Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' Inconsistent Offense Is Troubling

Matt KingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2014

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Early in the season I made a "bold" prediction: that Kentucky would lead the nation in 20-point wins, making me want to put my fist through a wall.

Chalk Wednesday night's 85-63 victory over Mississippi State up to one of those special performances.

Mississippi State is not a good team; let's go ahead and get that out of the way right now.

Yet they were allowed to jump out to a 12-2 lead and take the crowd in Lexington completely out of the game for the entire first half.

James Young single-handedly kept the Wildcats in the game in that first half, with 15 points—even though he needed 14 shots to make that happen.

The Bulldogs straight up triple-teamed Julius Randle and, as a result, Kentucky acted like they had no idea how to respond to their star player being almost literally tied up. They swung the ball around the perimeter with each pass looking like a prayer that maybe the next person to touch the ball would know what to do with it.

The long layoff clearly had an adverse effect on the Harrison twins.

Andrew Harrison, who had what I felt was a coming out party against Louisville, reverted back to his passive ways as the floor general. He was not aggressive in his penetration and was just 1-for-4 from inside the arc. He also took three more three-pointers where he is currently 3-for-20 throughout his last nine games.

Aaron Harrison didn't fare much better, going 1-for-5 overall and 0-for-3 from three.

Kentucky has four guys who can be labeled as "scorers," and the Harrison twins compose half that list.

The numbers only tell part of the story, though. Both Andrew and Aaron are keys to making coach John Calipari's offense hum, and Wednesday night they didn't seem interested in making it happen.

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 08:  Dakari Johnson #44 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on January 8, 2014 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kentucky's offense was jump-started in surprising but encouraging places.

Dakari Johnson showed some flashes of the 5-star talent he promised, helping bring stability down low with nice controlled post moves.

Willie Cauley-Stein continued his trend of offensive improvement, coming up with some key buckets when nobody else seemed to want to score.

And the good Alex Poythress—the one who goes hard to the basket without the ball and finishes strong after his teammates set him upeven showed up.

Those three players went 14-for-16, which made up for the poor showing by Randle and the Harrisons.

It says a lot about the talent on this Kentucky team that they can weather such a bad shooting night from most of their scorers, as long as one of them can get relatively hot and be backed up by some solid performances off the bench.

But make no mistake, the fact that this happened against Mississippi State—at home no lessmade a huge difference. The Wildcats are going to face better teams and, on the road in the SEC, a 12-2 deficit will feel like 22-2.

Bottom line: They're not going to get away with playing a game like this very often.

Much of the blame does fall on the players, but I spent most of the game wondering why Calipari wasn't making more adjustments. He made personnel adjustments by bringing in Johnson, but I really wish he could have figured out a way to get the guards more penetration instead of having them limited to shooting a three or feeding the post.

Really there's just so much about Wednesday night's game that has me shaking my head. I'm confused as to how Randle still seemed totally surprised by double and triple teams. And I would love for someone to explain to me how Dominique Hawkins, a former Mr. Kentucky, could be such a bad shooter that teams are playing 10 feet off of him while fans beg him to attempt a shot. 

The 22-point win is not what matters. A win is nice, sure, but it's all about seeing progress with this young team right now, and against Mississippi State there was a clear regression. Let's just hope that we can chalk it up to a rusty team off a long break and have this game be an exception. Two straight road SEC games coming should give us some indication.