The first person to tell you that it was not going to be an easy ride into conference play would have been John Calipari. Now, two games into SEC competition, the Wildcats are sitting nicely at 2-0 after a couple of tough battles. Georgia and Florida were both respectable opponents and hung around with the Wildcats until late in the second half mostly due to turnovers and poor shooting.
Looking at some of the mistakes made throughout these two crucial games, we may be able to point the finger at Kentucky's youth and inexperience when it comes to burying SEC clubs with inferior talent.
Youth on any basketball team can lead to some problems. For one thing, these athletes have never seen 23,500 fans screaming their names. It can be overwhelming and lead to many negative situations during the game. Also, three of the five starters in Kentucky's lineup, Wall, Bledsoe and Cousins, are now playing against opponents that are more talented and experienced than previous non conference foes with respects to North Carolina and UCONN.
Kentucky's star-studded young lineup has also been prone to making stupid mistakes at high pressure moments.
DeMarcus Cousins threw an immature elbow that could have been punished by ejection 45 seconds into the game against rival Louisville. Wall and Bledsoe have both been suspect to turnovers, struggling to maintain possession with their up-tempo style of play.
Don't get me wrong, Kentucky is a very strong team with the opportunity to accomplish outstanding goals like the Big 12's Texas and Kansas. At the same time Kentucky's extraordinary talent may be balanced by their sub par levels of experience. With time, this attribute is gained. For this, patience is needed. Watching the Georgia game was as painful as hearing nails on a chalkboard, but that should be expected from such a young team.
The great thing about having such a young team is they will mature. The abilities that DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe posses makes their rendezvous very scary for their future opponents. John Calipari knows what he is doing with the youth of the program and they have already made great strides in becoming premier players in college basketball.
However, the young Cats may run into some speed bumps the rest of the way. The biggest problem Kentucky will face continuing through the SEC will be going up against a zone defense. The Wildcats have been abysmal against both Georgia and Florida from behind the arc. The Cats shot a horrendous fourteen percent from three point range against the Bulldogs.
UK cannot simply depend on great shooting nights from one player. They all are going to have to be able to take jump shots and make them to win games. As long as Kentucky cannot find a consistent answer against a zone defense then every game will be close. The Cats will most likely not see a man to man defense for the rest of the season.
John Wall and Eric Bledsoe both have tremendous speed which will help beat the zone but Kentucky must have a consistent shooter that can release when these two go to the rim. Darnell Dodson has been improving his jump shot and is becoming a little more consistent in every game.
John Calipari had a great quote at the beginning of the season saying, "If I have the choice between experience and talent, I'm taking talent every time," which is something that every basketball fan should believe.
As for right now, Kentucky has been getting better with every game as expected. With more time, they will become a very hard team to play against no matter what defense is brought to the table.
Turnovers will begin to decrease with better decision making. DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton's fouls will start to decrease as they learn the difference between a dumb foul and a necessary one. Darnell Dodson and Darius Miller will gain poise and confidence in their shots and being to make them much more frequently.
This is when Kentucky will need to be feared. That is the point when they can be put into the same category as the "Untouchables"—the 1996 Kentucky basketball team which brought home a national title.