Five Questions: Louisville Courier Journal’s Kyle Tucker

Another new feature coming at you, in honor of the big game on Saturday. All Big Ten season long and for some non-conference games, we’ll ask five questions to beat writers from Indiana’s opponent’s media. This week, Kyle Tucker, the new Kentucky beat writer from the Louisville Courier Journal, joins us. Thanks to Kyle for answering our questions; let’s get started.

1. I know it’s early in the season, but how have you seen Kentucky grow up and begin to mesh together? Is it going to be a while before we see this team reach its potential this season?

This team definitely has some good chemistry already. Since they summer, they’ve all been talking about what a big family they are. Senior Darius Miller immediately took all the freshmen under his wing, took them out to eat, invited them to do things, even made sure they were up in the morning for classes.

On a team with six McDonald’s All-Americans, it’s kind of remarkable how well they’ve all co-existed so far. In fact, Miller has come off the bench in all but one game after being a starter in the two previous seasons, and he says it’s no big deal. But after a stretch of games where he played really, really well, freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist told John Calipari that he’d be glad to go to the bench because Miller had earned a starting job.

So I’d say they’re meshing pretty well. That chemistry has carried over to the court. But there is also still a learning curve. Anthony Davis still hasn’t found – or shown – an offensive game beyond catching lobs and dunking them. And Marquis Teague is still very much a work in progress learning Calipari’s dribble-drive motion offense. That’s why most people think this UK team is so scary, because they’re just getting started and they’re still 8-0, beat Kansas and North Carolina, and are winning by an average of 25 points per game.

2. Have you seen Cody Zeller yet? If so, what’re you impressions of him? And what do you expect from this Saturday’s matchup between him and Anthony Davis?

I haven’t watched much of Zeller yet, but his credentials and stats so far indicate he’s a pretty darn good player. I know Davis, who’s sort of a string bean, had some trouble with the physical play of Zeller’s brother Tyler last week – but all anyone remembers now is Davis’ unbelievable, game-saving block of 6-foot-11 John Henson’s jumper at the end against UNC.

Davis is a total physical freak who is second nationally in blocked shots and who ESPN’s NBA draft guru, Chad Ford, told me last week is a virtual lock to be the No. 1 pick in the next draft – and “there’s not a close second.” I’d say if Cody Zeller has a bruising style similar to his brother’s, he can give Davis some trouble. That said, Davis will still find a way to make three or four jaw-dropping plays over the course of the game.

3. Since Marquis Teague is an Indianapolis guy and spurned the Hoosiers to play for Calipari, what do you think coming to Assembly Hall to play IU means to him? Obviously, he’s had some struggles at times this season. How important is his success to Kentucky’s performance on Saturday?

Reporters haven’t had the chance to talk to Teague yet, but I’d imagine this homecoming of sorts is significant to him. I’m sure Calipari will be telling him not to get too carried away and trying to make the “look at me” play instead of the easiest, smartest play – which Calipari has said Teague is sometimes inclined to do.

Teague still seems a little lost a times, and when that happens, Calipari is comfortable turning the offense over to shooting guard Doron Lamb for stretches. But Teague has dramatically improved in terms of taking care of the basketball. Through his first four games, he had 18 turnovers and just 11 assists. The last four games, he’s had 22 assists and five turnovers.

As for Teague’s success being a key Saturday … I’m not sure. So far, I’d say Kentucky has won some games despite his struggles, because they’re just so absurdly talented at every other position. The bigger question is: How good will the Wildcats be when Teague finally puts it all together? I’d say virtually unbeatable. But nobody knows when that’s going to happen. Until then, UK has at least a measure of vulnerability.

4. Do you think the fact that Kentucky hasn’t played a true road game this season will affect them when they have to play in front of what will likely be a very hostile crowd at Assembly Hall?

I think the fact that this young team’s first real road game is going to be in a rabid environment is definitely a factor. This is a big-time test for a squad that’s starting three freshmen and two sophomores. Early on especially, and if the game is still close late, it will be very interesting to see how these kids handle the madhouse.

Immediately following UK’s win over Carolina on Saturday, Miller was thinking about Assembly Hall and his baby-faced teammates: “It’s going to be crazy,” he said. “I’ve already talked to a few of the guys about how crazy it’s going to be. Probably one of the craziest environments we’re going to play in. The crowd does a great job of getting them hyped up, getting them pumped up, and they’re going to be ready to play.”

5. What (if anything) do you think concerns Kentucky most about Indiana in this game? And on the flip side, what should be most concerning to Indiana in this game?

