Kentucky Basketball: 2013-14 Progress Report for Wildcats Starters
Kentucky's basketball season has been burdened so far by not living up to preseason expectations. However, the Wildcats are still a Top 15 team in the country, currently sitting with a record of 19-5 overall and 9-2 in SEC play.
The Wildcats have arguably their biggest game of the season this Saturday when they host No. 3 Florida at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky is riding a four-game winning streak heading into the contest. However, in their last two games against Auburn and Mississippi State, the Wildcats have looked stagnant and fought for ugly wins.
This slideshow will take a look at the progress of the five Kentucky freshmen who make up the starting lineup.
Andrew Harrison might be the most polarizing player on Kentucky's roster this season. He entered the year expected to be the second coming of a Tyreke Evans at the college level.
However, a rough start to the season and bad body language have made him look like he's not living up to those expectations.
In conference play, he has started to become the point guard many experts and fans hoped to see. He's starting to learn when to attack and score for himself while also keeping those around him happy with their touches by upping his assist average to 3.5 per game.
More importantly, he's no longer forcing shots and drives, now letting the offense come to him. He's starting to step into his shot and hitting a mid-range jump shot while also becoming a threat from behind the arc. He's also shown the ability to take over late in the game.
Using his size and ability to finish at the rim, coupled with a strong free-throw shooting percentage, the ball is often in his hands to close the game out.
In a recent win against Auburn, Harrison did just that, attacking the rim and hitting free throws down the stretch.
Much like his twin brother, Aaron Harrison entered the season as 247Sports.com's No. 1 recruit for his position in the class of 2013. With his struggles from the field to start the season, many people in Big Blue Nation started to question just what type of player Harrison is.
However, much like his brother has done, he's improved as the season has gone along.
He's become arguably the best scorer on Kentucky's roster. He's third on the team with an average of 13.8 points per game and has become one of the closers for Kentucky.
Harrison has been another one of the Wildcats who's been handed the ball to help win games down the stretch. Against both Missouri and Auburn, Harrison made driving layups to help put the game out of reach for Kentucky.
While he's still not shooting at a rate fans expected him to, he's starting to take better shots and learning when to attack.
James Young is not the best player in the country like some people said he would be back when the season first started. However, the freshman from Michigan has figured out his role.
He's a scorer who isn't going to let a poor shooting night stop him from shooting. He has an unbelievable amount of confidence in himself and shows that night in and night out when he steps on the court.
His shooting percentage is quite poor for his skill set, shooting at only 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the arc. However, what might be the most troubling is his defensive struggles. Too often this season, Young has been beaten in transition, allowing his man to get to the rim for an easy finish.
Young has picked up the rebounding, though, something he should be excelling at due to his athleticism and height, standing at 6'6".
Julius Randle is demanding attention from opposing defenses due to his dynamic start of the season. Randle was a double-double machine in nonconference play and SEC coaches took notice by starting to double- and triple-team Randle in the post, forcing other players to beat them.
After struggling with these defenses in the beginning of conference play, Randle has started to develop trust in his teammates and reduce his forced shots.
Instead of trying to bully the defense and force a spin move back to his left hand, he's kicking the ball to the wing and trying to re-post or work for an offensive rebound.
Randle is still attacking the glass at an exceptional rate, despite having numerous bodies on him and often facing physical play. He's not going to score the way he did before Kentucky entered SEC play, but it could be more important to Kentucky if he continues to learn how to work for a good shot.
His reduction in turnovers and charges is allowing John Calipari and Kentucky's coaching staff to keep Randle on the floor longer and opening the offense for his teammates. With the focus on Randle, other players have begun to step up—especially frontcourt mate Dakari Johnson.
The one place Randle has struggled in is when he faces strong opposing frontcourts. This weekend's game against Florida will be a good challenge to see where Randle is in this capacity, as Florida has veteran big guys in Patric Young and Will Yugette.
John Calipari has had some incredible players in Lexington during his tenure as head coach at Kentucky. However, it's possible that no one has progressed more throughout a season than Dakari Johnson has during his freshman year as a Wildcat.
The 7'0" freshman struggled with his stamina, foul trouble and adjusting to the talent and speed of college basketball during nonconference play.
However, over Christmas break, something clicked for Johnson and he quickly became a dominating presence in the middle of the lane for Kentucky.
He's started the last four games for Kentucky and his development has been showing with each passing game. He's learned how to use his body for position both offensively and defensively, as well as not fouling.
Johnson isn't going to put up massive scoring numbers, but what he will do is help the Kentucky offense with his screens and passes out of the post. Johnson has strong footwork in the post and makes quick decisions on whether to make a move to score or kick the ball back out to a guard.