Does UK basketball have too many extra pieces?

Johnny Juzang is one of the “pieces” UK needs to start fitting together for coach John Calipari. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

Have you ever bought something that came in a box but had to be put together? Like maybe a child’s toy for Christmas or maybe a piece of furniture like a bookcase or a desk?

The manufacturer usually provides instructions for assembly that include written steps and pictures of each step. They also usually provide a big bag of screws and washers and nuts and little wooden pegs if it is a piece of furniture. You also usually get a handy dandy little allen wrench to put everything together if it is a piece of furniture. For toys it seems to be more of a “hope you have tools available and don’t forget the batteries.”

Anyway, as the assembly process occurs if the directions are confusing, have nothing written with just pictures or no directions are provided at all, it can be very difficult to successfully put the item together. Usually it takes several stops and starts with sometimes some dis-assembly and re-assembly to try to get the item to look and function like the picture on the box.

Also, if you are like me, you might end up with a lot of extra parts leftover. Maybe things that aren’t needed for the version that was being assembled or maybe they were left out because it was too difficult to figure out where they fit.

That’s kind of where UK coach John Calipari finds himself right now. He is in the middle of a rather large assembly project and he doesn’t seem to have any instructions. It looks like a lot of trial and error with some dis-assembly and re-assembly trying to get all the pieces to fit. And to be honest, at the end of the process he may have a group of pieces that don’t seem to be needed for the version he is trying to put together.

Here’s what I mean. John Calipari  teams historically, as Chris Mack, Louisville coach, recently said, (very respectfully, of course), “don’t run a whole lot.” Now what he meant was “Their offensive sets are not very complex.”

They do run a whole lot, meaning they are at their best when they play great defense, hit the boards and get out in transition. They always have been. It’s the best basketball version that John Calipari always tries to put together each year. But it seems like this year’s version has the potential to have a lot of extra pieces leftover.

Here’s what I mean. So far it looks like EJ Montgomery, Khalil Whitney, Johnny Juzang  and maybe even Keion Brooks Jr. might be extra pieces. And except for two games against top five teams Michigan State and Louisville, Tyrese Maxey has also looked a lot like an extra piece. None of those guys have played consistent individual or team defense so far and that hurts Kentucky’s opportunities to get out in transition — something they must do if they are going to be successful this year.

Those guys seem to struggle to understand where they fit into the assembly — and Calipari seems to struggle to figure out where he should plug them in to complete the assembly. From watching the games it feels like the players want to fit in and that the coaching staff wants them to fit, but it also looks like maybe they have lost the assembly instructions and a lot of the pieces are still sitting in the bag waiting for something to happen.

Well, that something is happening now because the conference schedule has started, SEC teams are especially eager to have a shot at a partially assembled UK team just hoping they can get a signature win to boost their chances of making the NCAA Tournament field.

So as Kentucky travels to Georgia on Tuesday and plays Alabama at Rupp Arena on Saturday don’t be surprised if you see Calipar doing a little more earnest dis-assembly and re-assembly during the game. He seems to still be looking for the right pieces to assemble a team that can play consistent lock-down defense and rebound defensively to allow his Wildcats to score more baskets in transition. Hopefully he can find the correct assembly instructions soon and get some of these players connected and out of the bag of extra pieces.

As all of us know that have ever assembled anything, the last thing we want to do is to say, “Voila, there it is” after the assembly is complete and have an onlooker (usually someone who had no participation in the assembly process) say, “Well, it looks ok but why do you still have this big bag of extra pieces.”

Nobody wants to hear that, least of all John Calipari.

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