Kentucky Basketball: Why Kyle Wiltjer as 6th Man Will Save UK's Season

Bobby ReaganSenior Analyst IIApril 12, 2017

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 15: Kyle Wiltjer #33 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates with teammates after hitting a three-point basket against the Lipscomb Bisons during the game at Rupp Arena on December 15, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 88-50. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Kyle Wiltjer won't often be compared to Darius Miller. However, he may just be the next Darius Miller at the University of Kentucky.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari moved Wiltjer to come off the bench four games ago against Lipscomb University and it's proved to be a positive change for both the Wildcats and Wiltjer. 

Since that game Wiltjer has averaged 15.5 points, close to seven rebounds per game and is shooting over 56 percent from behind the arc. Most importantly, the Wildcats are 3-1 in those games, with their only loss being a three-point defeat at archrival Louisville last Saturday.

Calipari has used a starting lineup with both freshmen big men in Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein as well as Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow in the backcourt. This provides Kentucky with the athletic front court lineup that Calipari likes to utilize to help disrupt other teams' offense.

It also allows the development of Cauley-Stein—a likely one-and-done player—to come quicker and get the team in form for the NCAA Tournament. Cauley-Stein, besides being a defensive threat, helps solidify Kentucky's rebounding effort as he has averaged nearly six rebounds in 20 minutes of action so far this season.

For Wiltjer, this provides him a chance to watch the game develop so when he enters the game he has the ability to knock down shots quicker. Wiltjer is a smart player who does a good job adapting to the game and defense to find his spots on the floor to shoot.

By spreading out WIltjer's minutes it allows him to stay fresh—this is not a knock on his conditioning or speed—but he is, at least looks, the most unathletic on the team. This keeps his legs fresh, allowing him to continue to step behind the arc late in the game.

By having Wiltjer on the court at the end of the game, going with an offense/defense substitution pattern with Cauley-Stein, it keeps a strong free throw shooter on the court as well.

Perhaps most importantly, bringing in Wiltjer as a reserve provides a scoring punch off of the bench as well. With Julius Mays joining Wiltjer off the bench to fill out the primary seven-man rotation, it allows Calipari to sub and not lose but rather gain offensive production.

Wiltjer usually subs in for Cauley-Stein, who is a downgrade defensively and on the glass. But offensively he provides a different look to where Noel can play in the post by himself, spreading the court. 

Not to mention, this could be a role Wiltjer might have to get used to. Wiltjer is a likely four-year player at Kentucky and with next year's impressive recruiting class coming in, Wiltjer could be relegated to the sixth man spot again. 

While Wiltjer and Miller won't be compared too often, in consecutive years both players being moved to the sixth man could be the reason Kentucky is playing in the Final Four.