Kentucky Basketball: Report Card for Wildcats' 2013-14 Season
Kentucky hasn't lived up to expectations in 2013-14 just yet, but there's plenty of time for the Wildcats to turn the season around.
Kentucky started the season ranked as No. 1 in the country, with plans to breeze through conference play, setting up a run for its ninth national title. However, the Wildcats' youth showed throughout the season as they lost games to teams with less talent, struggled on the road and often looked lethargic.
With the calendar turning to March, Kentucky has limped into the postseason instead of flying high. Over their last four games, the Wildcats have lost at home to Arkansas, fallen to lowly South Carolina and been blown out by Florida.
This slideshow will grade the Wildcats in certain areas.
Kentucky's offense has mirrored its season. At times the offense looks like the best in the country, with everyone clicking and shots falling. Then there are times when the Wildcats play hero ball or just throw a couple of passes around the wing before taking an ill-advised shot.
The Wildcats are averaging 76.3 points per game, 40th in the country. Two stats stick out: Kentucky averages a turnover on 15 percent of its possessions while also grabbing an offensive rebound on 42 percent of its misses.
The Wildcats have a plethora of offensive talent, but at times that has worked against them. Whenever Kentucky needs a bucket, too often it becomes unclear who will get the ball. Teams have been taking away Julius Randle, so does it go to James Young or Andrew Harrison?
The Wildcats have struggled mightily from behind the arc, shooting just a putrid 31 percent. Kentucky's best shooter from deep is senior Jarrod Polson, who is averaging just 36 percent. It's more than important for Kentucky to develop some sort of threat from deep in order to make a run in March.
How can a team with this much size and athleticism be this bad defensively? Simply put, there is no basketball IQ and too much confusion defensively.
This shows most often when the Wildcats attempt to defend a pick-and-roll. Throughout the season and even every other possession, Kentucky tries to change its defense on the screen. One possession, Kentucky is switching every screen, the next time down the court, its trying to fight through the screen.
When the Wildcats aren't struggling against the pick-and-roll, they are struggling in transition defense. It's been stressed throughout the year, but watch Kentucky play and you can't help notice how many points it gives up simply by not getting back on defense. This happens way too much, especially after a made shot. Teams want to run and press the tempo against Kentucky, knowing it struggles to hustle back defensively.
Teams are scoring 67 points per game against Kentucky, the 85th most points allowed in the country. However, what's most concerning is how easy these points are given up. Rarely are shots challenged and too often it's in a fast-break setting.
Kentucky has started to use a 2-3 zone, which has shown to be effective. It's helped allow the Wildcats to take a break from trying to figure out what to do in a man-to-man set. With Kentucky's size and rebounding skills, it allows for more challenges when opponents shoot.
Kentucky fans have been waiting all season for that moment when it all clicks for its talented core of freshmen. Would it be a big win against a talented team like Florida? Would it be a string of blowout wins against inferior teams? Would it be winning close games down the stretch?
None of that has happened. It never clicked for this team. James Young and Aaron Harrison have not become the shooters many expected. Willie Cauley-Stein has not dominated the paint the way he should have as a sophomore. Alex Poythress did not maintain the dominating play he demonstrated in the middle of the conference schedule. Andrew Harrison never took control of the team and became the best point guard in the country, or even the conference for that matter.
The only reason this grade isn't an 'F' is the fact there was some progress. That came in the form of 7'0" freshman Dakari Johnson. He worked himself into the starting lineup and became one of the most consistent players for Kentucky after struggling with conditioning and adjusting to the college game during the first half of the year.
It could be argued that the progress of the team as a whole has been the most disappointing aspect of the season.
It's impossible to give Kentucky an overall grade just yet because success in Lexington is measured in March. A team can go undefeated but if there's not a trip to the Final Four, the season could be looked at as a failure. On the flip side, if this team makes a deep run, the overall grade could end up an 'A' or 'B'.
Take a look at recent history for Kentucky. In the 2010-11 season, the Wildcats had 10 losses heading into the NCAA tournament before it made a run to the Final Four which included a win over No. 1 overall seed Ohio State.
There's still a chance for Kentucky. Big Blue Nation and the rest of the country has seen the best and the worst of the Wildcats this season. If they can turn those five-minute stretches of great play into an entire game, March can be an extremely fun time for fans of Kentucky.