Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' Biggest Goals for Nonconference Play
The 2013-14 season for the Kentucky Wildcats is no longer new but has been interesting just six games in.
Kentucky currently sits at 5-1 and ranks third in the AP Top 25 but recently needed a late-game comeback at home to defeat Cleveland State. The Wildcats also participated in an early season showdown while ranked No. 1 in the country against No. 2 Michigan State.
While Kentucky has gotten off to sluggish starts in most of its games so far this season, the young Wildcats have shown resiliency by making runs to take control of the game and cruise to victories.
Read on to see Kentucky's biggest goals for the rest of its nonconference schedule this season.
Have Andrew Harrison Repeat History
Andrew Harrison may have had his breakout game in Kentucky's close victory against Cleveland State on Monday night. However, he has struggled so far in the season adjusting to head coach John Calipari's system while playing with great talent around him.
This is nothing new, though. Every other point guard under Calipari started the same way but continued to show progress through the nonconference part of their schedules before becoming a dominant player come January and February.
Kentucky needs Harrison to follow that trend. He is too much of a weapon offensively for Kentucky to not take advantage of his height and ability to create his own shot. At the same time, Harrison needs to learn when to take over a game—something he did against Cleveland State—or when to set up his teammates for easy shots.
Harrison showed he has the capability to do this in the last eight minutes of Monday night's game. He attacked the basket four times, leading in four different scores. Harrison scored twice, set up Willie Cauley-Stein for a lob and then kicked a pass to his brother, Aaron, in the corner for the game-sealing three.
If Harrison can build off the last eight minutes of the Cleveland State game, Kentucky will be nearly impossible to stop, especially with a 1-2 combo of Harrison and Julius Randle.
Establish Communication and Trust
One of the downsides to having a young team is establishing who the leader is early in the season.
This is something that has plagued Kentucky so far this season. The Wildcats have lacked communication on the court and trust in their teammates' games as well as their own.
Too often Kentucky is getting beat on a high pick-and-roll defensively, something that should not happen with the athleticism and length of the Wildcats. There isn't talk on when to hedge, when to recover or when to switch defensively.
When Kentucky does communicate with each other, you can see a vast difference in the product on the floor. The Wildcats usually pick up the intensity defensively and force turnovers by knowing when and where to rotate.
As the season grows, Kentucky needs to continue to do this so it can blow inferior teams out quicker in the game. More importantly, it will help prepare them for the NCAA Tournament, where defense is more important than ever.
Outside of the national championship game, this is the most important game on Kentucky's schedule.
It is the game that every basketball fan in the state circles as well as players. Beating Louisville gives Kentucky bragging rights for a year and a redemption of sort to last year's loss. It will also help quiet some of the critics Kentucky might have by beating a more experienced, talented team.
While an SEC title is nice, a majority of Kentucky fans will want a win over the hated Cardinals more. This is the type of game that can kick-start a run to an SEC and national title for Kentucky.
After struggling in transition against Michigan State, a victory against Louisville will also show the progress Kentucky has made early in the season. Louisville likes to trap defensively and push the tempo of the game—something that Michigan State took advantage of earlier this season.
While it's not the end of the season if Kentucky loses to Louisville, it could be devastating losing to an archrival on your own court.