UK Men's Basketball

ESPN analyst says Alex Poythress injury makes Cats more dangerous

Seth Greenberg of ESPN said a nine-player rotation gives John Calipari 'versatility.'
Seth Greenberg of ESPN said a nine-player rotation gives John Calipari 'versatility.'

In the bottom-line business of college athletics, Kentucky's basketball team must do its duty and try to find a positive in the sad negative that was Alex Poythress tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

However reluctantly, ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg suggested a way Monday: With a nine-player rotation rather than the two five-man platoons, UK Coach John Calipari has greater flexibility in making substitutions.

"It gives John tremendous versatility within the platoons," Greenberg said. "I hate to say it, but I think it's going to make them that much better."

Not that Calipari was wedded to two five-man units anyway. But Poythress' absence creates an opening for a second ball-handler or second shooter or a taller or smaller lineup, Greenberg said.

After Kentucky beat North Carolina on Saturday, Calipari seemed to suggest the injury can create an incentive for better play. With Trey Lyles joining the first platoon, Calipari noted how going forward he's offered Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison or Lyles the chance to stay on the court when four rather than five re-inforcements (as the coach/marketeer likes to call the second platoon players) enter the game.

"Whichever one of you is playing the best will continue to play," Calipari said he told the three players. "So you'll play with the second group. And that means (playing) with energy. If you're out there going crazy and you're got great energy, then you'll stay in. If you don't have great energy — jogging and standing up — you're out. You want to stay in? Great energy (is the way)."

Motivation technique? "Some validity to that, no doubt it," said Greenberg, who quickly added that UK players did not seem to need such a spur nor appeared to take comfort in the knowledge that their platoon would return to the court. "I don't think guys didn't want to play well," the ESPN analyst said.

To the contrary, Greenberg noted how team-oriented the Cats have appeared: 70 percent of UK's baskets against North Carolina included an assist (19 of 27).

"You don't do that unless you're playing for the good of the group," Greenberg said. "That's impressive."

While assists can be a most subjective statistic, so far 60.2 percent of Kentucky baskets have included an assist.

"If they were a selfish team, that would be reflective in those type of numbers," Greenberg said. "But they're not."

Before and after Saturday's game, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said that Kentucky might do better with a nine- rather than 10-man rotation.

"I've always said I could get nine guys enough playing time," Williams said after the game. "Eight easily. (Getting) nine guys enough playing time to keep them happy.

"John was trying to get 10. I don't know what he's going to do. ... That's the reason they pay him all that money: to make those big decisions like that."

Greenberg saluted Calipari for having the "genius" to devise a platoon system for substitutions, then "confident enough and tough enough" to try something else in a particular game.

"You've seen in the course of games John has deviated from it," Greenberg said. "If somebody's not competing, not playing hard. ...

With Poythress sidelined, maybe Lyles plays more minutes. Or Devin Booker shoots more jumpers.

"Won't be a bad thing," Greenberg said.