Know Your Foe: Kentucky

Jeff Drummond, Publisher of AllWildcats.com, answers several questions about the Wildcats in anticipation of tonight's marquee matchup between the No. 1 Wildcats and the No. 6 Longhorns at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

1. It's early but so far it seems like Kentucky is just heads and shoulders, both literally and figuratively, above the rest of the country. What's the buzz around this team right now as it relates to other all-time great UK teams?

Drummond:

“It's just about what you would expect, based upon that description. There's an expectation that this is Calipari's best overall team, even though it doesn't have a transcendent star like an Anthony Davis or John Wall. The depth of talent is probably as good as we've ever seen at UK, right up there with the 1996 NCAA champions who wound up having nine players play in the NBA. It's kind of a "championship or bust" feeling around here. It's a great position for the program to be in, but also one that can carry a pretty heavy burden on young players. People compare it to the expectation levels and pressure that the 1978 champions faced, but that team was junior- and senior-dominated.”

2. What's been the most impressive thing about the way John Calipari has juggled all of this talent so far this season? It seems like all of these high-profiled recruits are OK with not playing 30 minutes per game.

Drummond:

“He's got them to buy into the fact that you can go your hardest in 4- to 5-minute bursts and your averages per minute wind up better than if you had played 35 minutes and either got worn down or tried to conserve energy. Last year's team had something like four guys average around 35 minutes a game, which is way too much. Also, I think this is one of the best group of kids, character-wise, that he's had. They seem to genuinely like each other and root for the other guys when they're on the floor. It's not something that we anticipate carrying over past this season, but it will be interesting to see how it affects recruiting moving forward. We hear that a lot of rival coaches are already using it as a negative recruiting tactic. "Oh, if you go to Kentucky now, you're only going to play 20 minutes a game." Calipari says he doesn't ever want to coach a team with 10+ really deserving players again. he's much more comfortable with a 7- to 8-man rotation.”

3. One of UK's strengths is its size and its ability to simply play well above the rim when its opponents physically can't. Texas, like the Wildcats, is one of the tallest teams in the country. How do you think UK will handle playing against a team that won't be scared of Kentucky's height?

Drummond:

“It will be interesting. I think UK looks forward to it. I know the fans do. Many of the early games this season have been so non-competitive that it's really been a challenge for fans to stay engaged throughout the whole game. I'm really looking forward to see how the Cats respond if Texas pushes them hard for 40 minutes, which I think is a strong possibility. Providence did for about 30 minutes, and the Friars were not intimidated at all, but ultimately lost by 20.”

4. The Harrison twins were two players Rick Barnes would have loved to have had in Austin. How have you seen them grow in Year 2 and were you at all surprised that either, or both, came back this season?

Drummond:

“So many ways. Maturity, both mentally and physically. You don't see the bad "body language" or "pouting" that was often an issue during their freshman year. They're in tremendous shape. If you look at pictures or video of them at this time last year and compare it to now, it's striking. They've gone from double-digit body fat to something like 4 or 5 percent. They're more explosive. Their lateral quickness has helped them become better defenders. Last year, they didn't seem real interested in playing D all the time. Now they're no longer defensive liabilities. Andrew Harrison has improved dramatically with his on-ball pressure against opposing point guards. That has a lot to do with the depth we discussed earlier. With a really good point guard like Tyler Ulis as part of the second platoon, Andrew is able to go all-out on the defensive end of the floor when he's out there.”

5. If the Longhorns are going to have a chance in this one they must do ____ well?

Drummond:

“Shoot the 3. In my opinion, a team that beats Kentucky this year will need a point guard capable of driving, drawing help, and dishing to the wings for 3-pointers. If Texas can get that from both wings and not be reliant on one guy (see Providence's Helton being held to 3 points after coming in averaging 24) the Longhorns have the type of size and defense to pull the upset at Rupp Arena. My hunch is it will take 10-plus treys, to go along with a solid inside scoring attack, to beat this UK team.”

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