It probably concerns Kentucky that the Hoosiers are such an offensive threat, ranking sixth nationally in field-goal percentage, eighth in scoring and 10th in three-point percentage. If ever there was a recipe for an upset, it’s a team getting red-hot shooting, especially from deep. North Carolina started the game 8 of 11 from 3-point rage last week and that made it a fight for the Wildcats.

I’d say Indiana should be worried about the “length” and elite athleticism of this UK team. Just about every opposing coach who has faced them says afterwards that it might be the “longest” team they’ve seen. These guys have crazy-long arms and guard-like skills, so they steal a lot of pass and block a lot of shots and then they’re off to the races and playing way, way above the rim.

Kentucky leads the nation in blocked shots (87 total, 10.9 per game) and field goal percentage defense (32.6). It’s tough to score on this team, but if there’s one area they’ve been vulnerable, it’s behind the arc. The Wildcats rank 106th in 3-point defense. So my advice to the Hoosiers? Let it fly.

13 comments

  1. This C-J guy is a UK cheerleader. ‘Absurdly talented at every other position.’ ‘Elite athleticism.’ ‘Virtually unbeatable.’ I think he’s channeling the memory of Cawood Ledford.

  2. Everyone in Kaintuck is a UK fan. Even Louisville fans are UK fans. At least we have some pathetic Purdue fans that dislike IU. It shows we aren’t sheep in Hoosierland.

    A sheep in Kentucky. That’s a scary thought.

  3. It’s interesting to me that 8-0 Hoosier “fans” are far more guarded and understated than this “journalist”. He sounds like their agent, not a reporter. Listen, a lot of what he says is true, but he is just slobbering all over them. That seems to be the style around there though, as quickly as they shower off the grease of Coach Cal they get covered in the drool of the media.

    My favorite is the insinuation that the only reason UNC was in that game was that they were hot from 3’s… UNC was the #1 team in the country, and in my opinion is a better team than UK. They lost by 1 point in a hurried, lost-their-whits last 10 seconds. And on a play where a foul could have easily been called on the entry to Zeller when he loses the ball and Davis is reaching on both sides of his body… then they forget to foul… then Teague travels (just starts running with the ball) at midcourt with a second to go, but the refs decide the game is over. This all happened at Rupp Arena.

    Congrats to UK for winning. They are obviously a very talented team, and most likely a #1 seed, but the superlatives and implied annointment is a little much.

    That being said, I just hope IU can keep it respectable.

  4. Chet- is that true? I thought Louisville fans hated UK. I had always taken comfort in knowing that another school hated the cats as much as we do.

  5. Nope. At least all the ones I grew up with. Most of them have a primary loyalty to the Cats. I never met a Louisville fan that really hated UK.

  6. S in O and Chet, I have a sister, brother in law and 3 nephews who live in Goshen, Ky.(L’ville sub.)and as solid Card fans they despise pUKe. They are Indiana/Illinois transplants of near 2 decades.

  7. Great read… Question > The 1st 3 stories under HQ took me to the Bloomington News paper I guess and wanted money. But not this 1. Strange…The Bloomington News paper can’t make money of the name Indiana University? You people need a new advertising dept. I will just read 1 of the thousands of IU stories for free somewhere else,,unreal

  8. rgd…I mean, we have a paywall for stories in the newspaper but the Hoosier Scoop is free to access. Been this way for a while. I’m not really sure what you’re asking…

  9. Sounds like this beat writer may have gotten a little bit carried away with his superlatives? I’d say that comment would only come from someone who hasn’t watched Kntcky play. I’m as Hoosier die hard as they come but i mean come on… their talent level cannot be measured against another team in Division 1 hoops. IU will hang but there will be 5 minute sequence where it will get away from our young Hoosiers. IU still has quite a ways to go before they can contend with the big boys. There is no way its a blow out though. We’re all watching with the long view and mind anyway right?

  10. Kentucky was a bunch of lottery picks last year, too. They didn’t make the Final Four. The Fab Five never won a title. You can only play with one ball at a time.

  11. So true Chet. I like IU’s chances. The Hoosiers are deep, with some good exp. They can go on 5-10 min. whooparse runs themselves now. They are playing at “The Hall.” IU has had a week to prepare and recover from early schedule. Coach Crean said it best. Focus on the fundamentals.
    As always, IU needs to get Kentucky in foul trouble, and score from the line. Make UK earn buckets, get 50/50 balls. Control what they can control. Remember, IU has not hit their stride either. They have shown some glimpses of being pretty good. Who’s gonna step up ? One way or another they will learn from this. And we will learn about them.

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