Kentucky Basketball: Best and Worst Takeaways from Wildcats so Far

Bobby Reagan@uklefty22Featured ColumnistDecember 26, 2013

Kentucky Basketball: Best and Worst Takeaways from Wildcats so Far

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    With only their rival left before nonconference play is over for the Kentucky Wildcats, the attention is being turned to winning another SEC regular-season title. 

    Kentucky currently sits at 9-3, with losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina. While there have been low points throughout the season, there have also been highs, whether it's been the impressive play of Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle or a picture-perfect lob to help seal a game.

    This slideshow will take a look at the three best and worst takeaways for the Wildcats so far in the 2013-14 season.

3rd-Worst Takeaway: Where Are the Backup Big Men?

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    Going into this season, the center position was expected to be loaded with the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson all battling for minutes. While Cauley-Stein has come into his own so far this season, the opposite can be said about Lee and Johnson.

    Johnson, who was ranked as the No. 1 center in the class of 2013, was expected to challenge Cauley-Stein for the starting spot. He has been very underwhelming, playing in just 10 minutes per game with averages of four points and 3.5 rebounds. A combination of conditioning and foul trouble has kept him from ever getting into a rhythm. 

    Lee has shown signs of success, however, sickness and an injury sidelined him for a little bit. He is still only playing eight minutes per game and scoring under four points and grabbing two rebounds so far this season. 

2nd-Worst Takeaway: Losing Against Baylor

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    Kentucky fell to Baylor 67-62 back on December 6, in a game the Wildcats should have won fairly easily. 

    Sure, Baylor is currently ranked No. 11 with a record of 10-1, with its only loss to Syracuse. However, the game was controlled by Kentucky before the Wildcats gave up and let Baylor come away with the victory.

    Kentucky had a 50-41 lead with 13 minutes to play after Julius Randle recorded a dunk. What followed was a 15-5 run by Baylor to give the Bears a 56-55 lead with six minutes to go. Despite tying the game at 61, James Young missed a couple of free throws that would have given Kentucky the lead, and Baylor never relinquished its lead.

    Kentucky was out-rebounded 41-25 and only shot 52 percent from the free-throw line. This was a game played in Cowboys Stadium where the Final Four is being held and was expected to be a sign of things to come in the future for Kentucky. 

Worst Takeaway: Free-Throw Shooting

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    Pick any moment in the three losses for Kentucky you want. Free-throw shooting sticks out in all of them. 

    Kentucky is shooting just 67 percent from the free-throw line this season, and it has cost them wins throughout the season. The Wildcats only have three players in their rotation shooting over 70 percent in Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle, with Aaron Harrison as the only player shooting over 75 percent so far this season.

    In its three losses, Kentucky has shot 55 percent against Michigan State (20-36), 52 percent against Baylor (12-23) and 67 percent against North Carolina (29-43). It's not unrealistic to think Kentucky would be undefeated if not for its free-throw shooting. 

3rd-Best Takeaway: Growth of Aaron Harrison

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    Aaron Harrison entered the season as the fifth starter on a loaded Kentucky roster. Almost overlooked as a McDonald's All-American, Harrison was a top-10 recruit in the class of 2013. 

    While he had some rough games early in the season, Harrison has developed into one of the most reliable players for Kentucky so far. He is currently second on the team with an average of over 15 points per game, and he has raised his three-point percentage to over 30 percent.

    He has scored double digits in each of his last five games, including 20 points or more in Kentucky's last two games against North Carolina and Belmont. 

    Harrison has also shown his ability to defend, becoming Kentucky's best wing defender. In addition, he has shown his ability to distribute the ball from his shooting guard spot, averaging over two assists per game. 

2nd-Best Takeaway: Willie Cauley-Stein Hosts Block Parties

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    Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the most unique players in college basketball this season, and it has nothing to do with his blonde hair or the fact he is 7'1" and played high school football.

    It's the fact that he is one of the best shot-blockers in all of America. He currently is averaging 4.2 blocks per game, good enough for fifth in the country, just 0.6 blocks per game behind the country's best. 

    He set a career high with nine blocks in a game when he did it against Providence, then again when Kentucky defeated Boise State. He's recorded a block in all but one game so far this season and at least two blocks in all but two games. 

    On top of that, he is rebounding at an excellent clip, averaging eight rebounds per game. 

Best Takeaway: Julius Randle Lives Up to the Hype

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    Julius Randle somehow got lost behind Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in the best-freshman-in-the-country discussion before the season started. However, he has made his name known in households throughout the country through the first two months of the season.

    Randle has been a double-double machine this season recording nine of them so far, including a stretch to open the season of seven consecutive. He is currently averaging a double-double with 18 points per game and 11 rebounds. 

    His 11.3 rebound-per-game average is good enough for fifth in the country. 

    More importantly, Randle has supplanted himself as the alpha dog on this young Kentucky team. With the main question heading into the season being who would be the best player between Randle, Andrew Harrison and James Young, Randle has quickly cemented that role. 

    He is no longer overlooked but rather in the discussion for best player in America, regardless of class.