Kentucky Basketball: How Concerning Is Andrew Harrison's Lack of Production?

Thad NovakCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 10: Andrew Harrison #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball while defended by Jeff Elorriaga #11 of the Boise State Broncos during the game at Rupp Arena on December 10, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kentucky’s 11th-ranked basketball team has four freshmen starters, and none of them has fallen as far below expectations as Andrew Harrison. Of course, for the highly touted Harrison, “below expectations” is still a pretty good player, but is that enough for the Wildcats to fulfill their championship hopes?

Through 10 starts at the point guard spot, Harrison is fourth on the team in scoring with 10.3 points per game, well behind twin brother Aaron for third place. He’s been the team’s most accurate three-point shooter (.381), but that’s been on less than half the attempts of either Aaron Harrison or James Young.

Defensively, he’s been a disappointment, recording just two steals and two blocks for the season. That lack of production has underlined his recurring foul trouble: He’s getting whistled 3.5 times per game, including one foul-out against Cleveland State.

Most strikingly, on an offense with three 13-plus point-per-game scorers to feed, Harrison has done a thoroughly underwhelming job as a passer. His team-high assist total is a meager 3.5 per game, leaving his assist-to-turnover ratio (ideally two or better) at a worrisome 1.5.

In spite of his solid performance as a scorer, Kentucky needs far more out of its starting PG in other areas.

Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State sets a high bar for would-be championship point guards
Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State sets a high bar for would-be championship point guardsBrett Deering/Getty Images

The postseason tends to highlight the importance of point guard play, as it did last year with Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams leading No. 4 seeds to the Final Four. This year, several teams Kentucky can expect to face in Elite Eight or Final Four matchups—assuming the ‘Cats get that far—feature the likes of Marcus Smart, Keith Appling or Shabazz Napier at the point.

Winning a high-pressure tournament game while surrendering a huge disadvantage at the point guard spot is a hill Kentucky is not equipped to climb. Harrison isn’t going to become a star, but he needs to become an effective major-conference starter, and he's not at that level yet.

The biggest issue is his playmaking, because he’s not creating opportunities for other scorers within the offense. With Willie Cauley-Stein emerging as a second offensive option in the post, there’s no excuse for Harrison to go entire games with two assists (as he did against Boise State) or even just one (in the win over Providence).

If Harrison learns to draw defenders without committing to a shot, there will be plenty of assist opportunities in Kentucky’s deep attack. It may be a matter of getting used to the system or to his teammates, but whatever the problem is, it needs to be solved to stop the ‘Cats from leaving points on the table.

Harrison’s defensive problems aren’t quite as urgent, thanks to Cauley-Stein’s shot-blocking presence, but the 6'6" guard does give up an awful lot of three-point shots. Against another scoring point guard (Smart or Jahii Carson, for example), he needs to crank up the intensity on D to avoid being on the wrong end of a 30- or 40-point highlight reel.

Even in SEC play, his shaky ball-handling will pose a serious upset risk against pressure defenses from Arkansas and Florida. The ‘Cats probably have too much depth and talent to miss out on the conference crown, but they’d feel a lot more secure with a steadier hand bringing the ball up the floor.

Will Kentucky fall out of the Top 25 if Andrew Harrison keeps drifting along at his current middling level of performance? No. Does it have any realistic shot at a national title with such an unimpressive point guard? Definitely not.