The SEC is proving to be difficult for Kentucky, forced to go through Texas A&M and win in double overtime to remain undefeated this season, learning that true road games and teams that have been learning them quite well stand in the way of them running the table.
The Wildcats did win 70-64 in College Station, but did it while being forced to play basketball they’re not very good at, and with Calipari moving away form his platoon approach, showing there are players he prefers on the court much more than others and this isn’t just a blue and white lineup that plays homogeneously. Devin Booker played 35 minutes off the bench to score 18 points, one of only two players in double figures.
So who do you beat Kentucky? No one knows yet, but it’s quite clear that the way to make it difficult for them is to play smart zone defense, forcing them to become a jump shooting team, while not being afraid to attack the paint and their size. They shot just 28.1% from the field and had to take 28 3-pointers (Aaron Harrison attempting 13 of them) and getting outscored in the paint once again. Danuel House scored 25 points to lead the Aggies, and if it wasn’t for A&M missing 14 of their 30 free throw attempts, the headline of this game would have been very different.
Kentucky are getting outscored in the paint, allowing more free throws and better field goal percentage and simply seem to struggle in about every factor since conference play began. Could it be that the SEC isn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be? Teams, even far less talented than the Wildcats, have coaches who watch games and learn. It runs out that even the perfect, deepest team in college basketball history has its weaknesses.
John Calipari is already making excuses, but Calipari has never missed an opportunity to say something that riles up the haters or draws attention to himself. He loves talking about people keep talking about him and his players, but he also can’t get enough of it. After he’s been splitting minutes so well through nonconference play, it’s hard to believe physical or mental fatigue is the reason that their first two conference games have been so close and difficult.
We’re not a very good team right now. I don’t want us to be great right now anyway. We need to be great at the end of February and March; you win and you learn. It’s winning and learning and that’s all we’re trying to do. These kids are not machines. They make mistakes. They do dumb things, but I’ve got a good group that has a will to win. They’ve hit a wall.
But we can throw numbers of how Kentucky were pressed to the wall all day. The only thing that matters is that they won, again, which means they’re now 15-0 this season and 2-0 in the SEC. They can still run the table and finish this year undefeated in a conference that’s a lot tougher than everyone seems to think. Or maybe it’s Kentucky that’s not such a great team? The Wildcats will be criticized no matter what, even if they keep on winning. Calipari may be annoying with complaining and slightly putting the blame on his players but he’s right. Just like last year, what matters is how this affects their March ability.