After a day to digest, here are 10 takeaways from the loss to Duke
Lets be honest, it was an ugly loss. It was not shocking that Kentucky lost but the margin and way it happened was jaw dropping. After having over 24 hours to reflect on what happened here are the 10 things I took from what I saw.
- Duke is the best team in college basketball– It was abundantly clear on Tuesday night that Duke is the odds on favorite to cut the nets down in March. They do have some vulnerability in that they have virtually no depth so foul trouble or injury could be a factor. The good news for fans that don’t want to see Duke win it all is that the best team does not always win the tournament. As a matter of fact, the best team rarely wins the championship. Hopefully Kentucky would not have to play them again until the Final Four which would give Duke plenty of time to get upset. If they do play again, the Cats will have a chip on their shoulder the size of Rupp Arena.
- It is clear why Cal recruited those 3 players so hard– Cal spent a lot of time recruiting RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish and he missed on all of them. The salt in the wound was that they all went to Duke together. All three will be top 5 NBA draft picks and project as starters and potential all-stars. Cal has beaten K for plenty of recruits over the years but this class was a tough one for him. Cal seems to have amped up his recruiting even more after missing out on this trio and that should help the Cats going forward.
- Keldon Johnson is this teams star– He scored 23 points and continued to fight and battle long after the outcome of the game had been decided. He was one of the only Cats able to drive the ball towards the basket for scores. He looked like he belonged against Duke’s big three. He is very young and his game is raw but as the season progresses he will be the key piece on this team.
- Thank goodness for Reid Travis– Had Kentucky been without him on Tuesday night they may have lost by 50. Keldon may be the star on the team but Reid Travis will be the backbone. He scored the ball in the post and drew fouls when the Cats could not find a way to put the ball in the basket. He rebounded the ball well and did not back down an inch when the game got ugly. After the game his resolve was not broken in the least, as a matter of fact it seemed to be stronger. He is the kind of rock that you build a team around.
- The point guard position is going to take time– Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are both talented young point guards, with the key word being young. They both looked uncomfortable Tuesday and that took a toll on the Cats offense. With all of the talent around them they don’t need to be John Wall or De’Aaron Fox. Cal needs them to be disruptive to the opposing point guard on defense and to run the offense with poise. They also need to be a threat to score the ball, especially Quickley who is one of the better shooters on the team. After the game, Cal said he plans to work with the two point guards one on one to try to get them on track with what he wants them to do. As the season goes on and they begin to figure things out it will completely change the complexion of this team.
- EJ Montgomery is going to be a big piece to this team– He showed spurts of his potential on Tuesday night and I came away thinking that Cal is going to have to find time for him. His length and his offensive game make him a very tough match-up for opposing teams. He needs time to develop but by March he could be one of the teams most important players.
- The defense has to get way better– After giving up 118 points this is a bit of a “duh” comment but it is worth mentioning. Twice after the game, Cal mentioned the fact that Duke only had 4 turnovers and that they were either the best ball handling team in history (insert crude joke about Duke here) or Kentucky had not pressured the ball enough. This team has the pieces to be a good defensive team but they have to learn how to do it as a unit. Mark my words that this team will eventually be a very good defensive team but it could take a couple months for it to begin to click.
- Kentucky got hit with the perfect storm– Tuesday night was the perfect storm and the Cats ended up on the wrong end of it. Duke is an elite team and they played their A+ game. Kentucky played a C- game and that may be giving them the benefit of the doubt. Everything went wrong and it all added up to a blowout for the Cats.
- The Cats have to make shots from beyond the arc– This team should be a better shooting team than the Cats have had in a few years but they have to show it. If they can not make shots from outside it becomes a lot easier to defend this team. Herro, Quickley, Green and Johnson have to make some shots but they also have to be patient and take good shots. Too often on Tuesday night they settled for tough contested jumpers early in the shot clock. Rest assured that Cal is going to talk a lot about this in the coming days.
- Rebounding has to be a strength of this team– They have the size and length to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country, yet they were out rebounded on Tuesday night. It has to be a team effort led by Reid Travis and PJ Washington. Crashing the boards will be one of the top things the Cats focus on when they take the floor again on Friday night against Southern Illinois.
The season is young and so is this team. It was a depressing game but it should serve as a humbling experience that will help this team grow. They still have the pieces to compete for a national championship, but it is going to take time. I am extremely interested to see how the team responds on Friday night. After being embarrassed on national TV, the only options are to give up or put on your hard hat and go back to work. This is a team that will pick up their hard hat.