Kentucky Basketball: The Wildcats' 5 Biggest Concerns for the Postseason
The calendar has finally turned to the magical month known as March. For Kentucky, March has had two completely different meanings in the last two years.
In 2012, the Wildcats raised their ninth championship banner. That team was a special blend of talented freshmen, some star sophomores and a veteran leader. It was one of the greatest squads in recent memory.
Following up that performance was a team in 2013 which many Kentucky fans would like to forget. Missing the NCAA tournament for the first time under head coach John Calipari, the Wildcats had to go on the road in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Even worse, the Wildcats were bounced in the first round by Robert Morris, a school many fans didn't know existed until the upset.
This brings us to the 2014 version of Kentucky: a team that entered the season with dreams of a 40-0 season, easily winning conference championships and finally making a run in the NCAA tournament. What the Wildcats are, though, is a team somewhere in between the 2012 and 2013 teams.
We know the good this team has to offer, so this slideshow will examine Kentucky's five biggest concerns as it heads into the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Will There Be Post Scoring?
Julius Randle is going to demand post touches. However, Kentucky needs one of its other big men to step up and provide some relief offensively around the basket.
We've seen different outcomes so far this season in terms of secondary help in the post—whether it's Dakari Johnson using his size and footwork to post up on the low block and draw fouls around the rim, Willie Cauley-Stein using his athleticism and quick first step to blow by a defender and dunk, or Alex Poythress with highlight-reel finishes at the rim.
The concern, though, is there's been no one showing up besides Randle. With the way the NCAA tournament is set up with a one-day break between games, it's usually a slower, half-court game that is played during the tournament.
If Kentucky wants to make any sort of run, it needs one of its other bigs to be a presence every game it plays in March.
Can the Wildcats Be a Threat from Deep?
Kentucky has hit a three in every game this season. In fact, it has the third-longest streak for consecutive games with a made shot from behind the arc.
However, the Wildcats don't have a player shooting better than 38 percent from deep. Jarrod Polson leads Kentucky at 38 percent, with Andrew Harrison at 36 percent and James Young at 34 percent. As a team, the Wildcats are shooting a putrid 32 percent from three-point territory.
Teams are daring Kentucky to beat them from the outside. Whether it's playing a zone or doubling the post, the opposition is leaving the Wildcats open behind the arc.
For whatever reason, Young and Aaron Harrison's shooting from high school hasn't translated to the collegiate level. Both have shown the ability to be streaky shooters, but Kentucky needs one of these players to catch fire for a couple games in a row.
If one of those players is able to knock down shots, it will keep opposing defenses honest, which in turn will allow more room for guards to penetrate at the rim.
Who Will Kentucky Go to in a Close Game?
It's a tie game with 25 seconds to go and Kentucky has the ball. Who do you want John Calipari to hand the ball to in hopes of winning the game?
While the most common answer is likely Julius Randle, Calipari has shown that's not what he'll normally do. This is probably due to opposing defenses focusing on Randle and quickly swarming him, forcing him to make a decision on what to do.
So far this season, the ball has found its way into Andrew Harrison's hands to penetrate and make a play with his size and ability to finish at the rim. Don't be surprised if this trend continues.
However, what should be done is a high ball screen using Randle or even guard James Young.
The use of Randle is obvious, as it puts your best player in position to get the ball on the screen with a possible mismatch. However, using Young is Kentucky's best option. This allows a bigger mismatch for Harrison to attack and leaves Randle in position to receive a pass or grab an offensive rebound.
How Will the Team Handle the Pressure and Crowd?
It doesn't matter how well Big Blue Nation travels, Kentucky won't be playing any postseason games at Rupp Arena.
So far during the 2013-14 season, that has spelled doom for Kentucky. Most recently, the Wildcats lost to South Carolina, a team that was toppled by Manhattan at home earlier in the season.
While this is a major concern, the one thing Kentucky has going for itself is the fact that SEC teams always seem to bring out their best games and fans whenever the Wildcats come to town. Rowdy games and hostile crowds won't be new for Kentucky, but playing well against them will be a challenge.
In order to play well, Kentucky needs to communicate—even if it's as simple as yelling for a rebound or switch.
Can Kentucky Play as a Team?
There's no question there is plenty of talent on Kentucky's roster. Each of the top seven players in the rotation has shown signs of brilliance and dominance throughout the season.
However, very few times have we seen this collection of talent mesh together and play as a team. Too often, usually when playing from behind, the Wildcats start to play hero ball and attempt to go one-on-one on every possession instead of trusting their teammates.
The only way Kentucky will make a run, let alone win a game in the postseason, is by playing together as a unit and letting the personal glory grow from that.
Each player has different strengths. Whether it's size from Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein, the guards' ability to finish at the rim, or the all-around game Julius Randle has shown, they need to learn those strengths and work to get their teammates in the right positions.
More importantly, they need to be there to pick up a teammate. Lately, we've seen Kentucky players clapping after a hustle play or slapping the floor defensively—something that was instructed by the coaching staff to start doing.
As long as it's genuine and not something the players are doing just to go through the motions, this needs to continue in March.