By LARRY VAUGHT
Want an unbiased, educated opinion that might make you feel better about Kentucky’s national title chances?
Let’s turn to veteran Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy, a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame.
“A lot of Kentucky fans think very much micro and think what happens yesterday defines who you are. That is not the way things work. What happens over the course of the season is what counts,” said DeCourcy, who also does work for the Big Ten Network. “They can still wreck some people and take the ball from you.Then they have a game like Kansas and that changes.
“They have to be more sound, but it is not crisis mode. They have had some issues defensively, but you don’t get to 15th (in defensive efficiency) unless you are doing some things well.”
DeCourcy believes that freshmen De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Wenyen Gabriel can all still develop into solid defenders.
“Where this team has not fully become what it is capable of is Bam cannot playing without fouling. Wenyen is inconsistent, and he has the ability to be a great help defender and shot blocker,” DeCourcy said. “Fox can be a disruptor and take passing lanes away, but he has got to be able to stay in front of his guy. It has to start with him doing that and he has not always done his job in that regard.
“It’s still early for Bam, Fox and Wenyen. Those are the components John (Calipari) is talking about the most when he talks about defensive improvement and not any of those three are there yet. Those three can be game changing defenders. If John can get two of the three to be that, they can pursue the title. If he can get all three doing that, they might be the best team in the country. That is why John is not panicked at all.
“They still have to grow as a defense. They are not built to be an elite defense at their best. It’s not just to do with the freshmen. Elements of the team are just not structured to be a great defense. They just have got to be great on offense and acceptable on defense. Part of that is Wenyen. The inability to play him against Kansas really showed up with the game Josh Jackson had for Kansas.”
Calipari said before the season started he thought this could be his best defensive team. Was he that far off or was he just trying to inspire his team?
DeCourcy says Calipari’s 2008 team at Memphis or his 1996 team at UMass — which beat eventual national champion UK during the regular season before losing in the Final Four to UK — were Calipari’s two best defensive teams.
“That 1996 team had toughness. You could play defense different then and use more physicality, and they did,” DeCourcy said. “This team is not those teams on the defensive end, but with the offense it has, it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be acceptable on defense and there’s still no reason to think by March that they cannot be that or more.”