Our true introduction to our 2021-22 basketball team, and re-introduction to a packed Rupp Arena, was Big Blue Madness. But in an event that's mostly centered around the players just having fun, it is difficult to walk away with any true indication of how well this team, or any individual players, will play this season. While it is still just a scrimmage, the Blue-White game is more real speed basketball and is played with the competitiveness of a real game, and serves as a much better gauge of what we can expect from this team.
The big talk from the scrimmage was the dominant performance from Oscar Tshiebwe in the paint, the elite guard play from Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington, and the emergence Bryce Hopkins into who will be a serious contributor to this year's team as a freshman. However, here are some of my hidden takeaways that may have missed within the excitement everything.
First, on top of the emergence of Bryce Hopkins, he also went through a position change. When recruited, Hopkins was listed as a Power Forward, and also got a lot of comparisons to former Cat, PJ Washington, who we know did a large majority of his damage within the paint. Last night, we saw him starting and playing the entire game at the 3 position. He played all of his offensive possessions out on the perimeter and matched up defensively against other guards, often Kellan Grady or Dontaie Allen. Also, before the game started, he was running drills with all of the guards, like aforementioned Wheeler, Washington, Grady, and Allen, as well as Davion Mintz. He seemed more than comfortable playing on the wing, as he made a bunch of effective dribble drives and routinely knocked down both open and contested 3 point shots. Hopkins already possessed good guard skills for his size. Now that he dropped some weight, he has the athleticism to completely convert to the guard position. Instead of the 4 or 5, I expect Hopkins to play his minutes at the 3 or even a little bit at the 2 position.
As I stated earlier, one of the biggest stars of the scrimmage was Oscar Tshiebwe, who put up an impressive 25 points and 21 rebounds, both of which was the most out of any player. But do not forget about his matchup, Lance Ware, who also put up a very impressive 20 points and 10 rebounds. Ware played with the same energy we saw him have last season, but he also appeared to be a lot stronger and a played with a lot more confidence, even going up against a touch matchup. He got up to grab a handful of hard fought rebounds and threw down a couple very impressive lobs as well. Initially perceived as a guy who wouldn't play very much, I could see Lance coming in every time Tshiebwe goes to our bench, which can get him somewhere between 12 and 20 minutes per game.
A couple days ago, I put out an article stating what I heard our starting lineup would look like. The biggest surprise in that lineup was Daimion Collins playing the 4 spot alongside Oscar Tshiebwe, instead of veteran Keion Brooks Jr. It is worth noting that Lance Ware was the the opposing center to Tshiebwe, not Collins. Collins played the 4 the entire scrimmage, always being on the same team as Tshiebwe. It looks like there was a clear emphasis that Coach Cal wants to play with those 2 alongside each other, potentially confirming that they will indeed be starting together.
Davion Mintz was our leading scorer last year and Kellan Grady is an early candidate to be our leading scorer this year. With all of the scoring potential coming from those 2 guys, I was surprised by all of the wide open 3's they were able to shoot. This can be entirely attributed to the elite playmaking we was exhibited by point guards TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler. Mintz and Grady did not convert on as many of these open 3's as we would have liked to see last night. But these are veterans with 5 and 4 years, respectively, of demonstrated ability to knock down 3's. I expect them to have no trouble converting on these looks when the season comes along. If Wheeler and Washington are going to draw so much attention that Mintz and Grady are going to be consistently left this open, our offense is going to be very difficult to stop. Also, due to his display on offense, it would be easy to miss Wheeler's effect on the defensive end of the floor. While we know he lacks height, he had no trouble matching up against taller guards like Mintz and TyTy, and was a pest at all times with the ball being brought up past half court.
My last takeaway: Matt Sak never sits and is incapable of waiting any longer for this season to get started.