Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Questions Still Surround Young Team

Andrew SmithContributor IJanuary 1, 2012

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 20:  Marquis Teague #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats goes after a loose ball during the game against the Samford Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on December 20, 2011 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There are three distinguishable parts to any college basketball season: out-of-conference play, conference play and postseason play.

Out-of-conference play, while the least significant of the three parts, yields important questions about teams that often persist until those questions are ultimately answered one way or the other in conference and postseason play.

As the Wildcats are set to wrap-up the first part of their season on January 3rd against Arkansas Little-Rock, many Kentucky fans are left questioning whether or not this team has all the necessary components to win the school's eighth national championship.

Not many teams have compiled a more impressive out-of-conference resume than the Kentucky Wildcats have so far. 

Star freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis have established themselves as one of the most dynamic freshmen duos of recent memory and led the Wildcats to wins over Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville.

These wins and the early season impressions left by Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis will go a long way towards solidifying the Cats' tournament seeding come March and likely make Kentucky one of the favorites to cut down the nets.

However, an impressive resume and strong tournament seed is hardly a guarantee of success in March, as the Wildcats have found out over the past 13 years.

Since winning their last national championship in 1998, Kentucky has garnered three No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds with only one Final Four appearance to show for it in that time span.

Regardless, this talent-laden version of the Wildcats has fans hopeful that this could be the year, and their early success has led many analysts and fans to speculate that this may be John Calipari's best chance to win his long-awaited first national championship.

Despite the promise, however, many questions still surround this Wildcats team that will likely be ranked No. 2 in both the AP and Coaches Poll come Monday.

The answers to the following questions may ultimately determine whether or not the Cats are able to cut down the nets in New Orleans in 2012:


1) Do the Wildcats have sufficient firepower from the perimeter to win a national title? 

Granted, Doron Lamb is one of the best perimeter shooters in the country, shooting almost 50 percent from  behind the three-point line, but he hasn't been getting much help.

Darius Miller, who shot nearly 43 percent from three last season, is shooting only 31 percent from behind the line this season, although he has started to break out of his early-season slump over the past couple of games.

Outside of Lamb and Miller, the only other viable threat from the perimeter is freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer. 

Wiltjer has a nice stroke, and has had some big games, but he has been consistently inconsistent, and as a result is shooting only 35 percent from behind the line.

Kentucky fans found out just how fatal a lack of outside shooting can prove to be two years ago in the Elite Eight against an inferior West Virginia team, as the John Wall-led Wildcats went 4-of-32 from downtown and lost 73-66 in a heartbreaking game for Wildcat fans.


2) Can Marquis Teague settle into the point guard spot?

While Teague has shown flashes of excellence (the second half against Indiana comes to mind), he has largely been erratic and turnover prone, and John Calipari has clearly grown frustrated with his play at times.

Teague is not a proficient outside shooter and does not seem to posses the explosiveness of Calipari's past few point guards, but the good news for Kentucky is Teague doesn't have to be spectacular for the Wildcats to win it all. The sooner Teague realizes that, the better off he and the Wildcats will be.

If Teague can simply cut down on some of his reckless turnovers (he's currently averaging 3.2 turnovers per game) and pick his spots a bit better, the Wildcats will be a far better team as a result.


3) Do the Wildcats have enough depth to win it all?

John Calipari has always said he prefers narrowing his rotation down to seven or eight players rather than using a 10-12 man rotation like many teams do.

However, the Wildcats have a lack of backcourt depth, a problem that has reared its head already this season.

In the Wildcats' last game against Louisville, when Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb both found themselves in early foul trouble, John Calipari was forced to call upon seldom-used transfer Twany Beckham, who only became available on December 17th and averages five minutes per game. 

Beckham, who actually played OK against Louisville, is not a player John Calipari seems to have much faith in.

Outside of Beckham, Kentucky doesn't really have another guard option, although forwards Darius Miller and Kidd-Gilchrist will sometimes slide over to the guard spots to alleviate pressure. 

The Cats may have just enough depth to get by in March as it stands now, but they certainly cannot afford an injury to Teague or Lamb, as they simply don't have enough backcourt depth to compensate.

If the Wildcats are able to answer these three big questions in the affirmative by the time March rolls around, the school's eighth national title, and John Calipari's first, is very much in reach.