We’d like to get Jarred up to about 15, 18 minutes, if he can. We’ve got to figure out some things offensively for him, where he’s comfortable.”
In his three games, Vanderbilt is averaging 12.7 minutes.
Big man Nick Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones could play 18 to 20 minutes per game in Calipari’s perfect world. They are averaging 17.2 and 15.5 minutes, respectively. Neither was effective against Mississippi State as Richards played 11 minutes and Killeya-Jones 10.
Calipari said he had ordered his staff to work up the parameters of a quasi-platoon system.
“You have your time, and what are you going to do with the minutes you have now?” Calipari said he could ask players. “And there are no excuses. Let’s go. Just got to continue to take away any opportunity . . . to make it about anything else other than ‘What do I have to do to get better?’”
Calipari was among the SEC coaches who downplayed the notion that a winning record in Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge will bolster the league’s basketball profile. The SEC has not “won” the series yet.
“You know, we’ve got really good teams in this league right now with really good coaches,” Calipari said. “And dudes are performing. And there are no bad teams in this league.”
More victories than defeats would be good, Calipari added, “but I don’t think it affects (the profile). . . . Both leagues are really strong this year.”
Mike White of Florida and Frank Martin of South Carolina agreed.
“I think nationally people understand how much this league has developed from top to bottom,” White said.
Added Martin: “One day is not going to make or break. I think we’ve proven how good our teams are by who we beat over a two-month period in non-conference.”
Auburn makes for an awkward situation. The Tigers are leading the SEC, yet are not playing in the challenge. Auburn plays LSU on Saturday.
Coach Bruce Pearl did not complain. He pointed out that with only 10 teams in the Big 12, not all 14 SEC teams can play.
In the past, some teams asked not to be included, so problem solved. But all 14 teams expressed interest in playing this season, Pearl said. The league chose the teams that finished first through 10th place last season.
“We finished 11th, so we did not get invited to the party,” Pearl said. “And I think that was the only fair way to do it.”
Young vs. Sexton
The most compelling game in the Big 12/SEC Challenge may be Oklahoma-Alabama, which features two of the most heralded freshman guards in the country: Trae Young of Oklahoma and Collin Sexton of Alabama.
“It’s exciting for college basketball . . . ,” Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said. “Man, they’re pretty dynamic with the basketball.”
Johnson, a former NBA player and coach, said he could accept the comparisons of Young to all-star Steph Curry.
“Well, I think it’s close,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about Steph, it’s more about range of shot, and effortlessness in how he makes threes sometimes, and the tough shots he makes. And his craftiness.”
Neither Curry nor Young are exceptionally athletic, said Johnson, who added, “It’s not a far-reaching comparison.”
The Kentucky-West Virginia game will reunite Calipari with good friend Bob Huggins. On Friday, Calipari is scheduled to participate in a charity function sponsored by the West Virginia coach.
A playful Huggins used humor to explain (?) why he likes Calipari.
“I think because he dresses like Rick (Pitino),” Huggins said.