Kentucky Basketball: How Wildcats Will Defend Each Opposing SEC Star
Kentucky is the hands-down favorite to win the SEC in 2013-14, however that doesn't mean they only have to just show up on the floor to win every conference game.
The SEC has star players that do not wear the blue and white who the Wildcats must stop.
This list will take a look at the five biggest stars and toughest matchups for Kentucky to contain. It will also break down what Kentucky must do to limit the scoring of these stars and who on the Wildcats' roster will be key in the defense.
Before anyone gets up in roar, Marshall Henderson is not on this list, due to his uncertainty of playing for Ole Miss this year.
Trevor Releford, Alabama
Trevor Releford will be the best point guard the Wildcats have to see in the conference this year. The senior from Kansas City is coming off a season in which he was named to the All-SEC First Team and SEC Defensive Team.
The biggest keys to guarding Releford are to not let him get to easy baskets and to make him shoot jumpers.
Someone with the defensive ability of Releford thrives on turning his defense into quick points. Protecting the ball around him will be monumental in helping slow him down.
Also, despite being listed at 6'0", Releford is much better at scoring in the lane than he is outside of it. Sagging off of him enough to make him shoot jumpers keeps Releford away from his comfort zone and it shows in his stats, as he shot 33 percent from behind the arc in his three years so far.
This assignment will fall on Andrew Harrison, whose size and length should bother Releford enough and allow him to challenge him once he does get in the lane.
Patric Young, Florida
Similar to how Trevor Releford's defense turns into his best offense, Florida's Patric Young needs to be contained away from the ball as well.
Young needs to be kept off the offensive glass in order to best neutralize the big man for the Gators. Since becoming a starter as a sophomore, Young has averaged 10 points and six rebounds. At 6'9", 250 pounds, it is no easy task to keep Young off the boards.
However, Kentucky has a plethora of big men to throw at Young and show him different looks. While Willie Cauley-Stein is the projected starter, I expect Dakari Johnson to play a big role in slowing down Young.
Johnson matches up the best against Young due to his similar body size and ability to crash the boards as well. While, Young has progressed offensively since he came to Florida, Johnson is the strongest Kentucky player to push him off the block and out of his comfort zone.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
What was just said about Patric Young could be said about Jarnell Stokes, but intensified. Stokes is the best big man Kentucky will face in the SEC this year, and arguably the best big man in the entire conference, Kentucky players included.
Stokes is coming off a year where he grabbed 9.5 rebounds per game, and over four of those were on the offensive side. The junior also averaged over 12 points per game as a sophomore for the Volunteers.
With another offseason to improve his game, the 6'8", 260 pound center is expected to be tougher to stop this year and the question is: How can you slow him down? Well, the best way to guard Stokes is to attack him on the offensive side of the ball.
When Kentucky is on offense they attack the rim and Stokes at the same time. A combination of often fouling and not having the best endurance can limit the amount of time Stokes is on the floor. Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythess and Dakari Johnson all need to attack the offensive glass and be demonstrative in getting the ball in the post.
While on defense, besides keeping Stokes off the offensive glass, throwing double teams on him in the post to confuse him is the best defense. Having a wing player dig down in the post and cause Stokes to pick his dribble up quick will lead to turnovers and a confused Stokes.
Kasey Hill, Florida
Kentucky isn't the only team with impressive freshmen joining its team this year. Florida has a couple McDonald's All-American's coming to Gainesville, one of them being point guard Kasey Hill.
Hill is a 6'1" point guard that can finish above the rim as well as pull up in traffic and drill a jumper. With his wingspan, Hill has the ability to play bigger than what he is and combined with his speed, Hill is almost impossible to stop in transition.
However, that's what Kentucky needs to do in order to slow down the McDonald's All-American. The Wildcats can't let Hill break their press quickly and need to make sure there are enough players back on defense to cause Hill to hold the ball and play at a slower pace.
Kentucky must also hedge Hill to go left. While he can finish at the rim, he tends to struggle with his left hand and is often out of control when going that way. With his length, this assignment will fall again on Andrew Harrison to slow him down while Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee protect the rim.
Jordan McRae, Tennessee
Jordan McRae showed everyone in the SEC last year that he can score on almost anyone as he averaged over 15 points per game as junior. With his 6'5" size and ability to play four different positions on the floor, McRae can often find himself in a mismatch situation and take advantage of it.
McRae was also efficient from the field last year shooting over 47 percent from inside the arc and 35 percent from behind it.
The key to guarding McRae is being able to keep a hand in his face. Last year for Kentucky, it was a combination of Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin that attempted to slow McRae down. However, Goodwin was too small to stay on him and Poythress was a little too slow.
This year the assignment falls on James Young and Aaron Harrison. Both wing players can match McRae at 6'5" with good length and size.
Besides keeping a hand in his face, you have to run McRae off the open shot and make him take a couple dribbles into traffic and take a contested show. Last season, from time-to-time McRae would get himself into a bad position to try and force a shot.
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