Kentucky Basketball: 5 Keys to Peaking Before March Madness
One of the more agitating (and perplexing) problems that faces college basketball coaches is having their team peak too early before the NCAA tournament. But for Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari, his team's rough start to the season all but ensures that won't be an issue.
Instead, he is focusing on getting his squad to where they need to be with about one month left until the big dance. With their recent great road win over Ole Miss and dismantling of South Carolina, the Wildcats look to finally be headed in the right direction.
But as has always been the case with Coach Cal's youngest and most inexperienced UK squad, there is still a lot of work to be done.
The following are five keys to making sure that the Wildcats have reached their full potential and peaked in time to make a run at returning to the Final Four.
All stats via ESPN
1. Find an Offensive Identity
The Wildcats never seem to know who will step up and make shots from game to game. While this might be great for drama and excitement, it's a very scary thing for a coach to deal with heading into postseason play.
Kyle Wiltjer overcame his early-season struggles to become a dominant offensive force for UK, capping a string of great games with a 26-point performance against No. 16 Ole Miss. He then followed that up with much more subdued 10-point game against Texas A&M and all but disappeared while scoring only five against South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Julius Mays, who spent the month of January shooting like he had his eyes closed, has been Kentucky's leading scorer for the last two games (19 points against Texas A&M, 15 points against South Carolina).
Combine that with the up and down (and often times out of control) play of Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress' starting and stopping motor, and you never know who will be on or off for any given game.
The Wildcats don't necessarily need to have one go-to scorer who takes a majority of the team's shots, but they do need to develop better offensive consistency and settle on a player or two that they want to give the ball to in the final minutes of a close game.
2. Ryan Harrow Needs to Become More Comfortable as a Floor Leader
There is no doubt that Ryan Harrow's play has improved significantly since the season began, especially with regards to his scoring. But as recently as this week, John Calipari was still calling on him to be more vocal and engaged with his teammates (per WKYT.com).
Harrow may be a naturally introverted kid, but he's going to have to overcome that if he's going to lead a team with this many freshman playing significant minutes. Hopefully his recent stellar play and Calipari's guidance can push him into the right state of mind to control the game the way an elite point guard should.
3. Start Being More Physical
Despite John Calipari's recent assertion that his team was "soft" (per Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald-Leader), they seem to be getting much better at being physical on both ends on the floor.
The recent surge of incredible play by Nerlens Noel definitely helps, but the return of Willie Cauley-Stein to the line up after undergoing knee surgery is also a huge factor. In his first game back where he received significant minutes, Cauley-Stein poured in 13 points to go along with six rebounds and two blocks against South Carolina.
But even more important than the solid stat line, Cauley-Stein brings a toughness and hard edge onto the court that is infectious; the entire team seems to push themselves a little harder (especially under the basket) when he is in the lineup.
4. Archie Goodwin Needs to Get His Game under Control
Archie Goodwin is an incredible offensive talent. But he is also no good to the team when he's throwing himself wildly into the lane, taking ill-advised shots (while not making outlet passes) and turning the ball over.
We've seen Goodwin play smart basketball before, and the results are a teammate who can be counted on to score as well as run the offense if needed. Goodwin has to realize that if he's patient, his chances to score and make plays will come.
5. Free Throws, Free Throws, Free Throws
I know I sound like a broken record on this one, but Kentucky is leaving way too many points on the floor with all the free throws that they miss.
Despite improving slightly over the last few games, the Wildcats are still shooting 64.5 percent as a team from the charity stripe. That's absolutely terrible for a group of this caliber.
It's also worth mentioning that if they are going to make strides in the third category listed here (start being more physical), than that means more trips to the line. Kentucky has already made life pretty hard on themselves by giving up those free points, which included a few games where just a couple more makes would have seen them win instead of lose.
Calipari may not be a big fan of working on free throws (per Steve Weinberg, USA Today), but when you're talking about 10 or more points that the team could have during games in the month of March, it's worth taking the time to improve on that aspect of the game.
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