A team dependent on freshmen and sophomores. A team trying to move on after losing last season’s star freshman to the NBA Draft lottery. A team searching for the best way to reinvent itself.
But enough about Ohio State.
Yes, Kentucky’s game against Ohio State on Saturday will feature two teams with striking similarities.
Like Kentucky, Ohio State depends on underclassmen. Three sophomores and a freshman are among the top five scorers. The Buckeyes’ scholarship players include six freshmen, four sophomores, one junior and no seniors.
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Ohio State Coach Thad Matta sounded like John Calipari when he mentioned the growing pains his team has experienced as it tries to find itself. For the Buckeyes, the process for 2015-16 got more difficult when last season’s star freshman, D’Angelo Russell, left for the NBA.
Ohio State’s 5-5 record reflects the fine line between winning and losing. Four of the losses have come by a combined 24 points.
Matta identified two problems: free-throw shooting (64.7 percent) and turnovers (Ohio State has had 142 turnovers and 116 assists so far).
We’re trying to get a young basketball team to understand the consequences of what happens when you’re not dialed in every possession.
Ohio State Coach Thad Matta
Matta also lamented how, in one of the tight games, Ohio State had three fouls in one defensive possession.
“We’re trying to get a young basketball team to understand the consequences of what happens when you’re not dialed in every possession,” Matta said.
Matta talked about his team taking two steps forward, then one step backward.
When asked about the challenges of coaching a young team, he said, “Whew! You got a week.”
Of course, Calipari is the proven master of fashioning a cohesive and effective team out of young, talented players.
“No question about that,” Matta said. “Obviously, John’s the best at it. . . . I know he’s had a couple bumps here and there, but at the right time he always has them playing at the highest level.”
Of course, Calipari and Kentucky are in the midst of another reinvention, albeit one disguised by a 9-1 record and No. 4 national ranking.
“We’re a ways away,” Calipari said this week. “We have not figured it out. How do we want to play?”
At a news conference Thursday, Calipari preached from the one-for-all athletic creed.
“Each guy is tied to the other . . . ,” he said. “You can’t come out and look defeated because it affects all of us. You have to compete. You have to battle.”
Battle. Fight. Compete. Calipari has been talking about those attributes since the preseason. These qualities continue to elude the Cats.
Each guy is tied to the other. . . . You can’t come out and look defeated because it affects all of us. You have to compete. You have to battle.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari
To help foster a greater competitive spirit, Calipari began the more intense training typical of the semester break. These workouts, also known as “Camp Cal,” began before the fall semester’s final exam week ended.
Calipari said he wanted to “start refocusing,” and began 30 to 40 minutes of additional conditioning.
Calipari also invited noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella to visit.
“He met with a couple of players,” Calipari said. “He’ll meet with the team. I want him to get with them. Let them open up and talk and figure out where they are and want him to help me do my job better.”
Calipari would not say if one of the players Rotella met with was freshman big man Skal Labissiere, who has come to symbolize the adjustment young players and teams must make.
To elude the question about whether Rotella met with Labissiere, Calipari used humor.
“After meeting with me for two hours, Bob goes back to Charlottesville and meets with his psychiatrist,” the UK coach said.
When asked if newcomer Tai Wynyard joining the team at semester break might disrupt team chemistry, Calipari quipped, “The good news is we have no team chemistry yet.”
The key word was “yet.” The effort toward that end continues.
Point guard Tyler Ulis offered assurances that the Cats will get there.
“We’re pretty good,” he said. “We’re skilled. We just have to fight. That’s all we need to do.”
In talking to Alex Poythress, who will be the lone senior on the Barclays Center court Saturday, Calipari said he contrasted the bad feeling produced at UCLA (1-for-6 shooting, four points, five fouls) with the good feeling against Eastern Kentucky (21 points, 13 rebounds).
Intended message: Strive harder for a repeat of the good feeling.
“With this team, we’re trying to figure out who we are,” Calipari said.
Apparently, Ohio State could say much the same thing.
Calipari shied from putting labels on the Buckeyes. But he did say, “If they’re young, they’re probably going through what we’re going through.”
Kentucky vs. Ohio State
What: CBS Sports Classic
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When: 3:30 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 9-1, Ohio State 5-5
Series: Kentucky leads 11-8
Last meeting: Kentucky won 62-60 on March 25, 2011, at the NCAA East Regional in Newwark, N.J.
Reserves: 00-Mickey Mitchell, F, 6-7, Fr.; 4-Daniel Giddens, C/F, 6-10, Fr.; 10-David Bell, C, 6-10, Fr.; 12-A.J. Harris, G, 5-9, Fr.; 14-Joey Lane, G, 6-1, Fr.; 15-Kam Williams, G, 6-2, So.
Reserves: 00-Marcus Lee, F, 6-9, Jr.; 4-Charles Matthews, G, 6-6, Fr.; 10-Jonny David, G, 6-2, Fr.; 11-Mychal Mulder, G, 6-4, Jr.; 15-Isaac Humphries, F, 7-0, Fr.; 24-EJ Floreal, G, 6-4, Jr.; 25-Dominique Hawkins, G, 6-0, Jr.; 35-Derek Willis, F, 6-9, Jr.; TBA-Tai Wynyard, F, 6-9, Fr.