The Kentucky Wildcats (White) defeated the Kentucky Wildcats (Blue) 81-80 in Rupp Arena on Friday. This was Big Blue Nation’s first glimpse of what this team may look like moving forward, and there was a lot to like.
Starters for the White team included Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, EJ Montgomery, Kahlil Whitney, and Nick Richards. The Blue team was represented by Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang, Brennan Canada, Keion Brooks, and Nate Sestina. Although the teams did get mixed up in the second half.
It was great to be able to see these guys playing together and working hard on both ends of the court. And while we will not know John Calipari’s starting five for quite some time, we did learn a lot about this team tonight. Here are five things to know.
This will be a fun team to watch offensively. A lot of the new guys are more versatile than I expected, and all of the returners have taken significant steps forward.
Immanuel Quickley continues to shoot the ball well, and he showed that he has a lot of confidence in himself. Nick Richards was very aggressive, particularly on the offensive glass. EJ Montgomery looked more like he knows who he wants to be offensively. And Ashton Hagans seems more comfortable taking shots.
Tyrese Maxey is smooth all around and can score from anywhere. Kahlil Whitney flat out attacks the basket. Keion Brooks is much faster and more versatile than I expected. Johnny Juzang is much more than a shooter. And Nate Sestina, that man can shoot.
This team has multiple guys that can score from all three levels. And they seem willing to share the ball and the spotlight. That may be a dangerous combination.
Sestina will see a lot of time
Yes, we have seen Nate Sestina shoot before. He shot 38% from deep for Bucknell last season. He also lit it up at Kentucky’s pro day. But watching him score in multiple ways against real competition was very impressive.
I am still not sure he will start. But with his offensive skill set, it will be difficult to keep him on the bench for long. When he signed with Kentucky, many believed he would just be depth off the bench in the case of foul trouble. But he is a player, and he is going to earn plenty of playing time.
Immanuel Quickley is a new man
Coach Cal tried to warn us. But Quickley simply looks like a different dude. Once timid driving to the basket, he now looks perfectly comfortable with the ball in his hands. He can drive and score, drive and pass, or pull up for an almost automatic jumper. And he certainly has not taken a step back in his long-distance shooting.
Like Sestina, I am not convinced that Quickley will start. But I would not be surprised at all to see Kentucky go with a three guard lineup at some point. They may even start some games that way. Having three guards with this much talent is certainly a blessing, and I expect Calipari to take full advantage of it.
So much depth
I realize that the Wildcats are short on traditional front court players. But after seeing Brooks and Whitney play, it is obvious that they can play the power forward position in a smaller lineup.
Immanuel Quickley is going to get plenty of minutes. And many expected Johnny Juzang to be just a shooter, a la Jemarl Baker. He is more than that. And while he is also not quite as good as Tyler Herro, he provides a level of back court depth that few teams in the country will have.
And all of this is without the possibility of Dontaie Allen working into the rotation after returning from injury. This is a deep team, which always pays off once conference play begins.
Can they be physical enough?
Calipari has voiced his concern about whether or not this team will be able to respond when they are challenged by a physical team. And after this small sample of seeing them play, I can see why.
While he looked good on the offensive glass, Nick Richards did not seem overly physical. I did not see EJ Montgomery mixing it up very much either. And while Nate Sestina is a brute, he is much more comfortable playing on the perimeter.
One problem here is that, with these guys on the roster, they will not be challenged by physical players in practice. No, Grant Williams is no longer in the SEC. But Kerry Blackshear is. These guys need to toughen up to be able to compete with SEC front courts.
The three most physical guys on the court tonight were Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, and Kahlil Whitney. Perhaps these guys can rub off on their taller teammates.
Both teams played some zone defense on Saturday. And while John Calipari has always been open about his disdain for playing zone, this roster is built for playing zone.
There is length and athleticism at absolutely every position. It would be very difficult to move the ball around very much against really just about any five guys Coach Cal throws out there. Playing zone also provides the benefit of hiding your lack of physicality. There will not be a bull in the post that can take Nick Richards to the basket over and over again if he has help in the paint in a 2-3 zone.
Will the Wildcats play a lot of zone this season? That remains to be seen. But they certainly have the personnel to be successful at it.