Seven takeaways from Kentucky’s win over Texas A&M

Kentucky picked up their first SEC win of the season against Texas A&M last night. Here are my takeaways from the game.

  1. Don’t let slow starts become a habit– The Cats started the game out in a 10-0 hole before turning it on and taking control of the game. Slow starts can become a bad habit and they can come back and bite you on occasions. A lot of it has to do with youth but it is important to get it figured out going forward. It may require Cal to shuffle the starting lineup a bit or to go to the bench more quickly when it happens.
  2. Ashton Hagans is locked in attack mode- He racked up a career high 18 points by using his quickness to get to the rim and draw fouls where he made 10 of 11 free throws. He also added 5 assists and had 5 steals. The single season steals record is 87 by Rajon Rondo. Hagans is on pace to make a run at that record so it will be something to watch as the season goes on. The biggest thing is that he just keeps getting better in every game that he plays. You can almost see his confidence growing when he is on the court. He gives the Cats a player that is capable of breaking down the defense off the dribble. On the defensive end he is as disruptive as any guard that Cal has had at Kentucky. His game reminds me of Rajon Rondo more and more. He is not the best player on this team but he is hands down the most important player on the roster.
  3. Tyler Herro has figured out the pace he needs to play with- Early in the year it felt like Herro was a little too sped up when he was playing. The last several games he has really settled down and looks so much more comfortable with the pace he is playing at. He was known as a “shooter” when he signed with Kentucky but it has been his game inside the arc that has impressed me most. He has a great touch on mid range shots and on runners going towards the basket. He is also an excellent lay-up shooter which is a bigger deal than many realize. Often a guy blows by their man only to be too out of control to make the lay-up. Herro drives the ball methodically towards the basket and then finishes the shot with one of the softest touches that the Cats have had. As for his 3-point shooting he raised his season percentage for the fifth straight game. It is now up to 34% and it will continue to climb. For all the hype that surrounded Herro, he has exceeded my expectations and his all-around game is more elite than I realized.
  4. Immanuel Quickley is looking much more comfortable- Much like Herro early in the season it seemed that the pace of the game was a little fast for Quickley. He seems to be adjusting to that now and looks more comfortable on the court. He is a good change up at the point guard position when he replaces Hagans because he can do some things on offense that Ashton can’t. He had 10 points and made two 3-point shots to raise his season percentage to 36%. He also chipped in 3 steals and 2 assists in just 13 minutes of action. Immanuel is a great backup for Hagans but I also like when both point guards are on the court together.
  5. Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery change the defense- I love Reid Travis but when he is at center it makes the Cats defense much less effective. Opposing players drive the ball at him with little fear of being blocked. At one point in the second half the Aggies were attacking him inside over and over. Cal brought in Richards and it was an immediate change when they brought the ball near the paint. Reid is an important piece on this team but Cal has got to keep working to get one of either EJ or Nick on the court for 25-30 minutes a game. When they get in the game the key for both players is to rebound the basketball and block shots. Any offense they produce will be an added bonus for the team. Personally, I would like to see Nick start and let Reid come off the bench but Cal knows the game a little better than I do.
  6. A killer instinct does not develop over night- A trademark of young teams is not being able to blow a game open when they get a lead. The Cats let the Aggies cut the lead down to 2 before taking control of the game in the final five minutes of action. They have the talent and players with the makeup to be able to smash a team. They just have to learn how to do it first.
  7. Jemarl Baker is going to have a bigger role than we realized– His defense has been very solid and Cal continues to sing his praises in that regard. On top of that he dished out 3 assists in limited action. He is also a very good shooter from beyond the arc and I think he has only shown a glimpse of how good he is in that area. If Cal is already confident enough to put him in a game at any time, it likely means that he will play more minutes down the road. Jemarl is as likable of a kid as we have covered at Kentucky so it is great to see him on the floor contributing. He has also made the loss of Quade Green hurt much less. Early in the year the back court looked like it could be a weakness for this team. Now with Herro, Hagans, Quickley and Baker it looks like a major strength. That is another reminder of why it is important to let things play out and develop before making a judgement on a team and players.

Kentucky will face Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena on Saturday at 8:30. The Commodores are a better team than Texas A&M so it will give the Cats a nice test. The SEC season is going to be a gauntlet this year so each and every win is crucial. The team will quickly learn that each opponent must be taken very seriously regardless of record. It is all part of the process of preparing for March.

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