Freeze Frame: Analyzing Kentucky’s Porous Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 16th, 2013

Kentucky started out the season with delusions of a perfect 40-0 season, a fantasy even more preposterous as we look back now. The fact is that this young team is a work in progress with imperfections that need to be addressed and a resume that needs polishing. In its three losses this season, Kentucky’s defensive struggles were highlighted and exposed for the nation to see. Luckily for these Wildcats, John Calipari has been here before and he has a lot of time to work out his team’s inefficiencies on the defensive end.

Willie Cauley-Stein is an elite defender with or without his blonde hair. (Photo courtesy of Kentucky247sports).

Willie Cauley-Stein is an elite defender with or without his blonde hair. (Photo courtesy of Kentucky247sports).

To analyze the trends ailing this inexperienced squad and to quantify their individual performances on the defensive end of the floor, I have charted every defensive possession in all 11 Wildcats’ games thus far. The analysis below represents the good, the bad, and the ugly in Kentucky’s defensive score sheet this season.

The Good News 

Kentucky’s interior rim protection has been a bright spot, erasing a multitude of mistakes in the Wildcats’ perimeter defense. Both Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle have an impressive defensive rating, a metric calculated to represent the number of points allowed by an individual defender over 100 possessions. Cauley-Stein and Randle lead the team with 91.1 defensive ratings, with Cauley-Stein as a high usage defender involved in nearly 25 percent of the Wildcats’ defensive possessions.

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Early SEC Trends: Kentucky’s Rebounding & Auburn’s Three-Point Shooting

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 19th, 2013

The 2013-14 season has two weekends under its belt and we have a small sample size of SEC basketball to consider. Still, we’ve identified a couple of trends that have emerged in the young season, and what they could mean going forward.

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (photo courtesy vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (Credit: vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky’s rebounding, Alex Poythress included. The Wildcats have flashed elite rebounding potential thus far. Kentucky has three rotation players with total rebounding percentages greater than 20 percent: Julius Randle (24.3%), Alex Poythress (22.6%), and Willie Cauley-Stein (20.7%). As a team they have outrebounded their four opponents by a combined total of 80 boards (199 to 119). This includes beating Michigan State on the boards by 12, and it’s not easy to do that to Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Poythress’ rebounding is especially worth keeping an eye on because he’s made marked improvement over last season’s rate (13.2%). It was a safe assumption that Randle and Cauley-Stein would be elite rebounders, and it’s only been four games, but adding Poythress to this category creates an even bigger advantage for the Wildcats since all three can feasibly play in the same lineup. Kentucky will likely have times where it struggles to execute its offense given the team’s relative inexperience, as in the first half against the Spartans. But their ability to limit second chances for their opponent and create some for themselves will help Kentucky weather these rough patches and avoid big deficits.

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SEC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

