How Dangerous Are the Kentucky Wildcats?

William BlakeCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2008

When you think of Kentucky basketball lately, you think of an unranked team (heck, an unranked team that can't even garner any votes) that is going to have to fight to be in the NCAAs. You may also think of a once historic team that is on the decline. 

Both assumptions are wrong.

The Kentucky Wildcats have two of the best offensive catalysts in the nation: Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson (pictured above). Meeks ranks eighth nationally in points per game, and Patterson is 49th. 

What are the two big names in college basketball now? Stephen Curry of Davidson and Blake Griffin of Oklahoma, right? Patterson is on the same level as Griffin, and Meeks has Curry-like performances (for example, putting up 46 on Appalachian State, incredibly close to breaking Dan Issel's record of 53 for a Wildcat). 

Patterson also averages 9.4 rebounds per game, 33rd in the country. His field goal shooting percentage is 72.2 percent. When Kentucky's guards get him the basketball, he has such a nice touch and can put the ball through the net almost at will. When Patterson can take at least 14 or 15 shots a game, Kentucky has put themselves at a huge advantage.

As for Meeks, the shooting guard, he has a stroke that allows him to nail three-pointers. When Meeks is hot, there isn't much stopping him. He also can occasionally make powerful drives to the bucket that allow him to be fouled, which lets him take advantage of another one of his strengths, free throw shooting. For example, Meeks was a perfect 12-12 from the line in a tough victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers.

But Patterson and Meeks aren't the only threats on the Wildcats roster. They have been searching for a third scorer, but a different one shows up every game. One candidate for third scorer is Perry Stevenson.

Stevenson averages 6.9 points per game, fourth on the team, but has games that even beat out Patterson. For example, in the first game of the season, Stevenson had a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Patterson failed to get even 10 points. He is second on the team in rebounds, behind Patterson.

However, he and Patterson are two of the best shot blockers in the nation. Combined, they average 4.5 blocks per game.

Josh Harrellson, Ramon Harris, and DeAndre Liggins are all scorers as well. One of the four steps up and scores. But which one?

This is just one of Kentucky's problems. There are two more that if Kentucky can fix, they could be a force in not just the SEC, but the country.

Their second ailment is turnovers. They have been getting better, but there are still too many a game. 18.3 turnovers a game is too many. North Carolina, for example, only has 12.3. Pittsburgh has 12.1. If Kentucky can cut down to the 13-14 range, they could really improve their chances.

Finally, Kentucky seems to have a hard time playing 40 minutes of basketball. Take the Miami game. Kentucky put themselves in a 20-point hole at the end of the first half by just playing terrible defense and having so little motion on offense. In the second half, however, the Wildcats dominated and won it by 14 because their play improved. Miami's was about the same, but Kentucky just beat them by 14. They wound up losing by six.

If they didn't fall asleep in the first half, that was a W. 

But if you'll remember, this time last season, Kentucky had these problems and more (such as injuries, bad attitudes, and cockiness among the few) and were 6-7. They finished the season 18-13. If Kentucky makes another remarkable turnaround, they could win the SEC Tournament, considering the weakness of the SEC this season.

Despite a loss to VMI, a blowout in North Carolina, and a home loss against an equal opponent, Kentucky is still a force. Most of us may know that after the Louisville game.