Kentucky Basketball: Key Questions for Wildcats in Matchup Against Baylor

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 25:  James Young #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 25, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 68-61.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kentucky will face Baylor in a highly anticipated matchup at AT&T Stadium, but this battle will be about more than just getting a quality win. The Wildcats have to use this game to prove themselves for the rest of the year.

The young squad enters the game 7-1, with the club's only loss coming to Michigan State in the third game of the year. While this team has fared well since the loss, it still does not have a win against a ranked opponent this season.

If Kentucky truly wants to be consider a national title contender, it will need to have a strong showing against a quality opponent like Baylor.

Still, it is more than just the score that will matter.

The Wildcats can overcome a loss this early in the year, but they will have to answer these questions in order to quiet concerns over the team's future. 


Can the Freshmen Handle the Big Stage?

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 25:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats talks with Aaron Harrison #2 and Andrew Harrison #5 during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 25, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Even with all of the talent on Kentucky's roster, the majority of the impact players are still freshmen and sophomores. This lack of experience not only hurts physically, but also emotionally in big games.

When the Wildcats faced Michigan State in the Champions Classic, the Spartans got out to a 10-0 lead and went up by as much as 15 points in the first half. While the game ended up closer, it was clear John Calipari's team came out flat.

This could be a concern once again on Friday. Kentucky not only has to play on national television, but also in front of as many fans as the team will see all regular season with the game being played in a football stadium.

If nerves are an issue, it could lead to another poor start, which will be a concern for the rest of the season.


Will Baylor's Size Slow Down Julius Randle?

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 25:  Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 25, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Although Julius Randle has cooled off a bit from his amazing start, he has still been one of the most dominant players in college basketball this season.

He enters the matchup with Baylor averaging 12.6 rebounds per game, which ranks third in the nation. This pairs well with his 18.1 points per game and the fact that he has seven double-doubles in eight appearances.

However, the Bears represent a tough test for the power forward.

Cory Jefferson has similar strength and the senior knows what it takes to succeed in the low post. Additionally, Isaiah Austin's height and length will disturb Randle, especially with the sophomore's ability to block shots on rotations.

If Randle struggles in this game, it will seriously slow down Kentucky's offense, and it will give opposing teams a blueprint on how to stop this talented squad.


Will Outside Shooting Continue to Doom the Wildcats?

WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Brady Heslip #5 of the Baylor Bears reacts after shooting a three-pointer against the South Carolina Gamecocks on November 12, 2013 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

If Kentucky had a choice, it would probably choose to remove the three-point line completely this season. Not only has the squad struggled to make shots from behind the arc, but it has also found defending the perimeter a challenge as well.

In the last game against Providence, the Friars remained competitive thanks to the team's 10-of-19 performance from outside. Michigan State also shot a solid 5-of-12 in the Wildcats' one loss.

This could be a serious problem against Baylor as Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin lead the No. 8 three-point shooting team in the country.

Meanwhile, Kentucky has only hit 31.8 percent of its shots from deep despite having some talented shooters on the roster. Unless both of these problems are fixed, the Wildcats will have a hard time in this game and throughout the year.


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