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Cats display potential in Windsor

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Cal_teaches_windsor[2].jpgMetz Camfield served as the Kentucky men's basketball beat reporter for the Kentucky Kernel during the 2009-10 season. As a new contributor to Cat Scratches, below are his thoughts and observations from the first action of the 2010-11 season.

After having watched Kentucky's three exhibition games in Canada, I must say I am a bit impressed. I was expecting turnovers galore, missed shots and a bit of chaos. Instead, the Cats looked fairly in sync, especially for it being mid-August, and the offense looked to have a rhythm.

On defense, the Cats were active in all three games, forcing an average of 23.0 turnovers per game. If you remember, at the beginning of the 2009-10 season the Cats were giving up 3-point shots like they were going out of style. While I don't want to compare and contrast this year's team to last year's -- because quite frankly, that's not fair to this year's team -- I do want to refer to last year's team for perspective purposes only.

After covering the 2009-10 squad for the student paper at Kentucky, the Kentucky Kernel, I'll try and carry over my views from that season toward this year's team.

First, I want to point out that every player's numbers are inflated due to the absences of Enes Kanter, Eloy Vargas and Terrence Jones. Kanter, as many of you know, has not been cleared to play by the NCAA, Vargas is finishing some classes with his junior college and Jones sat out all but one half of the trip due to a stress fracture in one of his ribs. Had these three players played, they would have stolen not only minutes from other players, but also points, rebounds, etc.

With that said, freshman guard Brandon Knight is the real deal. Knight averaged 25.0 points, f5.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game while only turning the ball over five times in the three games combined. Freshmen, whether they're playing exhibition matches in Canada or for the national championship, should not be putting up those numbers, especially in their first three games with an inexperienced team. Very impressive performance from the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native.

As a team, Kentucky took care of the ball (14.0 turnovers per game), especially at the pace the Cats were playing. I would attest this to having players on the team with a year of experience under Calipari. While Knight, Lamb and the other freshmen do not have experience, having veteran players on the roster who can serve as coaches for them on and off the court is obviously a big help. When practice is over and the players are relaxing, the veterans can teach the freshmen.

I came away from the first three games very impressed with the transformation of juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins.

Miller is playing with much more confidence on the floor. I can't say whether that's due to experience, whether it's due to having the same coach for consecutive seasons for the first time at UK or whether he just feels like a more polished player, but he is cleary playing with more confidence and the Cats are reaping the benefits. Miller took 3-point attempts throughout the trip he wouldn't have taken last year, and he drove to the basket with more authority and regularity.

With the absence of the three big men, Miller also displayed some post moves many UK fans may not have known he possessed. In all, Miller showed the Big Blue Nation what they've been longing for since he committed to the Cats. He could be huge this season.

The same goes for Liggins. He played with more aggression and more control than we've seen so far in his UK career. Liggins was a key player off the bench last season due to the energy he brought to the team. In his three games in Canada, Liggins brought that same energy but in a more polished fashion. As head coach John Calipari said after the second Windsor game, if the rest of the Cats can play with the energy Liggins played with, they'll "have a ball this season."

Freshman Doron Lamb showed off his potential with his performances in games two and three. After struggling a bit in the opener, Lamb scored 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field against Western Ontario before scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Tuesday's game, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.

Yes, these were exhibition matches against far lesser opponents and it's only August. There were no foul or timeout limits, either. But the Cats still played well and can take a lot out of the experience north of the border. While many teams are still playing pickup ball and have not had any organized practices, the Cats were able to get in 10 practices and three games. It cannot be stressed enough how important the Canada experience was, especially a team like Kentucky, which is littered with youth and inexperience.

Overall, what I take from the three games is this Kentucky team has the pieces to be a really stingy defensive unit and a very fundamentally sound team. Calipari got in a lot of dribble-drive work with these guys and it will show when the season starts this fall. The fans will love their Cats no matter what, but I think similarly to last year's group, they'll grow especially close to this one because of the effort Calipari will be able to get from them each and every night.

Again, they are young, these were just exhibition matches, but they will certainly grow from this experience and have the ability to win a whole lot of ball games.

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