5 reasons the win against UNC is just the beginning for this team
On Saturday Kentucky knocked off North Carolina for their biggest win of the season. It was a win that the team and BBN really needed. The question is if it signals that this team is ready to become one of the elite teams in the country. There will still be struggles as this team figures things out but here are five reasons that the big win was just the start for this team.
- Ashton Hagans is just scratching the surface of his potential– Despite scoring just 7 points, it was Hagans defense that was the story of the game. He tied the all-time single game steals record at Kentucky with 8. He did it with a bum ankle for the majority of the game which made it even more impressive. He looked good running the offense and is becoming more of a factor on that side of the court. He had 5 turnovers so he has to work on protecting the ball better but that should come with more time. Earlier this year I said that I felt that Ashton Hagans is the most important piece to this team become a championship caliber team. Saturday was a big step in the right direction for him and he should only improve as the season goes on.
- Keldon Johnson is taking ownership of being the best player on the floor– He is leading the team in scoring for the season but in the last two games he has played very well. He is the best NBA prospect on the team but more importantly he can be the biggest impact player on the roster this season. The two of those things have not always went hand in hand with some of Cal’s best prospects. He is shooting 46% from three after starting out the season cold from the outside. He will not be able to keep his numbers that high but if he can shoot 35% or better it makes him into a deadly offensive weapon because of his ability to drive the ball. In the game against North Carolina it seemed fairly clear that Keldon Johnson was the best player on the court.
- PJ Washington is becoming Kentucky’s Draymond Green– Green is not a player that is loved by many fans because of some of his antics but he has been a key piece for the Golden State Warriors the last several years. Draymond does it all for the Warriors and that is what PJ is beginning to give the Cats. He flirted with a triple-double against UNC by tallying 11 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. On top of that he has really stepped up his shot blocking game in the last few contests. He is capable of playing the 3, 4 or even 5 when needed. His versatility makes it easy for Cal to mix and match lineups as needed. His passing ability combined with his improved shooting from deep makes him a dangerous weapon at the top of the key. He is also very capable of putting the ball on the floor and beating his man off the dribble. When needed he can post up and get the Cats tough baskets inside the paint. When he plays like he did on Saturday it makes Kentucky very hard to beat.
- Tyler Herro is getting better and better-Much has been made about the slow start that Herro has had this season in terms of shooting the ball but he continues to raise his percentage each game. He made 3 triples against North Carolina and had a couple that were in and out. His percentage is now up to a modest 29% and it will only raise as the season continues. Despite the slow shooting he has found ways to impact the game with his passing and scoring inside the arc. The most encouraging thing he has shown is his ability to effect the game with his defense. His ability to anticipate passes and use his length to jump into passing lanes for steals and deflections has been a bit of a surprise. In the long run his poor shooting may have forced him to elevate all the other aspects of his game. That only makes him more dangerous as his shot begins to fall the way that it should.
- Reid Travis gives Kentucky a sure thing every night– He may not score 20 points or grab 10 rebounds every game but he can be counted on to bring his “A” game every single game. His motor never stops no matter what the score is. He can be the focal point on offense when needed but he can also create offense with offensive rebounds. His game is very reminiscent of Chuck Hayes who was one of the most beloved Wildcats to come through Kentucky. He was loved because of how relentlessly he played the game and Reid Travis is the same type of dude. Both played the game under the rim most of the time but used their strength and high basketball instincts to play winning basketball. I have always said that I would take Chuck Hayes on my team all day long and I feel exactly the same way about Reid Travis. If Kentucky makes a run to the Final Four this year, a large part of it will be due to Reid Travis putting his hard hat on and going to work on a nightly basis.
The five players I mentioned above have become the five impact players for this team. In my opinion it has been several years since Kentucky had five true impact players on their roster. Add in Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards and Jemarl Baker and this team has the talent and depth needed to compete for a championship. They are still young and the schedule is brutal, so more losses will come. But when March rolls around this team will be battle tested and ready for war. I like my team.