The threat lasted for 20 minutes.
At halftime on Sunday afternoon, the Buffalo Bulls held a 38-33 lead on No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena and had, for the most part, outplayed the nation’s most talented team. That all changed when the two teams came out for the second half, as Kentucky outscored the Bulls 38-14 over the final 20 minutes, winning 71-52.
The major talking point coming out of this game is going to be Kentucky’s platoon system and the fact that they “scrapped” it — which is dumb; I’ll explain why in a minute — but people that talk about that will be missing the larger issue: Kentucky’s half-court offense was downright bad for pretty much the entire game.
Part of the reason for that was issues they had shooting the ball from the perimeter. Buffalo was able to pack their defense into the paint and roll the dice on guys like Tyler Ulis and Aaron Harrison launching from deep. But that wasn’t the only issue. Far too often, Kentucky was taking quick shots off of the first pass without getting any movement. Their bigs were forcing the issue on post moves when they were surrounded by Bulls.
The Wildcats didn’t make their run until the second half, when their pressure started to wear down Buffalo. For the first 20 minutes, the Bulls were able to beat that press, getting aggressive offensively once they got past the initial trap. In the second half, Kentucky started forcing turnovers and getting layups, dunks and open threes — that they started hitting. It was the second five — Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson — that sparked the run right at the start of the second half.
We knew that Kentucky was going to be a team built around their defense, and that was evident in the second half on Sunday. All it took was Kentucky to finally wake up and start playing with some intensity.
But their issues on the offensive end of the floor is a concern and something that we will need to keep an eye on.
Back to the talk about platoons, it’s silly to get up in arms about Kentucky scrapping their platoons. The bottom line is this: In every game in every sport, even the most detailed game-plans get tweaks and changes, sometimes even complete overhauls, based on game flow. Is someone hot offensively? Is an opponent breaking down a zone too early? Did someone get into foul trouble?
Kentucky’s game-plan is to use platoons, to have two five-man units that will share minutes and shots and keep everyone happy. But foul trouble for Karl Towns changed that, meaning the way that Kentucky played changed.
We all know that this idea was an effort for Coach Cal to make sure everyone on his roster stays happy and focused and playing hard, but the bottom line is that he wants to win. He’ll go with this platoon system until it’s evident that it’s hurting his team. My guess? He uses the shifts for the first half of games, and down the stretch, he’ll make changes based on foul trouble, matchups and who has the hot hand.
And guess what?
That means that Kentucky will be using platoons.