Loss to OSU Shows Erratic Kentucky Offense Will Give Wildcats Problems All Year

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 20, 2015

Kentucky head coach John Calipari calls out to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The Ohio State Buckeyesowners of home losses to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech and a 20-point loss to Connecticut just one week agopulled off one of the most shocking upsets of the 2015-16 college basketball season with Saturday's 74-67 win over No. 4 Kentucky.

Before we start harping on the Wildcats, we must give credit where it's due: Ohio State played a fantastic game.

Trevor Thompson made life miserable in the paint for Kentucky's big men, tallying five blocks on defense and displaying impressive post moves on offense. Jae'Sean Tate was on the deck seemingly every five seconds, fighting like crazy for loose balls and unofficially leading the Buckeyes in swagger. The rest of the team shot a combined 9-of-16 from three-point range, including JaQuan Lyle's buzzer-beating heave to give the Buckeyes a 12-point lead at the intermission.

They jumped ahead just five minutes into the game and never gave the lead back in what could be the win that jump-starts a turnaround for the young Buckeyes.

But this game was much more about Kentucky's poor play than it was Ohio State's dominance.

Well, that's not entirely true. One person really did show up to play for the Wildcats.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Jamal Murray pouring in three of his 33 points against Ohio State.
Jamal Murray pouring in three of his 33 points against Ohio State.Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Murray was a basketball deity in the second half. There's really no other way to describe what he did for those 20 minutes. He struggled for most of the first half and entered the break with just six points, but he often made an excellent move to get open before simply failing to convert.

The second half was a completely different story. He made seven consecutive three-pointers and did so in every way possible. He stepped into a couple on the secondary fast break; he drained one in the corner off a pass and another in the corner off the dribble. He even looked like J.J. Redick on one of them, running the baseline before curling to the elbow and hitting nothing but nylon on a fadeaway jumper.

He scored 27 points in the second half. Any scout in attendance who was on the fence about Murray as a lottery pick must have left the Barclays Center fully convinced he's worthy of a top-10 pick.

Unfortunately, it looked like no other Wildcats made the trip to Brooklyn.

Tyler Ulis hit three jumpers in the first four minutes in what was temporarily an auspicious start for Kentucky. However, more than 32 basketball minutes would pass before another non-Murray Wildcat made a shot from outside the paint.

Skal Labissiere's game has come under much (deserved) criticism through the first month of play. His supporters have argued he's too much of a finesse guy to play the 5, but he had two wide-open looks at jumpers from about 15 feet outone from the elbow and one from the baselineand bricked them both.

Even though this was one of the rare games in which he didn't get into foul trouble, Labissiere was once again ineffective, finishing the day with just two points on seven shots and only five rebounds in 21 minutes of action. He did block two shots, but the number of times he unsuccessfully attempted to block a shot and abandoned a guy who was left all alone for an easy putback far outweighed the good that came from those two rejections.

Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe
Skal Labissiere and Isaiah BriscoeMark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Yet, it was another one of Kentucky's 5-star freshmen who left an even worse taste in our mouths.

Isaiah Briscoe played 35 minutes and shot just 1-of-9 from the field. Worse yet, only two of those attempts came from outside the paint, and he was just 1-of-4 from the free-throw line.

Now, we already knew he wasn't a good shooter. Briscoe entered the game 4-of-16 from three-point range and a putrid 14-of-36 (38.9 percent) from the free-throw line. But at least he was able to convert in the paint more often than not. That wasn't the case against Ohio State, as he looked completely lost among the trees.

After one of Briscoe's drives to nowhere early in the second half, commentator Bill Raftery said on the CBS broadcast what all of us—particularly Kentucky coach John Calipariwere thinking: "I love his aggression, but where are you going?"

Really, that's the question we need to ask about the Wildcats moving forward. They're big and talented, and at least a few of them play with a lot of heart, but where is this team headed?

Back in October at the Wildcat Tipoff Luncheon, Calipari said of his roster that was destined to open the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, "This year's team, as we speak, we stink."

At the time, we laughed it off. It was just Coach Cal being Coach Cal, right? He says that type of stuff before every season, even though Kentucky has now opened five straight years ranked in the Top Three of the AP Top 25.

Truth be told, though, December is almost over, and the Wildcats still do kind of stink.

Even with Murray's breakout performance, the Wildcats are shooting just 29.7 percent from three-point range as a team. Derek Willis is the only other player who is shooting better than 26.1 percent from downtown this season, and he has made just three of his last 16 attempts since opening the season 5-of-9.

Inside the arc isn't a much prettier story, as Labissiere's soft play leaves the occasional dunks and frequent offensive rebounds from Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee as the only somewhat reliable offense in the frontcourt.

If someone other than Murray doesn't break out soon, there's no way we can trust this erratic offense to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

We may have been duped by Kentucky's convincing win over Duke in the Champions Classic in which Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Derryck Thornton each played arguably his worst game of the season for the Blue Devils. I was not alone in anointing the Wildcats the team to beat this year after that game.

But have you watched them play since then? They were dreadful in the loss at UCLA and didn't look one bit the part of an elite team in allowing the likes of Arizona State, Boston University and Illinois State to hang around until midway through the second half at Rupp Arena.

This game against Ohio State was supposed to be Kentucky's opportunity to assert its dominance—to lay waste to a squad that entered the game 0-5 against teams in the KenPom top 150. Instead, the tuneup for the huge showdown with Louisville on Dec. 26 ended up being a trap game in which every Wildcat other than Murray displayed some fatal flaws.

"This is who we are right now, especially when we're not making shots," said Calipari to CBS' Allie LaForce at halftime.

It seems it's time to start believing the negative things Calipari is saying about his team.

Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.