By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Watching the UK basketball team struggle to win 80-76 Tuesday night against an Ole Miss team that is projected to be a 10-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament made me think about what traits make a Kentucky team a prime contender for a Final Four run.
Under John Calipari UK teams have been most successful when they have had these five traits. They are: excellent interior defense, a good rim protector, a very good low post offensive game, consistent 3-point shooting and a point guard that can beat his man off the dribble and score or distribute the ball.
Thinking back to the Calipari teams that made the Final Four; the 2010-2011 Brandon Knight team, the 2011-2012 Anthony Davis team, the 2013-2014 Julius Randle team and the 2014-2015 Karl Anthony-Towns team, they all had these traits.
Each team that made the Final Four had a rim protector/rebounder, had a good off the dribble point guard that could score and pass, perimeters players that could hit the three-point shot better than average and they had a good low post scoring presence.
In looking at this year’s version of the Wildcats they don’t seem to have all the elements that a Calipari team needs to make a Final Four run. They do have a great inside presence with PJ Washington and Reid Travis, shot blockers in EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, perimeter players in Tyler Herro, Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson that can shoot the three but they are missing one critical element. A capable point guard. They don’t have one.
Ashton Hagans, the starting point guard, can’t beat his man off the dribble or create his own shot, isn’t a consistent outside threat, doesn’t have a good basketball IQ and is not a good perimeter defender. Immanuel Quickley, the backup point guard, is an excellent spot up shooter but he also can’t beat his man off the dribble and is not a good ballhandler, although his basketball IQ does seem to be higher than Hagans.
The last time Kentucky Basketball had point guard play this weak was in 2012-2013 when Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin shared the point guard duties. I’m not saying that Hagans and Quickley are at that 2012-2013 level but they don’t measure up as better than any other duo that John Calipari has put on the floor since 2009-2010 starting with John Wall/Eric Bledsoe and running all the way through to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green in 2017-2018.
Because the John Calipari offense is very simplistic using a “dribble-drive” approach and depends heavily on the point guard being the leader and the driver of the offense it is difficult to see this team advancing to the Final Four. Although Kentucky will be able to beat most teams they should meet in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, once they move into the Sweet Sixteen it will be difficult to hide the fact that their point guard play has been less than stellar.
Maybe, just maybe, Ashton Hagans can get back in the groove enough to get the overall offense back on track or the return of Reid Travis back to mid-season form could once again allow him to run the offense from his post position but until one or both of those happen I’m skeptical that the Cats can make a deep run in March.
Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.