Cats Host Asbury in Final Exhibition
Based on Kentucky’s personnel and everything John Calipari and his players have said so far, it seems a foregone conclusion the Wildcats will play fast this season.
|Asbury at Kentucky|
|UK||2016-17 Team Stats||AU|
|.450||Opp 3PT FG%||.353|
The one thing Coach Cal isn’t going to rush, however, is the development of his latest team.
“I’m trying to go at the pace that these guys (can handle),” Calipari said. “I don’t want to throw too much. I want them to worry about competing at a high level versus worrying about, ‘What am I supposed to be doing out here?’ Compete.”
The Cats have more than four months before they play their most important basketball, so there’s no reason to try to cram in everything they need to learn before their second exhibition on Sunday at 7 p.m. against Asbury.
“My thought is the first week of the season, probably first two weeks, it will be a limited package of what we’ll do,” Calipari said. “Limited baseline, limited sideline, limited what we’ll do versus zone, limited man offense. We’re just trying to get good at some things right now.”
UK is only just establishing the foundation of its identity. A key part of that process is figuring out the rotation and who plays well together. To that end, Calipari scripted out the groups he wanted to see play together and substituted accordingly in UK’s first exhibition, a 108-51 win over Clarion.
“We’re still trying to figure out combinations,” Calipari said. “I’ll do the same thing I did last game, play a lot of combinations. Don’t know if I’ll start three guards. I might start three guards this time, and then figure out some sort of rotation of how we want to do this.”
One of the surprises that came out of Calipari’s tinkering was the appearance of Wenyen Gabriel in the starting lineup. Whether Gabriel will once again start remains to be seen, but it doesn’t matter too much. It’s the process that really counts.
“Us being able to play with each other and against each other or different groups every day in practice, we get to figure out where guys like the ball and where our players like to shoot and different things like that where we feel comfortable,” Gabriel said. “I think definitely builds on our chemistry off the court as well. Spending more time together, that’s been really good for us.”
Gabriel drew praise from Clarion head coach Marcess Williams for his motor and activity. He’s hardly alone in displaying those traits among yet another talented group of freshmen. Calipari wasn’t able to compare the freshmen to their predecessors – “I can’t ever remember,” he said – but he does know he has the kind of group he likes.
“All I can tell you is a very smart group, a very driven, wired group, competitive group,” Calipari said.
The idea is that those things, to start with, will overcome inevitable early-season mistakes.
“This is November, the beginning of November,” Calipari said. “It’s the first time these kids are doing some of this stuff and they’re going to be uncomfortable and they’re going to be wrong. I mean, they’re still going to be wrong 60, 70 percent of the time. Just play. Play hard, compete, battle, come up with balls, let’s get some easy baskets. And then let’s see how we execute.”
Kentucky Picked to Win 48th SEC Title
The Kentucky men’s basketball program finds itself in familiar territory under the direction of eighth-year head coach John Calipari.
UK is faced with replacing more than 75 percent of its scoring and 70 percent of its rebounding, yet a select panel of media voted the Wildcats to repeat as Southeastern Conference champions. Should Kentucky achieve that standard, it would mark the fifth regular-season title under Calipari and the program’s 48th overall.
It’s the 12th time since the 1998-99 season the Wildcats are the overall preseason favorite. UK was picked to win the title a season ago and did not disappoint, sharing the crown with Texas A&M. Calipari has directed his teams to regular-season SEC crowns in 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016.
Each school selected media members that cover their team and additional media from across the nation were selected by the conference office to comprise the voting panel. Points were compiled on a 14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each media member also voted for two All-SEC teams.
UK's Nonconference Schedule Loaded
Kentucky plays one of the premier nonconference schedules in the country on an annual basis, but the Wildcats’ 2016-17 slate appears to have taken a typically difficult schedule of games and cranked it up another notch.
UK’s 13-game nonconference schedule features eight teams that made it to a postseason tournament in 2015-16, five teams who finished the year with a top 50 RPI ranking and a number of battles with college basketball’s blueblood programs. Three of KenPom’s top five teams from last season (North Carolina, Kansas and Michigan State) are among the heavyweights Kentucky will face in 2016-17.
The Wildcats’ upcoming slate will take the Wildcats as far east as the Bahamas for the second game of a two-year deal with Arizona State (Nov. 28) and as far west as Las Vegas for a matchup with North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic (Dec. 17). Kentucky will also travel twice to New York, first to play Michigan State (Nov. 15) in Madison Square Garden, and then against Hofstra at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (Dec. 11).
UK’s always highly anticipated home schedule includes rematches with UCLA (Dec. 3) and Kansas (Jan. 28). This year’s annual rivalry with Louisville will take place at the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 21.
All told, Kentucky’s 2016-17 nonconference opponents combined for a record of 200-157 in 2015-16, a .649 winning percentage.
Four teams finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the all-important RPI. Five teams start the season ranked in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll.
UK’s 2016-17 Southeastern Conference schedule will feature nine home games and nine away games, with home-and-home games against Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. It’s the fifth straight year the SEC will feature an 18-game schedule.
UK Starts Season at No. 2 in Associated Press Top 25
Despite losing 75.8 percent of its scoring production, 70.0 percent of its rebounding and seven players from last season’s roster, Kentucky is ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 to begin the 2016-17 season.
The Wildcats picked up two of the 65 first-place votes in the preseason poll. Duke was ranked the No. 1 team in the country with 1,612 points, followed by UK (1,479), Kansas (1,476), Villanova (1,465) and Oregon (1,343).
It’s the sixth straight season the Wildcats have been ranked in the top three of the AP Top 25 to begin the year. Kentucky has been ranked in the preseason top five in seven of John Calipari’s eight seasons in Lexington.
Five preseason AP Top 25 teams are on the Wildcats’ 2016-17 schedule (No. 3 Kansas, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 12 Michigan State, No. 13 Louisville and No. 16 UCLA), including two top-10 teams.
Earlier this month, the Wildcats checked in at No. 4 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll. The Wildcats also picked up two first-place votes in that poll.