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  1. NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta had a brief LSU basketball chat yesterday and mentioned a couple of interesting Tiger nuggets. Rosetta said Johnny Jones has been vague on the timetable for Jarrell Martin‘s return, but given the iffy, inconsistent nature of ankle injuries, that isn’t too surprising. He also suggests that seven-foot Australian freshman Darcy Malone may be in line for a redshirt because he didn’t see the floor against UMass despite injuries and foul trouble in the frontcourt. This would make sense, as the Tigers’ training staff is desperately trying to get Malone bigger and stronger, and a year of conditioning would benefit both player and program in the long run. Finally, Rosetta suggests that this LSU team is more talented than the 2006 version. That’s a big statement: the 2006 Tigers made the Final Four behind the services of future pros Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas. Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson have also bounced around the NBA, and Tasmin Mitchell was on that team too. That’s a lot of talent, and a pretty high and likely unrealistic bar for the current team.
  2. Don’t tell Frank Martin that South Carolina’s close call against Baylor was a moral victory. “Let one get away the other afternoon,” Martin said to open his Thursday afternoon press conference at the Colonial Life Arena. “We did some things well, but we also are not anywhere near who we need to be in order to win high-level games here. We’ve got to find a way to be a little more disciplined.” But the fact is that the Gamecocks should feel good about what happened in Waco. A win would’ve obviously been ideal, but competing on the road against a good team this early in the season is an encouraging sign for a rebuilding program. Last season, the Gamecocks lost by 10 or more in six of the their 10 road games. It’s an important sign that they established a competitive road precedent this early. If nothing else, the Gamecocks enter their rivalry game on the road against Clemson with some confidence.
  3. SI.com‘s Luke Winn discussed some interesting defensive metrics from the Kentucky-Michigan State game in his weekly power rankings. Winn writes, “On the Kentucky side, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein combined to force 16 misses, but there was little-to-no turnover creation, and starting guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison had negative defensive impact. Perimeter and transition D are the areas where the Wildcats have the most room for improvement.” This looks like the rare time experience was in Kentucky’s favor, as their sophomores contributed the most defensively against the Spartans. As Winn notes, Kentucky certainly needs to get better on the perimeter, but with Cauley-Stein’s ability to clean up a lot of mistakes,  even a small amount of improvement over the course of the season can go a long way.
  4. Mississippi State picked up its second win of the season against Kennesaw State last night, a team that has already played an ironman-like five games by virtue of an opening weekend tournament. A couple of things stand out from this game, both from the Bulldogs’ backcourt. First, Craig Sword led the league in turnovers last season, partly offsetting an otherwise promising freshman year. This problem has carried into his sophomore season as he turned the ball over six times in Mississippi State’s first game against Prairie View A&M, and another three times last night. Second, I.J. Ready has indeed been ready to contribute as a freshman, and has shown the ability to adapt in his first two games. Fred Thomas was suspended for the opener and Ready looked to score more, with 14 points on 10 shots. With the scoring-minded Thomas back in the lineup (17 points on 14 shots), Ready assumed more of a distributor role, attempting only two shots and handing out six assists with only one turnover.
  5. Welcome back, Trevor Releford. After a quiet opening game against Oklahoma, the Alabama senior roared back with 29 points on only 14 shots in the Tide’s win over Texas Tech. This included 5-of-7 from the three-point line. Also impressive was that Releford only committed one foul in 33 minutes, a game after he was stuck to the bench with foul trouble against Oklahoma. The Tide in general avoided the referee’s whistle, only getting called for nine fouls. Anthony Grant’s Big 12 week is over, and the Tide can now tune up against lower division teams before a December 7 game against rebuilding South Florida, and a December 17 match-up with Wichita State.
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Rushed Reactions: A #1 vs. #2 Matchup That Lived Up to the Hype

Posted by nvr1983 on November 12th, 2013

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Early-season match-ups with the hype that tonight’s Kentucky-Michigan State had rarely live up to expectations. Tonight’s game was the exception as it had a little bit of everything and showed us the good and bad of both teams:

For Michigan State, the Spartans got the win that should confirm their status on the short list of favorites to win the NCAA title:

