By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
Last Sunday evening, Coach Calipari raised the curtain on his 2019-20 Wildcats and they beat the defending NAIA National Champion Georgetown Tigers 80-53.
• The Cats jumped out to a large 19 point (25-6) lead in the first 10 minutes of the game on the strength of incredibly accurate shooting when the Cats made 8 of their first 10 shot attempts, including 4-6 from the new extended 3 point arc.
• Over the next 7 minutes, the Cats extended their lead to the 27 point final margin (40-13).
• However, over the final 23 minutes of action, Georgetown competed against the Cats on equal footing. In the final 3 minutes of the first half, the Tigers trimmed 9 points from that lead with a 12-3 run, and in the second half, the Tigers pulled to within 12 points (45-33) with 16 minutes left in the game.
That is a run of 20-5 for the Tigers, spanning 7 minutes.
Some observers are pleased any time the Cats win any game by a 27 point margin. Others, including this observer, are not impressed by the mere margin, but find concern in the defensive lapse that allowed Georgetown to score 20 points in a 7 minute span, and the absence of toughness on the boards. In addition to the scoring, the Cats’ performance in this opening game on the boards was worrisome at best. The Cats’ players are taller and should command control on the boards against any NAIA opponent, yet Georgetown out rebounded these Cats at both ends of the floor. Georgetown won the battle of the boards 45-39, and most alarming, the Tigers won the battle on the offensive glass 16-6.
Yes, Big Blue Fans, Georgetown missed a lot more shots (16-64 shooting) than the Cats (30-61 shooting), giving the Tigers 17 more offensive rebounding opportunities than the Cats. However, the Cats grabbed 6 of their 31 misses while Georgetown grabbed 16 of their 48 misses. Grabbing 1 of every 5 misses while allowing an opponent to grab 1 in every 3 misses is not the relationship on the offensive glass that a “tough” team should allow.
Prior to the exhibition game against Georgetown, Coach Calipari identified the issue he wants to see this group of Cats demonstrate on the floor, Toughness!!!! It should be clear to any objective observer that this team did not demonstrate a level of toughness that should please the coaches or a level of toughness that they must possess when they face the consensus #1 Michigan State next Tuesday night..
On an individual level, four Cats posted numbers worthy of members on a legitimate championship contender. Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, Ashton Hagans, and Nick Richards had individual game efficiencies (game grades) above 0.25 points per possession ended. Two other Cats, Johnny Juzang and Tyrese Maxey had individual efficiency levels that are positive. However, Keion Brooks, E. J. Montgomery, and Kahlil Whitney each graded below zero. Add to this profile of the 9 players who must get it done this season, Nick Richards went down after about 15 minutes of action with a lower leg injury, and his status moving forward remains uncertain.
The exhibition games serve a very important purpose: To identify areas of the game that the team must fix prior to starting the regular season schedule. On Friday night, Coach Calipari and his staff will put into effect these improvements and points of emphasis when the Cats face Kentucky State for the second exhibition game of the year. Clearly, Calipari’s teams usually demonstrate an ability to climb a rather steep learning curve between their first and second exhibition games, and there is no reason to believe that trend will not occur again this season. For that reason, we should expect to see more toughness, stronger board work, improved overall defense, and improved offensive efficiency.
Over the past 9 seasons, the Cats have averaged a 43-point victory over its first exhibition opponent (98-55) and for those same previous nine (9) seasons, the Cats have improved between their first and second exhibition games to a 60-point average margin (114-54). These exhibition game next Friday are about effort and improvement, and the measuring stick is the margin of victory and the degree of improvement between the first and second starts.
This year, based on how prior exhibition games have played out and the relative strength of Kentucky State, this game shapes up to be a 56-point game, 111-55 if the Cats are on par with the previous nine Calipari led teams at the end of October.