Kentucky Basketball: 5 Things the Wildcats Need to Fix
Well, the dream of 40-0 is dead. Good. That was a ridiculous expectation for a team this young and inexperienced.
But 39-1? That's more like it. Totally reasonable.
Which is why if Kentucky wants to hit that mark, they have some issues they need to take care of, and fast. Lucky for them, they've got me, and I've got the cure for what ails them.
Don't Just Watch Julius Randle
Teams are already showing that they will be double and triple-teaming Julius Randle when he gets the ball in the post. As they should. He's terrifying.
That can work (see Michigan State's first half) or it can be futile (see Michigan State's second half). The point is it's happening. So how can the Cats make this work to their advantage?
Well, for one thing, they can start cutting through the lanes, relocating on the perimeter and finding space somewhere on the floor. Randle has shown the ability to distribute in traffic, so if he's going to draw extra defenders, his teammates need to be ready to do something with the ball as soon as he gets it to them.
As dominant as Randle has been, he's still got 15 turnovers in four games. He's still got a tendency to forget those triple-teams are on their way. Get open when he needs it, whether he realizes it in time or not.
Make Your Threes
Sure, it sounds simple enough. But I'm mostly talking to the two guys Kentucky is going to be relying on this year, not just for shooting threes, but for scoring in general.
In order to really make Calipari's dribble-drive system work, a team needs to have viable outside threats to kick to and keep a defense honest. Aaron Harrison and James Young need to be those guys. And right now they are shooting 30 percent and 25 percent from three, respectively.
Harrison finally went off against Robert Morris, going 4-of-7 from deep, but he was 2-of-13 prior to that, including an 0-of-5 performance against Michigan State.
Young kept Kentucky in the game against Michigan State in the first half, but ended up only 3-of-11 behind the arc for the game. Not great for the player John Calipari calls "the best shooter in the country." He especially needs to find his stroke as UK is going to rely on him heavily to shoulder the scoring load outside of Randle.
Defense, Defense, Defense
I'm not going to harp too much on Kentucky's defensive effort against Michigan State. That's a potential Final Four team and their players can make any team look bad on defense.
That being said, nothing showed UK's youth in that game quite like their effort on the defensive end. Twenty-one fast break points for the Spartans, most of them off regular rebounds and terrible transition defense. Basic one-on-one defense and defense around screens was also sloppy.
Calipari stresses defense and you know that he's banging this into his team's heads. But when he talked about having four months to get his defense right, fans can only hope he has them on a more accelerated schedule than that.
Know Your Role
Just four games in, I would say we have a pretty good understanding of the part each guy on the team needs to play. We also know what they shouldn't be doing.
For instance, Julius Randle, while perfectly capable of it, should not be trying to grab a rebound and take the ball the length of the court and score. Get the ball to a guard, post up strong and dominate from there.
Willie Cauley-Stein is an energy guy. He comes in the game and give you defense, rebounding, hustle, etc. He does not give you offense. Sure, he can finish an alley-oop, but please stop giving him the ball on the block and letting him make a move.
Andrew Harrison will run the offense and use his size to get in the lane and be strong with the ball. Aaron Harrison and James Young will be the scorers, guys to either hit a three or create their own offense.
Dakari Johnson rebounds and makes great post moves. He's not a great shot-blocker. He needs to stay in front of his man on defense and use his big body to keep them from getting close to the basket.
Marcus Lee should be taking notes from Cauley-Stein. He's an energy guy, although with better offense than WCS, but Kentucky needs his shot blocking and rebounding more than anything.
Alex Poythress is filling his role better than anyone. He knows he's not someone who creates offense. He's going to crash the boards, create havoc inside and use his athleticism while also knocking down open threes when the opportunity presents itself—although he needs to do better than 1-of-6.
Keep Your Heads Up
I'll make you guys a deal. I'll remember you're all still incredibly young and still learning on the job as long as you do this.
I'm not going to lie, it's been fairly discouraging to see the body language of this team whenever they are facing any kind of adversity. I see a lot of hanging of heads, hands down on knees, quizzical looks towards the referee or bench.
We know it's not all going to be perfect right now. All we're asking is that you guys put the work in to improve and that you keep your heads up and not pout when things go wrong.
I know you're all new to this, but I'll let you in on a little secret as someone who has been out of college for a few years: Nobody really knows what they're doing. We're all just faking it until we actually do know what we're doing.
So even if you have to fake the maturity until it comes, fake it. But with the talent on this team, if you act like champions long enough, you just might be able to back that up come March.