  • They demonstrated an enormous amount of composure in losing a big early lead that evaporated late in the second half as Kentucky began to exhibit what some might consider its superior talent. Like the veteran team that they are, the Spartans were able to make the plays that they needed to in order to walk out of the United Center with a hard-fought win. This shouldn’t be a surprise for a Tom Izzo-led team, but it should be reassuring for Spartan fans that this team won’t fold under serious pressure.
Gary Harris Had a Great First Half in Tonight's Game Credit: (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Gary Harris Had a Great First Half in Tonight’s Game Credit: (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Coming into the season the one knock on the Spartans was that they lacked the star power of the other favorites. There may be some validity to that (more on this later), but as Gary Harris (20 points), Adreian Payne (15 points), and Keith Appling (22 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists) showed they still have some of the best players in the country. Harris and Payne seem like almost certain first round picks with Harris in particular probably a lottery pick. Appling won’t be a first round pick and might not even end up in the NBA, but he has become a solid collegiate point guard and one capable of leading a team to a National Championship, which is not something we would have said last season. In fact, Appling was probably the best player on the court for the Spartans tonight given his consistent all-around play, whereas the other two disappeared for spots.
  • When Branden Dawson tore his left ACL in March 2012 and came back looking like a shell of his former self we wondered if we would ever see the player who previously had appeared to be on the verge of being a superstar. We may never see what Dawson could have become in a Spartan uniform, but he showed some flashes of his former explosiveness tonight. First there was an easy dunk on transition that should have erased any questions about how he was doing physically, but even more telling was his offensive rebound and putback with 10 seconds left to essentially seal the victory for the Spartans.
  • Having said that, the big question of who the Spartans will use to take over will remain. Despite having three stars in the lineup, they lack a true superstar who they know they can go to when they need somebody to produce. Now this is not a necessity for a team to win a championship, but in a year filled with freshmen phenoms who are capable of doing so, it remains a concern. The most likely player to develop into this type of alpha dog is Harris, but Tom Izzo will need a more consistent effort from him before we can consider him that kind of player.

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2013-14 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2013

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And so it begins. The time of year where we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams finally playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With the games commencing on Friday evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2013-14 Preseason Top 25. Starting November 18, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2012-13 preseason poll — we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas), and swung and missed on others (Kentucky, NC State, Missouri, UCLA). We promise to do better this time around.

rtc 25 preseason 13-14

Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Majority Likes Kentucky – Four out of our seven pollsters are in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the other two teams that were picked first were Louisville (one #1 vote) and Michigan State (two #1 votes). It is really difficult to argue with any of the three selections, but Kentucky reigned supreme due to the star-studded recruiting class of Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson that John Calipari was able to lure to Lexington. Do not forget that Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein also return for the Wildcats. Defending national champion Louisville is once again loaded with talent, led by preseason All-American Russ Smith and 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. Michigan State is a squad that was helped immensely when both sophomore Gary Harris and senior Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to return to East Lansing.

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Progress of Alex Poythress is Key to Kentucky’s Success

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 23rd, 2013

Kentucky’s freshmen receive all the accolades. Kentucky was declared the number one team in the land by the coaches. NBA scouts may think James Young is the best player on Kentucky’s roster. Julius Randle may be the only bona fide NBA prospect and the best player in the SEC. The other freshmen, including the Harrison twins (Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison) and Dakari Johnson, may snatch up the other college basketball headlines. Yep, John Calipari’s latest freshman class is talented and deserves the publicity, but Kentucky needs to look to its not-so-distant past in order to mimic the program’s success with one-and-dones. When Kentucky achieved tremendous results (think Kansas, not Robert Morris), it wasn’t relying solely on first-year players.

For the Cats to return to glory, they will need contributions from more than just their freshmen. (AP Photo)

For the Cats to return to glory, they will need contributions from more than just their freshmen. (AP)

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a 6’9″ 18-year old freshman stepped into Rupp Arena and poured in 25 points in his first game in a Kentucky jersey. While Lexington certainly seems like a distant supernova in the basketball world, this moment in time wasn’t really all that long ago. It just seems like it was after a dismal 2012-13 season that resulted in a trip to the NIT. The freshman was Terrence Jones and the season was 2010-11. Jones went on to have a stellar first year in blue, dropping 29 points just two games later against Oklahoma, scoring 27 on Notre Dame, and in his second SEC game he put in 35, the most points ever scored by a freshman in Kentucky’s storied history. Jones was somewhat inconsistent that season, because after all he was a freshman; but the very next season, he was a key leader and “veteran” sophomore on a national championship team starting three freshmen. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 4th, 2013

