Youth, Jones power Wildcats
When the quartet of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson left Kentucky for the NBA following a 35-3 season in 2009-10, John Calipari's Wildcats lost 57 points and 25 rebounds per game.
Try not to shed too many tears for poor ol' Coach C.
The dynamic Kentucky head coach went out and landed perhaps the top freshman class in the country, and through seven games, it's showing itself well.
Terrence Jones, a 6-foot-8, 244-pounder, is averaging 19.0 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while shooting 55.2 percent from the field.
Brandon Knight, Calipari's 6-foot-3 replacement for Wall at point guard, is averaging 17.0 points per game.
Doron Lamb, the 6-foot-4 substitute for Bledsoe, is tossing in 13.3 points per game and shooting 52.5 percent.
Three juniors - 6-foot-7 Darius Miller, 6-foot-6 DeAndre Liggins and 6-foot-11 Eloy Vargas - join 6-foot-10, 275-pound senior Josh Harrellson to contribute another 30 points and 20-plus rebounds per game.
No. 23-ranked Notre Dame (8-0) will have its hands full against the No. 17 Wildcats (5-2) Wednesday night at Freedom Hall in Louisville in the Big East/SEC Invitational.
"It's similar to Big East preparation with speed coming at our lane," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "When we talk about trying to survive and thrive in the Big East, they have a lot of guys who can get to your lane off the dribble. Certainly that's John's philosophy of driving you off the dribble."
The Wildcats will come at the Irish in waves - young and old.
"I'm impressed with their veteran guys," Brey said. "Miller, Liggins and Harrellson give them some men who have been through the battles, and obviously the three young guys are extremely talented.
"They have a nice blend. It's a great test for us in a road atmosphere, our first time in that kind of atmosphere Wednesday night."
The Wildcats opened with four victories, including 12-point and seven-point wins over Oklahoma and No. 11 Washington in Maui. Connecticut exposed some of Kentucky's youth in a 17-point loss to the Huskies in the third game in three days.
Last Saturday, Jones had his first real off performance (nine points, six rebounds, 3-of-17 shooting, fouled out), and it helped cost the Wildcats in a 75-73 decision at struggling North Carolina.
Brey still was impressed with Kentucky's resilience in their first true road-game environment.
"There's a toughness there," said Brey of Kentucky. "It was a great college game. It was the first time they had been in that atmosphere, and I thought they were really tough and physical. I've got to believe John is impressed with how they played down there. He's playing three young guys long minutes."
Brey readily admits that the Irish will have great difficulty contending with Jones, who had 29 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma, and 16 points and 17 rebounds versus Washington.
"He's a tough match-up because he steps out and he can put it on the floor and drive it," Brey said. "It's a tricky match-up because he's out facing the basket and he's able to take it off the dribble."
In one respect, the Irish are catching a break. Enes Kanter, a 6-foot-10, 240-pounder "freshman" from Istanbul, is ineligible due to questions about his amateur status. Kanter was expected to step into the starting lineup from the outset.
The Irish have enough to contend with in Jones, Knight, et al.
"They're mentally tough, they're able to defend, and they're able to move their feet," Brey said. "Can we move the ball against their ball pressure?"