Three Takeaways from Kentucky vs. South Carolina

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2015

When you take in a live game, sometimes you can sense that the home team thinks it can win. Everything about the aura in Colonial Life Arena on Saturday told me the Gamecocks felt they had a chance to beat the top-ranked Wildcats. The crowd was into it; the team gave 100 percent effort; and after a three-pointer from Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina led by one with just 4:31 left in the first half. That was where it all ended, though. A big-time victory wasn’t meant to be for a Gamecocks squad that looked much improved from their last couple of times out, but there were several key takeaways that we will see play out through March for Kentucky and the rest of the SEC.

Frank Martin was proud of his team's effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

Frank Martin was proud of his team’s effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

  1. “Stop saying the SEC isn’t any good” –  South Carolina coach Frank Martin was emphatic in making sure the assembled media knew his stance on the legitimacy of the conference. As he was answering another question, he couldn’t let the moment pass: “By the way, stop saying the SEC isn’t any good,” he said to the room. He has a point. At the time of this writing, the SEC has eight teams ranked among the top 60 of the RPI. Kentucky (#1), Arkansas (#24), Georgia (#26) Texas A&M (#32), LSU (#44), Alabama (#52), Tennessee (#54), and Ole Miss (#59) all are in position for consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. Additionally, according to Ken Pomeroy, the SEC is the fourth-best conference in the country, behind only the Big 12, Big East and ACC. The SEC has proven its worth this season, and Selection Sunday should assist in shedding the unfair label that the league is just Kentucky and everybody else.
  2. Defense wins championships – Kentucky shot just 6-of-14 (42.9%) from the field in the second half of yesterday’s win, but managed to hold South Carolina to 17.4 percent shooting (4-of-23), again proving that the Wildcats can win even when it’s not offensively at its best. The Gamecocks managed just 22.6 percent shooting on the day. Martin quipped afterward, “It’s tough to beat anybody, let alone the No. 1 team in the country, when you shoot 22 percent.” South Carolina guard Thornwell described Kentucky’s big men, saying, “It’s tough shooting it over top of them. When you’re jumping, all you see is their hands.” Martin agreed, saying his team was “swallowed up with size.” Kentucky’s defense hasn’t given up over a point per possession since a close call on January 6 against Ole Miss, and only one other team (North Carolina) has hit that mark on the Cats all season.
  3. Freshmen the key to the season – Kentucky finally has some experience to go with its usual crop of freshmen talent, but ironically, a couple of John Calipari’s rookies could end up being the keys to this season. Devin Booker finished the game with 18 points, knocking down a couple of three-pointers. His label as a catch-and-shoot scorer was challenged a bit on Saturday as he ran in transition, slammed down two dunks in transition, and drove the lane. Booker hinted that driving is much easier now that defenders are guarding him closely because of his hot shooting. And to complement Booker’s hot shooting, freshman point guard Tyler Ulis contributed six points and six assists. When Ulis is able to penetrate the lane, Kentucky’s offense is very tough to stop. The energy and offensive efficiency that Ulis and Booker bring off the bench will be invaluable when Kentucky needs a big basket in March.
Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *