Kentucky Basketball: How Wildcats Can Stop Best Players They'll Face in 2013-14

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IOctober 30, 2013

Kentucky Basketball: How Wildcats Can Stop Best Players They'll Face in 2013-14

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    The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will get plenty of chances to prove they deserve their No. 1 spot as they battle through an imposing schedule. Both within and out of the SEC, John Calipari’s squad will take on several of the top individual players in college hoops.

    One of the best of the bunch is center Isaiah Austin of NIT champion Baylor. When the Bears and Wildcats face off in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Kentucky will get a firsthand look at Austin’s impressive shooting touch and ball-handling skills.

    Herein, a look at how the ‘Cats can slow down Baylor’s top offensive threat, along with game plans for nullifying the rest of the 10 most dangerous opposing players on the UK schedule for 2013-14.

10. Kasey Hill, Florida

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    Freshman Kasey Hill, likely to take over for Scottie Wilbekin even after the senior returns from suspension, is more than just the floor general for the balanced Florida offense.

    The speedy point guard is also a first-class defender who will spearhead Billy Donovan’s full-court press.

    Don’t be surprised if Aaron Harrison does as much (or even more) ball-handling as his brother against the Gators’ pressure, because even Andrew Harrison will have a tough time keeping the ball away from the quick-handed Hill.

    When Florida is on offense, the latter Harrison should give Hill some space, forcing the 6’1” Gator to shoot over his 6’6” length, rather than letting him show off his drive-and-kick skills.

9. Trevor Releford, Alabama

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    Trevor Releford is so far on the scoring end of the point guard scale that he might as well be playing shooting guard.

    The 6’0” senior is the Tide’s only serious one-on-one threat, but he can create for his teammates on occasion, as well as taking it to the hoop himself.

    With so few other shooters in the Alabama lineup, Kentucky would be well advised to hedge, help and double-team on Releford at every opportunity.

    The other Crimson Tide players won’t capitalize often enough—even on good looks—to outscore the ‘Cats.

8. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee

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    Tennessee’s frontcourt looks like a group of defensive linemen that got lost on its way to football practice. The best of the bunch is 6’8”, 260-pound Jarnell Stokes, who will pose a unique challenge for the mobile Kentucky post players.

    Julius Randle has plenty of length (and quite a bit of muscle in his own right), but won’t be able to get the leverage to move the bruising junior off the block consistently.

    Against both Stokes and the similarly-built Jeronne Maymon, the ‘Cats will need to double down from the perimeter and force Tennessee’s shaky long-range shooters to carry the offense.

7. Anthony Drmic, Boise State

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    Aaron Harrison will get a rare opportunity to pick on someone his own size against Boise State. The Broncos’ scoring leader is 6’6” shooting guard Anthony Drmic, a skilled ball-handler and an outstanding three-point threat (.392 shooting from beyond the arc).

    Harrison will get the primary defensive assignment, and with his 20-pound weight advantage, will be able to body up effectively on the slender Australian.

    However, with Drmic’s passing ability, the Wildcats will have to be disciplined and not help too recklessly when he’s able to beat his defender off the dribble.

6. Bryce Cotton, Providence

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    The leading scorer in the 2012-13 Big East was an undersized guard from overlooked Providence. At 6’1” and 165 pounds, Bryce Cotton did most of his damage from long range, draining 98 three-pointers on his way to 19.7 points per game.

    Cotton will have a rough time with the size and strength of Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison, but Harrison’s size will also make it that much more difficult for him to chase Cotton around screens.

    Point guard Andrew Harrison will need to turn up the heat on Providence playmaker Kris Dunn and keep him from being able to run effective set plays for his senior shooting guard.

5. Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss

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    Just like last season, Marshall Henderson—who finished second nationally with 138 three-pointers made—will start firing up shots pretty much the moment he walks into the arena.

    Unlike last season, though, the defending SEC scoring champ won’t have elite rebounders Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner to clean up after him.

    That being the case, the job for Kentucky’s guards against the Rebels is twofold.

    First, get in Henderson’s face as soon as he crosses half court to keep him from getting in a rhythm. Second, hit the defensive glass hard to make sure the senior gunner only gets one attempt per possession.

4. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina

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    In some ways, James Michael McAdoo is what Kentucky’s Julius Randle would be with two years of college experience.

    The Tar Heels junior was, like Randle, a top-10 recruit as a mobile, high-scoring power forward, and even in a perceived down year, averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

    McAdoo’s biggest vulnerability is defenders who can beat him with both length and strength (no mean feat when he’s 6’9” and 230 pounds himself).

    As such, Randle likely won’t spend a lot of time defending his opposite number, because Willie Cauley-Stein (7’0”, 244 lbs) and Dakari Johnson (7’0”, 265 lbs) are both even better equipped to force UNC's leader out of his comfort zone.

3. Isaiah Austin, Baylor

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    After playing second fiddle to Pierre Jackson a season ago, Isaiah Austin will be Baylor’s primary offensive weapon in 2013-14. 

    The 7’1” center can drain the trey (30-for-90 as a freshman) or use his length inside (8.3 boards and 1.7 blocks per game), and he loves to take slower defenders off the dribble.

    It’s Austin’s bad luck that his biggest non-conference showcase comes against Kentucky, one of the only teams with a center who can actually handle him one-on-one.

    While he is on the floor, Willie Cauley-Stein has the mobility and the defensive instincts to contain the Bears star. Even when Cauley-Stein rests, Julius Randle and Marcus Lee can provide similar defensive mobility (albeit with a bit less length).

2. Adreian Payne, Michigan State

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    Willie Cauley-Stein gets to face one of the few big men in the country who’s an even better athlete than he is when Kentucky battles Michigan State.

    Adreian Payne is a 6’10”, 245-pound center with both a solid mid-range jumper and the combination of strength and leaping ability to power through Big Ten defenses and get to the rim.

    The key for Cauley-Stein (and Julius Randle, when he guards Payne) will be staying disciplined on the perimeter.

    If the Wildcats defenders bite on ball fakes, Payne will eat them up, but if they stay in position and make Payne shoot contested jumpers, Kentucky will be in good shape.

1. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    After last year’s painful loss at rival Louisville, Kentucky gets a chance for payback at Rupp Arena in December.

    Russ Smith is back to lead the Cardinals, and even on the road, the 6’0” senior is sure to record his share of did-you-see-that shots over taller Kentucky defenders.

    As important as it is for Aaron Harrison and the rest of the Wildcats defense to stay in front of Smith and keep him from using his quickness in the half court, the biggest key to defending Smith—and Louisville as a team—is playing smart offense.

    Kentucky must avoid settling for too many jump shots (with ensuing long rebounds) and must take care of the ball, because Smith will lead the Louisville fast-break game and pile up easy transition points at every opportunity.