After a slow start, the Kentucky Wildcats turned up the intensity and blew out the North Florida Ospreys 86-52. The large margin of victory was made even more impressive with the absence of Keion Brooks and Davion Mintz, who were out with an illness. Kentucky may not have been at full strength, but the team continues to gel together each time they take the floor.
The ‘Cats have two more tune-up games before the competition takes a step up. A trip to Notre Dame on December 11th begins a tough three-game non-conference stretch leading into SEC play. However, Central Michigan and Southern come to town first. These next two games are all about getting healthy and continuing the positive momentum.
In this edition of Watch The Tape, we are going to focus on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats are clearly vastly improved on the offensive end. Even when missing Brooks and Mintz, the offense was clicking and put up 86 points for the second consecutive game. However, the ceiling for this team is going to be decided on the defensive end of the floor. The ‘Cats are flashing some signs of being elite defensively with a mixture of ball pressure, positional versatility, and good, old-fashioned, toughness.
Let’s take a look at what stood out defensively against the North Florida Ospreys.
High-Level Defensive Execution
Kentucky is starting to execute at a high level on the defensive end of the floor. There are obviously still some miscues that will happen with any team, especially early in the season, but overall this group is really figuring it out. Sahvir Wheeler is one of the most disruptive on-ball defenders in the country. Additionally, TyTy Washington is showing flashes of being great on that end of the floor. This will be the Wildcats’ recipe for success as the competition level increases.
This is the type of play that can change a game. It isn’t necessarily a coincidence that within a couple of minutes of TyTy Washington making this play, the Wildcats started to pull away. From the scouting report, we knew this is how a lot of possessions would look. The North Florida Ospreys liked to begin a lot of possessions with a dribble handoff from the trail spot. All game long, the ‘Cats did a good job of blowing up this play. Here, Washington stays tight to his man and is able to bust over the handoff and get a hand on the ball. He then dives on the loose ball and draws a foul. This is a very impressive play from a future first-round pick in a random November non-conference game.
We continue to talk about it, but mixing in the full-court press could be a calling card for this Kentucky Wildcats team. The personnel clearly enjoys playing faster and they have really bought into the press. In this clip, TyTy Washington and Kellan Grady double team on the ball, and Washington uses his length to get a deflection. Then, Washington goes and pressures the ball along the sideline forcing the ballhandler to step out of bounds. This aggressive defense nets Kentucky an extra possession. The ‘Cats are getting better and better at making their opponents uncomfortable.
Plays like this make coaches very excited when watching the film. The ‘Cats just absolutely lock up the North Florida Ospreys for nearly a full 30 seconds. Sahvir Wheeler is hawking the ball and making it hard for them to initiate the offense. Also, you see Kellan Grady blow up the handoff similar to how TyTy Washington did in an earlier clip. Then, you get active help and stunting from both Lance Ware and Grady. The play finishes with great on-ball defense and a strong contest from Washington. Ware ends the position with a rebound.
Here is another perfect defensive possession by the Wildcats. Once again, Sahvir Wheeler is providing on-ball pressure which throws off the offensive rhythm. Kellan Grady does a great job off of the ball staying to his man to take away the shooter. Lance Ware and Daimion Collins execute a switch on the perimeter without a hitch. The possession ends with Ware coming over to help on a baseline drive and gets the North Florida player to shoot it over the backcourt.
Good Defense Leads to Easy Offense
The great thing about being really good defensively is that it also makes you better offensively. Last season, the Kentucky Wildcats struggled mightily to score. However, this season, that is no longer the case. Thanks in large part to Sahvir Wheeler, the ‘Cats get several “easy” baskets per game. Many of those easy baskets begin with excellent play on the defensive end.
When you want to play fast and score in transition you have to get stops. Kentucky’s ability to play faster this season begins with their strong defense and elite rebounding. However, it also helps to have great guards like Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington. In this clip, Jacob Toppin and Kellan Grady switch a ballscreen to successfully take #3 away from three. After the switch, Oscar Tshiebwe plays good post defense to force a wild shot that he rebounds. In transition, Washington throws it ahead to Wheeler who blows by a defender for an easy coast-to-coast layup. Getting stops allows the ‘Cats to get out and play in transition where they are excellent with Sahvir Wheeler.
It is a small sample size, however, through six games Sahvir Wheeler is playing at an All-American level. He is just an absolute pest on the ball that makes the ball-handler uncomfortable. After narrowly missing a steal in the backcourt, Wheeler stays in the play putting pressure on the forward who doesn’t want to handle the ball. Eventually, Wheeler deflects the pass back to the point guard, collects the ball, and scores an easy lay-in. Once again, great defense leads to easy offense.
This is yet another example of a play that makes any coach smile from ear to ear when watching the film. Kentucky has been very willing to switch screens defensively this season and that remained true against the North Florida Ospreys. Sahvir Wheeler and Kellan Grady switch an early middle ballscreen in this clip. Then, Lance Ware plays perfect shadow/drop coverage on the second ballscreen. Ware has his hands up and continues to give ground to the level of the roll guy. Also, Grady has his hands up which leads to a deflection and TyTy Washington steal. After the steal, the ‘Cats are out on the break and Grady gets rewarded with a layup.