Kentucky Basketball: 5 Wildcats Who Need to Step Up
For the No. 1 team in the nation, the Kentucky Wildcats have plenty of questions to answer. Most revolve around the consistency of the team.
Can they put together 40 minutes of quality basketball in their biggest games of the year?
There's no doubt that Kentucky's issues reside on the offensive side of the ball. Its defense is one of the best in the nation, blocking more shots than anyone (thanks, Anthony Davis) and has allowed over 70 points only three times all year.
Offensively, Kentucky defines inconsistent.
In the first half against Georgia, for example, Kentucky looked very good, scoring 38 points with the help of Darius Miller's hot shooting. In the second half, Kentucky scored 19 points.
Fortunately, Kentucky was playing Georgia that night and pulled out a win.
If the Wildcats were to score 19 points in a half at Vanderbilt on Feb. 11, chances are they will lose the game. John Calipari needs to tighten up the Kentucky offense to prevent lapses like the one at Georgia.
Here are the five Wildcats who need to step up to avoid these stretches of inconsistency.
It starts at the top.
John Calipari needs to implement an offensive system against a zone. It is obviously the best way to slow down this Kentucky team–it keeps them out of rhythm and forces outside shots. Penetration becomes more difficult, and that is what Kentucky has been living on so far this year.
Darius Miller stepped up against Georgia and knocked down all four of his three-point attempts. Doron Lamb has been lights out thus far from beyond the arc, shooting 46.3 percent from deep. But if no player steps up and scores (which has happened quite often), Kentucky simply looks lost on offense against a zone.
Calipari stresses getting the ball in the middle of the zone, but so far, players either dribble when they should pass or pass when they should shoot. More practice with a zone will help these players know what to do in certain situations, and offensive plays will help Kentucky's anemic offense get clean looks.
Calipari also needs to "step up" his bench management. Going seven deep all year is far from ideal, and Kentucky has the depth for Cal to play nine players per game. Kyle Wiltjer has shown he can score from any range, if given the chance. Eloy Vargas has given solid effort in his minutes in the past. And Twany Beckham could be a great point guard to spell Marquis Teague, if given the chance.
If Calipari considers it a risk to play Vargas and Beckham extended minutes, then that is a risk I would be willing to take. They won't be starting games or finishing games, but three minutes in each half would provide much needed relief to Kentucky's starting five.
Twany Beckham needs to step up.
He needs to prove to John Calipari that he can play extended minutes in SEC play.
Beckham has yet to score as a Wildcat. This is mostly because of his limited minutes, but Sam Malone has scored for Kentucky and he hasn't played since Dec. 17. Beckham needs to prove that he can be valuable to Calipari as a role player when he steps on the court.
I have faith that Calipari will give Beckham chances to prove himself, and when that chance is given, Beckham needs to step up. Whether it is for 30 seconds before the end of a half, or two minutes at the end of a blowout game, Beckham needs to showcase his skill.
Assertiveness. Some people have it, some people don't.
The verdict is still out as to whether Darius Miller has this trait. Yes, Miller just dropped a season-high 19 points against Georgia and only missed one shot. And yes, that is the same Darius Miller that went 1-of-4 en route to four points just three games ago.
I don't think any Wildcat fan would question that Darius Miller has the skill to take over games. If they do, they need to take a look at what he did in the SEC tournament last year.
The real problem is that Miller only plays aggressive in about one in every four games. But when he does, he is the best offensive threat that Kentucky has. He can score inside with the best of them, and his outside shot is great when he shoots at the top of his jump.
If Miller would step up and command the basketball, Kentucky would be a much better team on offense.
Anthony Davis, just like Darius Miller, needs to command the ball on offense.
He's shooting 62.9 percent from the field, a mark made from his ability to get second chance buckets and easy lobs inside.
He has shown the skill to make jumpers, shown that he can score over defenders and shown that he is a threat to score from the line. Despite playing 39 minutes against Georgia, Davis only had two shot attempts and only four points.
As deplorable as Kentucky looked offensively in the second half, Davis could have made an effort to get open down low and attempt more shots. When he is assertive, he scores. Against Arkansas, Davis shot the ball 12 times, made 10 and dropped 27 points.
The very next game, he went 2-of-10 from the floor, but because he asserted himself and at least made attempts to score, he went to the line nine times and scored 11 points.
For the record, Davis does not need to step up on defense. His defense is impeccable.
I've discussed why Marquis Teague is key to an NCAA tournament run, and I think the same logic applies here. Teague is just a freshman, but more is expected of John Calipari point guards.
I think Teague will get it together.
He's stringing together more games where he is controlled and a great facilitator on offense, but there are still times where he plays like a freshman.
A great example of this came in the Georgia game. Teague was excellent in the first half, dropping five assists to zero turnovers as he kept the tempo up for the Wildcats. In the second half, Teague only had two assists (but still zero turnovers, a great sign), and Kentucky's offense faltered. He shot more (two shots in the first half to five in the second) and passed less.
Every Kentucky player needs to continue his improvement. This young team has been great thus far, but tougher games lie ahead. These five Wildcats will need to step up their game (and coaching) for Kentucky to be primed and ready for a long NCAA tournament run.