As Andy Katz noted in the run up to Kentucky's thorough drubbing of Kansas Tuesday night, John Calipari has attempted to downplay expectations for his team as much as possible in the last week. The only problem: There's no downplaying what we see on the court.
What we saw Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden was a little bit incredible. The Wildcats struggled in the first half, sure, but even as they did so they always looked like the better team. When they slowed down in the second, their defensive length overwhelmed Kansas while their offensive weapons -- Doron Lamb's outside shooting, Terrence Jones' versatile mid-range game, Anthony Davis's ability to dunk anything within 5 feet, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's rim attacks, all of it -- took over. This game never felt all that close in the second half, and that had much more to do with Kentucky than Kansas.
But Calipari isn't ready to give his team too much credit yet, which Andy chronicled in his postgame report this morning. But Calipari also shared a rather enjoyable anecdote from the first half, when his frustrations with his team were reflected in the crowd behind the UK bench:
“Did they even look coached in the first half?” Calipari said. “I heard somebody yell behind me -- and I don’t hear people -- somebody yelled, ‘Geez, run a play! Coach, run something!’ I was ready to go, ‘You tell them. I’m trying to tell them, and they’re not listening to me.’ We are really young.”
“Didn’t it look like we were competing with each other in the first half? ‘I’m getting mine. He’s getting his. Oh, you didn’t get it?’” Calipari said. “You cannot compete within your team. You complete each other. So we’ve got a ways to go.”
For as much as Calipari has soft-pedaled his opinion of his team's talent to date, that is a totally valid criticism. Kentucky had very little offensive flow in the first half. Point guard Marquis Teague was overanxious and sloppy; Jones was forcing attempts in the low block; Kidd-Gilchrist looked too eager to prove he had an outside jumper; Lamb was rarely involved. When the Wildcats slowed down in the second half, they spaced the floor, ran a few of Calipari's sets and took what the defense gave them -- rather than assuming they were good enough to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. It was an impressive turnaround. Still, you can tell Calipari is more worried about the first half than he is pleased with the second.
In the end, it seems Teague will be the key to this team's offense. If he can get everyone on the floor involved in patient, mature ways, this Kentucky team could pour points on people. (Lamb is probably, what, the fifth-most talented player on this team? Sixth? And he's just a lights-out perimeter scorer. Scary.) But if Teague struggles, the Wildcats may find themselves stagnant, fractured, even dysfunctional.
The good news? This team will almost certainly be magnificent defensively. Davis' reach and Jones' strength assure that much. The offense may take a bit longer to figure out, and Calipari no doubt has plenty of wrinkles he'd like to iron. But if this team's learning curve is as rapid as we saw Tuesday night, Calipari will soon have to do something he seems to loathe. He'll have to admit just how good this team is.