Kentucky Basketball: One Thing Each Wildcat Needs to Work on This Offseason
Expectations are running at an all-time high in Big Blue Nation after an unexpected Final Four run and a third straight No. 1 recruiting class. Fans are excited for the upcoming year and expect to see banner No. 8 raised into the rafters of Rupp Arena by season's end.
Yet, the 2011 Wildcats still have five months and a lot of work to put in before they can begin their journey to the national championship.
In the meantime, we will take a look at each of the players on next season's roster and identify one area they need to work on this offseason in order to ensure that their team is cutting down the nets in April.
Michael Gilchrist: Perimeter Shooting
The 6'7" Gilchrist enters Kentucky as one of the most highly touted prospects of the 2011 class. He is renown for his elite athleticism and his defensive prowess, but still has one flaring weakness in his game—his perimeter shooting.
In high school, Gilchrist was largely able to get by on his ability to drive to the basket due to his athletic advantage. In order to be effective in college, he will have to improve his perimeter shot or defenders will simply sag off of him and prevent him from getting into the lane.
Given his work ethic and the amount of improvement he showed in his mid-range game over the course of his high school career, there is no doubt that he will be able to make these same strides with his perimeter shooting in college.
The only question is how long it might take.
Marquis Teague: Running a Half Court Offense
Marquis Teague is destined to become the next heir to Calipari's dribble-drive offense.
His skill set will provide a noticeable change from last year's offense, as he is more John Wall than he is Brandon Knight.
Teague possesses elite speed and athleticism and will dazzle while in the open court. He is almost impossible to stop in transition and possesses the court vision that also allows him to create for his teammates.
Like Gilchrist, he still needs to improve his consistency from beyond the three point arc. He has John Wall-like quickness that will allow him to blow past defenders and get to the rim, but he will have to improve his perimeter shooting in order to avoid becoming one-dimensional.
Additionally, he will have to improve his decision making against zone defenses. He was prone to try to force the issue in high school against the zone, which led to a number of turnovers. He will see a lot more zone in college, so he will have to spend some time looking at film and learning how to make better decisions.
Anthony Davis: Strength/Weight
It's not easy to find many holes in the game of Anthony Davis, who is widely considered to be the top prospect in the 2011 class.
The 6'10" big from Chicago is a highly skilled scorer and ball handler who also excels in rebounding and blocking shots.
The only disadvantage presented by the former guard's seven inch growth spurt is his sudden lack of weight and strength for his position.
Although he is very skilled defensively, he may struggle against true big men who have the size and strength to overpower him. Hitting the weight room will not only help him hold his own against larger bigs, but it will also help him to withstand the constant pounding he will receive from playing down low on a daily basis.
His post moves could also use some refinement, but that should come with more repetition in practice and in-game situations.
Kyle Wiltjer: Quickness/Lateral Movement
Kyle Wiltjer enrolls at Kentucky as arguably the most skilled big man in the entire 2011 class. He can score from anywhere on the court, and his basketball IQ is off the charts.
The only concern that comes with Wiltjer is his quickness.
He struggles a bit when forced to guard more skilled forwards around the perimeter. He will have to improve his quickness before he can consistently guard the three spot or match up with more athletic fours.
His low post defense could also be improved by adding some additional strength so that he is not overpowered by some of the bigger forwards he will face.
Twany Beckham: Scoring
Unlike a lot of the players on the roster, Twany Beckham is not a premier athlete.
With that being said, he still provides a lot of value for a team like Kentucky. He is a terrific ball handler and a good decision maker when he is running the offense. He also possesses good size for a point guard, which helps him in shutting down guards who may be a little more athletically gifted than him.
Beckham also brings a good deal of experience with him, as he played parts of two seasons with Mississippi State—including five starts—and spent the second half of last season practicing against the likes of Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins.
The fact that Beckham is a pass-first point guard is also, to some degree, his downfall. He does not look to score very often, which allows the defense to key in on stopping the other players on the court.
In order to become more of a threat offensively, he will not only have to become more aggressive, he will have to improve his shooting. He shot around 35 percent from the field while at Mississippi State and was an abhorrent 14 percent from beyond the arc.
If he expects to see more than spot minutes, Beckham will first have to improve his shot.
Jarrod Polson: On-Ball Defense
Like Twany Beckham, Jarrod Polson is a pass-first point guard. He is a bit smaller and less athletic than Beckham, but he is still an excellent passer and ball-handler.
Although he is known primarily for his passing, he was able to display a knack for getting past defenders and driving to the basket in limited minutes last season.
Polson's biggest concern in trying to win minutes next season will be his defense. His size puts him at a disadvantage against most bigger guards. If he wants to be able to guard these guys, he will have to improve his positioning and footwork in order to compensate for the size disparity.
Jon Hood: Defense
Although Jon Hood came to Kentucky as a highly-touted prospect in 2009, he has struggled to find any substantial amount of playing time over the past two seasons.
