How about last week?! It’s always a special treat to see some Kentucky Basketball in early August. It’s a shame that it only comes every four years. We got our first glimpse of the 2022-23 team, and as a Cats fan, you can’t help but to be excited. What we saw last week was the epitome of National Title Contenders.
Bahamas By the Numbers
The Cats went 4-0 last week, with substantial victories over the Dominican Republic Select Team, Monterey Tec, Carleton University, and the Bahamas Select Team. The Cats were dominant on both ends of the court all week long. Kentucky averaged a whopping 106.5 points per game and won by an average margin of 50 points per game.
Some more stats from the trip:
- The Cats shot 55% from the field as a team and were an impressive 38% from behind the three-point line.
- Kentucky was also lights out from the free throw line, shooting 85% as a team. Free throw shooting has always been a “touchy” subject during the Coach Cal Era, but it’s important to note that the greatest teams (2012, 2015) were both excellent from the charity stripe. A very positive sign for a team this early on.
The most impressive and most important takeaway from the trip however was the Cats’ stifling defense. Cal has always been and always will be a defensive first coach, and he loves playing that style. There’s the old saying “offense sells tickets, defense wins championships” and it could not be more spot on.
- Kentucky managed to hold their opponents to an average field goal percentage of 36% the entire trip, with an impressive 24% from the three-point line.
- The Cats averaged 21 forced turnovers a game, 14 steals per game, and a very important 7 blocks per game.
Once again, rim protection has been a hallmark in the best seasons of the Cal Era, and was an area that our boys underachieved in last season. Now, it appears the Cats have shot blockers all over the court, and this is without Ugonna Kingsley even arriving on campus yet.
Who Was the King ‘Cat?
Many guys stood out on the trip – we all know what Kentucky returns with Consensus National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and Cousy Award Finalist Sahvir Wheeler – but this trip gave us a glance at which guys returned from last season and are ready to take their game to the next level. It also revealed what the new freshmen and lone transfers can contribute as the new kids on the block.
Daimion “Antetokounmpo” Collins
First off, how about Daimion “Antetokounmpo” Collins, who really looked like the Greek Freak out there, putting everyone on a poster!
Collins didn’t just display his athleticism on offense, but he also showed off his skills in the post – both scoring and passing – as well as knocking down some mid-range shots off the dribble. Many people have believed that Collins has the highest ceiling of anyone on the roster. If he can stay consistent with the glimpses he showed us, then he might just play himself into the lottery this season.
The next big surprise was Adou Thiero – the freshman came in as the lowest ranked recruit for this class, but it looks like he may be getting some vital playing time this season. On offense he showed confidence in both attacking the rim and shooting from deep, going 50% from behind the arc for the tour. Defensively Thiero was an absolute menace, recording the most steals and second most blocks of anyone on the team for the trip. At 6’7” (and clearly still growing) Thiero will come in very handy this season and prove to be a key contributor to this team.
Wallace and Livingston – The Freshman Duo
Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston had very high freshman expectations, and they appear to be living up to them. Both are athletic, skilled, and comfortable shooting behind the arc. They also both have high basketball IQ and are solid on the defensive end of the floor. Both looked to be lottery picks – maybe even Top 10. It’s a long season, but we may have the best freshman duo that we’ve had in a very, very long time.
Jacob Toppin Breakout Season?
Everyone has been waiting for the Jacob Toppin breakout season, and it looks like it might be coming this year. JT averaged the second most points per game, recorded the most blocks, and the second most steals of anyone on the tour. In Toppin’s first two seasons at UK he only hit eight threes total – he was 8-15 in these four games on the trip, and in the Carleton game he dropped a team-high 27 points. A breakout year where Toppin can play himself into the first-round of the NBA draft would take this team to the next level and give them the elite play at the four-spot that they lacked last season.
And the MVP goes to…
Last, but certainly not least, the MVP and most impressive man of the tour – Antonio Reeves. Cal proved that transfers can be elite with Oscar Tshiebwe last season, and he may have done it again here with “Tones.” Reeves led the team in scoring for the trip, averaging 17 points per game. He was lights out from behind the arc all week long, knocking down 14 threes at a 51% percent clip. We recently mentioned that Reeves is taking on a similar role as Kellan Grady played last season. The key difference would be that he is able to create his own shot better and isn’t just a catch-and-shoot guy. While that is definitely true – and Reeves proved that he is a polished true three-level scorer who can get a bucket from anywhere on the floor – what we did not see coming is Reeves potentially being this team’s leading scorer. If that is the case, and Tshiebwe does not have to shoulder as much of the load offensively, then the rest of the nation better watch out!
We know it’s early. The season is a long ways away, and we played mid-major competition at best down in the Bahamas. However, the speed, defensive awareness, and depth of this team was evident on the tour. It far exceeds where they would typically be at this point. Cal may have formed a super-team for this Reven9e Tour. Only time will tell.
Be sure to check out the full highlights from Big Blue Bahamas!