Kentucky Basketball: Areas Where Wildcats Must Improve Before SEC Play Begins

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2012

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 04:  Nerlens Noel #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats dunks the ball during the game against the Samford Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on December 4, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Success hasn't come nearly as easy for John Calipari and the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats in 2012-13 as it did a season ago.

It took the Wildcats 34 games to lose twice last season, but it only took Kentucky seven games to get to three losses this year. Clearly, Nerlens Noel and company are experiencing some growing pains as they progress through the non-conference schedule.

Here, we'll break down two key areas where Kentucky must improve before conference play begins in order to find success against the rest of the SEC.

 

Rebounding

Despite the Wildcats' considerable size inside with a pair of 6'10" forwards in Nerlens Noel and Kyle Wiltjer, Kentucky ranks just 103rd in the nation in rebounding, averaging just over 37 per game.

Noel has done his job up this point in the season, averaging nine boards per game, but no other Wildcats player is averaging more than 6.6 per game. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer especially needs to pick up the pace in this category. He's only bringing 4.2 a game, which isn't going to cut it for one of the biggest players on the team. 

Last year, Anthony Davis averaged 10.4 rebounds per game for Kentucky, while two other players each averaged more than seven boards per game. 

This isn't last year's Kentucky team, for sure, but this year's team is certainly capable of improving on the glass before conference play begins. 

Thus far in 2012-13, the SEC's best rebounding team is Missouri. The Tigers are averaging nearly 46 rebounds per game, which is nearly 10 better per game than Kentucky. Including Missouri, six teams in the SEC are rebounding at an equal or higher rate than the Wildcats. 

 

Perimeter Defense

Kentucky will also have to tighten up its perimeter defense this season if it's to have any shot at winning the SEC. At the moment, the Wildcats rank 182nd in the country in fewest three-pointers allowed in 2012-13, having given up 52 in nine games.

With incredible three-point-shooting teams like Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Missouri all playing in the SEC, it's imperative that the Wildcats turn up the defensive intensity on the perimeter and begin closing out on opposing sharpshooters.

The three-point shot is considered to be the great equalizer in college basketball. And if a team can catch fire from outside, it won't matter how talented Kentucky's roster is because the Wildcats will be in trouble. 

Calipari's squad ranks 176th nationally in opponent's three-point percentage, allowing opponents to connect on 33.1 percent of their outside shots thus far in 2012-13. Meanwhile, Tennessee ranks sixth nationally in that category, holding its opponents to just 23.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc in seven games this season.

Kentucky doesn't need to hold opponents to under 24 percent shooting from long-range, but it does need to improve and bring that percentage under 30 if the Wildcats are going to make a run at the SEC championship.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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