Five Takeaways: Kentucky Exhibition Games

Five takeaways from Kentucky’s two exhibition games leading up to the 2014-15 college basketball season:

1. ‘Blue Platoons’ have been remarkably balanced: Using the two-platoon system that features the Harrison twins, Alex Poythress, Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein on the first unit and Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson on the second unit, Kentucky scored 116 points against Pikeville and 121 points against Georgetown College, two of the top programs at the NAIA level. Somewhat surprisingly, the scoring breakdown between the two platoons was almost equal. The starting unit averaged 56.5 points per game, while the second unit averaged 48.5. Rebounds were even closer, going 23.0 to 22.0 to the second unit. It appears that John Calipari has found the proper balance he’s looking for, if he intends to continue with the concept.

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2. Andrew Harrison may have made the best decision of his life: In opting to return to the Wildcats for a second season and placing his NBA dreams on hold, the sophomore point guard is in tremendous shape and seems to be carrying himself with an entirely different level of confidence and maturity. Calipari loves the way he’s communicating with teammates and the coaching staff alike, not to mention the almost complete absence of the poor body language he was prone to as a freshman. The results: Harrison had a 15:2 assist-to-turnover ratio in the two exhibition wins and a refreshing smile on his face that was all too rare last year.

3. Three-point shooting a pleasant surprise: The Cats averaged eight 3s per game and shot 36 percent from behind the arc. They were particularly good against Georgetown, knocking down 12 of 27 with Aaron Harrison going 5-for-7 and Booker going 3-for-7. If UK can get that consistently, opposing coaches have a huge dilemma on their hands. Very few opponents will have the front court depth to match up inside, but if you zone, Harrison and Booker look poised to make you pay. Lyles and Poythress also went 50 percent from long range in the exhibitions, and Ulis, while missing all three of his attempts, proved in the Bahamas to be a dangerous shooter if left unattended.

4. Dakari Johnson at the charity stripe: The feel-good stat from the two exhibition wins was UK’s sophomore center knocking down seven of his nine free throw attempts coming off a freshman campaign which saw his playing time in late-game situations limited due to his 45 percent success rate. Johnson, an offensive rebound machine, is going to get fouled a ton this year. If he can keep his percentage at or above .680, he could be a dark horse to lead the Cats in scoring.

5. Lyles catching up fast: The highly-regarded freshman fell behind his teammates when a lingering illness prevented him from playing on the Big Blue Bahamas trip, but he’s been making up for lost time. The 6-10 forward was arguably the player of the game against Georgetown with 14 points and six rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. The way he collected his points underscored his versatile skill set, showing off his range with a pair of 3s and demonstrating his athletic ability with two monster dunks – a reverse jam and a soaring tomahawk slam. He and Towns may be two of the most skilled big men in the entire country. Calipari would like to see him crash the boards a bit harder, but that’s something that should come with time. He’s got everything you can’t teach.

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