Kentucky Basketball: 5 Biggest Questions Wildcats Face as March Heats Up
This season has not been Kentucky basketball.
Whether it was losing at home to Baylor and Texas A&M, not being ranked for most of the year or even John Calipari ditching his tie, this year couldn't be worse for the Wildcats.
There is no dominant point guard play this year for Kentucky and the freshmen on the floor have not been playing close to expectations. Without Nerlens Noel on the floor, Kentucky has gone smaller with moving Alex Poythress to the power forward spot.
While this has made the Wildcats quicker and easier to press, they have not had a dominant defensive game and still look lost on offense.
With a couple of games remaining and Kentucky squarely on the bubble, there are questions that need to be answered in March.
Can Kentucky Win Away from Rupp Arena?
A team that wants to win any game in March needs to win away from their home.
Kentucky has not been able to grasp this concept this year. The Wildcats are currently 5-7 away from Rupp Arena and the wins aren't quality wins.
Kentucky beat Maryland on a neutral court in the first game of the season then defeated Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Auburn and Ole Miss on the road.
If the Wildcats want to make the NCAA Tournament and possibly win a game, they need to start being consistent away from Rupp. They need to start this week by winning big at Georgia before making a run in the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky's five wins away from home have been by an average of eight points, including an overtime win at Texas A&M and two-point win at Vanderbilt. Kentucky needs to win by double digits to enhance its resume and it has a chance to do that by having a top seed in the SEC Tournament.
Can Ryan Harrow Be Consistent Down the Stretch?
Sure, this question could be asked about any player on Kentucky. But, when it comes down to it this team needs consistency from Ryan Harrow.
John Calipari's system of bringing in a new group of talented freshmen each year has been questioned if it's successful or not. My humble opinion is yes, why wouldn't you get the best players in each class if it's even for one year.
However, the success of the team relies on strong point guard play. Ryan Harrow isn't Brandon Knight, John Wall or Marquis Teague, but he needs to play at a higher level.
He has displayed his talent at different points this year. For instance, against Louisville Harrow had 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. But against Florida he went for zero points, one rebound and two assists.
Harrow doesn't need to put up numbers like he did against Louisville every game, but he needs to be consistent and definitely can't play like he did against Florida the rest of the way out.
Can Alex Poythress Play Like a Beast?
Similar to Ryan Harrow's consistency question, Alex Poythress needs to play like he's able to.
Every time you think Poythress has turned the corner this season, he bounces back with a terrible game. Against Missouri, the freshman went for 21 points and seven rebounds and played like the best player on the court for most of the game.
But, instead of playing like that the next couple of games he fell back into his roller coaster of a season by playing just 17 minutes in a key game against Arkansas. Too many times this season Poythress takes himself out of the game by getting into foul trouble.
While point guard play is valuable to Kentucky's success, you can point at Poythress' play as the reason for struggles this year. He was projected to be a preseason All-American and hasn't played remotely close to that projection.
Poythress is a mismatch for most teams due to his ability to play both inside and out and while playing the power forward spot, is often quicker than whoever is guarding him. If Kentucky wants to be successful the rest of the season it will be up to Poythress.
Will Kentucky Play with Toughness?
Kentucky has struggled in physical games this year. Losing to teams like Duke, Tennessee and Florida show that this team hasn't had the heart to compete and battle when an opponent plays physical.
In fact, the team's toughness has been questioned every week to John Calipari. Even he admits this team lacks that toughness factor, which is something you need to be successful in college basketball.
When it comes to March, it's the tougher team that wins. Whether it's battling through your third game in three days or going through a tough bracket, you need to be tough in order to win this time of the year.
Players like Kyle WIltjer, who played on last year's national championship team, need to relay the message to the younger players on what it takes to succeed in March.
Kentucky gave up 19 offensive rebounds against Arkansas on Saturday. That goes directly to toughness. Too many times players weren't boxing out or getting into position to make a play on the ball. This can't happen with a team like this anymore.
Is a Seven-Man Rotation Enough?
When Nerlens Noel wen't down with a torn ACL it not only took away Kentucky's best player, it drastically shortened its rotation.
Kentucky plays seven guys on a nightly basis, one of which is Jarrod Polson, a former walk-on. The other thing is there's now really only one inside presence in Willie Cauley-Stein. If he gets into foul trouble, which is common, Kentucky is forced to play Kyle Wiltjer against opposing centers.
While teams get a day to rest during the NCAA Tournament, we will see if this short rotation will come back to haunt the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament. With Kentucky likely to have to play three games in three days in Nashville, the rotation will be key in staying fresh.
Sure, Kentucky won the title last year playing just seven guys, but that team was an arbitration. This team doesn't have an Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to rely on.
We will also see if this comes into play due to foul trouble. When teams get tired they are more prone to foul. With no real bench, this could come into play early and cause Kentucky to lose a game it shouldn't.