Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis (Getty Images)
The obvious question entering this weekend's Final Four is whether top-ranked Kentucky can be beaten.
The Wildcats boast the nation's most intimidating player, a supporting cast full of future NBA draft picks and a half-court defense as suffocating as any in the nation. They've lost only twice all season and beaten the four opponents they've faced in the NCAA tournament by 12 or more points apiece.
To get a better idea of the game plan a team must employ to expose Kentucky's few areas of vulnerability, I asked an SEC assistant coach how he'd attack Anthony Davis, how he'd guard the Wildcats and if any other Final Four team was capable of beating them. I granted the coach anonymity to assure honesty.
An SEC assistant coach on Kentucky:
1. Anything can happen, but something pretty big is going to have to happen to beat them. They're not going to beat themselves, they rarely get in foul trouble, they play such great defense and if someone's having a bad game, they've got three other guys who can explode on you. They can beat you in transition, on the boards, from the outside. They have so many ways to beat you that you have to play a really good game and they have to come up short in a lot of ways to win.
2. You have to get some buckets in transition and one of the ways we were successful was via a transition ball screen. That was effective for us. But yeah, you have to try to get some good looks before they get set up in the half court. That was a priority for us, and to some degree we were successful. That was the No. 1 offensive priority.
3. I think that's a really foolish way to attack them. We found that out the hard way. He had 26 fouls in 16 SEC games. He's not fouling out. There's no way. If you've got a big strong guy who can get in his chest and go at him, you might get a foul or two on him, but to drive in there and think you're going to draw fouls or that he's not going to change or block your shot, that's fool's gold. Our rule was drive to kick. Just drive to kick. And if we got an offensive rebound and couldn't go right back up, you threw it back out and tried to find a 3-point shooter.
4. We tried to have whoever (Anthony) Davis was guarding set screens for our shooters or setting ball screens. That was effective for us. We just thought we had to get him away from the goal. That's really the only way you're going to get something at the basket, but (Terrence) Jones is no slouch too. He blocks shots. He has length. When you have the combination of Jones and Davis around the basket, it's pretty formidable.
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5. The best way to defend Kentucky is five guys in the lane unless you're guarding (Doron) Lamb or maybe (Darius) Miller. Anyone else, you should be inside the 3-point line. You've got to jam it up, hope they take some contested shots. You can't allow any dribble penetration. Our rule was you can't get dribbled under unless you're guarding Lamb. (Michael Kidd-)Gilchrist and (Marquis) Teague, they cannot beat you off the dribble. So that was our defensive game plan: Pack it in and make them beat you from the perimeter. And they can beat you on jump shots, but you can't let them beat you in transition or off the dribble.
6. Then there were individual things we tried to take away with these guys. Teague, don't let him refuse ball screens. Make him use ball screens. Lamb, don't let him go right. Gilchrist, keep him out of the post. They run a flex-cut play for him and he's a big-time left shoulder guy. And if Gilchrist got the ball inside, if Jones got the ball inside, if Davis got the ball inside, unless you're guarding Lamb, just go down there, double team and try to dig it out. We were just trying to crowd it up on those guys so that if they were going to beat us, it was going to be on jump shots.
7. I think Kansas or Ohio State has a better shot than Louisville because Louisville has the least talent out of the four, without any doubt. I think Kentucky will be a double-digit winner against Louisville. Because of the makeup of Ohio State, I think they have the best chance against Kentucky, but they're going to have to play really, really well and something will have to go wrong for Kentucky.
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