There are few cities whose emotional center is directly tied to the fortunes of their basketball team. Lawrence, Kansas and Syracuse, New York are two that easily come to mind but Lexington, Kentucky tops both of them. If they go on a huge run their fans think they could beat the Lakers. If they struggle their fans think they’re bound for the netherlands of the NIT.
Needless to say, the mood has been positively sunny in the Bluegrass with the Wildcats’ 15-0 start this season, their best since 1969-70. While their defense makes insiders and outsiders take notice, the main reason for their success is their offensive proficiency. Four starters are averaging at least ten points a game and two other players are dropping at least seven a game. Let’s take a look at what makes them click.
1. It pays to have number one.
Even though there have been rumors that he’ll back for his sophomore campaign despite his consensus no.1 draft status John Wall will probably go for the green after his freshman season. Who can blame him? In addition to leading the team in scoring at 17 a contest he’s equally generous at seven assists a game.
Think about that last stat for a second. This means that fourteen to twenty points a game are coming as a result of his passes. If you split that among the other double-figure scorers that would mean they would only have to seek four points from other sources. Obviously, Wall gets others involved, but his passing skills make hitting double digits a lot easier.
2. Grabbing hands make everything count.
That’s paraphrased from a Depeche Mode song, mainly because I wanted to tie in popular 80s techno to basketball as my goal for the day. In all seriousness, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson average over 15 points a game a piece by doing more than depending on Wall’s largesse. Together they are collecting almost eight offensive rebounds a game.
Now there have been a few occasions that Cousins has grabbed three or four of those caroms in one possession. However, his field goal percentage is still robust (54 percent). Patterson’s is almost through the roof at 63 percent, which is even more impressive when you realize he’s discovered the joy of radar love (48 percent from three). But make no mistake, getting the ball yourself and depositing the results in the paint is a great way to jack up the points total.
3. Someone has to make the sacrifice.
Darius Miller came to Lexington with a scorer’s reputation following his exploits at Mason County (Ky.) High. However, he has focused on other areas of his game while his scoring has declined. Because he makes his sure his teammates are fed (a couple of dishes a game), plays tough defense (his steals and blocks are about the same) and does the stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet Miller fills a big role in making the offense flow, even though he isn’t likely to average double figures in points himself.
4. They didn’t cheer his arrival because he wears nice suits.
The last great team John Calipari had which incorporated the dribble-drive offense was his 2007-08 Memphis Tigers. Only two players finished the season in double figures, but one of them was Derrick Rose, who Wall is often compared to. Also, six other players averaged at least five points a game.
Calipari was also a successful offensive coach before anyone had heard of the dribble-drive. His 1995-96 UMass squad featured four starters in double figures and a fifth that just missed at nine a game. Calipari has also pointed out that you need a quality point guard to generate offense no matter what style of offense you’re running. Edgar Padilla didn’t play in the NBA but was just as important to Calipari as Wall is and Rose was.
On accolades alone, the Wildcats were expected to reclaim their place among college hoops royalty. But they realize that work and understanding are essential parts of the success equation. Their performance on offense has reflected those realizations.