Calipari sizes up his lineup options



UK, as it stands now, has two options for a lineup: one that includes a big man, and one that doesn’t.

When UK tipped off each of its exhibition games, it was the small lineup on the floor to start the game.

The Cats had the 6-foot-8 Terrence Jones jumping at center, and every player was between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-8.

“We have just got to watch and try to play this out and just see what’s the most effective way for us to play,” UK head coach John Calipari said.

The small-ball lineup is still an experiment, and one that Calipari remains committed to trying, but not committed to using.

“I don’t know if I’m going to play the small lineup or the big lineup,” Calipari said regarding what starting five UK would use for its season opener against East Tennessee State Friday. “Probably won’t know until game time what I want to do.”

The small version will certainly be used at least to some degree throughout the season, either by choice or necessity, and it could be used extensively.

Calipari said the key to playing without a big man on the floor — which currently would be Josh Harrellson or Eloy Vargas — is the toughness and rebounding of the smaller guys. If those two things don’t happen, the small lineup can’t be used.

“Unless they really want to go in there and fight and go crazy, you can’t play that kind of lineup,” Calipari said.

Offensively, the small lineup places five players on the floor who all seemingly excel in the dribble-drive system. Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Jones can all penetrate lanes and kick the ball outside to shooters.

“With me and Darius (at the 4 and 5), there shouldn’t be another post player who can stay in front of us,” Jones said.

The team can also run, and run, and run when those five players are on the floor.

“It opens the game up a lot more, guys are a lot freer,” Knight said. “That’s just the way we play. We play fast and we run the court.”

Jones has often ended up on the receiving end of fast break opportunities during the two exhibition games.

“Everybody should run the floor, (Calipari) says,” Jones said. “I just want to run the floor to start the break.”

Defensively, UK has to crash the boards hard to compensate for the lack of height. But the Cats can also do more switching on screens, more trapping and more scrambling.

“We can do some things that will scramble up the game, which is in our favor,” Calipari said. “A grind-it-out game with this team, we’re too young. If they grind it out with us, we’re going to have problems.”

With the frenzy of bodies inherent in scrambling, communication is the key.

“A lot of talking, on the weakside a lot of bouncing, and making sure you’re ready for help side,” Knight said as the keys for defending without a big man.

Calipari has pointed out past examples of small teams that had success, including one from a not-so-distant past in a not-so-distant location.

“Denny Crum used to do it,” Calipari said of playing a small lineup. “The guy won national titles playing that way. National titles at Louisville.”