I really hope I don’t wake up tomorrow morning to a bunch of articles telling me how Little Cornell fought hard and kept it close until the final minutes in their game with Mighty Kentucky, because if ever there were a night for Cornell to pull the upset, this was it. With the exception of the final ten minutes of the first half, Kentucky looked like the team that’s had its fanbase scratching their heads all season. They came out flat, came back strong, then got complacent and did that thing where they settle for outside jumpers, despite the fact that Cornell didn’t have a single defensive matchup in their favor. Cousins carved up Cornell’s interior all night, yet Kentucky never made any adjustment to make him the focal point of the offense. But at this point in the season, a win is a win, and as long as you’re still playing, you really don’t have any room to complain.
– I wrote last night that even if Kentucky played their C-game, Cornell would have to shoot the lights out to have a chance. Well, that theory was almost put to the test. I’d say Kentucky played a C-game tonight, but Cornell shot far from lights out, mostly because of the Wildcats length along the perimeter. Fundamental defense is one thing, but athleticism and length is another. The Ivy League has the former of those two but lacks the latter, and as BTI at KSR took the liberty of breaking down, in their three (and now four) toughest games this season (as measured by RPI), Cornell’s 3-point shooting has dropped off dramatically. Kansas, Syracuse, Seton Hall, and now Kentucky throw a different type of defender at you around the perimeter (and at every position, for that matter) — the kind with length and athleticism that are tough to separate from. And I don’t care how good the shooters you put out there are, if you can’t get them separation and open looks, they’re percentages are going to drop. With the exception of their first two treys of the game, Cornell got very few uncontested looks tonight, and they shot 24 percent (5-for-21) from 3 as a result.
– But as good as Kentucky’s defense was on Cornell’s shooters, our offense was just as bad. With the exception of that monster 30-6 run to close the first half, Kentucky looked lethargic all night, settling for bad shots and showing no signs of the killer instinct we saw last game against Wake Forest and in the SEC Tourney against Tennessee. If there’s something that’s going to keep this team from going all the way, that’s it; you can’t give an effort on par with tonight’s against a West Virginia or Duke and expect to have the same result. Of the two, WV scares me the most, primarly because of their length and DeShawn Butler. It’s hard to imagine Mazzulla staying in front of Wall and Bledsoe, but it’s not as tough to imagine their frontcourt length giving Cousins and Patterson some trouble. Cousins dominates at times, but amongst those that he doesn’t are when he goes against long, athletic bigs. He’s not a great athlete, which, along with his temper tantrums, is why some NBA teams aren’t as crazy about him as others. The Mountaineers have those kind of guys, which is why it will be so important for us to hit shots against them.
– Speaking of hitting shots, that’s exactly what Kentucky didn’t do tonight. The Wildcats went 2-of-16 from deep, with both treys coming in that ’96-Kentucky-esque run to close the first half. I know I’m not the first person to say this, but if Kentucky is hitting shots from the perimeter, they morph from a good team capable of beating anybody, to a juggernaut-level squad that no one in the country can score with. This Wildcat team, when they’re hot, has as much offensive firepower as any team in recent memory. When they’re not, teams sag their defense, and Kentucky’s speed and size suddenly become neutralized. To beat WV on Saturday, Kentucky desperately needs someone to hit shots from the outside.
– Question: The guy who’s always sitting directly behind Ashley Judd and always wearing a hoodie, is that Drake? I’m pretty sure it is, and I think it’s funny that no TV announcer ever mentions him, yet never fails to mention Ashley Judd, despite the fact that he’s 1000x more famous than her right now.
– I hate to take these points straight from the commentators’ mouths, but Jay Bilas was dead-on when he mentioned, on multiple occasions, the stellar defensive job Eric Bledsoe’s done in the tournament. He locked down Ish Smith the other night in the Wake game and did another great job on Cornell’s perimeter tonight. I still don’t think he’s ready to go pro, but he’s improved a ton since the start of the season. And by the way, that mid-range jumper he shot tonight, the one where he picked up his dribble and everyone left him (because he never shoots mid-range jumpers) so he had no choice but to put it up, I’m pretty sure that’s the only mid-ranger I’ve seen him shoot all season. Just for the record, I am of the belief that a pull-up jumper would do wonders for Bledsoe’s game. As of now, he either shoots 3’s or goes to the rim, no matter how open a pull-up 15-footer might be. If he could knock down that shot consistently, it’d add another 4 to 6 points to his nightly average and cut his turnovers in half (the bulk of which occur when he over-penetrates). I repeat, this would do wonders for his game.
– Darius Miller finished the game with nine points and looked aggressive all night. It wasn’t a career-high night like the one he had against Wake, but it was stellar. Most important for Miller is that he has a scorer’s mentality. With so much attention being thrown Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins, and Patterson’s way, he’s the guy being given the most freedom by the defense. Kentucky needs him to stay aggressive the rest of the way.
That’s it for now. I hope to have more between now and Saturday, when Kentucky will face its toughest opponent all season in the West Virginia Mountaineers.