Without Enes Kanter, Jorts Harrellson has stepped up his game bigtime. If he can stay out of foul trouble, I feel really good about a deep run by the Wildcats.
The Kentucky Blog, over at the Kentucky athletic department's website, lists 16 things to feel good about as we head into Friday's game in Newark. On freshman Brandon Knight:
1.) Knight's already a tourney vet: Questions surrounded the youth of Kentucky's freshmen entering the NCAA Tournament, and rightfully so. The trio of Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Dorn Lamb did little to quiet those for the first 39 minutes of the opening-round game against Princeton. But after hitting the game-winning shot against Princeton and then scoring a career-high 30 points against West Virginia, any anxiety Knight admitted to feeling is likely gone. He's already become one of the faces of this year's tournament.Jorts:
4.) Harrellson's a legitimate inside threat: Head coach John Calipari wasn't sure after the Louisville game if Josh Harrellson's performance was a fluke. But a full season of work that includes 8.8 rebounds per game and a .604 field-goal percentage has confirmed what some started to believe after the Louisville game: Harrellson is the most improved big man in the country. Harrellson still isn't capable of taking over a game, but he isn't just a "garbage man" anymore. He's developed just enough back-to-the-basket moves and has a great floor presence that he's forcing the opposition to keep him honest.I don't care if DeAndre Liggins misses all his shots but as long as he plays perfect defense like he has been, I'll be happy.
5.) Kentucky has found its "it" guy: You ever notice how most national championship teams have the kind of "it" player or "glue" guy that does a little bit of everything? He's not the best offensive player or the most talented, but he usually comes up with the winning plays. That guy for the Cats is DeAndre Liggins. We already knew Liggins was a lockdown defender, a reputation that he added to Saturday, but his energy and fearlessness of late has been contagious. He's developed an edge that's helped ignite the current eight-game winning streak. On Saturday, he shut down Cat killer Joe Mazzulla in the second half in addition to nine rebounds.Going into Friday, we are seen as the underdog even though last year, we were the team to beat. The team that everyone expected to win.
Coach John Calipari's coachig style has benefited this Kentucky team.
8.) The great motivator: You can bet John Calipari is salivating at the scenario that is playing out. He's going to tell his players how much everyone wants to see them lose. He's going to say they're lucky to be there. He'll tell them over and over again that if they don't execute, they'll get blown out of the gym. It's the perfect scenario for one of the great motivators in the game.The game notes won't be up until later this week but I'll preview the game on Thursday or Friday.
9.) Extra incentive: Speaking of motivation, you don't think the fact that Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith was in charge of the committee that tabbed Kentucky a No. 4 seed won't be a factor? You can bet Calipari will use that as ammo, too.
10.) Man of March: A lot of coaches can rack up victories before the postseason, but Calipari has the numbers to prove he can win when it matters the most. Calipari is now 30-12 in the NCAA Tournament, including two Final Four appearances.