1. Explosive Backcourt
That Kentucky's three-man starting backcourt of Isaiah Briscoe, De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk has played well does not come as a surprise. That the trio has gelled so quickly is the impressive part. All three were "lead guard," alpha-dog types at the high school and AAU level, but have worked really well together in John Calipari's new "positionless" mantra. "They play for each other... and they share," the UK boss said. Buoyed by his vastly improved 55-percent shooting, Briscoe leads the team at 19.7 points per game, matching his career high of 21 in each of the last two games. Monk is averaging 16.3 points, followed by Fox at 15.0 points and 7.0 assists per game. The freshmen haven't shot the ball as well as they can (29 of 74, 39 percent) but their ability to get to the basket almost at will has offset the inconsistent jumpers. The trio either finishes strong at the rim or goes to the free throw line, where they are a combined 38 of 42 (90 percent) to start the season. On Tuesday against Michigan State, Monk showed what kind of weapon he can be when he's in the proverbial zone, knocking down seven 3-pointers to help lead the rout of the Spartans. After watching Duke an Kansas in Game 2 of the Champions Classic -- a pair of teams that might be contenders in March -- one has to feel really strong about how the UK backcourt matches up with both the Blue Devils and the Jayhawks.
2. The X-Factor?
A casual glance at Wenyen Gabriel's final line in Kentucky's 69-48 win over Michigan State may not open too many eyes. The freshman forward had four points, six rebounds, three steals, two assists and one blocked shot coming off the UK bench. When you look at all of those together and consider that he played only 24 minutes, that's a lot of stat-stuffing. And what the stat line won't indicate is how many other plays that Gabriel impacted just by being 6-foot-10, extremely athletic and the longest guy under the roof at Madison Square Garden. Simply put, Gabriel was a major nemesis for the Spartan. Players that momentarily looked open suddenly were not. Passing lanes were interrupted. Rebounds that appeared to be headed into MSU hands were snatched out of the air or tipped to another UK player. He's an X-factor type of player. "I thought Wenyen was great today," Calipari said. "Wenyen was the high-motor, hands on balls, tipping balls... Wenyen Gabriel is a 6-10 wing, and he's just getting better and better." With starting forward Derek Willis being largely ineffective in each of the last two games -- he's only attempted four shots from 3-point range this season -- we could see more of his minutes going to Gabriel.
3. Help Wanted: Perimeter Threat
The Cats found a way to win its first three games in decisive fashion despite not having a consistent perimeter shooting threat. Monk made only three of his 12 attempts in the first two games before going 7-for-11 against the Spartans. That was his M.O. on the high school and AAU circuit, a streak shooter who can light it up on a given night, but maybe not as reliable a threat game in and game out as a guy like Jamal Murray last season. Kentucky's leading returning 3-point shooter, Willis, is just 1-for-4 on the season; Briscoe 1-for-6; Gabriel 1-for-5; Fox 0-for-7; and Dominique Hawkins 0-for-3. Someone else will have to step up and be a threat from the arc to keep defenses from packing zones tighter and tighter to the basket. Mychal Mulder is 3-for-6 on the season but has a tough time getting steady minutes with the four guards ahead of him in the rotation. Defense seems to be the reason Calipari won't trust him with more playing time, but the coach's hand may be forced if the Cats don't improve their consistency from beyond the arc.