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Kentucky Basketball: Biggest Improvement Each Returning Player Must Make

Bobby ReaganFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2013

Kentucky Basketball: Biggest Improvement Each Returning Player Must Make

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    A trip to the NIT is inexcusable for most elite college basketball programs, especially Kentucky. However, that's what happened this past season and is a reason most of these players are returning for another year in Lexington.

    With another top-rated recruiting class coming in, it will be a battle for playing time for the returning players. What that means is the five returning scholarship players need to make some strides if they want to see significant minutes next season.

    This slideshow looks at one improvement each of those players needs to make.  

Jon Hood: Endurance

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    Jon Hood recovered from a torn ACL to have his most productive year in 2012-13, but you can tell the injury still had an effect on him. 

    The Kentucky native set a career best by averaging over six minutes per game and scoring over 1.5 points. While he figures not to relied on heavily, foul trouble and injuries do happen in college basketball. 

    At 6'7", Hood provides some versatility and size on the wing. However, he needs to build up endurance to contribute regularly for the Wildcats. His knee injury obviously knocked him out of game shape, and he did a decent job to get back into shape for last season.

    However, you figure next year's team will look to play a more up-tempo style, and Hood will need to be prepared to get up and down the court in both games and practice. 

Jarrod Polson: Coaching

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    It's tough to come up with an area of improvement for a player who has improved each year at Kentucky only to be relegated back to bench warming for his senior year. However, Jarrod Polson will play a critical role for Kentucky next season despite being expected to play less than five minutes per game. 

    Polson will be called upon to to help Andrew Harrison learn Calipari's system and push both him and Dominique Hawkins in practice. With experience in going up against Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague in practice, Polson has plenty of stories and knowledge to help the incoming class.

    Polson's contributions may not show up in the box score like it did in 2012-13, but Kentucky's coaching staff and fans will notice and appreciate what he does for the program. 

Kyle Wiltjer: Defensive Awareness

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    Kyle Wiltjer is who he is—an offensively dominant player with a wide array of post moves coupled with a smooth jumper who lacks quickness and a defensive gene.

    While he began to make improvements defensively last year, there is still some basic defensive knowledge he needs to improve on in order to stay on the court. Too often last year he got caught out of position on the high ball screen. 

    Whether he hedged too far and was unable to recover on his own man or was too slow to stop the guard with the ball, Wiltjer was often taken out of the game due to his lack of defensive pressure.

    It will be even more vital next season for Wiltjer to continue to improve defensively if he wants to see any type of time on the court. 

Willie Cauley-Stein: Free-Throw Shooting

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    Well, this was the easiest one to think of for the slideshow. To say Willie Cauley-Stein was terrible at free throws is an understatement. 

    The Kansas native shot 37 percent from the charity stripe last year. There's no reason why he shouldn't shoot over 50 percent from the line. Cauley-Stein should draw more fouls this year—playing with better talent and having more chances to go one-on-one in the post. 

    He will need to capitalize off his chances for Calipari to keep him on the floor during crunch time. If Cauley-Stein continues to shoot so poorly from the free-throw line, it becomes more and more like a turnover every time he steps to shoot a foul shot. 

Alex Poythress : Consistency

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    Alex Poythress is capable of doing numerous things on the court for Kentucky. He was second on the team in scoring and third in rebounding last season while shooting over 58 percent from the field. He is also a solid defender who can guard three different positions and can also step out and hit a three. 

    The only problem is, you never know when that Alex Poythress is coming to play. And when that Poythress doesn't show up, the one who scores less than 10 points a game and is often invisible on the court is there.

    He needs to be more consistent, especially with players like James Young, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle and possibly Andrew Wiggins all fighting for time. 

    Poythress needs to change his mindset to a more attacking style this offseason. He won't be the best player or the most important in 2014, but he can contribute like Darius Miller did in 2011-12. With his size, he is often a mismatch on the floor. It's just a matter of if Poythress knows it and takes advantage. 

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