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February 15, 2014
GameDay crew talks Kentucky, Saturday showdown
Jay Bilas thinks Kentucky, at 19-5 and ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, is doing just fine.
"They're right where you'd want them to be in the process," the ESPN analyst said Friday. "I've been impressed with them. But the expectation is for them to play Final Four-level basketball now. They don't have to do that. They're building toward that."
Kentucky will have another big building-block chance on Saturday against No. 3 Florida, with Bilas and the rest of the ESPN College GameDay crew watching.
"Florida's going to bring their A game," analyst Jay Williams said. "Even though Kentucky has a lot of young players, this atmosphere is going to be very conducive to them bringing their A game as well."
The Gators are undefeated in conference play, but the Las Vegas opening line favored Kentucky by three points (KenPom.com favored Kentucky by two points).
Both Williams and Bilas said they've seen significant signs of progress in Kentucky's youthful team throughout the season.
Individual guard play has improved. Freshman forward Julius Randle is "doing more" than anybody else in the country except for "maybe" Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Bilas said. The Wildcats as a whole are going through battles and learning how to make game-winning plays.
There are still areas to grow. Both mentioned Kentucky's transition defense and ability to guard Florida's ball screens as keys to the game.
Williams said he hasn't seen anyone on Kentucky seize the opportunity to become a stellar defender.
"With this team, you have a lot of guys who are really good scorers, right?" Williams said. "You don't have anybody who's like, 'I'm just going to be the lockdown defender of this team.' I think guys are trying to grow into that and guys are still trying to accept and adjust to the roles that they're trying to develop. That does take time.
And while coach John Calipari said Friday that it's time to stop thinking of his freshmen as freshmen because of the advanced stage in the season, Bilas disagrees.
"Are they more experienced now and in a better position to do something than when they first got here? Absolutely," Bilas said. "But they're still going to be put in situations they haven't been in before, and especially when they get to the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament. It's all new."
Postseason play remains a couple weeks away, however, and between then and now the focus will be on meshing as a group.
"They might be young, but you guys have thoroughbreds," Williams said. "When those thoroughbreds want to buy in, and they become invested and they want to play with that kind of energy and passion, they're a different basketball team. They go to a different level."
As will Rupp Arena for GameDay.
"That's what makes Kentucky special," anchor Rece Davis said. "That's what makes us enjoy coming here, in addition, obviously, to the unparalleled excellence of the basketball team."