Kentucky Basketball: 4 Bold Changes the Wildcats Need to Make Right Now
As March Madness approaches, the University of Kentucky Wildcats are firing on all cylinders...almost. While Kentucky has looked dominant in SEC play, tournament time will offer a higher level of play both from within their conference and from across the NCAA.
As talented as the Wildcats are, they are also (as usual) a very young team. While there is no doubt that Calipari has a plan, the coaching ability and the talent level to make a deep tournament run (and even to win it all), the following are four moves that would definitely help the Cats in their question for national championship No. 8
4. Put Darius Miller in the Starting Lineup
While there is no doubt that Doron Lamb is an elite level scorer/shooter, the Wildcats starting line up currently consists of three true freshmen and two sophomores.
They have shown an ability to get rattled on the road, losing at Indiana (who is nowhere near the Wildcats in terms of talent) and struggling away from Rupp against teams like Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
When this very young team goes into neutral arenas in March, they will no doubt be followed by a large contingent of Big Blue Nation. It will not, however, be like it was at South Carolina. There will be opposing team fans making a lot of noise, as well as supposedly neutral fans that will be rooting against the Cats simply for being the favored team. They will also (for the most part) not be facing weak SEC opponents.
Darius Miller has by far the most tournament experience of any Wildcat this season. While having a great scorer like Lamb on the floor won't ever hurt the team, it may be a good idea to start the game with someone who has been through March Madness more than anyone on the roster.
Even though the Cats may lose a little bit of early scoring/shooting by not starting Lamb, Miller does give them some size and muscle at the two-guard spot (Miller is 6'8' 225 lbs., Lamb is 6'4" 20 lbs.) and a veteran presence to help calm the young players down in the opening minutes.
3. Get Eloy Vargas More Minutes
After having some great performances playing summer ball in China, many were hoping that center Eloy Vargas would emerge this year as a solid reserve for the Wildcats.
Unfortunately, Vargas has once again spent an overwhelming majority of game time this year sitting on the bench. While the dominating presence of Anthony Davis may make it seem that Vargas can be written off, the Wildcats' struggles when Davis is not on the floor tell a different story.
Recently against Ole Miss, the Wildcats were eaten alive on the inside during the first half when Davis got into early foul trouble.
The same thing happened against Indiana, when Davis dealt with foul trouble throughout the game. If teams like Ole Miss and Indiana can have dominant stretches against Kentucky's defense when Davis is out, imagine what will happen deep into the tournament if an opponent is able to get him into foul trouble as well.
No one is under the impression that Vargas will come in and be able to block shots like Davis or create his own scoring opportunities. But the Wildcats could use the size and serviceable defense that he provides (along with plenty of other scoring options) to help weather any storms they may face if Davis has to sit.
Vargas needs to start getting minutes now so that he will be ready to play with tournament intensity when called upon in March.
2. Run More of the Offense Through Terrence Jones
The Wildcats are a very good shooting team (both from inside and outside the arc), but great defense and/or a nasty cold streak can make teams that live by the jump shot die by it as well.
While Kentucky hardly survives simply off long-range scoring, they often seem to move away from going inside to Terrence Jones after the first half. In the last two games against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, Jones started the first half by showing the dominant offensive abilities that made him a preseason All-American. But by the opening minutes of the second half, Jones' offense had almost completely disappeared.
Jones may not seem as dominant as he was during his freshman campaign, but his great ability to score inside and from mid-range is still there. If the Wildcats get cold from outside during the tournament, Jones is going to be their best bet to stay in the game.
1. Encourage Marquis Teague to Take His Shot
Marquis Teague's maturity, particularly in the area of game management, has been a lot of fun to watch over the last few weeks. With as well as he distributes and takes care of the ball, people sometimes forget that Teague is an excellent scoring threat too.
When Kentucky struggled against Vanderbilt's 2-3 zone defense, Teague's ability to shoot from the outside and drive the lane for mid-range floaters (or flash all the way in for a layup) was a big part of what began to soften the zone up enough for the Wildcats to get badly needed scoring opportunities
While Teague isn't even close to the best scoring option for the Wildcats, his ability to create and make his own shot (and opponents' having to respect it) do much more for the Kentucky offense as a whole than just the points he can put on the board.
When teams have to constantly watch for Teague to pull up from outside or slice into the lane, it makes kick-outs to Doron Lamb or post feeds/backdoor cuts to Jones, David and Kidd-Gilchrist much easier to execute and exploit.