Kentucky Basketball: 5 Adjustments Wildcats Should Make in 2013-14
Kentucky is one of the odds-on favorites to win the national title this year despite having a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores.
However, the talented Wildcats have shown some struggles early in the season, losing to a talented Michigan State team and struggling with the likes of Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan. Kentucky has been able to prevail, though, with a record of 6-1 heading into Thanksgiving.
However, if Kentucky wants to live up to its expectations, the Wildcats will have to make the five following adjustments.
Play Small Ball
Okay, it might be hard to call any lineup Kentucky has on the floor a small team. But, in order to take advantage of mismatches, the Wildcats will want to go with their small-ball lineup.
This lineup would be Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Alex Poythress and Julius Randle.
The advantage to this would be the ability to play four on the wing with Randle in the post alone. Randle would have the ability to take advantage of more one-on-one matchups and use his size and strength to dominate the post.
If teams wants to double-team Randle, he then has the capability to kick it to the four best three-point shooters for an open shot.
Press and Trap
Kentucky is arguably the most athletic team in college basketball this year, yet the Wildcats haven't taken full advantage of it early in the season.
John Calipari is also a better defensive coach than an offensive coach, often having one of the best defenses in the country. While most of this can be attributed to having a talented big guy to protect the rim, it's also because Calipari recruits athletic wing players who can guard multiple positions.
Both are the cases this season for Kentucky. Calipari has a plethora of athletic wing players and big men to where he can trap and press at all times. With the size and depth of Kentucky, this will allow the Wildcats to push the tempo early and force turnovers.
Get Andrew Harrison Involved Early
Andrew Harrison is too good of a point guard to not take games over right off the opening tip. At 6'5", he has the size and strength to overpower other point guards.
As history has shown us, the progression of point guards under John Calipari takes some time, and there is a learning curve. While this has been true for Harrison so far this season, he needs to start taking control of the game and be one of the top point guards in the country.
Kentucky has been running the dribble-drive offense so far this season, but Calipari might want to think about running a couple of isolated screen-and-roll plays with Harrison and Julius Randle. This will allow Harrison to keep the ball in his hands and either attack the rim and get early confidence or control the game with his passing ability.
While Randle has been the best player for Kentucky, and possibly in the country, so far this season, this team will only go as far as Harrison takes it.
Pick Up the Tempo
A point of emphasis heading into the season for Kentucky was to pick up the pace of play, and the Wildcats have done that for stretches. Not coincidentally, those are the stretches that Kentucky has been at its best.
Most of the games this season turned in Kentucky's favor once the Wildcats picked up the pressure defensively and ran whenever possible. Between players like Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Alex Poythress, Kentucky has a plethora of players who can get the ball up the court as quick as possible.
Kentucky's half-court offense has been up-and-down the entire season, but the easiest solution to that is to get in transition as quickly as possible.
Play with Energy for All 40 Minutes
Kentucky has two high-energy players in Marcus Lee and Willie Cauley-Stein, but so far this season Kentucky has looked lethargic, especially in the start of games.
Take for instance the Cleveland State game, where the Wildcats looked like they ate Thanksgiving dinner before the game and seemed to be walking around for the majority of the contest. However, they made a run over the last seven minutes of the game and played with an energy that seemed to be missing the entire season.
With Kentucky getting ready to enter the tough part of its schedule, the Wildcats can't afford to fall behind early in the games. When playing teams like Louisville and North Carolina, if Kentucky comes out flat to start the game, there is almost no chance the Wildcats will be able to come back.