After a surprising outing against the University of Louisville on Saturday, the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky Wildcats took on the Eastern Michigan Eagles tonight at Rupp Arena. After such an emotionally charged game where the guys left it all out on the court at the Yum Center, the question was: Would the Cats be able to build on the tremendous second half against the Cards that saw them narrow a 17 point gap to 2 before eventually falling by 3? With 100% of the precincts reporting, the answer is a resounding yes.
As I’ve been preaching for weeks, it’s unfair to compare this year’s group of Wildcats with last year’s NCAA Champions. With the way head coach John Calipari has set up with talented, yet freshman-heavy rosters, it’s going to take some teams longer than others to come together and play up to their abilities. With the second half at Louisville and tonight’s 90-38 win over the EMU Eagles, it looks as if the Cats are just now hitting their stride, just in time for SEC play.
For starters, how good has Ryan Harrow been lately? He finished up a zero turnover effort against the Cards and their defensive pressure with a 15 point, 8 assist effort tonight. But more than just the numbers, Harrow has become the steady, calming and in control influence on the young Cats that people thought he could be. As I pointed out in early December, this team is going to go has far as Harrow will lead them. And from the looks of it on the offensive and defensive end, Ryan Harrow seems to be prepared to lead this team and fill the very big shoes of the of being John Calipari’s point guard.
The frontcourt played well again tonight, with Willie Cauley-Stein joining Nerlens Noel in the starting lineup in Coach Cal’s “Twin Towers” lineup. They combined for 19 points, 24 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. And when Alex Poythress line of 16 points and 5 rebounds are taken into account, members of the Big Blue Nation are beginning to see signs of the dominant post play that Anthony Davis and company provided last year.
Noel’s play has been consistent. He’s been the guy diving on the court for loose balls all year. Now, everyone is getting into the act. Building on the momentum from the Louisville game, the defensive effort was there for all 40 minutes tonight with Cauley-Stein joining Noel in controlling the paint and Harrow and Archie Goodwin pressuring on the perimeter. The Cats played a bit more full court and it was very beneficial, forcing 19 Eagle turnovers.
Yes, Eastern Michigan is a MAC school, but when looking at this team now compared to where they were in late November, it’s easy to get excited about what they’re going to be come March.