Kentucky Basketball: Biggest Improvements Wildcats Have Made in 2013-14
The Kentucky basketball team may not be where it'd like to be 10 games into the season. However, despite the two losses, there are plenty of improvements the Wildcats have made in the 2013-14 season.
After unexpectedly losing to Baylor, Kentucky bounced back with a strong game against a talented Boise State team. With some big nonconference games remaining against the likes of North Carolina, Belmont and Louisville, the Wildcats will look to gain some momentum heading into SEC play.
We'll take a look at some of the improvements Kentucky has made from last year and from earlier in the schedule that should help John Calipari's squad for the rest of the season.
Aaron Harrison's Game
After struggling mightily against Michigan State and Texas-Arlington, Aaron Harrison has quickly become one of Kentucky's most dependable players.
Harrison has scored in double digits in each of his last five games, including a 22 point, seven rebound performance against Eastern Michigan and a 15 point, six assist game against Baylor. Harrison has also shot over 38 percent from behind the arc during the last five games.
More importantly, Harrison lost his bad body language that he was showing against Michigan State and became a lockdown defender for Kentucky. His breakout game defensively was against Providence, where he showed his ability to lead the team.
Harrison will be called on throughout the entire year to make Kentucky's opponents pick their poison defensively by playing a zone or man-to-man. If Harrison continues to play the way he has, Kentucky will only be tougher to guard and tougher to score on. He is one of the biggest X-factors for Kentucky the rest of the season.
Ability to Go to the Bench
Kentucky was never able to play more than a seven-man rotation last year, which got even thinner once it lost Nerlens Noel to a torn ACL.
This year, Kentucky has seven McDonald's All-Americans on its roster. On top of that, they return starter Willie Cauley-Stein and were greeted with the emergence of little-known freshman Dominique Hawkins. Sitting even further down the bench are Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood, who both saw significant minutes last season.
The depth Kentucky has this year is vital for John Calipari to mix and match his lineup and play as uptempo as he wants. With officials calling the game more tightly, foul trouble isn't as much of a worry this season as last either.
We've seen Andrew Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein get into foul trouble so far this season and Kentucky not miss too much of a beat when going to the bench.
More importantly, it allows Calipari to teach his team and get them more prepared for a March run. Instead of being forced to keep players on the floor when struggling or showing bad language, Calipari has a quick trigger this year, using it as a teaching tool for the Wildcats going forward.
It's simple to look at the numbers and break down the eight point differential in scoring from 2012-13 to the 2013-14 season and say Kentucky's scoring has improved. Last season the Wildcats averaged 73 points per game, while this season they have averaged 81 through 10 games.
First off, Kentucky has a post player who is an offensive player. Last season, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein were dominant defenders who were limited offensively. This season the Wildcats have an improved Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle, who might be the best scoring big man in college basketball.
Surrounding the big guys are excellent shooters in James Young and Aaron Harrison, who are both averaging over 13 points per game so far this season. They also both possess the ability to attack the rim with their height at 6'6" and finish in the lane.
Andrew Harrison at point guard can also attack the paint and hit the open shot when needed. More importantly, he distributes the ball exceptionally well and has the ability to set his teammates up for the open shot or get them in position to score.
The field-goal and three-point percentages both expect to go up as the Wildcats become more comfortable at the collegiate level, only inflating their scoring numbers. There is also the threat that any player on the floor for Kentucky can score over 20 points in any given game.