Among the more eye-popping statistics Kentucky coach John Calipari
has racked up in his three seasons in Lexington is this one: he’s never lost at Rupp Arena. If that 47-game winning streak is to end anytime soon, perhaps it could be tonight, when Florida comes to town for what should be the game of the season in the Southeastern Conference.
There’s one thing that’s a given about the No. 1-ranked Wildcats. Opponents aren’t going to be able to score inside, or if they do, it’s not going to be easy. With freshman Anthony Davis
- who has already broken school and SEC freshman records for blocked shots (116), sophomore Terrence Jones
(42) and even freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
(27) patrolling the paint, many teams have been forced to alter their strategy.
That won’t be the case with the Gators, who lead the nation in 3-point field goals per game (10.5) and are 12th in 3-point percentage (.402).
Not every Florida player kills it from 3, it just seems that way: guards Kenny Boynton
(.438) and Erving Walker
(.393) are among the league leaders. Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario
is shooting 39 percent and freshman Bradley Beal
is starting to knock down shots after a slow start (.345 overall and .400 in SEC games). Even reserve guard Scottie Wilbekin
(.357) is a threat.
But the player Calipari is most concerned about is 6-10 junior Erik Murphy
(.461), the best stretch four man in the conference. This guy’s become a real weapon.
“With Murphy, they spread the floor out,” Calipari said. “A year ago, you could kind of predict that [Florida’s] four or five is going to be close to the rim and you’ve got a chance to guard them in the post. Right now, with Murphy being able to shoot the 3 the way he does, it makes it even more difficult to try to zone in on their big guys and makes them harder to guard.”
Kentucky leads the nation in defensive field-goal percentage (.360) because most of its opponents have been forced to try to shoot over the top of the defense. Not many teams shoot from the perimeter the way Florida does, but coach Billy Donovan
doesn’t want his team to be one-dimensional.
“Because we’ve got, at times four guys out there who can shoot 3s, we may be able to stretch the defense to be able to take some of those shots,” Donovan said. “But I don’t think in this league you can be totally one dimensional, because in this league, there are going to be teams that can take certain things away from you.”
Kentucky has also been pretty good at preventing the 3 (No. 3 in the SEC at .309). But the fact Florida has so many shooters on the floor at any given time will present a challenge the likes of which this young team hasn’t faced this season.
“When we’re open,” Donovan said, “I want our guys shooting it.”
: It can’t help Alabama’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament that junior forward Tony Mitchell
has been suspended by coach Anthony Grant
, but then again, Grant has never worried about how disciplinary actions might affect his team.
If suspending a player is the only way to get his attention, Grant isn’t afraid to do it, as last season’s short banishment of JaMychal Green
would attest. Green came back better and more focused after Grant reinstated him.
The one thing in Alabama’s favor as it prepares to play at rival Auburn tonight is that the Tide has depth at the perimeter positions, especially after the return of senior Andrew Steele
. The Crimson Tide will miss Mitchell’s rebounding (7.0 rpg), but what this team really needs is for a player or two to start knocking down 3-pointers.
Alabama shoots .265 from 3. That’s last in the SEC and somewhere in the nether regions of Division I. NCAA statistics list only 283 D-I teams in 3-point percentage, and the last one, Navy, is shooting .277 behind the arc.
GRADING THE FIRST HALF
: At the half way point of SEC play, here is the Fast Break’s assessment:
: G-John Jenkins, Vanderbilt; Kenny Boynton, Florida. F-Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky. C-Anthony Davis, Kentucky. (Who plays the point? Who cares?)
ALL-SEC FRESHMAN TEAM
: Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, B.J. Young, Arkansas; Bradley Beal, Florida; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia.
: Davis. His name is at the top of several key SEC statistics, including rebounding (2nd, 10.2 rpg), field-goal percentage (1st, .650), and of course, blocked shots (1st, 4.7 bpg). But the numbers don’t begin to tell the story of how impactful he’s been so far.
: See above.
: Moultrie. This one was as easy to call as the previous two. Moultrie is a double-double machine (he’s fourth in the SEC in scoring at 16.8 ppg and leads in rebounding at 11.3 rpg) and may be the best rebounder in traffic in the country.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS
: Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor and Auburn’s Kenny Gabriel. Not that Taylor wasn’t already good; he’s just gotten better by making himself a consistent 3-point threat. Gabriel has become a stat-sheet stuffer.
COACH OF THE YEAR
: John Calipari. Yes, Kentucky has a ton of talent, but look at the effort stats. This young team defends and rebounds. It takes coaching to bring that out of players who aren’t necessarily inclined to perform the game’s blue-collar chores.