Kentucky Basketball: One Early-Season Improvement Each Wildcat Needs to Make

Matt OveringContributor IIIDecember 16, 2012

Kentucky Basketball: One Early-Season Improvement Each Wildcat Needs to Make

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    The 2012-13 Kentucky basketball team is not perfect. Ten games into the season, the Wildcats are 7-3 and have yet to put together an impressive, illuminating game as a unit.

    There have been bright spots. Ryan Harrow reemerged after missing four games. Kyle Wiltjer put together the best performance of his career with a 23-point, 12-rebound performance against Lipscomb. 

    But as a whole, the team has struggled. Every player on the roster has improvements that can be made to make this Kentucky team a better...team.

    Here, we'll look at an area of improvement for each Wildcat.

    All statistics via ESPN.


Twany Beckham: Coach Calipari's Trust

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    John Calipari and Twany Beckham haven't been on the same page during their time in Lexington together.

    Beckham, a transfer from Mississippi State, could be a significant role player for the Wildcats this season. At 6'5", he has the size to disrupt opposing offenses. In limited minutes, he also has zero turnovers.

    But, for whatever reason, Beckham remains on the bench. 

    Moving forward, Beckham needs to earn Coach Cal's trust. Whether that is focusing more in practice, showing up an hour early or staying late—anything. That is how Beckham is going to earn playing time.

    Jarrod Polson earned his chance early in the year and took advantage. The same could happen for Beckham. He just needs to show that he is prepared.

Willie Cauley-Stein: Consistency

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    Willie Cauley-Stein has captivated Big Blue Nation with his rare combination of size, athleticism and speed.

    He struggles, however, at showing off his intangibles each game.

    At times, he'll look clumsy. He doesn't have a soft touch around the rim, and he gets bullied defensively when he isn't focusing on keeping his position.

    Against Lipscomb, WCS grabbed only two rebounds in 20 minutes of play. Just two games prior, he landed 12 boards against Samford. 

    The potential—and more importantly, the effort—has been there for Cauley-Stein. Moving forward, consistency is key.

Archie Goodwin: Tempo

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    What else would it be?

    Archie Goodwin is the best scorer on the Kentucky roster. 

    But like Marquis Teague from a year ago, he plays too fast at times. He tries to do too much. He'll jump in the air without knowing where he's going with the ball. He'll drive to the rim and shoot a wild layup instead of backing the ball out and setting up a play.

    Goodwin simply needs to slow down. He has the talent—we've all seen it. His finishing in the open court is superb, and he has one of the best jumpers on the team. 

    A move away from point guard should help Goodwin limit turnovers. He still needs to take his time on offense and find the open man before he jumps in the air.

Ryan Harrow: Confidence

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    Ryan Harrow has another seemingly simple improvement after 10 games.

    He has gained confidence in the last four games, and Kentucky needs him to continue to build that confidence.

    He's the best point guard on the Kentucky roster. With his inclusion in the starting five, Archie Goodwin can play his natural position at shooting guard.

    Harrow limits turnovers, even with his increased ball-handling duties. As long as he is in the starting lineup, Kentucky will continue to improve.

Jon Hood: Shooting

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    Shooters shoot.

    And, in limited minutes, Jon Hood has shot. John Calipari doesn't play Hood to be a change-of-pace guard. Hood doesn't play as a defensive stalwart.

    He's a shooter.

    In 38 minutes, Hood has eight shots. He's made five. 

    That number needs to increase to about 10 shots per 40 minutes. He has the chance to step into a role like Kyle Wiltjer had in 2011-12—a three-point assassin off of the bench.

Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone: Stay Positive

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    The trio of Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone have played a combined six minutes this year.

    Their contributions on the court aren't as important as what they do off of the hardwood.

    In such a tumultuous year, the inexperienced Wildcats need positive reinforcement. That can be during timeouts, during practice or in between meals. 

    A positive attitude is what Lanter, Long and Malone can continue to bring to the team.

Julius Mays: Leadership

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    The most important offseason acquisition by John Calipari might have been Julius Mays.

    He's the clear vocal leader for the Wildcats on the court.

    Mays limits turnovers (he has 11 on the year compared to 35 assists), something that cannot be understated for this young team.

    He has struggled to shoot the ball, but that is not his most important asset to the team.

    Mays' contributions are in his leadership—he's a steady hand for youngsters like Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. 

Nerlens Noel: Know Your Limits

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    Nerlens Noel has been better than advertised on the defensive end of the floor.

    He's everywhere. He leads the team in steals (2.8 per game), rebounds (9.0 per game), and blocks (3.9 per game).

    Where Noel struggles is offensively, and that is because he'll occasionally try to do too much. He isn't a scorer, but that is not what Kentucky needs him to be. 

    John Calipari called Noel "an energy guy, not a skill guy" (via Vaught's Views). 

    Hopefully, by now, Noel knows that he shouldn't be taking 14 shots in a game like he did against Baylor. 

Jarrod Polson: Command Attention

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    The biggest surprise of the 2012-13 season has been Jarrod Polson, but he has quietly retreated to his role as a bench player in recent games.

    Kentucky needs Polson to be the No. 2 point guard behind Ryan Harrow. For this to happen, Polson needs to command attention from his teammates and opposing players.

    He rarely shoots (2.5 shots per game), yet he has one of the better shooting percentages on the team (52 percent).

    If defenses were to respect Polson's ability to score, he'd be a more viable option off of the bench. 

Alex Poythress: Shoot More

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    Alex Poythress has one of the best field-goal percentages in the country at 65.2 percent—and he doesn't just score on the inside.

    He's 5-of-11 from beyond the arc and has shown a nice mid-range jumper. 

    The problem?

    Poythress doesn't shoot enough.

    That may be by design in the Kentucky offense, and Poythress has been prone to turnovers (2.9 per game) thus far.

    But in an offense that relies on production in the paint, Poythress should look to score more often.

Kyle Wiltjer: Focus

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    We've seen Kyle Wiltjer explode before. 

    In the first game of the year, Wiltjer scored 19 points on nine shots. In the first three games of the year, Wiltjer was 12-of-19 from beyond the arc. 

    But recently, he's struggled. In the four games prior to his Lipscomb explosion, Wiltjer was 3-of-21 from outside.

    Hopefully, the Lipscomb game was a sign of things to come for Wiltjer. He was expected to be a significant scoring threat for the Wildcats this season, but at 11.7 points per game, he has yet to show that scoring aptitude on a consistent basis.

    If Wiltjer stays focused and continues to work hard in the gym, we should see more Lipscomb-like performances in the future.