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  1. Freshman forward Alex Poythress announced his decision to return for his sophomore year at Kentucky on Tuesday. Poythress’ decision comes on the heels of freshman Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer announcing their decisions to return to Lexington as well. Poythress isn’t returning just to improve his NBA Draft stock, but says that the team has unfinished business. ”This year didn’t end like we wanted it to,” Poythress said. ”I want to come back and do what we said we wanted to do and that’s win a national title. I want to develop more as a player and the competition coming in next year should help me do that.” Poythress, Cauley-Stein, and Wiltjer add a “veteran” presence for a UK team loaded in talent, similar to the dynamic created by Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb in the national championship year of 2011-12.
  2. Poythress admits he wasn’t prepared for the grind in college basketball, and says he is ready to put the work in to becoming a better player. “It starts in the weight room. We are going to be in there every day in the offseason,” he said. “We have to work on getting stronger and getting our bodies better. We did a great job last summer, but we have to pick it up and go harder. We can’t let this happen again. We have to focus on having a great season next year and if we feel like giving up (in the weight room) we just have to think about what happened this season and push through.” Wildcats coach John Calipari needed a leader in the locker room this season, and perhaps with another year of growth and maturity, Poythress can be that leader with a young team in 2013-14.
  3. Kentucky freshman guard Archie Goodwin has ended his college eligibility with the Wildcats by signing autographs for pay with a local sports company, Lexington Sports Cards. The company is pre-selling $15 tickets to receive an autograph from Goodwin, meaning he is no longer an amateur athlete. Goodwin lashed out at some of his fans on Twitter by saying, “If you can’t respect my decision then that’s your own problem. I’m still living life and blessed.” The backlash from UK fans is odd considering most in Lexington couldn’t wait to see Goodwin go. With as deep as Kentucky is next year, it’s possible Goodwin would not have gotten as much playing time or as many shots as he saw this season, making his decision a no-brainer so long as he remains a first rounder.
  4. Missouri freshman guards Negus Webster-Chan and Dominique Bull have announced they are transferring according to a team spokesman on Tuesday afternoon. Wesbter-Chan averaged 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game including two double digit point performances. However, the 6’7″ guard could have difficulty finding additional playing time next season with the returns of guards Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross and the addition of eligible Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson. Bull saw very little action last season, playing in just eight games and only 1.8 minutes per game.
  5. We’re a little late on this, but The Tennessean spent time with Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings and asked the head coach 20 questions following the end of the Commodores season. Stallings was excited about what the future, particularly the progress of one of his freshman. “I would say Sheldon Jeter was the guy that improved the most, because he was a guy that when we were in our early practice sessions that really did not… his performance in practice did not warrant being in the rotation. But he improved so much that he became a real factor on our team. I think he’s got a great future here.” Jeter started seven games for the Commodores, a team that should have a lot more experience next season. Vandy, void of any seniors on this year’s roster, won’t lose a single player to graduation.
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SEC M5: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2013

