Vaught's Views: TV Analyst Larry Conley says UK is difficult to figure out this year
Former UK player and now TV analyst Larry Conley. (submitted / December 18, 2012)
Conley will see glimpses of brilliance. He’ll see periods of lacklustre play where the Cats lack energy. He’ll see superb individual plays. He’ll see severe team breakdowns.
“This type team is very difficult to measure,” said Conley. “Every team John has had you have the tendency, and it’s natural, to measure them against all the one-and-dones he’s had. Just on skill, the other three (teams he had at UK) were better than this one. But that does not mean they could not get better. I am starting to see Nerlens Noel really come around and do the things I thought he was capable fo doing. They are getting better.”
Conley worked last week’s 88-50 win over Lipscomb when he saw small signs of improvement. However, that doesn’t mean he left totally sold on the Wildcats.
“The guys that are really perplexing to me are Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress,” Conley, a starter on UK’s NCAA runner-up team in 1966, said. “They have a tendency to do things you would expect high school players to do and they do not appear to have progressed. Can they score? Absolutely. Do they have the ability to play at a high level? Yes.
“But for one reason or another, they have not come through yet. I think they are both very talented players, but they are not playing the way they should on every play. I know it is frustrating for John. He is trying to make them all better. That’s obvious not only in games, but also in practices I have watched.”
Both Poythress and Goodwin have been brilliant at times. Poythress became the first UK freshman since 1979 to score 20 or more points in four straight games. Goodwin leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game with Poythress second at 15.0. Goodwin is shooting 49 percent from the field and has been to the foul line 72 times in 10 games. He has been forced to play point guard at times and has 44 assists. However, he also has 32 turnovers. Poythress is averaging 6.3 rebounds per game and shooting 65 percent from the field. However, he has 29 turnovers and only five assists.
What about point guard Ryan Harrow? He has just three turnovers in 114 minutes compared to 16 assists. But he’s played in only six games — he missed four for personal reasons — and is averaging just 4.3 points per game despite scoring 12 points against Lipscomb.
“John has always had really good guards to run things,” Conley said. “Harrow has not been able to do yet what he wants him to do. I don’t know what the problem is. He is an experienced player. He has some quickness. He can play defense. He can actually do a lot of things. But it’s one of those things where he does not come to play every possession and he’s got to be able to do that at this level.”
Conley understands the inclination to compare this team, which has the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, with last year’s national championship team or the Final Four team from two years ago.
“It wouldn’t make sense for Kentucky basketball fans to look and not compare teams,” Conley said. “The one thing last year is that they had a couple of guys in Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb that helped them quite a bit. They had three guys coming back ready to take over in tight spot, and that is a little different with one-and-done teams.
“They don’t have that this year, and it shows. (Kyle) Wiltjer played as good as he has played Saturday (23 points, 12 rebounds), but he’s not one of those guys like Miller, Jones or Lamb. He’s expanded his game. He’s a better rebounder now than last year and he’s starting to put the ball on the floor instead of accepting 3-point shots. But he’s still a long way from a complete package,” Conley said.
Problem is that Kentucky is running out of time to put that package together. The Cats play Marshall Saturday and Eastern Michigan Jan. 2. Then there is that rivalry game with Louisville Dec. 29.
“Once the season begins, you can’t stop the clock. Things just keep coming at you,” Conley said. “These guys have got to start progressing. It’s not like John has not taught them the things they need to know. It’s just a matter of them grasping it, and they need to start doing that very, very soon.”