Hood has been the source of a number of disappointments thus far. The most notable of these is his lackluster shooting.
One of his biggest draws coming out of high school was his scoring ability, but last season, he shot only 24.3 percent from the field and 15.8 percent from beyond the arc. This is a cause for some concern, but experience tells us that this can be amended with additional playing time. It is hard for someone like Hood to find his rhythm when he is only playing two to three minutes a game.
Hood's biggest area of concern is his defense. While guarding out on the perimeter, he is too susceptible to shot fakes and allows ball handlers to blow past him. Similarly, he puts himself into bad position while defending in the post and often gets overpowered.
If he can make measurable strides defensively this offseason, then he can finally attain the minutes he needs to get into a rhythm offensively.
Stacey Poole Jr.: Practice Habits
It is difficult to say what areas of Stacey Poole's game need improvement, simply because he has not logged very many minutes up to this point.
He came to college as an athletic slasher who could pass, rebound and finish with just about anyone. The only knock on him was his shooting consistency, but that is something that can be resolved with repetition in practice.
Poole's lack of playing time on a team with a shallow bench became somewhat of a head scratcher for fans last season.
When asked about Poole's lack of minutes, Calipari compared his situation to Harrellson's, explaining that he needed to improve upon certain practice habits. Although he did not get into specifics, it was clear that Poole's work ethic had been lacking and that he was still struggling to fit into Calipari's system.
The fact that he decided to stick with the team instead of transferring should indicate that he is willing to make the necessary changes. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not he can display these changes on a day-to-day basis in practice.
Eloy Vargas: Post Defense
Eloy Vargas was subject to a good deal of criticism last season in his limited minutes backing up Josh Harrellson.
Vargas often looked uncomfortable and out of place while on the court. The jump from junior college to Kentucky was a major one for Vargas, and he still seems to be getting adjusted.
Nevertheless, the 6'11" big man from the Dominican Republic showed some definite signs of improvement near the end of the season and has carried these over to this summer's USA Reach team, where he is putting up Josh Harrellson-like numbers.
Vargas is a proficient rebounder and has a decent arsenal of scoring moves, although he has not had a chance to display them yet at Kentucky.
With that being said, he still has a ways to go in improving his post defense. Most of his troubles last season came as a result of being in the wrong position. If he can improve his discipline and be conscious of where he is on the court at all times, then he can provide a formidable defensive presence in the paint.
Doron Lamb: Ball Movement
Doron Lamb is one of those players who has very few glaring weaknesses. He still has a lot of room for growth, but it is difficult to find any gaping holes in his game.
Lamb shot the ball extremely well last season, averaging 50 percent from the field and 49 percent from three. His defense also improved greatly down the stretch last year, as he, along with DeAndre Liggins, did an impressive job of neutralizing other teams' best scoring threats.
The biggest improvements that Lamb needs to make come in his ball movement and decision-making. While he provided instant offense off the bench, he would also sometimes disrupt the rhythm of the offense when he entered the game.
This was blatantly obvious when Knight would take a breather on the bench and Lamb would be forced to run the point. The offense would become stagnant and the results were often turnovers or forced shots.
In order to become a complete offensive player, Lamb needs to work to become more of a facilitator and be cognizant of where the open guy on the court is. With Beckham sidelined until second semester, it is especially important that he makes these improvements so that he can keep the offense rolling when Teague is on the bench.
Terrence Jones: Maturity
Early on last season, it looked as if Terrence Jones was a lock as a top five pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. As the season wore on, though, his inexperience shined through and caused his performance to take a major dive.
Jones is an explosive athlete and has the ability to score from any spot on the court. His biggest hindrance to this point has been his lack of maturity.
When he was performing well early in the season, his confidence was high and he worked in sync with the rest of the offense. When he started to struggle, however, his confidence flagged and he would either try to force the issue or disappear entirely.
Jones still needs to develop the mental fortitude to be able to deal with adversity and not let it affect his play on the court.
He needs to make a conscious effort to not let his level of play drop throughout the course of the game. Similarly, he needs to make better shot selections and look for the open teammate when his shot is not there.
Darius Miller: Aggressiveness
At times last season, Darius Miller appeared to be the complete package. Not only could he pass, defend and handle the ball, but he could seemingly score at will.
With Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins and Patterson finally departed, it appeared that Miller would then become Kentucky's go-to player. Unfortunately, Miller's dominance came only in spurts, and he often seemed to disappear on the court.
Calipari said last year that Miller had the ability to be the best player in the SEC. But, in order to do this, he will have to become more aggressive and and show this level of aggressiveness on a consistent basis. This means not passing up open shots or opportunities to get to the basket.
As the most experienced player on Kentucky's roster, Miller has to assume the responsibility of being the guy the other players look to when the team needs to make a play. No longer can he be content with simply being a role player.
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