Kentucky Basketball: Why the Wildcats Must Improve Shot Selection

Thad NovakCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2014

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Not every open shot is the right shot. Kentucky’s armada of freshmen has yet to learn that concept, and until they do, the Wildcats will be vulnerable to losses against defenses they should be able to beat.

The reason opponents give the ‘Cats so many chances to shoot three-pointers is that John Calipari’s squad is so bad at making them. As a team, Kentucky shoots a ghastly .305 from beyond the arc, including .288 from star shooting guard Aaron Harrison.

Even an open three-ball is a tough shot for this team, which has so many ways to hurt a defense close to the basket with its length and leaping ability. That’s not to say that Harrison or James Young shouldn’t ever be hoisting treys, but they certainly shouldn’t be doing it early in the shot clock when there’s still a chance to get a better opportunity.

After all, power forward Julius Randle is one of the most unguardable big men in the college game. Every three-point try from someone else is one less touch that he might convert into easy points.

Even the perimeter players would benefit from taking more of their shots from closer range, where their advantage in size and reach would pay bigger dividends. Young isn’t remotely as bad a shot as his .388 field-goal percentage, but he takes more than half of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Willie Cauley-Stein could corral even more rebounds if so many of his teammates' misses weren't heading back to the three-point arc.
Willie Cauley-Stein could corral even more rebounds if so many of his teammates' misses weren't heading back to the three-point arc.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Then, too, all those long-range shots produce long rebounds, blunting the Wildcats’ huge size advantage around the rim. As devastating as the ‘Cats have been in the offensive rebounding department, they could be better still if more of their misses came from closer in.

By the same token, long rebounds invite opponents to score on the fast break, and Kentucky is ill-equipped to keep up with the speedsters of conference rivals such as Florida or (as became obvious on Tuesday) Arkansas. A team that’s had some ugly defensive performances this season can hardly afford to invite easy baskets by mismanaging its offense.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that the Arkansas game was actually a rare case of Kentucky not falling into the early-three-pointer trap, with most of the Wildcats’ treys coming late in the game when they needed to score in bunches. As bad as the Razorbacks’ halfcourt D was, though, it’s hard to say whether any real progress has been made at this stage.

However, the painful defeat in Fayetteville does highlight the fact that Kentucky is going to be facing a lot of other tough road games before SEC play is done. Many of those games are going to come down to the wire as Tuesday's OT contest did, and every point scored (or left on the table) is going to be crucial for the Wildcats’ championship hopes.

Scoring inside in this physical conference isn’t going to be easy, but it’s the best option by far for the Wildcats. Until and unless their decision-making catches up to their raw talent, though, Coach Cal’s youngsters are in for more upset losses before the year (or even the month) is out.