Kentucky took care of business once again on Monday night with an 85-57 beatdown of the Central Michigan Chippewas. The Wildcats are now winners of six straight home games after their season-opening loss to Duke. Now, they finally get a week between games for the players to get healthy before a final tune-up game against Southern.
The first half of Monday night’s game was just about as perfect as you could ask for. Kentucky shot the ball very well, dominated the glass, and forced turnovers. The end-to-end domination led to a 51-25 halftime advantage as the ‘Cats appeared to be on the way to their most lopsided victory of the season. However, a sloppy second half ensued as Kentucky would only add two points to their margin.
In a game like this, where the outcome was decided by the halftime break, it is usually best to just burn the second half tape. So, when we watch the tape of this one, we are going to focus on the first half alone. There just isn’t much to take away from what amounts to 20 minutes of garbage time. Let’s dive on in and breakdown some film of the Wildcats big win over the Central Michigan Chippewas.
Making the Chippewas Pay
We’ve talked about it before when watching the tape, but the sign of a good offense is forcing the defense into lose-lose situations. When you have really good players the opposing defense has to make tough decisions on what to stop and what to give up. Choosing between stopping a Sahvir Wheeler drive or allowing an open TyTy Washington or Kellan Grady three-pointer is what keeps coaches up at night. The Wildcats now have the pieces to force their opponents to pick their poison.
The Sahvir Wheeler and Oscar Tshiebwe pick-and-roll has been a deadly go-to play for the Wildcats this season. Opponents simply don’t know how to cover it because you have to end up giving away something. The Central Michigan Chippewas were so concerned with the pick-and-roll that they were helping on Wheeler’s drive before it even occurred.
Central Michigan goes with a little flat hedge on the ballscreen but before Wheeler even gets downhill at all #32 guarding TyTy Washington steps into the would-be driving lane. Wheeler sees that and immediately whips the ball over to Washington. As he collects the pass, #32 aggressively rovers but Washington smartly attacks the closeout and gets to his patented floater. This whole play was made possible by the pressure Kentucky’s players put on the opposing defense simply based off of reputation and film.
Much like the first clip, Central Michigan must once again decide between stopping Wheeler’s drive or taking Washington away from three. Once again, they chose to stuff Wheeler’s drive. Washington slid down towards the corner and made himself available for the kick-out. The freshman guards movement made for a longer closeout and gave him time to launch the three which he buried. It looks simple, but this is repeatable offense for Kentucky this season.
It is far from a break neck pace, but the Wildcats do continue to play as fast as they ever have under Coach Calipari. Only the 2017 team had a faster tempo according to KenPom. Playing faster is inevitable when you turn the keys to the offense over to Sahvir Wheeler. However, Kentucky isn’t just playing fast for the sake of playing fast. It has without a doubt help raise their level offensively and unlocked the best out of many players.
Last season, we spent countless watch the tape segments showcasing how bad Kentucky was in transition. Their spacing was terrible and they simply didn’t have the personnel capable of pushing the ball up the floor quickly. However, this season, they are at their best when playing fast in transition.
As soon as Keion Brooks secures the rebound you can see Oscar Tshiebwe take off sprinting to the rim. This clip should be shown to every single high school big man in the country. Textbook transition rim-running. Also, you have Kellan Grady and TyTy Washington running wide to the corners. It is actually funny to see the two of them because of the perfect encapsulation of the difference between a fifth year senior and a freshman. Grady sprints and gets all the way to the deep corner while Washington somewhat jogs and stops a few feet short of the corner. Coach Calipari definitely should point that out on film. Anyway, Brooks is in the trail spot and knocks down the three as his man helps to corral Wheeler with the ball.
Unlike the last clip, this play isn’t perfect in terms of transition execution. Lance Ware has a great rim run and Kellan Grady sprints to the corner like he always does. However, Keion Brooks is in the way. He needs to just stay in the trail spot instead of running into the paint and clogging things up. It all ends up working out though. Washington throws it ahead to Grady who passes up his first look at a three in the corner. He attacks the closeout and passes it back to Washington who is wide open on the right wing. Washington also passes up a three with a shot fake and kick back to an open Grady. Grady drives once again, draws help, and hits Washington one more time for an inside-out three.
Though this basket wasn’t actually in transition, it was the result of transition. Washington and Grady put pressure on the defense right away and it led to a wide open three 10 seconds later. The faster Kentucky plays the more possessions they will get that look like this.
Defensive Pressure Bothered Central Michigan
We’ve talked about it a lot here in watch the tape over the last few games, but Kentucky’s defense continues to execute at a high level. They have really started to pressure the ball and are getting more aggressive in the passing lanes as well. That was true once again against the Central Michigan Chippewas.
Kellan Grady has really stepped up early on this season as a very good off-ball defender. His veteran presence is really making a difference on that end of the floor. Central Michigan sets the middle ballscreen with Wheeler going over the screen and Tshiebwe dropping into shadow coverage. You can see Grady reading the ball handler the entire time and as soon as he sees him throwing it back he shoots the passing lane. This is a great play showcasing his veteran awareness and gets the ‘Cats two easy points.
Another game, another steal and layup for Sahvir Wheeler. The point guard has been nothing short of tremendous on the ball this season and has created a lot of easy baskets for Kentucky. Wheeler is averaging 1.6 steals per game after picking up two more agains the Central Michigan Chippewas. He is an absolute pest on the ball.
One of the developments Kentucky has made defensively to improve their ability to apply pressure is their willingness to switch. The Chippewas went to a flex action and switched the flex screen between Grady and Wheeler. This allowed Grady to chase off of the downscreen and Wheeler to take away the pass inside off the flex screen. Both ended up completely denying their man. Grady ended up getting a deflection that forced a turnover.