Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' Biggest Areas for Improvement Going Forward

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistNovember 16, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 08:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team during the game against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on November 8, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As with any other team in the history of sports or entity in human existence, the Kentucky Wildcats can get better.

That's not saying everyone should freak out after they fell to Michigan State during Tuesday night's tightly contended Champions Classic in Chicago. Nobody is perfect, and a young squad full of freshmen fell a mere four points short against another premier squad containing much more experience.

In defeat, Julius Randle dominated while the Wildcats clawed back from a 10-0 Spartans run that could have left their inexperienced opponents shell-shocked. Instead, a great battle unfolded.

Kentucky fans, don't panic, but here's a little constructive criticism on where the club can improve to help engineer a fruitful season and deep March Madness run.

Three-Point Shooting

With Randle dominating inside, the Wildcats must capitalize with a softer stroke behind the arc.

Against Michigan State, Kentucky converted just four of its 20 three-point attempts. On the season, the Wildcats are shooting 26.4 percent from downtown.

James Young made three of those four shots from long distance, but he offset those gains by missing eight other deep tries. He has sunk six of his 22 threes through three games, a level of inefficiency that won't fly for a championship team's starter.

Built around athleticism, Kentucky is not a squad that thrives on fluid ball movement and perimeter shooting. Having shot poorly from long distance in every game, it will get harder to justify them taking so many shots that they are unable to convert.

A three-game sample size is small, so one electric shooting barrage could send this argument down the drain. But if this proves more than a fixable sluggish start, teams will have a portal to exploiting Kentucky's high-powered offense.

Free Throws

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 09:  Fans watch as a North Carolina State Wolfpack player lines up for a free throw against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during play at PNC Arena on January 9, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Imag
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

While we're on the subject of shooting, let's address another deficiency that prevented Kentucky from starting 3-0. The team can finish down low, but it can't nail anything from the charity strike.

It should not come as much of a surprise that a team of freshmen showered with unbridled expectations has felt a sprinkle of pressure during its first taste of college action. Kentucky has made just 62.3 percent of its foul shots this season, letting 16 points go to waste against Michigan State.

Prepare to be yelled at by Dick Vitale, baby.

Even if his brazen use of all caps is excessive, Dickie V. has a point. A true title team can't afford to squander points that are considered free by definition. Just five of those 16 gimmies would have propelled Kentucky to a victory despite all of its miscues. 

NBC Sports' Jason Page also tweeted about the importance of fundamentals.

Windmill dunks are fun, too, but being able to do both would be ideal.


Nov 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle (30) reacts to losing to Michigan State 78-74 after the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

Seriously, how did Kentucky only lose by four points to Michigan State?

Along with the dreadful three-point shooting and ineptitude from the foul line, the Wildcats also surrendered 17 turnovers. They followed the manual of how to get crushed in a big basketball game, yet their sheer talent kept the game close.

They've allowed 12 turnovers per game, with Randle the biggest culprit with four giveaways per contest. To be fair, seven of those blunders came early in a rocky first half before Kentucky settled down. 

This is also a fixable problem, especially once Andrew Harrison adjusts to the collegiate level. DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony said the freshman point guard struggled to assimilate to defenders more suited to guard him.

While the optimist will boast that this shows just how amazing Kentucky will be by March, the pessimist will wonder if this young cast of probable one-and-dones will live up to the monumental hype.

They'll remain among the NCAA's top-ranked schools all season, but continued lapses in these departments could make the difference between their second championship in three years and an unceremonious tournament exit.


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