John Calipari and Kentucky need Ryan Harrow to maintain his solid play of the last two games.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When John Calipari said that Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow is as good as anybody in the country right now, he was being a bit Ryandiculous. That was Calipari unleashing his inner Rick Pitino again, Cal's version of Rick saying Luke Hancock was Louisville's best player.
Forget the nation. If you were drafting guards from college teams in this state, you wouldn't call Harrow's name until you had summoned Isaiah Canaan of Murray State or Peyton Siva and Russ Smith of Louisville.
Remember this: You have to forget what Calipari said and try to understand why he said it.
Here's my guess: Harrow will be matched against Smith and Siva, Louisville's defensive piranhas, today at 4 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center, and Calipari wants Harrow believing that he is Derrick Rose or John Wall.
If Harrow does not believe it and then play like it, I don't like Kentucky's chances in a game the Cardinals are favored to win by 8 ½ points. If Harrow does perform as if he believes his coach, game on.
Harrow survived an uneven start this season but has begun to play like the point guard that Calipari thought he was getting when Harrow transferred from North Carolina State – somebody who can run his team with reasonable efficiency, score when necessary and handle the basketball with care.
Pitino has noticed. He said Kentucky has become a dramatically better team the last two weeks. Guess which player has scored 35 points with six assists and five steals over the last two Saturdays?
"They weren't really playing with a point guard two weeks ago," Pitino said. "It was a makeshift situation. So now I think they're playing much better … their passing has improved. Their defense has improved. Their offensive half-court execution."
Some still suspect Harrow's confidence is fragile. The word has been that he did not respond well to tough love. Calipari is no dummy. Like most good coaches, he has a Ph.D. in motivation. He is determined to protect Harrow's emerging confidence.
One way to do that is to publicly endorse his point guard before Harrow plays against Siva and Smith, two of the most unrelenting defensive troublemakers in the country. They are reasons 1 and 1A why the Cardinals have forced more turnovers per possession than any team in the nation.
Kentucky needs Harrow to play well to defeat Louisville. When Calipari said that the Wildcats do not need the cool Ryan Harrow he was speaking the truth.
Kentucky does not need the tentative, passive guy who got outplayed by Eric Atkins at Notre Dame and again by Pierre Jackson when Baylor visited Rupp Arena. The Wildcats labored to score 50 points against the Irish and 55 against the Bears, easily their two smallest totals this season. Kentucky won't beat Louisville scoring in the 50s.
Harrow does not have to score big. That isn't the strength of his game. He's no threat from the perimeter (missing 13 of 15 three-pointers) so expect Louisville to align its defense to stop his drives.
What Harrow absolutely must do is navigate U of L's full-court pressure and then ensure that his teammates get the ball in positions where they can be effective. You know where that is -- Archie Goodwin isolated against one defender, Julius Mays and Kyle Wiltjer parked in prime position for three-point shots; Alex Poythress when he has his man pinned on the block and Nerlens Noel when his large hands are hovering near the rim.
Harrow has scored 35 points in Kentucky's last two games. Points are nice, but Harrow isn't likely to get 17 or 18 against Louisville. A better indicator of Harrow's worth is this statistic: He has only turned the ball over five times in 147 minutes while averaging four assists for every turnover.
Louisville will try to remind Ryan Harrow that he is the guy who did little against Maryland, Notre Dame or Baylor. Calipari's job is to keep convincing Harrow that he is playing as well as anybody in the country.