BOZICH | Can two platoons work? Ask Hurley, Calipari or Pitino; - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Can two platoons work? Ask Hurley, Calipari or Pitino; Pitino?

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 LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Bobby Hurley played college basketball for a team that won one national championship and then was immediately warned that anything less than another national title would be a colossal disappointment.

Hurley was an NBA lottery pick – as were two of his Duke teammates.

Hurley and Duke won a second NCAA title, including an epic game against a Kentucky team coached by Rick Pitino – the same Rick Pitino that coach John Calipari mentioned while admonishing UK fans after the game Sunday. (I thought it was strange, too, but stay with me.)

In other words, in 1991 and 1992 Bobby Hurley experienced what Calipari and his Kentucky players are going to experience during this season.

Full-court, full-calendar pressure, the kind that already has Calipari bristling.

On Sunday, Hurley, now a coach, brought his University of Buffalo team into Rupp Arena. Kentucky is ranked first in the nation. Buffalo was picked to finish fourth in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference.

The Wildcats have nine McDonald's all-Americans. The Bulls don't have anybody who received a recruiting postcard from the Wildcats.

After 20 minutes, Buffalo led the Wildcats, 38-33. After 25 ½ minutes, undersized Buffalo led, 45-43. After 26 ½ minutes, it was Buffalo 45-44.

“It wasn't a surprise to us,” Buffalo forward Justin Moss said. “We didn't come into the game thinking we were going to lose. We came into the game thinking we were going to win.”

Reality arrived over the final 13 1/2 minutes. Buffalo scored seven more points. Kentucky scored 27 more, winning, 71-52, pushing its record to 2-0 as the Wildcats prepare to play fifth-ranked Kansas in Indianapolis Tuesday night. If John Calipari wanted his top-ranked team to get its lips bloodied, Buffalo obliged.

“It had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game,” Hurley said. “They can be an elite team just the way they defend and their depth and their talent … It was hard for us to find a good shot in the second half because of that.”

Lessons?

Hurley had a few more: One, he showed that a 2-3 zone is the best way for smaller teams to defend the jumbo-sized Wildcats. UK missed 14 of 20 threes. The Wildcats grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, but didn't transform many into dunks or put-backs.

Calipari flipped his lineup, starting his second five in the second half – and that group responded with a 9-0 run in the first 2:06.

Two, making perimeter shots will be key against Kentucky. Buffalo made four of seven threes in the first half. The Bulls missed all five in the second half. Buffalo had one three-point shooter – Jarryn Skeete. Other teams will have two or three.

And, three?  

Here we go. Prepare to launch.

Both Hurley and Moss wondered if Calipari could cling to his highly hyped two-platoon system into March and April. Only two UK players – Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson – played as many as 26 minutes.

‘They substitute a lot of guys,” Moss said. “They get fresh, (but) they don't really get into a rhythm.

“I felt like us being on the court and our substitution scheme helped us get better rhythm. They got fresh legs so that allowed them to run up and down. Me personally, I wouldn't like that.”

The great Duke teams that Hurley played on, the ones with Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Thomas Hill and Antonio Lang, relied on seven or eight guys. Hurley believes that Calipari will tighten his rotation as the season unfolds.

“I would obviously not tell Coach Cal how to coach his team, but eventually they might settle into more a normal rotation late, particularly late in the year, especially in the NCAA (Tournament),” Hurley said.

“But this is a good way to handle a lot of talent and guys that expect to play and to keep your locker room under control.”

That is the kind of talk that made Calipari howl and bring Pitino's name into his post-game radio show. Calipari started his post-game conversation courtside with fans by telling them they should not have booed Hurley. Nice gesture by Cal.

Then Calipari asked fans not to persist in second-guessing how he handles his lineup -- or ignite any controversies, like perhaps saying that freshman guard Tyler Ulis (12 points, six assists, no turnovers in 22 minutes) should play ahead of sophomore guard Andrew Harrison (three points, one assist, one turnover in 18 minutes). Heck, UK's top three scorers were second platoon freshmen -- Ulis, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker. The trio scored 34.

Calipari said that was a story line that would be pushed by media members who don't want Kentucky to win. He said that folks who say things like that should also “say we should have Rick back.”

I assumed that he meant Pitino, not Robey.

Sorry, coach. This story line isn't going to disappear. Like Duke, North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas and the other teams on the short list of schools that can challenge Kentucky this season, it's going to be there until March.

When the Wildcats win and play well, the world will hyperventilate about the talent Calipari has collected and the egos he has massaged. There will be praise.

When the Wildcats struggle, the way they did against a mid-major program that finished 19-10 last season, the world will try to take the temperature in the UK locker room. There will be criticism. And questions. Especially this question:

By trying to make everybody happy, will anybody really be thrilled?

Stay tuned. The story will be continued.

But there are worse problems to have. Ask any other coach in the country.

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