Kentucky Basketball: Handling the Norse

Nov 10, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari gives instructions to guard Andrew Harrison (5) during the game against the Northern Kentucky Norse at Rupp Arena.Kentucky defeated Northern Kentucky 93-63. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team defeated the Northern Kentucky University Norse 93-63 on Sunday afternoon in Rupp Arena.  The Wildcats are 2-0 on the season and are ranked number 1 headed into the big time clash against the Michigan State Spartans on Tuesday.  As with each of John Calipari’s previous four Wildcat teams, this current roster has a high ceiling, the only question is how fast can they reach it? And the key to that is evaluating them on an almost game by game basis. And with Sunday’s victory, these young Cats are well on their way toward reaching that potential.

Nov 10, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle (30) goes up for a dunk agaisnt the Northern Kentucky Norse at Rupp Arena.Kentucky defeated Northern Kentucky 93-63. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Big Blue Nation, be prepared to hear this a lot this season: Julius Randle is a beast. With all the fanfare regarding Calipari and his run of great point guards, he hasn’t done to shabby in recruiting and working with great big men: DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. And Randle may be the most unique among them. He’s big and very athletic, over the first two games, he’s shown flashes that athletic ability by getting a defensive rebound and initiating his own fast break, and his motor his near Michael Kidd-Gilchrist levels. High, yet at this point of the season, totally deserved praise.  Randle is active on the glass (averaging a double-double on the season) and has scored more points in the first two games than any freshman has under John Calipari at UK (just consider the talent that includes). Also against the Norse, Julius Randle added three assists to his 22 points and 14 rebounds. While he’s not the defensive force that Davis or Noel were, Randle has Willie Cauley-Stein to help protect the rim.

One of the biggest unknowns headed to this season was Alex Poythress. Part of last year’s lauded recruiting class, his uneven play frustrated both Calipari and many member’s of the Big Blue Nation. He had moments of greatness, specifically in the loss to Duke, but had way too many moments where Poythress just disappeared out on the court. And because the bench was so thin last year, Cal had to play him and hope that Alex figured it out. With the addition of 23 McDonald’s High School All Americans (*figures approximate), we were left to wonder what would Alex do. Would he fold the tent or would he stand up and demand playing time? So far, the answer is this: if a motivated and hungry Alex Poythress is going to be this team’s sixth man, and he might be, watch out, college basketball. In what seems like a concentrated effort, either by the coaching staff or point guard Andrew Harrison, Poythress has it the ground running as soon as he enters the game and has continued that effort throughout. In 20 minutes against Northern Kentucky, Poythress added 9 points and 7 rebounds, a line that, if he continues providing it, will make the Cats even tougher to beat.

Nov 10, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) reaches for a rebound against Northern Kentucky Norse guard Anthony Monaco (33) in the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to draw long team conclusions after the second game of the season, especially against an overmatched opponent, but it’s a night and day difference between the way this team carries itself and the way last year’s team did. Obviously, this year the team is much deeper and as such, Calipari can use the coach’s best friend, the bench, to his advantage. If you don’t play hard, or hustle or play smart, it’s just that simple.

There’s still a lot of room for growth for this team and Tuesday’s matchup against the Spartans is going to be a great measuring stick for these young guys. And with Julius Randle in the frontcourt, I would not bet against these Cats.

Topics: Kentucky Wildcats

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