After two straight years yielded the worst Kentucky basketball season in modern times and the worst UK NCAA Tournament loss in any times, the Big Blue Nation deserves some feel-good Bahamian beat downs on UK’s four-game summer exhibition tour.
Backers of the Blue have every reason to be excited about the improvement of Daimion Collins; the outside shooting of Antonio Reeves; the confident comportment of Jacob Toppin; and the evident promise of freshmen Chris Livingston, Adou Thiero and Cason Wallace.
So enjoy the kind of decimation the Wildcats applied to the Dominican Republic National Select Team, 108-56, in the exhibition opener Wednesday night. It seems likely the Cats will pin similar beatings on their three remaining exhibition foes (which started with Tec de Monterrey, a Mexican college team, Thursday) for you to relish, too.
As a caveat, it would likely be wise to hold on to one note of caution. The last time Kentucky took an exhibition tour of the Bahamas, before the 2018-19 season, UK won its four games by margins of 24, 23, 36 and 33 points. The Cats then opened their regular season with a 118-84 loss to Duke.
With that disclaimer, I do think a quality Kentucky has on display this week in the Baha Mar resort convention center bodes well for UK’s fortunes in the next March Madness.
Defensive length is back for the Cats.
In Wednesday’s mauling of the overmatched Dominican Selects, Kentucky pilfered the basketball 13 times and swatted 10 shots. After a year’s hiatus, the adjectives that have been synonymous with John Calipari-era UK basketball rosters, long and athletic, again apply to the 2022-23 Cats.
“We feel like we’ve got a pretty decent team,” Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua said after serving as UK’s acting head coach in the win over the Dominican Republic Select Team. “We’ve got size and athleticism.”
At the four spot, the 6-foot-9 Toppin (eight points, four rebounds, three steals, two blocks) and 6-9 Collins (15 points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks) were stat stuffers. On the wings, the 6-6 Livingston (11 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a block) and 6-6 Thiero (seven points, three blocked shots, two steals) were active menaces.
It was exactly what Kentucky lacked a season ago.