We may not be done with football just yet, but Kentucky opens its 2017-18 men’s basketball campaign on Friday night. The No. 5 ranked Wildcats have less than a week to prepare for a huge early season matchup with No. 4 Kansas and in that week they have two games to win. The first is the opener at Rupp Arena on Friday night against Utah Valley.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Find a season-long balance
This is a young team even by the recent standards of Kentucky basketball. More to the point, John Calipari doesn’t have an obvious star or two to carry his Wildcats’ squad if the going gets tough. Sure, a star may emerge at some point, but there is not one obvious player who everyone that Kentucky faces will be scared of.
It might not matter.
The Wildcats played three exhibition games against (bad) in-state schools. In those games, Kentucky had seven different players’ average double-figures in scoring. The stars (relatively) were Kevin Knox (19.3 ppg), Quade Green (15.7 ppg), and Hamidou Diallo (14.7 ppg). It is too much to expect for this many players to chip in and score so many points over the course of a 31 game season, but Kentucky can start how they mean to go on with a good offensive balance against the Wolverines.
Show that the jump shot is a threat
The more youthful the team, the less they want to take jump shots. All offseason we were told that this Kentucky vintage was not a deep ball threat, that Calipari and company had recruited a roster of slashers who wanted to drive at the basketball above all else. This may prove to be true when the games are tight and a player’s instinct takes over, but during exhibition play the Wildcats shot 41.3-percent from deep on 19-of-46 from behind the arc.
Another thing to watch in this game is Kentucky’s discipline from the free throw line. Exhibition season saw the Wildcats shooting their foul shots at a 73.5-percent clip, a decent place to start but not what Calipari will want to see come the end of the season. Getting better at shooting free throws in a game situation will be big for this team down the stretch.
Relax and enjoy the game
It is sometimes easy to get lost in the spectacle of opening night. While fans have been distracted by football for the last three months, these players have been practicing day after day to get better both individually and as a team. They are ready to come out and get this season started.
Utah Valley plays Kentucky in the first part of what has to be the most brutal double-header to ever begin a college basketball season. After taking on the Wildcats, the Wolverines travel almost 350 miles to Cameron Indoor to take on No. 1 Duke. Just 24 hours later. The Wildcats have a little longer (almost 48 hours) before taking on Vermont and the players need to enjoy these two games and get their feet under them before meeting the Jayhawks in the 2017 Champions Classic.