Kentucky Basketball: Report Card for Wildcats Midway Through SEC Play

Bobby Reagan@uklefty22Featured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

Kentucky Basketball: Report Card for Wildcats Midway Through SEC Play

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    With a month left in the regular season, we could potentially be finally seeing the Kentucky team many expected the Wildcats to be when the year started. 

    The Wildcats currently sit second in the SEC with a record of 7-2 with two games against No. 3 Florida still left on their schedule. Their two losses have come on the road to LSU and Arkansas, but Kentucky has made sure to take care of business at home with wins against Tennessee and Ole Miss. 

    However, not everyone has played their A-game during conference play. With that, this slideshow will take a look at six of Kentucky's key players, not including Willie Cauley-Stein, whose play was recently broken down. 

Andrew Harrison

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    Grade: B+

    For a freshman point guard at Kentucky, expectations are always nearly impossible to live up to. Andrew Harrison, who has started since the first game of the season, experienced failing to live up to expectations early in the season.

    However, he's started to develop into the player many people across the country expected to see during conference games. He's not putting up gaudy scoring numbers, however he is still averaging almost 11 points per game in conference play. 

    What Harrison has done, is control the tempo and game for Kentucky since the SEC slate of games started. He has started to learn how to know when to attack the rim or when to distribute the ball to his teammates. He's currently averaging 3.7 assists per game in conference play, while limiting his turnovers. 

    Harrison has proven he can have the ball in his hands, late in games to help lead Kentucky to a victory. If he continues to play this way, his grade will continue to rise. 

Aaron Harrison

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    Grade: B

    Aaron Harrison entered the season as a prolific scorer. In conference play he has been a stable shooting guard who can almost guarantee you a double-digit scoring output each game. He has scored more than 10 points in all but two SEC games, and is averaging 13.4 points per game in conference action.

    Harrison has started to slow down and take better shots since the beginning of the year. He's working the floor in order to find the open spot and not take contested jumpers. He's shooting over 33 percent from behind the arc and has raised his free-throw shooting percentage to 80 percent.

    In Kentucky's recent victory on the road against Missouri, Harrison showed his potential to thrive in close-game situations. He helped close out the win over the Tigers by attacking the rim and finishing with a pretty reverse layup and scored 21 points in the win. 

James Young

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    Grade: B-

    James Young's grade might have something to do with the expectations that he had when the season first started. Despite the well-known freshmen like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon and teammate Julius Randle dominating the headlines, Young made some waves when he was tabbed from some NBA executives as the best player in the country.

    He's far from having lived up to those expectations, but Young's game has been defined. He is a scorer, who is not afraid to keep shooting, even if he's having an off night. He's attempted at least eight shots in every SEC game and no less than five threes in each game.

    Young will continue to score, but he needs to work on raising his free-throw percentage as well as his shooting percentage. He has kept Kentucky in games with his scoring by pouring in three 20-plus point games. 

    If Young can continue to work on taking better shots and not forcing his offense, he could become arguably the most important and best player for the Wildcats. 

Julius Randle

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    Grade: C

    After being a double-double machine to start the season, Julius Randle has come crashing back to life in conference play. He only has two double-doubles and his numbers are significantly down from nonconference play. 

    Most of this is due to the double- and triple-teams he is facing in the post, however he's only shot over 50 percent from the field during SEC play. Randle has excelled against weaker competition, however he's struggled against some of the better big men in the league. Randle grabbed just two rebounds against Tennessee and put up just six points and five rebounds against LSU.

    It hasn't been all bad for Randle though. With each game Randle has improved his passing out of the post and patience. He's no longer trying to barrel through swarming defenses, but instead he's kicking the ball out to the wing and allowing his teammates to get involved.

    Again, the grade is just a C due to the way he played heading into conference play. Randle is still one of the best players in the country and a near-lock to finish All-SEC.

Dakari Johnson

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    Tim Mueller/Associated Press

    Grade: A-

    Perhaps no one has experienced a bigger turnaround with the flip of the calendar than Dakari Johnson. The freshman could barely see playing minutes in nonconference play, but has worked himself into the starting lineup for Kentucky.

    Before SEC play, Johnson struggled with conditioning, foul trouble and being a threat offensively for the Wildcats. Johnson isn't putting up eye-popping stats, but anyone who has watched Kentucky this season will say they see a different player. 

    He's provided a big body to challenge in the post and has improved leaps and bounds offensively. Johnson has been the most patient post player for Kentucky. He realizes when he catches the ball whether to make a move and attack the rim or quickly kick it out to a shooter and try to repost.

Alex Poythress

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Grade: A+

    Alex Poythress had underachiever written on his jersey for quite some time now. However, since SEC play has started, Poythress has been one of the most consistent Wildcats and arguably the most exciting player to watch in the conference.

    Poythress has used his athleticism to average over 10 points per game while shooting over 57 percent from the field in conference play. The sophomore has been a highlight-reel dunker, but more importantly has provided that veteran leadership that Kentucky needs on its young roster.

    Besides his highlight dunks, Poythress has been a valuable defender, showing he can guard any position while providing depth at both the small and power forward positions. Poythress' role off the bench is becoming more similar to Darius Miller's role during Kentucky's 2011-12 national title run.