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Underrated Notre Dame hands No. 8 Kentucky a beatdown in South Bend

Nov 29, 2012, 9:29 PM EDT

Jerian Grant

First and foremost, before we start talking about No. 8 Kentucky’s 64-50 loss to Notre Dame on Thursday night, we need to get one thing out there: Kentucky is not as bad as they were against the Irish.

The Wildcats are a young team, a group of freshmen, that have never had to play a true road game before, and the first place they are forced to play is Purcell Pavilion, which is probably one of the 10 or 15 toughest environments to play in? And they are still without their point guard? Going up against a Notre Dame team that is experienced, underrated and adept at controlling tempo and executing offensively?

What happened here is simple, actually. Notre Dame came out and punched Kentucky in the mouth, catching fire early and opening up a big first half lead. Kentucky responded by doing what freshmen are wont to do: forcing shots, getting impatient defensively, and most importantly, getting overwhelmed by a raucous home court that included Heisman hopeful Manti Te’o as a member of the student section.

“This was not two teams battling and then Notre Dame won,” John Calipari said after the game. “This was Notre Dame threw us around and dominated us.”

I even picked Notre Dame to win, and while I didn’t think that they would wipe the floor with the Wildcats, the result should not be surprising.

The Irish are underrated. By a lot. They have a veteran back court in Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins that are capable of controlling the pace of a basketball game — which allows Mike Brey to run his ‘Burn Offense’ when necessary — and that are dynamic play makers. They can penetrate to score, they can get into the lane and create, they run off of big Jack Cooley’s hard-hitting ball-screen, and they hit threes. Throw in shooters Scott Martin, Cameron Biedscheid, and Patrick Connaughton spreading the floor, and the Irish can put a lineup on the floor that is quite difficult to slow down.

And against Kentucky, you saw all of that.

You saw ball-screens. You saw penetration-and-kicks. You saw Cooley abuse the more athletic Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein with positioning and strength, as he finished with 13 points and 11 boards, six of which game on the offensive end of the floor.

Everyone on Notre Dame understands their role, and it’s quite obvious how the Irish fit together. And that right there is the most noteworthy dichotomy between these two programs.

The biggest concern I had about the Wildcats heading into this season had less to do with a lacking veteran presence (which is a concern, trust me) and more to do with the simple fact that the pieces on this team just don’t seem to fit together. Does Alex Poythress really want to be the man, which Kentucky needs him to be? Does he was to be a beast? Can Ryan Harrow be this team’s point guard down the road? Can Archie Goodwin, who is best suited to playing on a wing, learn to play the point in his stead? Is Julius Mays really this team’s Darius Miller? Can Kyle Wiltjer defend? Will either Noel or Cauley-Stein develop enough of an offensive game to be a threat?

Is this a team that plays big or small? Do they thrive on their defense? Is this a running team?

John Calipari’s has got his work cut out for him this season. There’s too much talent to ever count this team out, but if Thursday told us anything, it’s that Kentucky’s road to success may be longer than we thought.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

  1. imforbigblue - Nov 29, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Your being way to nice to UK. What you really saw was a bunch of over rated freshman who Don’t know how to play team ball. They should be ashamed of there selfs because I sure am as a fan. I can see a 10 loss season atleast we have some Good players for next year

    • florida727 - Nov 30, 2012 at 8:37 AM

      I’m a Florida fan and I’d of course love nothing more than to see my guys beat Kentucky this season for the SEC title, but I disagree with your comment about a 10-loss season. No way. Calipari has probably already broken down this game tape, and as horrific as this was, he’ll use this tape all season long to point out their failures. And they WILL respond. Way, way too much raw talent to lose 10 games. Look at their schedule. Who’s going to beat them between now and March? Are they overrated at #8? Obviously. But don’t be surprised if they’re rated higher than that by the time March rolls around.

  2. bosoxdiehard - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    Great win by the Irish …. BUT, I want to set the record straight. Longtime Irish fan in all athletics. Love all irish sports but the thing that bothers me so much about Brey’s basketball team is the fact that they have these great wins early in the season, a good conference season run … then the wheels fall off come Big East tournment time and the NCAA tournment.

    Sure this is a good win but how far is this going to carry the Irish come tournment time? Conference play?

    Compare that to what Muffett McGraw has done with the Lady Irish program, I have my hunches that McGraw’s ladies are going to be sneaky good.

    Willing to bet anyone that the Lady Irish program will go farther into the tournment than the men. I hope they prove me wrong.

  3. 93warchant - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:52 PM

    UK loses to Duke and there were excuses about them being young ok I can go with that, now the lose to Notre dame coached by ex Duke assistant Mike Brey. no more excuses UK just isn’t going to be vying for a final 4 spot this season… period.

  4. mostdiggity - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:47 PM

    93warchant- And you are whom? The fat lady? Dude I’m not even gonna recount the number of Final Four teams that have been spanked in November by teams that were lower ranked, but experienced. Ask Izzo. Remember Crum? Boheim? Calhoun? Oh yeah, even Tom Crean, ad nauseum.,, etc…et all.

    I don’t have a crystal ball but it doesn’t take rocket science to understand Dauster’s comments. Maybe a re-read would be instructive?

  5. oruacat2 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:33 AM

    Just more proof that hotshot freshmen are still just freshmen – but they’ll be fine by the time March rolls around. In the meantime, UK is missing that upperclass leadership – think Josh Harrellson or Darius Miller – that helps settle down those talented youngsters when things don’t go their way.

    When Ryan Harrow (PG) gets into a groove and allows Archie Goodwin to go back to his natural SG position, the Cats will be okay.

  6. 93warchant - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:44 AM

    Florida is better than UK. fried chicken university will get no better than a 3 seed. and their players will continue to get no education or learn how to act towards others adults … signed rajon rondo and demarcus cousins.

  7. ukcatsfan - Nov 30, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    93warchant I agree that UF is better that UK right now….they ripped Marquette a new one last night. Not sure how you can take two players out of the 18 or so that are UK alumni in the NBA and say their players don’t know how to act towards people. I think UK has a long way to go this season but it will be a fun season before it’s over with……I hope!

  8. whistlndixie1 - Nov 30, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    Its almost December and you writers are still finding creative ways to blow UK. Hope you slept better saying “ND is underrated” so you didn’t have to say “UK is overrated”.

  9. footballfanatic589 - Nov 30, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    You can almost compare this class to the brandon knight crew of UK couple yrs back, they had minimal experience on the team. Calipari even said it was going to be a ugly start to the season, I can only expect him to have them ready come march. And by march I expect Poythress and Noel to be ready for the NBA push, and I think Archie Goodwin and Wiltger and Harrow to come back with an impressive class coming in will make them the heavy favourites for the 2014 Championship.

  10. waltrd - Nov 30, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    The day may soon be coming when Calipari will be planning to play all of Kentucky’s games on its home court.

  11. mostdiggity - Nov 30, 2012 at 8:38 PM

    Wanna know what John Calipari thinks about ignorant haters?

    ANDY KATZ: What’s the biggest misconception about you?

    JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know, nor do I care.

    -ESPN Nations Blog

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