The Kentucky Wildcats entered the 2013-14 college basketball season as the No. 1 team in most major polls. But after four losses before the month of January has ended, there's reason to doubt their ability to make it to the NCAA Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
After securing one of the greatest recruiting classes ever assembled, according to Kyle Tucker of USA Today Sports, UK head coach John Calipari hasn't been able to maximize the wealth of talent he has on this team. That doesn't mean this team won't eventually reach it's full potential, but there is a lot of work to be done if they hope to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Here are the areas in which the Cats must improve if they hope to get to the Final Four this year.
Consistent Effort from Willie Cauley-Stein
Over the first 13 games this year, Cauley-Stein was averaging nine rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. That's the kind of force in the paint the Cats need him to be for them to get to Arlington.
The Cats don't need him to be as big of a scoring threat with their personnel, but he must be a constant presence in the paint for UK to thrive on defense. For the early portion of this season, he was doing just that.
But over the past four games, he's averaging a mere 4.75 rebounds and 1.25 blocks per contest, and in his last game against Tennessee, he didn't score at all and had just three rebounds and one block in 19 minutes of play, despite never being in foul trouble with only two committed in the game.
He's too important and too talented to have those kinds of games in the tournament, as that could be what gets UK knocked out before they can reach the Final Four.
He must become more consistent in his level of play and not have games like on Saturday where he's a non-factor for most of the game.
Cut Down on Turnovers
Kentucky has lost four games by a total of 16 points this year, and in those games, the Wildcats committed 60 turnovers for an average of 15 per game.
They committed just eight on Saturday versus Tennessee, but prior to that, they committed 10 or more turnovers in their previous four games.
They have to take care of the ball better and not give opponents easy opportunities to score in transition.
When UK is able to get back on defense, it's extremely hard to score against their length with all five starters measuring 6'5" or higher to go with their immense athleticism.
But when they turn the ball over, that allows opponents to score in transition when there's less resistance at the rim.
Improve Three-Point Defense
According to College Basketball Reference, the Wildcats defense allows 5.47 three-point makes per game, which is only 82nd in the NCAA.
Their three-point defense isn't exactly a glaring weakness. But, given their interior defense with Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson roaming in the paint, if they can improve their perimeter defense, they'll become one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
The Harrison twins have shown they're capable of being lockdown defenders, and at 6'5" tall with a 6'8" wingspan, they should be two of the tougher guards in the nation to get clean three-point locks against.
But, like freshman often do, they have lapses in their focus during games and they often get burned during them. Staying committed to guarding their man for the entire shot-clock could be what makes this defense elite.
If the Cats can make significant improvements in all three of these areas, they'll make a deep tournament run that should end in the Final Four. But, if they don't, it's hard to see them making it that far.