Ken’s Cats Corner: Breaking down the season opener

Finally, a new Kentucky basketball season is upon us, accompanied as always by promise, hope and great expectations. 

This year, though, the Big Blue Nation’s anticipation for greatness is magnified, for this could be a season to remember as John Calipari once again brings to the UK campus some of the best and brightest basketball talent in the nation. Mix Calipari’s third straight top-rated recruiting class with the three returning starters off last year’s 29-9 Final Four squad, and Cal has put together his most balanced Kentucky team in three years. 

The result? The Commonwealth’s team is considered by most prognosticators to be one of the best in the nation, lighting a fire under the already hot UK fan base.    

Will the 2011-12 team become one of those special UK squads destined to be perpetually remembered? We begin to discover the answer to that question Friday night as the Cats take to Cawood’s Court to take on the Marist Red Foxes in the first game Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. 

Meet the Marist Red Foxes

Located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on the banks of the Hudson River and out of the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference, Marist is led by fourth-year head coach Chuck Martin. The Red Foxes, who are coming off a 6-27 season in 2011, graduated their top three scorers, but they are looking to build on the backs of four contributing players from last season. The addition of two outstanding recruits to the Marist fold will also help Coach Martin as he looks to improve on last season’s six wins.

The returning leading scorer for Marist is 6-foot-6, 200-pound junior swingman Dorvell Carter, who last year averaged 7.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest. The Red Foxes also return their point guard, 6-1, 170-pound junior Devin Price, who last season averaged 7.2 points per game, and led the Foxes with 2.8 assists per contest.

Also returning to Marist is another swing player in the form of 6-5, 210-pound sophomore Jay Bowie, who is looking to improve on an impressive freshman year in which he averaged 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest.  Big man Adam Kemp, a 6-10, 235-pound sophomore, displayed much promise in 2011 as he averaged 5.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, to go along with 1.6 blocks per game.  

Chavaughn Lewis, a 6-5, 185-pound guard who was rated the No. 6 player in New York City by, brings his significant talents to Marist this season from St. Mary’s Manhasset High School.  Lewis averaged 23.9 points per game for St. Mary’s. The other heralded recruit Coach Martin brought into the Red Fox fold is 5-8, 170-pound guard Isaiah Morton. The South Jersey Player of the Year averaged 21.1 points per game for St. Augustine Prep, traditionally one of the strongest high school programs in the northeast.

Coach Martin, who was an assistant to John Calipari at Memphis from 2006 to 2008, will partially employ an offensive system familiar to UK fans in the Dribble Drive Motion Offense. Martin’s Red Foxes are also expected to mix up zone and man-to-man defenses, giving the Cats an opportunity to work against both. 

And now, on to the Wildcats.

Key Cal quotes

John Calipari on his team’s progress …
“I’m fine with where we are; it’s who we are going to play. We just talked today, what if we want to massage the ball? We haven’t done it yet. What do we do late in the shot clock? We just put in an out-of-bounds play. Other teams are way ahead of us and I’m still sticking by there are 60, 70, 80 teams that could beat us. I will say this: The way we played against Morehouse it would be hard for them. It wasn’t just Morehouse, it’s how we played.”

On if he’s going to play zone defense … 
“It might appear in the Marist game. We worked on it a couple of days ago and we’ll spend some time on it today. If we go to the big lineup, that might be what we go with. I like the big lineup. Terrence (Jones) at three, Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) at two, that’s a big team.”

On what to expect from Marist …
“I just watched a little tape. They run good stuff. He is running some of the Dribble Drive.  Chucky Martin coached with me at Memphis. They play some zone and some man. He is a terrific coach; he took over a tough situation where you lose seven or eight guys from the year before. My hope is this is his breakout year because he has a good job and it’s a great program.”

Wildcat stats and trends

In Kentucky’s two exhibition games versus Transylvania University and Morehouse College, the pertinent Cat numbers look like this: 
Terrence Jones — 18-22 FGs (81.8 percent), 44 points, six assists and six steals
Darius Miller — 5-9 3-pointers (55.6 percent), 12 rebounds and seven assists
Doron Lamb — 12-23 FGs (52.2 percent), 3-10 three-pointers (30.0 percent), 31 points
Eloy Vargas — 14 rebounds, seven offensive boards
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — 14-18 FGs (77.8 pecent), 12 rebounds, nine assists
Anthony Davis — 10-15 fgs (66.7 percent), 15 rebounds, 12 blocks
Kyle Wiltjer — 12-17 fgs (70.5 percent), 4-6 three-pointers (66.7 percent), 33 points and 11 rebounds
Marquis Teague — 10-17 fgs (58.8 percent), 16 assists and only four turnovers.
Strap in, Wildcat fans, the ride is about to begin!