UNCASVILLE, CT – Every team in the SEC should send a thank you note and an edible arrangement to Old Dominion after their 62-52 loss to Kentucky in the final of Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament.
The Monarchs just wrote the blueprint for how to beat Kentucky this season. Its simple, really: make it ugly.
“Old Dominion did a great job,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “We know that this is how people are going to play us. They’ll hold the ball and be physical with us. They were very physical with us, especially in the post. I don’t know if one of many teams has missed as many one-footers as we missed. They were on your body and we weren’t going to get a free look that way.”
We’ve been saying it since October — the player that Kentucky is going to miss the most from last season’s Final Four team isn’t Brandon Knight or Deandre Liggins, its Josh Harrellson. For all the talent that the Wildcats have in their front court with Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer, the one thing they lack is a big, physical post presence. They don’t have that guy that will battle for position and make it difficult for an opposing team’s center to score on the block.
I don’t think its a stretch to say that Harrellson would make the Wildcats unquestionably the best team in the country.
“They got the ball wherever they wanted to in the post,” Calipari said. “It was too physical for Anthony Davis. It was so physical that he couldn’t even grab the ball. He must learn to bend over and play that way or every game he plays is going to be like this. Kyle was fighting and trying to get to some balls, but he had some baskets scored on him too.”
“We got behind the post and we fouled, because we didn’t get position as they were fighting harder than we were fighting.”
To be fair, Old Dominion just matches up well with Kentucky. The Monarchs are a team full of veterans that are well-coached and disciplined defensively. The guys on that team know what is going to be asked on them on every possession, and they simply execute. They are also very, very physical. Throw in the fact that this is the second noon-tip in a row for a young Kentucky team that is on the tail-end of a week-long road trip — remember, they never went back to Lexington after their game on Tuesday at the Champion’s Classic in New York City — and it was a perfect storm.
It only made sense that the Monarchs were going to give Kentucky problems.
And it also makes it easy to identify who is the most likely to knock off the Wildcats in the SEC. Alabama has a couple of tough, veteran bigs and they play a physical style of defense. They should give Kentucky problems. After seeing Mississippi State two nights in a row this week, I think the Bulldogs can also give Kentucky a fight. But is Vanderbilt really going to change the way they play, particularly if Festus Ezeli is still injured or not back to 100%, just for a game against the Wildcats?
More than anything, this is an indicator of who Kentucky will struggle with.
But its also a perfect teaching point for Calipari. Watching this tape, it won’t be difficult for him to clearly lay out for his team exactly where they are going to struggle this season and what they need to improve on. Teaching point aren’t easy to come by when you’re running Kansas out of Madison Square Garden or outscoring Penn State 47-15 in a half. Nearly losing to Old Dominion, however, will get this group’s attention.
“We’re either going to evolve or we’re not going to be as good as everybody thinks,” Calipari said. “Because what its going to be is mush-mouth basketball right now until we prove we can play.”
“But I think I have a good enough team with good enough guys, they’ll figure it out.”