Kentucky basketball stands as the clear preseason favorite for the national title, but that’s not the only thing about the 2014-15 squad that should look familiar to Big Blue Nation. The mix of celebrated freshmen and returning sophomores from a Final Four squad makes these Wildcats a fair imitation of the Anthony Davis-led bunch that cut down the nets in the spring of 2012.
If John Calipari’s current troops want to match the postseason success of the storied Inevitables, they could stand to take a few pages from the older team’s playbook. Here are some key lessons for the latest round of championship hopefuls in Lexington to take to heart:
Defense is a team sport
Having the transcendent Davis patrolling the paint was the most important element of Kentucky’s record-setting 2012 D, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. All five Wildcats bought into the job of shutting down opposing scorers, a process made easier by a lineup with four players 6’4” or taller.
Next season, if freshman Devin Booker starts on the wing, all five UK starters will be at least 6’5”. But getting all of them to commit on the defensive end is another question entirely. Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson will both need to make major upgrades on that end of the floor for Kentucky's defense to go from good (41st nationally, per KenPom.com) to championship-caliber.
Three-pointers are optional
The 2011-12 Wildcats took 33 fewer three-pointers than last year’s squad, but made 19 more. Partly, that’s a function of the presence of Doron Lamb on the former team, but it’s also a matter of not forcing treys when it isn’t necessary.
Like last year’s roster, the 2014-15 version of Big Blue won’t have a Lamb-type marksman who ought to be shooting every time he gets open. Even postseason hero Aaron Harrison (who hit an unremarkable 35.6 percent from deep on the year) should think twice about jacking up long-range shots when there’s still time on the shot clock to try for something closer.
Feed the hot hand
Everyone remembers Davis as the hero of the Inevitables (with good reason), but the big man shot 1-of-10 from the floor in the national title game. It was Lamb who bailed out the UK offense that night, lighting up Kansas for 22 points.
Spreading the ball around wasn’t a particular problem for the ‘Cats last season, but the moral of Lamb's success story still bears repeating. Even with Trey Lyles, Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns inside, there will be nights when Booker or one of the Harrisons gets in a rhythm with his jump shot. When that happens, the best thing the ‘Cats can do is play that advantage for all it’s worth, even if it means that their usual scoring leader—like Davis in his team’s biggest game—ends up in single digits.