Kentucky Basketball: 5 Things We've Learned About Wildcats in 2013-14
Whether it's been poor free-throw shooting, giving up easy buckets in transition defense or not having all five players on the court play up to their abilities, it could be debated that the country hasn't seen the true 2013-14 version of Kentucky basketball.
It could also be argued that what we've seen is who the Wildcats are. A team that will beat teams it's better than, but lose to teams who are either superior to the Wildcats or will struggle if it finds itself in a hostile environment.
As we head into the last couple of weeks of the regular season, there is still plenty to learn about Kentucky. The Wildcats are currently No. 18 in the country with a record of 19-6 overall and 9-3 in SEC play. It's expected Kentucky will finish second in the SEC during the regular season behind Florida after losing to the Gators by 10 at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
This slideshow will take a look at the five biggest lessons we've learned about Kentucky so far during the 2013-14 season.
John Calipari Has a Quick Hook
The one thing Kentucky head coach John Calipari has shown this season, besides frustration, is the fact he is willing to take anyone out and do it quickly.
Anytime someone doesn't hustle back on defense, commits an unforced turnover or hangs their head on the court, Calipari is quick to use his bench.
In a recent win at Mississippi State, Calipari played 10 different guys, some of it was due to foul trouble while a large part was due to Kentucky players not hustling on the court and constantly getting beat in transition defense.
Jarrod Polson played 30 minutes that game, while fellow senior Jon Hood played 13 minutes, the most he's played all season.
In Kentucky's most recent game against Florida, James Young was the best offensive player for Kentucky. However, he had back-to-back turnovers, which Calipari responded with sending Young to the bench.
Calipari is using this as a learning tool, trying to keep a fire lit under his players. However, some could say it's been a deterrent to keeping the players focused.
Julius Randle Shows the Most Frustration
Julius Randle has been easily Kentucky's best player in the 2013-14 season. However, he's also been the player to show the most frustration on the court as well.
The frustration for Randle often comes from the extra attention he receives from opposing teams. Making news for constantly recording double-doubles during the beginning of the season, SEC coaches have begun to take away Randle as a scoring option for Kentucky.
Often facing double- and sometimes triple-teams in the post, other SEC teams want Randle to kick the ball out of the post and make Kentucky's guards beat them. One of the things that makes Randle so good is his self-confidence. He thinks he can score on anyone, no matter how many guys are guarding him.
While it can be difficult to make an entry pass from the wing, Randle will show his frustration if he doesn't get touches in a couple of possessions. Whether it's forcing a shot on his next possession or letting his head hang for a second after a bad possession, the frustration can be seen on Randle.
He has started to learn what to expect from opposing defenses and start kicking the ball out of the post quicker. However, it's important for Randle to continue to mature and not let a lack of touches deter him from grabbing rebounds or still having an impact on the game.
Andrew Harrison Learned His Role
Andrew Harrison started the 2013-14 season looking lost and nothing like the No. 1-ranked point guard in the class of 2013. However, his play has turned since conference play started, and he's starting to develop into the point guard everyone expected him to be.
In Kentucky's recent game against Florida, Harrison's game looked identical to his season. He missed five of his first six shots before making five of his last six shots and all eight of his free throws. Harrison always looked to attack the rim offensively and his play helped give Kentucky a three-point halftime lead.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari said he had no qualms with Harrison's play, except the final four minutes of the game when Florida's senior point guard Scottie Wilbiken took over the game.
Calipari gave most of the credit to Wilbekin's experience and said Harrison will learn from the game and learn how to close out a strong game.
Harrison is going to be one of the most important players for Kentucky in March if the Wildcats want to make a run to the Final Four. If he continues to play the way he did for 36 minutes against Florida, Kentucky will be just fine.
Unsure How to Guard a Pick and Roll
The one thing the game against Florida showed was Kentucky struggles guarding the pick-and-roll. Florida, which runs a lot of pick-and-roll offense, ran it almost every possession against Kentucky and it worked.
This has been one of the biggest defensive weaknesses for Kentucky this season. The Wildcats have tried both switching on every screen and also hedging the screen, and they seem to be unable to make up their mind about what to do, which could be costly down the stretch.
Too often on a switch, the Kentucky bigs, especially Willie Cauley-Stein, make one of two mistakes. Either he switches too far out, relying on his length and shot-blocking ability to recover on the guard or they switch too softly, allowing the guard to have an easy pull-up jumper.
Kentucky needs to figure out what it wants to do on ball screens and it needs to be figured out fast. Teams are starting to take advantage of this and get easy buckets or draw fouls on Kentucky's players.
Struggles Away from Rupp Arena
It can be the youth on the roster, the crowds teams draw when Kentucky comes into town or various other reason but, whatever it is, the Wildcats struggle mightily away from Rupp Arena.
Kentucky is currently 5-5 in games not played at Rupp Arena and, even in the wins, Kentucky hasn't looked strong. The five losses were neutral-site games against Michigan State and Baylor with losses on the road to North Carolina, Arkansas and LSU.
Two of Kentucky's road wins—Mississippi State and Vanderbilt—came against seven scholarship players for those teams due to suspensions and injuries. Even in those cases, Kentucky only won by nine against Vanderbilt and 10 against Mississippi State.
No matter how well Big Blue Nation travels, Kentucky will be forced to play away from their home territory come NCAA tournament time. Kentucky needs to figure out how to play away from Rupp quickly, otherwise it will be an early exit for the Wildcats.