Kentucky Basketball: Will Perimeter Shooting Be Cats' Achilles' Heel in 2013-14?

Thad NovakCorrespondent INovember 1, 2013

Jan 2, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) shoots the ball against Eastern Michigan Eagles center Da'Shonte Riley (1) during the game at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

With two 6’6” ball-handlers in the starting backcourt and a 7’0” center who played wide receiver in high school, neither size nor speed is going to be a problem for Kentucky this season. For all of the Wildcats’ assets, though, there are questions to be asked about how effective they’ll be as an outside shooting team.

Kyle Wiltjer and Archie Goodwin, the two best perimeter options from 2012-13’s squad, are both gone. Alex Poythress, the likely starter at small forward, shot accurately but sparingly from deep in his freshman campaign (33 attempts), further cutting down on John Calipari’s options for long-range scoring.

Even the vaunted Harrison twins, outstanding scorers though they are, are hardly snipers on the level of a Trevor Releford or a Gary Harris. Suffice it to say, perimeter shooting isn’t the primary reason Kentucky is ranked No. 1 in both preseason polls.

However, opponents hoping to turn that relative weakness into a way to upset the ‘Cats will likely be disappointed. Forcing Kentucky to become a jump-shooting team is far from an easy path to victory.

6'6" James Young gives Kentucky a strong jump-shooting option off the bench.
6'6" James Young gives Kentucky a strong jump-shooting option off the bench.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

In the first place, the Wildcats make up for a lack of top-quality marksmen with quantity. Both Andrew and Aaron Harrison and big man Julius Randle will be good, if not great, from long range, and likely sixth man James Young is better than any of them.

Secondly, Kentucky’s length makes it tougher to challenge their jump shots than it would be against a smaller team. In effect, they become more accurate simply by virtue of getting better looks at the rim.

For that matter, much like UK's similarly built 2011-12 national champs, this year’s ‘Cats are vastly better as mid-range jump shooters than they are from beyond the arc. That fact leaves little margin for error from teams who want to coax the wing players into ill-advised three-pointers.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Wildcats are a particularly difficult team to push into an outside-shooting mode. Packing the paint with zone defenses, the usual approach to that task, leaves an opponent highly vulnerable on the glass—an area where UK’s size already creates a huge advantage.

With the exception of a few top-quality zone teams such as Syracuse, most foes who try to hang back against Kentucky will give up so many second-chance points that the benefit of the scheme will be lost. Perimeter shooting will be far from the best option for Kentucky’s offense this season, but it’s also not the kind of weakness that will be able to torpedo the Wildcats’ championship hopes