Kentucky Basketball: 1 Reason Each Starter Will Be a Success in 2014-15
After a run to the national title game in March, Kentucky basketball fans have been itching to see what the 2014-15 version will look like. Spoiler alert: The Wildcats will be tall, good and have plenty of new faces.
With nine McDonald's All-Americans and Willie Cauley-Stein fighting for a spot in the starting five and for playing time in general, the biggest thing that sticks out is that each player brings something different to the table. Whether it's bringing an outside threat, finishing at the hoop or protecting the rim, each player on the roster has a specialty.
This slideshow will take a look at what the projected starting five can do to make Kentucky a success in 2014-15.
Since it hasn't been announced which players will fill those spots yet, we'll use the projections I've given so far this offseason: Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress, Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson.
Andrew Harrison: Mid-Range Game
The mid-range game is something people might not think of when Andrew Harrison's name is brought up. However, he was an above-average shooter from that distance last season, according to Shot Analytics.
His shooting percentage increases on the left side of the hoop as well, which is something that isn't shocking as a right-handed player. However, his ability to shoot from the mid-range, something that's unheard of in the game today, allows Kentucky's offense to do more.
In order to be successful in 2014-15, Kentucky will have to use its biggest advantages, which are size and depth. Expect most of the Wildcats' points to come in the paint, whether it's a dunk or driving layup. Due to this, most teams will play a zone against them.
If that's the case, Harrison can exploit the defense by finding the seam at the free-throw line. Whether it's off the dribble or sneaking in after a pass, he'll have the ability to shoot from the spot he made 33 percent from as a freshman.
If Harrison is hitting these shots, it forces the defense to play higher than it'd like, allowing the passes over the top of the zone for layups. There's an argument that Kentucky's shooting from deep will be its most important offensive aspect this year, but it's Harrison's mid-range game that will determine how successful Kentucky is on offense.
Aaron Harrison: Having an Inside and Outside Game
Aaron Harrison is going to be remembered for hitting important three-pointers against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament to help propel Kentucky to the championship game. Let's not forget the fact he is 6'6" and can finish at the rim.
While Harrison shot a respectable 56 percent from behind the line in the tournament, he needs to not rely on that shot to start the 2014-15 season. With his size and creativity at finishing in the lane, he needs to attack the smaller guards to let the game open up for him.
Once he establishes an inside game, defenders will be more willing to play off him, even helping on driving players, leaving Harrison open from deep. If he begins the season by trying to stay hot from outside, it will only allow defenders to play him easier.
Alex Poythress: Versatility
What does head coach John Calipari want Poythress to do this season as a junior? It doesn't matter, because he can guard multiple positions and play both on the inside and outside offensively.
Thanks in part to his size, length and strength, the 6'8", 239-pound Poythress possess the ability to guard opposing big guys while also being able to switch on to guards when teams run a pick-and-roll offense. He has the ability to protect the rim as well, something that has been a staple at Kentucky during the Calipari era.
Poythress is an above-average rebounder for someone his size, and playing the small forward position should allow him to be even better. Going up against smaller players, Poythress can use his leaping ability for the highlight-reel dunks that Big Blue Nation has seen the last couple of years from him.
Poythress has shown his versatility already during his first two years. As a freshman he was called on to be one of the most important players on his team, which he didn't do terrible at, averaging 11 points and six rebounds a game while shooting 42 percent from three.
Last season as the sixth man his stats went down, but he was arguably a better player. After Poythress concentrated more on finishing at the rim and being a defensive stalwart, his game evolved. Expect to see a combination of his first two years, with his shooting touch coming back to form while his defensive dominance remains.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Stretching the Floor
Calipari prefers to run his dribble-drive motion offense, allowing one big guy to play in the post, while four others can beat defenders off the dribble allowing for easy buckets.
The ability to insert Towns into the starting lineup this year allows for exactly that, with a twist. The twist being he's 7'1", can dribble and is an excellent shooter from the outside. While most teams would play Towns at the center position, the abundance of talent in the frontcourt allows Calipari and staff to get creative.
By playing Towns at the 4, he can play with any of the other big men on Kentucky's roster. With Johnson, Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee, it allows them to play one-on-one in the post while Towns can roam the perimeter. If he's playing with Trey Lyles, the Wildcats can run a five-out offense, where there should be open lanes due to opposing big guys having to respect their shooting ability.
Towns' ability will come in handy when a team tries to run a zone against Kentucky. Similar to the championship season in 2012 when Kyle Wiltjer was able to help destroy zones thanks to his size (6'10", 239 lbs) and shooting, Towns can do just that.
Dakari Johnson: Wearing Down Opposing Centers
Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup last season when he began to get some stamina and understand how to use his size by being a post bully.
He didn't need to put up gaudy statistics to make his presence known on the court, being 7'1" and 265 pounds helps with that. But, he began to wear down opposing centers by working in the post and drawing fouls when he caught the ball.
Johnson used quick feet and quick decision-making to begin to wear down his opponent. Expect a better version of that in 2014-15. With an entire offseason to continue to build on his conditioning, Johnson will have even more confidence as a sophomore.
Think of Johnson as a short-yardage running back in the NFL. He's there to do the dirty work, get that yard when needed and be tougher than opposing linebackers. That will be his role on the basketball court. He'll fight for rebounds and positioning in the post. Once he catches it, look for him to use his drop-step move to get a shot attempt, or kick the ball to an open teammate on the wing.