The Kentucky Wildcats are off to a 2-1 start in the 2012-13 basketball season and there are plenty of positives to take away from this team. They appear to be extremely athletic, have a solid seven-man rotation and possess one of the bigger frontcourts in the nation.
Despite these positive characteristics, there are also a few things to worry about looking ahead for this Wildcats team. The next five slides will go into detail about some of the weaknesses that this year's team has had so far.
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The team desperately needs Ryan Harrow to return from illness.
Heading into the season, Ryan Harrow figured to be the team's starting point guard after sitting out last season and learning John Calipari's offense. However, he has missed the previous two contests and was limited against Maryland due to illness.
What's strange is that the illness is somewhat of a mystery around the program. Some people say it's the flu, while others believe it is mono or something worse. Regardless, it's causing Harrow to fatigue and is keeping him off the court.
This has caused a ripple effect across the entire roster as the Wildcats now lack a starting-caliber point guard. Sure, guard Jarrod Polson played great against Maryland and has performed decent overall. But he lacks the size and talent to be the team's long-term answer at point guard and is best suited to play off the bench.
Meanwhile, Harrow's absence has forced guards, Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays, to pick up the slack and fill in at point. Neither player is a true ball distributor and are better suited at scoring. They've also had issues with turnovers and are not a viable solution to play the point moving forward.
Therefore, the team will continue to play without a true point guard to lead its offense until Ryan Harrow is healthy enough to return on the court. This is the biggest weakness facing the team and will hopefully be resolved quickly.
Wiltjer needs to improve athletically and score more inside.
The most experienced player heading into this season is sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, who was the seventh man on last year's NCAA title team. He was expected to challenge as the team's scoring leader and so far he is well on his way to doing so.
With that being said, there is plenty to worry about regarding Wiltjer's offensive impact as the season progresses. His biggest liability last season was his inability to create his own shot on offense. He lacked the athletic ability to explode to the rim, split defenders or dribble to create open space. Kyle hovered mostly around the three-point line and served more as a spot-up shooter than anything else.
Reports came out this summer about an improved Wiltjer who had worked on his athleticism and was ready to take the next step in being a dominant scorer on offense. Unfortunately, those reports have not rang true thus far as Kyle is still limiting himself on the offensive end.
For example, he was held to just five points in last week's contest versus Duke. Considering that he was mostly guarded by slow-footed Ryan Kelly, it is embarrassing that Wiltjer was not more successful getting open and scoring more points for his team.
However, he did break out last game against an inferior Lafayette squad by hitting seven three-pointers en route to 23 points for the night. The perimeter shooting is a great sign and it has always been Kyle's biggest strength.
But think about this for a moment. He was successful on seven three-point tries yet only ended up with 23 total points. That tells you yet again that he scored almost exclusively from the outside and didn't mix it up inside the arc. He will have to improve this aspect of his game if he hopes to avoid the kind of output he gave against Duke.
Archie had the "Poster of the Week" against Lafayette
Kentucky's newest scoring sensation is guard Archie Goodwin, who truly is a scoring machine in the purest sense. He has played phenomenally well thus far and is constantly attacking the rim or shooting jumpers.
What Goodwin is also doing with regularity is turning the ball over. In fact, he leads the team with 10 committed turnovers in only three games. Part of this comes from him subbing in at point guard for Ryan Harrow. Goodwin is not meant to be a point guard and the turnovers prove that.
The reason for these turnovers is that Archie plays at a speed that no other teammate has matched—for a reason. Oftentimes he will run down the court, build a head full of steam and plow into the opposing defenders. While this has led to some foul shots, it has also resulted in sloppy turnovers that kill any offensive rhythm or momentum.
When Archie Goodwin learns to slow down and collect his points within the offense, his game will flourish and his turnovers should decrease as well. Until then, though, he needs to learn how to play the game at a slower and more effective pace.
Cauley-Stein has flourished on offense but needs to improve on D.
Wildcat center Willie Cauley-Stein has been an intriguing player to watch this season and has all of the tools to excel during his time in Lexington. However, there are a few short-term issues that he needs to work on in order to earn more playing time.
First and foremost is to improve his man defense in the post. For a seven-footer with agile footwork and an athletic build, there is no reason why he is not shutting down opposing big men. Instead, he is caught time and time again going for steals or blocks and leaving his feet.
When Cauley-Stein leaves his feet, his man ends up wide open in the lane for an easy bucket. This sort of "reactionary" defense needs to cease if Willie hopes to reach his full potential as a post defender.
There are not too many players who can score over him being that he stands over seven-feet tall. He also has the quickness and agility to keep pace with the most athletic of big men. Therefore, Willie would greatly benefit from taking fewer chances on defense, manning up against his assignment and forcing his man to score over him one-on-one.
If he can take this approach and play more in the paint instead of out near the arc, then Kentucky's post defense will benefit substantially.
Nerlens Noel is the team's best rebounder, which isn't saying much.
If you asked any Kentucky fan what their biggest weakness was after the Maryland season opener, the overwhelming response would be team rebounding. The Cats were crushed on the boards against Maryland by a margin of 54-38.
That embarrassing figure appeared to only be a one-game anomaly as they only lost the rebounding edge to Duke by one in last week's contest. However, for the season, Kentucky is still getting outrebounded by nearly four boards per game.
This has to change immediately and the blame cannot be placed on any one player in particular. Everybody needs to step up their effort on the glass if the team hopes to reach another Final Four.
For example, the team's two leading rebounders are Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress, who average nearly 15 rebounds between the two of them. However, the next leading rebounders on the team only average 11 rebounds between the three of them.
Kyle Wiltjer has been the biggest disappointment in this category and averages slightly over four rebounds per game, while freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein only pulls down a little over three per game..
This is completely unacceptable for a team of Kentucky's size and talent level. They should end the season near the top in rebounding and it will be a great disappointment if they fail to do so. They have the right personnel, but rebounding is all about effort; apparently, this team still has plenty of effort left to give.