Since the projected backups outscored the projected starters in the first half of the Blue-White scrimmage, speculation about possible lineups for the 2012-13 UK men’s basketball team has been rampant among fans.
UK players and head coach John Calipari have few concrete answers in advance of their first exhibition game against Northwood on Thursday.
“I don’t know who’s going to start yet,” Calipari said Wednesday. “Still trying to figure some stuff out.”
Calipari has used practice time in the last few days to experiment with different lineups in scrimmage situations.
“What I’m tinkering with is combinations,” he said. “So trying to figure out when these guys are in together, how do we play? When that group is in together, how do we play?”
“Cal has just been doing a great job trying to get as many lineups together as possible so we can really get comfortable playing with each other because there are so many new guys out there,” said sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer.
Nerlens Noel blocks a shot in Blue-White scrimmage. (Photo by Jon Hale)
In the Blue-White scrimmage, the White team featured the lineup most fans thought would start this season: sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow, freshman guard Archie Goodwin, freshman forward Alex Poythress, Wiltjer and freshman forward Nerlens Noel. Freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein and senior guard Julius Mays were considered the first two reserves likely to come off of Calipari’s bench, but after the scrimmage he said those two players were the only Wildcats to perform at a starter level in the first half.
“Lately we’ve been practicing with all different lineups, so I don’t know what he’s went with or what he’s set his mind on,” Mays said. “It could be possibly Archie, Ryan, Alex, Nerlens and Kyle or maybe Willie might start, maybe I might start. I don’t know. Honestly I don’t.”
One lineup Calipari has talked about but didn’t feature in the scrimmage was the “Twin Towers” formation with the 6-foot-11 Noel and 7-foot Cauley-Stein on the floor at the same time.
In practice, Calipari has played that freshmen duo with Poythress, Mays and Goodwin.
“That was a real big lineup, so he made us get more aggressive on defense,” Mays said. “I think that was a good lineup, but there’s been multiple lineup that he’s tried that he’s been very effective with.”
When will fans get their first public glimpse of the Twin Towers lineup?
“You’ll see it tomorrow,” Calipari said. “We started playing them and just wanted to make it, trying to get those two comfortable. What I liked is they were talking to each other on the court.”
Most of the Wildcats are capable of playing multiple positions, giving Calipari plenty of options.
He can interchange the big men, Noel, Cauley-Stein and Wiltjer. Guards Harrow, Goodwin and Mays are capable of playing the point if needed.
Poythress presents a potential mismatch for opponents at either the traditional small or power forward positions. He could exploit bigger players with his speed and smaller players with his size.
For now, Poythress isn’t exploiting any mismatches, Calipari said.
“The way he’s playing defensively, it’s a real mismatch for us,” he said. “It’s a real problem for whoever he’s guarding. Both positions.”
Poythress isn’t the only Wildcat struggling on defense.
“Defensively, we’re just awful right now,” Calipari said.
The exhibition against Northwood represents Calipari’s first chance to show his team the improvements it still needs to make on defense.
Northwood coach Rollie Massimino asked to play the Wildcats in an exhibition so he could return to Rupp Arena, the site of his national championship win as Villanova’s head coach, before he retires. On Wednesday, Calipari joked he should have thought twice before scheduling the game against the 2012 NAIA runner-up.
“I didn’t know his team would be this good,” he said. “I said, ‘Why don’t you just come in and watch one of our games? How about that?”
In reality, Northwood likely won’t present much competition to the Wildcats, ranked No. 3 in the preseason Associated Press top 25, but they will present a change of pace from intra-squad scrimmages.
“It’s tough playing against each other every day,” Mays said. “We know the plays, so guys cheat and it’s hard to execute. It will be fun to actually get to play against somebody else for the first time.”
As for who starts in that first glimpse of outside competition, players say they aren’t worried.
“Starting doesn’t matter,” Poythress said. “It’s just how you finish the game really.”
“I’ve told you many times: For me, it doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who’s going to finish,” Calipari said. “I may be starting guys based on the fact that I just think this is the best way to start the game, what I want the rotation to be. When you look at my teams, it’s who’s in the game those last five, seven minutes. That’s who really matters.”