Kentucky Basketball: Critical Improvements for Wildcats to Return to Dominance

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Kentucky Basketball: Critical Improvements for Wildcats to Return to Dominance
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Kentucky coach John Calipari's team has plenty of room for improvement.

Just a dozen games into the season, it's clear these Kentucky Wildcats aren't on the same level as the 2011-12 championship squad. 

Led by freshman phenom and eventual No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, Kentucky won a national title thanks to its incredible shot-blocking, depth and efficient scoring. However, this year the Wildcats sit at just 8-4 after entering the season as the No. 3 team in the country. 

With SEC play just around the corner, let's take a look at what critical improvements the Wildcats must make in order to return to dominance. 

 

Free-Throw Shooting

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Kyle Wiltjer is by far the Wildcats' best free-throw shooter.

After shooting 73.3 percent from the charity stripe last season, the Wildcats have been unable to knock down free throws this year.

In 2011-12, four of the Wildcats starters shot over 70 percent from the free-throw line, including an 82.6 percent clip from sharpshooter Doron Lamb. 

For a team that relied on slasher Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and elite big man Davis, knocking down free throws was huge. 

So far, the Wildcats are shooting like Shaq

Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays have been clutch from the line, but the rest of the starting five have been atrocious. Leading scorer Archie Goodwin has converted just 69 percent of his free throws, and talented freshman Nerlens Noel is just percentage points over the halfway mark. 

For a team with that much size and the ability to attack the basket, fouls are a given. 

The Wildcats must become more consistent at the line and take advantage of what should be free points. 

 

Rebounding

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Wildcats miss Anthony Davis on the boards.

Losing Anthony Davis will certainly have an impact on your rebounding rates, but the fall from dominance has been a far one for last year's champs. 

During their championship campaign, the Wildcats were an efficient rebounding team, ranking 15th overall in rebounding and 62nd in offensive rebounding. 

Without Davis, Terrence Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky is no longer even a good team on the boards. Through a dozen games, John Calipari's team ranks as one of the worst offensive-rebounding teams in the country. With just 11.8 offensive boards per game, the Wildcats barely crack the top 150, checking in at No. 145. 

Although Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't a go-to scorer, the do-it-all small forward played a pivotal role on the glass, grabbing 7.4 rebounds per game. Jones was also an excellent rebounder, snagging just over seven boards per game. 

While the Wildcats have gotten better scoring numbers out of forwards Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer, the two players are averaging just 6.4 and 4.8 rebounds per game, respectively. 

With Wiltjer measuring in at 6'10", 239 pounds, Calipari needs the sophomore to step it up on the glass in order to give the 'Cats more second-chance points. 

 

Perimeter Defense

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was an elite defender in college.

What made the Wildcats so good in 2011-12 was their length on defense. While that made them dominant down low, it also allowed them to challenge shots along the perimeter. 

Without Kidd-Gilchrist, who was one of the top defenders in college basketball, Jones or Davis, Kentucky has struggled against the three-ball this season. 

In their four losses, the Wildcats have surrendered 25 three-pointers, including eight against both Duke and Notre Dame. Although Kentucky can knock down threes at a solid rate themselves (36.9 percent), they rank 150th in the country in opposing three-point percentage (32.8). 

Rotating quicker on defense and utilizing their length would go a long way in helping the Wildcats find their way on defense. 

By limiting their opponents' success from deep, John Calipari's squad will be one step closer on their way back to dominance as the SEC schedule begins on Jan. 10 against Vanderbilt.

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