Author: Paul Ables
The Kentucky Wildcats completed their first exhibition game of the 2012-13 season and showed plenty of reasons to get excited about this new batch of players. Let’s get into it by discussing three key takeaways from their exhibition victory over Northwood.
1) The “Twin Towers” lineup worked… and looks downright scary
Head coach John Calipari has emphasized that he will experiment with the “twin towers” lineup throughout the season, as long as it was effective. He is referring to playing his two centers, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, together at the same time. Noel enrolled with Kentucky as the nation’s top recruit, but Cauley-Stein did not generate much buzz until the summer reports came out and mentioned how good he looked in practice.
Now that we have seen this lineup configuration for the first time, I think it is safe to say that we were left salivating and desperate for more. Yes, it came in an exhibition against a tiny team in Northwood (FL). That is not the point or the sole reason for its’ success.
The reason that this could work and become extremely effective for the Wildcats is that Noel and Cauley-Stein are not your typical big men. They are long, agile, quick, can handle the ball, possess great footwork and compliment each other on the court. Each player deflected a lot of shots and passes and created plenty of havoc on defense.
This led to fast break opportunities that both players took advantage of. Noel converted some nice pick-and-roll sets with some powerful throwdowns, while Cauley-Stein showed off his running skills on a few mid-court steals that he collected. Each of them can handle the ball just fine in the open floor and are also fast for their size.
Their agility and footwork was also shown off on defense. They each routinely guarded players out on the perimeter, but they were quick enough and long enough to stay with their men or recover in time to still affect the shot. Each player also rebounded extremely well and snatched multiple ricochets out of thin air.
In the end, Noel finished the game with 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks while Cauley-Stein posted eight points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. If this is how these two lengthy centers are going to play night in and night out, then the rest of the country better be on notice because there is not a team out there who can match up to both of them playing at a high level.
2) Archie Goodwin impressed on both ends of the floor
As good as Noel and Cauley-Stein were in Thursday night’s scrimmage, the star of the game was guard Archie Goodwin. He played phenomenal basketball and finished off numerous plays that just made your head shake… in a good way.
First of all, Archie filled up the stat sheet by pouring in 22 points on 7-12 shooting, including 7-8 from the charity stripe. That is absolutely sensational and shows that he can score buckets in an efficient manner that is within the flow of the offense. He took smart shots all night long and drew contact nearly every time he attacked the rim.
Goodwin scored in a multitude of ways, showing off a vast array of running floaters, three-point bombs and putbacks from offensive rebounds. He hit the boards and collected four rebounds. Also of note is Goodwin’s five assists, which came during his stint as the team’s backup point guard.
However, his offense was not his most impressive showing. Instead, he displayed a killer knack for swatting shots and ended up with three blocks. Two of them came on chase-down blocks while trailing his man on a fast break. If he can block shots like this occasionally during the year, then it is just down right not fair for the opposition.
3) This team has a legitimate 7-player rotation
Contributions came from all over the court for the Wildcats in their exhibition victory over Northwood. They came from the starters and their bench as the team showed off one of the strengths of this year’s squad: they have seven key players who make up their rotation.
For John Calipari, this is going to be one of his most versatile lineups ever because of the different positions and unique strengths that these players have. He can play Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays at either the point or shooting guard spots. He can also utilize Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein in a myriad of ways in the paint.
Harrow scored in bunches early on and finished up with 15 points, five assists, four steals and two rebounds. He showed off an explosive burst to the rim and can score either by layup or floater. Ryan also showcased his active hands and grabbed a hold of numerous deflections and loose balls.
Goodwin had a huge game, as already mentioned above. Meanwhile, Julius Mays did exactly what he came to do in Lexington and that is score from the perimeter. He hit two three-pointers and also collected four steals, two assists and two rebounds for the night.
Poythress was in foul trouble for a good chunk of the scrimmage but showed glimpses of his great versatility. He connected on two long perimeter jumpers while also finishing strong inside and grabbing offensive boards. Alex shot 4-7 to end up with 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists for the night.
It was a slow night for Kyle Wiltjer, who was often subbed out due to missed defensive assignments or giving up offensive boards to the opposition. However, he brought his sweet three-point stroke to the game and buried 2-3 shots from deep to end up with 12 points on the night.
This sort of team balance is what worked so well for last season’s title winning roster. That same sort of approach was shown tonight and needs to continue being the blueprint as this young team moves forward. If they can continue playing well together and have an effect on multiple parts of the game, then this team can really go far. However, it is only one exhibition and we will have to see how they respond in their next matchup against in-town rival Transylvania.
In the end, though, Kentucky’s first exhibition was a rousing success and gives fans plenty of reasons to get excited about this team’s potential.