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  1. The big news over the weekend from the SEC was the departure of the last remaining conference team from the NCAA Tournament, the Florida Gators. One of the notable struggles for the Gators in its 79-59 loss to Michigan was the interior play of Patric Young, who was outplayed and outmuscled by Michigan freshman Mitch McGary. Young has a decision to make this summer as he has long been considered a potential second round NBA Draft pick. However, many are disappointed with his lack of progress this season. Young, a junior, averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game which are almost identical to his output from his sophomore year (10.2 PPG; 6.4 RPG). In addition, his free throw shooting declined from 59.5 percent last season to 48.9 percent this year. It seems more and more likely that Young could end up back in Gainesville again next season to work on his game with a flux of incoming talent on its way.
  2. Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow won’t be in Lexington next season as he has made a decision to transfer to Georgia State. Harrow was the starting point guard for the Wildcats, but after a s0-so year in 2012-13, he would have sat on the bench behind talented incoming guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Kentucky coach John Calipari says that Harrow is transferring to move closer to his ill father. “Given the health of his dad, we fully support Ryan’s decision to transfer to Georgia State to be closer to his family in Atlanta,” Calipari said. “Ryan was a vital part of this year’s team and an important player in practice during our 2011-12 national championship run.” One has to wonder if he stayed at UK how much playing time would be available for the junior-to-be. Probably not much.
  3. Two other Kentucky players have announced they will return, while one freshman is heading pro. Willie Cauley-Stein, who played additional minutes in Nerlens Noel’s absence after injury, and Kyle Wiltjer will return to play with a loaded recruiting class in 2013-14. “I’m excited that Willie and Kyle have decided to return for next season,” Calipari said. “When we talk about a players-first program, our goal is for each player to reach his dreams. Willie and Kyle believe it is in their best interest to return to Kentucky next season to achieve those dreams, and I fully support their decisions.” However, freshman guard Archie Goodwin is putting his name into the NBA Draft. “Although I really wanted Archie to return for his sophomore season, I fully support him choosing to pursue his dreams. He has the drive and desire to be great and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure he succeeds in life both on and off the court.” Kentucky now awaits decisions from Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel, but they have until April 16 to make a final choice.
  4. You probably don’t need anybody to tell you this, but the 2012-13 version of the Kentucky Wildcats were, statistically speaking, John Calipari’s worst team since arriving at UK. Both the offensive and defensive units were the worst of Cal’s four UK teams in offensive and defensive efficiency. They were also the lowest ranked of Calipari’s four teams in scoring, three point field goals made, three point percentage defense, free throw percentage, steals per game, turnover margin, and assist to turnover margin. These end of year statistics only justify what Kentucky fans witnessed on the court all season. One has to assume that with the incoming class of freshman on next year’s roster, Calipari’s program won’t be missing another NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.
  5. Tennessee appears to be over the limit on scholarships next season after a commitment from Murfreesboro High School senior Darius Thompson. With the addition of Thompson it appears that the Vols and coach Cuonzo Martin now have 14 players for next season, but that likely means that one of its potential early draft entrants will go pro. Both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes are exploring their options'; if both return, Martin will have a decision to make to determine how to get back down to the 13 allowed scholarships for next year.
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An Outsider’s Trip to the Heart of Big Blue Nation

Posted by dnspewak on February 28th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He covered College Gameday and Missouri/Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Kentucky’s intro video is long. It’s not even the only intro video — there’s a hipper version that plays right before the public address announcer introduces the Wildcats’ starters. The first one isn’t as hip, though. It’s nostalgic. It’s a full two minutes (possibly an NCAA record for intro videos) of grainy, black-and-white video from the Dark Ages set to the tune of Bittersweet Symphony.

It is awesome. As the shots move at lightning speed from frame to frame to frame to frame, you see Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Pat Riley, Jamal Mashburn, Patrick Sparks, Tayshaun Prince, Frank Ramsey, Tony Delk, Sean Woods, Kenny Walker, Dan Issel and all the other Kentucky legends this state has embraced for almost a century. Tubby Smith makes a few appearances. Rick Pitino does not. For 120 seconds, Big Blue Nation stands and claps in unison to the beat of Bittersweet Symphony, and you realize whatever’s about to start in a few minutes isn’t just a basketball game. It’s some sort of religious experience, something that’s bonded the 24,000 people in the building together for decades.

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

I met a man on Saturday morning who told me he’d been driving 75 miles from Northern Kentucky to watch games at Rupp Arena since 1980. I met another woman from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who said she’d had season tickets since her teenage children were toddlers. These people exist at every level of college basketball and in every single arena across the country, but here, there are thousands of them. It’s just a little different in Kentucky, and you can feel that the second you walk into Rupp and see the eight hundred million banners in the rafters. There are so many retired jerseys, it’s a wonder they haven’t run out yet.

