Kentucky’s return to form after the season-opening, soul-crushing loss to Duke is one of the most underrated storylines in college basketball, but Bill Self made a point to acknowledge it during today’s press conference. Like John Calipari, the Kansas coach knows the burden of coming into a season with high expectations — the Jayhawks were the preseason No. 1, followed by the Wildcats at No. 2 — and praised the job Cal has done getting his team back on track.
“Five in a row against good people too,” Self said of Kentucky’s five-game winning streak. “They’re playing well. They were really good the last 10 or 12 minutes against Mississippi State the other night. Yeah, they’re good. They’re big. They’ve got enough fouls to give that they should never have to play shorthanded up front. Hagans is developing into a premiere guard, maybe as good a defensive guard — he’s kind of their Marcus Garrett. And Herro and Keldon Johnson are having terrific years and on a roll right now.
“They’re good. They’re a team that can win a national championship. I know everybody thought that before the season and then you have one game where the tension shifts. And they’ve done it the right way. They’ve grinded their way back to be where they are right now and that’s being one of the best teams in the country.”
While Kentucky is gaining momentum, Kansas is trying to redefine itself after losing Udoka Azubuike for the season. The big man left a big void for the Jayhawks inside, forcing Self to go small. Right now, Kansas is starting four guards and the tallest player getting regular minutes is Dedric Lawson at 6’9″. Self knows size is a weakness on which Kentucky will capitalize.
“We were undefeated obviously with [Azubuike] in the lineup, which includes Tennessee, Marquette, and Villanova, so we’ve gotten very small,” Self said on the Big 12 Teleconference this morning. “Probably as small as we’ve ever played. It certainly has an impact and going against Kentucky’s bigs, it creates a situation that the vast majority of the time, you’ve got a 6’4” guy guarding a 6’9″ guy. We’re going to have to make some adjustments and certainly be much tougher on the glass.”
With each of Kentucky’s four bigs bringing something different to the table, it sounds like the opportunity is there for the Cats to own the middle.