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Questions still need answering, but Kentucky takes a step in the right direction in win over UNC-Asheville

Nov 8, 2013, 10:28 PM EDT

SEC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals - Vanderbilt v Kentucky Getty Images

Kentucky isn’t there yet. They looked sloppy and careless at times and are still learning how to play with each other, but it was evident in the Wildcats’ 89-57 victory over UNC-Asheville that John Calipari has a special group on his hands.

Kentucky didn’t need to beat the Bulldogs by 32 points in order for the nation to recognize that the Harrison twins, Julius Randle, and the other future NBA players on the squad are a special group but, if nothing else, tonight reaffirmed that notion.

Recall last year’s Kentucky team that had a bevy of talent and future pro players on the roster. Expectations were high in the preseason, perhaps unreasonably so, and the Wildcats fluttered throughout the year thanks to inconsistent play at point guard and Nerlens Noel suffering a torn ACL midway through the season. That team never seemed to click, and while it’s still extremely early for the current team, the chemistry seems to be there.

Yes, the sloppy play for much of the first half that saw Kentucky head to the locker room with an unimpressive 41-31 lead needs correcting. Yes, missing 18 free throws is a legitimate concern. And yes, whether freshman point guard Andrew Harrison will be able to shoulder the load of leading this team or not is in question.

However, what we saw tonight was a team that seemingly enjoys playing with each other and has fun. It sounds juvenile for a team to “have fun” out on the floor, but far too often last season that appeared to be an issue.

The star of the night was freshman Julius Randle, who poured in 23 points and corralled 15 rebounds. There is no doubt he will be a menace in the paint throughout the season, but what was so encouraging about Randle’s night was drilling 11-13 from the line. He’s going to receive double and triple teams and he is going to be sent to the line a fair amount, especially with the new defensive rules. If he can hit 75% of his free throws or better, he becomes that much more of a threat.

Conversely, there has to be a cause for concern that the rest of the Wildcats combined to shoot 19-35. Free throw shooting has bit John Calipari’s teams in the past — remember some of his teams at Memphis — and that’s an area needing work.

One can only learn so much after blowing UNC-Asheville out at home. Kentucky’s game against a talented Michigan State team next Tuesday will be a good barometer of just how far along the Wildcats are — how the youthful talent on Kentucky maintains their composure against a veteran Spartan team will be telling.

One of the primary questions of this team over the summer months was if Cal could get these future NBA players to all buy-in. Tonight was a step in that direction.

  1. kingghidora - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    It’s still the first game for a very young team. Give them a week at least before you pick them apart. Randle scored 23 and got 15 boards and really looked like he could have done much more. The guy is a beast. Let’s talk about him pushing the fast break, going behind his back with the dribble and looking like a point guard doing it. Then remember the guy is 6’9″ and 250. He’s big, strong, fast, and has great hands and feet. Plus he can shoot. And he plays defense. What’s left? He has the total package. He can play any position on the floor and do it well. People laughed at Demarcus Cousins when he said he wanted to play guard at UK. Now he brings the ball down the floor a lot for the Kings and shoots from outside a lot plus he can drive past slower defenders with ease. Well I’m saying that Randle can play PG and do it well if he wants to do it. The world will know this guy’s name if he stays healthy.

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