Kentucky basketball: 5 things we learned from Cats' season-opening trainwreck
Duke’s season-opening 118-84 thrashing of Kentucky was, well, educational for the Wildcats. How about for those watching the game? Here’s five things we learned from the Wildcats’ opener.
1. Those recruiting analysts weren’t wrong
Recruiting analysts aren’t perfect. Sometimes they fall in love with players who ultimately just aren’t that good. Felipe Lopez wasn’t the once-in-a-generation guy he was supposed to be, for instance. Neither was Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney. These kids from Duke are pretty special. R.J. Barrett set a first-game Duke scoring record. Zion Williamson, who also surpassed the previous first-game scoring mark, does have the Charles Barkley/Karl Malone kind of skill set. Cam Reddish is a really good shooter. Tre Jones can just pass and pass and pass some more, just like his big brother, former Blue Devil Tyus. Duke is good. Really, really good.
2. Kentucky didn’t bother to play any defense. At all
The last time Kentucky gave up 59 points in the first half, like they did Tuesday night — or 118 points, like they did for the game? Well, it was 1989. That team was a) on probation, b) limited to a handful of scholarship players, none over 6-7, c) full-court pressing the whole game, and d) playing against North Carolina.
Duke is good, really good. The Blue Devils look even better when your defense appears to be “forcing” them into shooting a lot of lay-ups and open 3s. Applaud the Blue Devils for committing just four turnovers. Also wonder why any defense against even the greatest players in the world would produce only four turnovers.
3. Keldon Johnson was Kentucky’s highlight
Johnson had 14 points in the first half of his first game as a Wildcat, and finished with a team-high 23 for the night. That said, while Duke’s outstanding freshmen stole the show, Kentucky’s tended to struggle. Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley combined for 8 points on 1-for-6 shooting, and had 5 assists and 4 turnovers between them. Tyler Herro padded his stats late, but was 0-for-5 shooting in the first half. EJ Montgomery played well off the bench, with 8 points and 6 boards, but Johnson was the only Kentucky freshman who consistently went toe-to-toe with Duke’s best.
4. Reid Travis is probably Kentucky’s most consistent player
The veteran senior was a solid contributor, putting up 22 points and 7 rebounds, and generally being the one Wildcat who consistently looked certain of what he was trying to do offensively. The problem that Travis had was that Kentucky’s guards spent the game’s first eight minutes trying to force up wild jump shots or penetrate into driving runners, instead of passing the ball around and finding Travis in the post. He can certainly help this Kentucky team moving forward, but they do have to get him the ball.
5. This loss doesn’t have to bury the season
As the second half wore on, one interesting parallel came to mind. Back on Nov. 18, 2014, it was Kentucky using the Champions Classic to make an emphatic statement. What Duke did with offense tonight, that UK team did with defense, beating No. 5 Kansas 72-40 in a game that really wasn’t that close. That Kansas team rebounded to spend much of the season in the AP top 10. Kentucky will have every opportunity to conduct a similar bounce back … but it’s a long way back after a humbling Tuesday night.