Welcome to our weekly feature: This Week In Hoops. Every Monday morning we’ll take a quick look back at what we learned from the last week of games and a look forward at this week’s slate.
What We Learned Last Week
- Jeez, even watching Kentucky-Louisville felt like being in a bare-knuckle brawl. We learned a ton about both teams and raised some questions moving forward.
- The “Kentucky is going undefeated” train has officially become the runaway train from Unstoppable. Is it more possible than it was last week? Absolutely, without question. If I had to bet my life on it? I still think they lose before the tournament. The SEC is down, but it is no joke. It has nine teams in the RPI top 100, plus slow starting Florida. Kentucky’s been great so far, but Saturday’s win was their first true road win, which is to say it’s the only true roadie they’ve even played. I think someone has a big night and beats the young Cats away from Rupp.
- How much does Louisville miss Luke Hancock? Their offense is just so much less fluid without the spacing provided by a knockdown shooter. Kentucky’s defense is smothering, but Louisville’s offensive woes (50 points, 25% shooting, 3-14 3PT shooting, and ONE ASSIST) were as much on the Cardinals as the Cats.
- Speaking of fluidity and spacing, Kentucky’s offense saw a ton of it in the second half thanks to a big change from John Calipari. For the last 13-14 minutes of the game, Kentucky played 3-guard lineups consisting of some combination of the Harrison twins, Devin Booker, and Tyler Ulis. Bigs Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee stayed on the bench and the 3-guard lineups handled the Louisville pressure and created movement in the half court. Here’s two examples of that:
Willie Cauley-Stein comes out to set a screen for Andrew Harrison. Notice all of Louisville’s eyes firmly placed on the dangerous Harrison.
As Harrison dives to the rim, he attracts the attention of Chris Jones. Tyler Ulis correctly slides to the corner creating a passing lane.
Harrison makes the pass and Ulis hits the open triple. With a bigger lineup, Lee or Johnson or Trey Lyles or the now injured Alex Poythress aren’t capable of creating that kind of opportunity. Here it is again:
This time, it’s Aaron Harrison and he’s in the corner.
Again, when the ball handler drives, Chris Jones collapses (so does Terry Rozier, covering Kentucky’s best shooter Booker, who is out of the picture here) and Ulis finds a passing land and a spot to shoot.
Ulis gets an open look and knocks it down. Kentucky’s five bigs (Karl Towns, Cauley-Stein, Lee, Johnson, and Lyles) are as long and as good as anyone in the country, but they can be even better with space to operate. Ulis played extra minutes on Saturday and made the most of it. Unless he’s facing a bad size match-up, he makes Kentucky better.
- Like gift wrapped socks, the Christmas Day NBA games proved to be a bit of a letdown. The Knicks were the Knicks, Thunder-Spurs was semi-fun, LeBron’s return to Miami was fairly boring, and the Bulls blew out the Kobe-less Lakers. The biggest takeaway of the the day for me was the Clippers win over Golden State. The Dubs couldn’t make anything, but you have to give the Clippers credit for holding them to 86 points, including just 16 in the final quarter. In the giant Rocks-Paper-Scissors match that is the Western Conference, you’d have to think the Clips have one of the best shots at sending Steph Curry and company home.
- Kansas State may have suffered the worst beat I’ve ever heard of. Up by 4 with 3.8 seconds left. And they lost. IN REGULATION. Bruce Weber has shown himself to be a shaky coach, but this is downright ridiculous. I’ve never seen a lead evaporate that quickly. Next time you’re rooting for your favorite team and think it’s over, remember this game.
The Week Ahead
In The NBA
Monday, Wizards @ Rockets
James Harden is off to a career year. Here, he gets an interesting match-up with one of the league’s best backcourts.
Tuesday, Raptors @ Trailblazers
Friday, Raptors @ Warriors
Big road trip for the Raps this week. Interesting to see what one of the East’s best can do against the real big boys out West.
In College Hoops
Tuesday, #15 Maryland @ Michigan State
CONFERENCE PLAY! It may not look like it (Maryland is actually in the Big Ten, no matter how long it takes for us to believe it!), but it is and it’s great to see.
Wednesday, Butler @ #7 Villanova
Our first taste of the Big East this year comes at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. The league title is Villanova’s to lose, but if they drop a game like this, things may be more up in the air than we thought.
Enjoy the last games of 2014, everybody.
(Note: Every edition of This Week in Hoops will end with a song. I’ve compiled all of these songs into a playlist that you can find here. For obvious reasons, it’s a bit holiday heavy right now. It will even out soon enough.)
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer of PalestraBack.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.