Julius Randle Is Key to Kentucky Wildcats Beating the Missouri Tigers

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIJanuary 30, 2014

Dec 10, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle (30) dribbles the ball against Boise State Broncos guard Jeff Elorriaga (11) in the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats are now 15-5 this year after an 87-82 loss to the LSU Tigers on Tuesday. Struggling on the road has been common for these 'Cats, as all five of their losses are away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena.

It won't be getting any easier in their next contest when they hit the road to face the Missouri Tigers, who sit at 16-4 with no wins against teams currently in the Top 25.

That means the Tigers will be playing like it's their Super Bowl on Saturday in hopes of getting a signature win. Meanwhile, the Cats will be looking to avoid another upset and get their biggest road win of the year.

If they hope to do that, they'll need to start using their best player more. The 'Cats have gotten away from their most talented and consistent player over the past three games, as freshman forward Julius Randle is averaging just 11 points in those games.

Prior to that, he was averaging nearly 18 points per game and looked like an All-American candidate. What's even more surprising is that he's averaging just eight field-goal attempts over the past nine games.

Randle is a very efficient scorer around the basket, as he's shooting 53 percent from the field. He needs to have the ball in his hands more with opportunities to score.

Whether it's just throwing the ball to him in the paint or even allowing him to shoot more open jumpers, Randle needs to start averaging 10 or more field-goal attempts per game. 

He's too good of an offensive player not to be.

His recent struggles have been a big reason why the 'Cats are just 3-2 in their past five games and look nothing like the preseason No. 1 team they were pegged as in the majority of college basketball polls.

Looking at the Tigers, their two-point defense ranks 43rd in the nation, according to TeamRankings.com. It's also worth noting the Tigers' strength of schedule is ranked No. 111 in the nation, according to ESPN's RPI metrics

Their interior defense has been exposed this year against quality teams, and the opportunity will be there Saturday for Randle to attack Missouri in the paint.

It will be up to UK's other players and coaches to make it a point to get Randle the ball in the post early and often with opportunities to score.

That will force the Tigers to crash the paint to stop Randle, leaving wide-open shooters on the perimeter. 

Randle won't necessarily need to become a volume shooter all of the sudden, but the Cats need to start running their offense more through Randle and going from there. 

If UK is to beat the Tigers on the road, Randle has to be a greater part of the offense. If he has a big game, the 'Cats may escape Missouri with a big win.

Jason Marcum is a student in the B/R advanced sports media program. You can find more of his work at Stripe Hype and follow him on Twitter @UK_Fans.