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A Forgotten Senior the Key to Kentucky’s Resurgence

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 26th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

When Kentucky lost its best player in a February 12 loss to Florida, the following contest at Tennessee on Saturday wasn’t pretty. The young Wildcats reached a fork in the road after that 30-point embarrassment — give up or keep fighting. But to keep fighting UK needed veteran leadership, a factor it had desperately and unsuccessfully sought throughout the entire season.  In freshman center Nerlens Noel’s absence, a new leader has emerged. Senior Julius Mays stepped up and provided that leadership at just the right time, the point at which the Wildcats needed it most.

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step in, and he has over Kentucky's last seven games. (Getty)

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step up, and he has over Kentucky’s last seven games. (Getty)

The Wildcats faced a must-win situation on Saturday, and coach John Calipari turned to a player he could rely on. Mays played 44 of an available 45 minutes in an overtime win against Missouri Saturday night, and Calipari and Big Blue Nation were not disappointed. Thirteen of his season high 24 points came in the final 3:37 of regulation and the extra period. “Julius was terrific, the shots he made and the leadership,” Calipari said. The transfer student has quietly developed consistency as the season progressed — in UK’s last seven games, he hasn’t had an offensive rating below 100.0 and he’s scored in double figures in six of those games. He is without question hitting his stride at just the right time.

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Can Nerlens Noel Still Win SEC FrOY? A Look at the League’s Race

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 21st, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

Handicapping the SEC’s Freshman of the Year race didn’t take much effort back on February 10. Nerlens Noel was fresh off of his third straight double-double and was the anchor behind Kentucky’s rise from the NCAA Tournament bubble to the Top 25. In 10 SEC games, he had averaged 10.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 5.7 blocks per game to lead the Wildcats to an 8-2 conference record. More than halfway through the season, the award was his to lose. Through no fault of his own, he may have.

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Noel tore the ACL of his left knee in the middle of a loss to Florida last week, ending his season and possibly his SEC career. His absence has left a big hole around the rim for Kentucky and created a void at the top of the league’s freshman pecking order. With Noel out for the final four weeks of conference play, the Freshman of the Year (FrOY) award is seemingly up for grabs. However, a lackluster crop of first-year players means that UK’s injured center might still be the league’s best bet to win the honors.

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SEC Freshman Watch: Breaking Down the “East’s” Most Effective Newcomers

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 12th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite Contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

The SEC conference slate is more than halfway complete, and the league’s freshmen have begun to stabilize in their fourth month of NCAA competition. As expected, some first-year players are starting to wilt under the grind of the college schedule, while some surprising players are getting stronger as the year goes on. Kentucky has rebounded from early adversity to rejoin the Top 25 rankings, while Georgia, who once sat in the SEC basement with a 1-4 record, has ridden a five-game winning streak to stake its claim as a mid-tier team.

Noel's D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

Noel’s D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

These teams are getting big contributions from freshman play-makers to reboot their seasons. The Wildcats are playing well through Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin’s growing pains thanks in part to the burgeoning defense of Nerlens Noel in the middle. Georgia is riding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to key wins, but Charles Mann has turned into the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and Brandon Morris is becoming a pesky defender on the wing. Even South Carolina, mired in a 2-8 SEC season so far, can take solace in Michael Carrera’s scrappy production in the Gamecock frontcourt. Let’s take a closer look at how these first-year players have performed since SEC play got underway. This week, we’ll go back and examine how the freshmen of the former SEC East are doing.

Kentucky: Nerlens Noel has stepped his game up defensively for the Wildcats, and that’s been a big piece of Kentucky’s charge back into the Top 25. UK has won five straight heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with Florida, and Noel has averaged 5.2 blocks and 10.2 rebounds in that span. His offense is still a work in progress, but his impact has been undeniable.

Kentucky Freshmen 2/12

Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have been trending in the opposite direction, as they’ve taken a back seat to Noel as the season has worn on. Poythress’s minutes and scoring have dropped as the athletic freshman has struggled with fouls (four per game in his last six contests). Goodwin has struggled as a shooter and a ball-handler recently. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in his last eight games (0-of-10) and his assists have dropped (while his turnovers have increased) as the Wildcats have faced tougher opponents.

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