Kentucky Basketball: Is a More Balanced Offense Good or Bad for the Wildcats?

Thad NovakCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2014

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After leaning heavily on Julius Randle early in the season, Kentucky basketball is getting a bigger share of its points elsewhere in SEC action. Having more weapons is usually a good thing, but for these ‘Cats, conventional wisdom doesn’t always play out the way you’d expect.

With Randle’s scoring down to a pedestrian 13.2 points per game in conference play, Kentucky has had to depend on James Young and the Harrison twins for a lot more offense. Unfortunately for them, Young and Andrew Harrison are both strikingly poor shooters, hitting under 40 percent of their attempts from the field.

Even more worrisome, neither has improved appreciably in accuracy since Randle has started ceding more shots (and Harrison has actually gotten slightly worse). Meanwhile, Randle’s own enviable shooting has dipped to 48.8 percent, well below his season average of .545.

In other words, the Wildcats offense has been more balanced not by choice so much as by necessity. It's spreading the points around because no one player is knocking down shots on a night-in, night-out basis.

Randle’s downturn may very well be temporary. An increased level of competition, after all, shouldn’t be that high a hurdle for a player who lit up the loaded Michigan State frontcourt for 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting. However, it’s also (at least in part) a natural result of opponents having adjusted to him as the year has gone on.

Over the long haul of the regular season, a five-game dip in his performance is nothing to worry too much about. The Wildcats offense has still been awfully good in SEC play, as has their record (4-1).

He's Kentucky's second-leading scorer, but James Young has run too hot-and-cold to carry the team reliably.
He's Kentucky's second-leading scorer, but James Young has run too hot-and-cold to carry the team reliably.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

However, the postseason is another story, because one bad game is all it takes to end a tournament run. With Randle struggling, none of the other Wildcats has shown the consistency to take over his leadership role; every UK starter has had at least two single-digit scoring nights in the team’s five league games.

Then, too, if the offense can’t be run through Randle, it exposes Kentucky’s iffy point guard play. The ‘Cats rank 215th nationally in assists for a reason, and none of their point guards are equipped to create enough easy shots to make up for an off night from their main man.

It's worth noting that one of the standard problems for offenses lacking a star—the question of who gets the ball for a game-winning shot—doesn't really apply here. If a postseason game comes down to one possession, Randle’s sheer talent means that the ‘Cats will still be in pretty good shape.

However, one-possession games aren't the problem for Kentucky right now. With its current offense-by-committee, this team won’t be able to keep a game that close against a top-tier defense on a neutral March Madness court.