Five Takeaways From Kentucky’s Season Opening Win Over Michigan State
Kentucky kicked off the season with a huge win against Michigan State. The Cats led for almost the entire game and won 69-62. The win came on the biggest stage for basketball in the world, New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Here are a few of my main takeaways from the game.
- Tyrese Maxey is that dude- The youngster stepped out on the big stage and staked his claim as one of the best players in college basketball. He set a new record for the most points by a freshman in their debut game at Kentucky. He finished with 26 points and added 5 rebounds. He only took 12 field goals and was an extremely efficient scorer. He is the best player on this team and will almost certainly lead the team in scoring this season. The great thing for him is that Hagans and Quickley take a lot of pressure off him and they will allow him to develop at a natural pace. But make no mistake about it, when March rolls around and the game is on the line it will be Maxey that the Cats turn to for a basket. His combination of athleticism, skill and personality will make him a fan favorite all season long.
- The guards shall lead the way- I was just praising Maxey but he is joined by a duo of guards that give Kentucky the best backcourt in the nation. Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are so much better than they were at this point last season. Their experience will pay gigantic dividends all season long. This trio of guards is what can propel Kentucky back to the Final Four. In most games they will be the three leading scorers. Each of them has a slightly different style of play and that will give defenders fits this season. As they get more used to playing on the floor together it will result in a much more fluid offense. Johnny Juzang gives Cal an additional weapon off the bench and he could develop into a solid role in the rotation as the season goes on.
- Nate Sestina was a great pickup- He didn’t put up eye popping numbers last night, but he did exactly what the Cats needed him to do. He battled on the glass and grabbed 6 rebounds, he stretched the floor and made a 3, and he provided leadership on the floor. Cal will figure out how to maximize Nate’s offensive skill set as the season goes on. Personally, I would be very interested to see him in the pick and roll with Tyrese Maxey. No matter how he is used, Sestina is going to play the game incredibly hard and do everything he can to help Kentucky win. Cal couldn’t have added a more perfect player for this team.
- Nick Richards stepped up- Despite having had limited practice time this week and still being hindered by an ankle injury, Nick stepped up last night. He gave the Cats a post presence with 7 points and added 4 rebounds. He missed a few jump hooks, but they looked good and I loved the confidence he played with. I think that Nick is ready to take a big step towards reaching his potential. The Cats need someone to step up and fill the center position and Richards staked a claim to it last night. EJ Montgomery had a couple bright spots but he has to elevate his game if he hopes to get minutes with Nick and Nate inside.
- The defense could be scary good- At half time I had someone text me and ask when the last time was that Kentucky’s defense looked this good so early. I replied that 2015 was the last time I could think of. This team is a different type of defensive team than that one was. Both teams had great length, but this team is a much better defensive team in the back court. The 2015 team was much better defensively at the rim. This team probably wont’ absolutely smother teams defensively in the way the 2015 team did, but they could be in the top 3 of Cal’s defensive teams at Kentucky. Opposing guards are really going to struggle with the defensive pressure from Hagans, Quickley and Maxey. The length of Whitney and Brooks at the wing will add blocked shots and steals from that position. This team will also have a true rim protector on the floor at all times in Richards or Montgomery. Elite defense is something that leads to wins in March. I feel confident that this team can reach that elite level.
The journey has just begun for this team, but if the start is any indication of what is to come, it should be a fun ride. The Cats will open their home season on Friday night against EKU. Until then, fans can enjoy the Cats big win against the Spartans and dream about what this season could bring.