November 22nd 2010
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If you think John Calipari is just blowing smoke when he talks about taking a young team into a tough spot like the Maui Invitational, just look at what happened this past week to North Carolina at one of those types of events. The Tar Heels suffered back-to-back upset losses to unranked teams in Minnesota and Vanderbilt.
Kentucky's offense has often looked like it's in midseason form in the wins over ETSU and Portland but remember that UK had a week to practice before each of those games. Now, they've traveled across the country, arriving in Maui around 5 a.m. local time on Saturday, and they prepare to play three games in three days starting today against Oklahoma. It'll be interesting to see what kind of dropoff there is from game to game, especially considering this is a depth-challenged UK team.
But even if the Cats take a loss or two in Maui, it wouldn't do much damage to their RPI come March and it will enable Calipari to learn a lot about his team responds to a less than ideal circumstance of playing tougher foes with less rest.
Calipari said at yesterday's media session that he needs a combined double-double in points and rebounds from the center combo of Josh Harrelson and Eloy Vargas. That'll be a huge boost if gets it on a consistent basis and Harrelson is looking like he might be capable of giving this team more than many thought possible back in October.
In today's game, Kentucky is a solid favorite against an Oklahoma team that is picked to be near the bottom of the Big 12. And OU coach Jeff Capel says rebounding is a big concern for his team. Given UK's lack of beef in the paint, you'd have to be optimistic in a matchup with the other team is worried about the boards,too.
I talked to Capel during the media interviews yesterday and he said he thinks this is the best shooting team he's seen Calipari put on the court. But it's also worth noting that Calipari says a friend who watched the game in Portland told him that no matter how well they shoot it, there will be games where the ball just won't go in the basket--and the test will come in how the team responds to that particular form of adversity. With three games in three days, chances are they may find out this week.
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