Kentucky still finding identity in win over Vanderbilt, more late games
It’s already a tall order trying to play against Kentucky’s team of super recruits on a given day. But without your leading scorer? That’s just plain unfair. Vanderbilt played in its second game after suspending Eric McClellan (who has since been dismissed from the team) and has now dropped them both.
The Commodores hung around a lot longer than expected, aided in part by UK’s poor shooting from beyond the arc . The Wildcats were just 6-of-22 from deep, but made up for it with a plus-13 rebounding difference, including 18 offensive boards.
Kentucky clearly has a lot to work on if it’s going to make a deep run in March, but a win on the road without playing its best ball is a good sign. The Wildcats still don’t have that go-to guy, and they need to find that person as the conference schedule wears on. Just like Kansas, there are plenty of guys who can put up 20 points a night, but a guy like Alex Poythress (9 points, 4 rebounds) or Willie Cauley-Stein (15 points, 6 rebounds) needs to take the load off the freshmen. Once the calendar turns to February, things get a bit trickier for first-year guys, regardless of how many stars they have.
The schedule is favorable for the Wildcats to figure things out. The next five games — at Arkansas, vs. Tennessee, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Georgia, @ LSU — should allow Kentucky to get into a groove and establish some continuity. It’s not about playing for the SEC; it’s about having everything tuned up and redlining with no problem when the brackets are posted.
• No. 24 Memphis 79, Temple 69: Shaq Goodwin had 23 points on just 11 shots as the Tigers capped off a big bounceback week after an ugly 69-53 loss to Cincinnati last Saturday. Memphis is as enigmatic as ever, and it’s easy to point to recent years under Josh Pastner as evidence we’ll “believe it when we see it” with regards to the Tigers as serious contenders, but the talent is there. As long as Memphis plays its brand of basketball and forces opponents to do the same, it’s an even playing field. You’d like to see a few more wins against quality competition, but if the Tigers can go out and beat UConn on Thursday, they’ll have our attention.
• No. 11 Oklahoma State 73, West Virginia 72: It took a Markel Brown three-pointer from Marcus Smart with :14 to play, but the Cowboys were able to escape Morgantown with a win over West Virginia to move to 14-2 on the year. Smart finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, while West Virginia was led by a combined 41 points from Terry Henderson and Juwan Staten.
• Virginia 76, NC State 45: The Wisconsin-Green Bay and Tennessee losses are looking more like the outliers as the Cavaliers won their third straight conference game by double digits (and second straight by 20+). Tony Bennett’s style of play isn’t going to pick up a ton of casual fans, but it usually works. With a lot of the perennial powers in the ACC looking shaky early on in the conference slate, there’s something to be said if the Cavs can give a consistent effort. The Wolfpack shot just 28.9 percent on Saturday and turned it over 16 times. N.C. State will need to fix things quickly; a loss to a mediocre-at-best Wake Forest team on Wednesday would be real cause for alarm.
• UConn 84, UCF 61: A breakout 20-point game from freshman center Amida Brimah was part of an easy win for the Huskies, who moved to 13-3 on the season. Connecticut had 50 rebounds, 14 blocks and eight steals as it rolled over the Knights. The Memphis game on Jan. 16 should be a fun one.