Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' 5 Keys to Winning the SEC
Owners of an absurd 47 SEC regular-season titles, the Kentucky Wildcats are looking to hang another banner in Rupp Arena. The team starts SEC play Jan. 8 at home against Mississippi State.
With a young roster that is starting to mature and play together, the 10-3 Wildcats must continue to attack the rim and trust each other to beat the likes of Missouri, Florida and Tennessee.
This slideshow will take a look at the five keys for Kentucky to win the SEC title for the third time under John Calipari.
Make Free Throws Count
If Kentucky wants to win an SEC title, one of the biggest keys will be its free-throw shooting. Kentucky draws a lot of fouls during a game and gets to the line a decent amount. However, the Wildcats have been unable to make opponents pay for their mistakes.
Kentucky is shooting just 66 percent from the free-throw line this season, and it has cost the team wins. The Wildcats only have three players in their rotation shooting over 70 percent in Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle. Aaron Harrison is the only player shooting over 75 percent this season.
In its three losses, Kentucky has shot 55 percent against Michigan State (20-of-36), 52 percent against Baylor (12-of-23) and 67 percent against North Carolina (29-of-43). It's not unrealistic to think Kentucky would be undefeated if not for its free-throw shooting.
Cut Down the Turnovers
Kentucky is currently averaging 13 turnovers per game, which is the same the Wildcats averaged during last season's disaster.
For how good Julius Randle has been this season, he leads the team with 3.2 turnovers per game. With how good of a player Randle is and how often he touches the ball in the post, this simply can't happen. Randle needs to be quicker with his first move or pass to cut down on his turnovers.
The Wildcats as a team are also too talented to be turning the ball over this much. With the Wildcats having six players able to bring the ball up the court, defensive pressure shouldn't be too much of a problem for Kentucky.
Development of Andrew Harrison
Much like those great point guards before him, Andrew Harrison started the 2013-14 season struggling to adjust to John Calipari's offense.
However, Harrison has quickly become one of the best point guards in the country with his growth and development through December.
Harrison is currently averaging 11.2 points per game and 3.4 assists per game, but more importantly he is taking over the game when necessary. In Kentucky's last game against Louisville, he made a name for himself in the second half as Kentucky's best player on the court.
Harrison is quickly learning when to attack the rim and look for his own points, while also having to keep those around him happy with their shots. If Harrison is able to continue to develop into a top-notch point guard as the season goes on, Kentucky will be hard to stop in conference play.
Aggressive Alex Poythress
Kentucky is one of the few teams in the country to have the luxury of a former McDonald's All-American coming off its bench. However, that's exactly where Alex Poythress fits into the rotation of the 2013-14 Kentucky team.
The biggest question with Poythress is which version of him shows up to each game. The Tennessee native has flashed signs of greatness when he doesn't let a mistake bother him and continues to attack the glass. However, there are also the games where Poythress shies away from competition and often finds himself back on the bench.
Kentucky fans got to see the best of Poythress in its recent win against archrival Louisville on Saturday. Poythress filled in for an injured Julius Randle to the tune of seven points and five rebounds, but more importantly provided defense and key rebounds.
If that Alex Poythress shows up in SEC play, Kentucky fans can begin to count on winning its 48th SEC regular-season crown.
Defense Wins Championships
Kentucky is arguably the most athletic team in the country this year. With a combination of speed and size, the Wildcats can match up with anyone defensively this season.
However, Kentucky is only averaging four steals per game so far. If Kentucky wants to make a push in conference play, it should begin to press and use its athleticism to force turnovers and easy baskets. With rim protectors in Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee, Kentucky shouldn't be afraid to take a gamble on a steal.
Kentucky has gotten better at its transition defense, but still too often the Wildcats get beat off a made basket.
The Wildcats have the offensive firepower to score at will. The real question in SEC play will be if they can shut down their opponents.