From Tom Leach, the Voice of the Wildcats…
This was not a week to rely on numbers. At Arkansas, Kentucky shot almost 50 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Hogs by 18 and lost. Against Tennessee, the Wildcats were whipped on the boards but won the game with their accuracy on free throws and three-pointers, which are two of the weaker elements of UK’s statistical profile. This was a real estate week–it was all about location, location, location. If Kentucky had played Arkansas at home and the Vols on the road, chances are they would have still ended up splitting those games.
The point is that we didn’t learn a lot this week but there were some positive developments for the long term prospects of this team:
—Andrew Harrison is growing up as a Calipari point guard. That job is kinda like being a Nascar driver–go really fast but under control. I remember an early Calipari quote during Brandon Knight’s first season, something like “he’s not seeing the same game I’m seeing.” You can see Harrison getting a better handle on how his coach wants him to play. Doesn’t mean his improvement curve will go steadily upward but I liked the way he bounced back from a bad moment at Arkansas (the last play missed block out) and came back with his best game. That says something about Harrison’s mental toughness.
—Dakari Johnson is starting to give Calipari valuable minutes. Having that kind of bulk in the low post is a challenge for opponents (as Kentucky found out against Stokes and Maymon of Tennessee) so it gives Calipari another weapon to deploy in certain matchups. Johnson and Andrew Harrison developed a nice chemistry on the pick-and-roll play and Johnson shows good passing instincts when confronted with double teams in the low post.
–speaking of passing, Julius Randle was at his best this season in the first half of the Tennessee win (it was his kick out pass for a James Young ‘3’ that gave UK its first lead against the Vols). Randle regressed a bit in the second half when UT tweaked its defense but Randle is showing improvement in grasping how much his passing will ultimately help his offensive production.
—I wouldn’t get too excited about the free throw shooting. As Calipari noted in the postgame radio interview, it’s important to make note of who shot them on Saturday. Randle and the Harrisons all make above 70 percent for the year and they took 22 of the 24 free throw attempts in this game. If that happened in every game, UK would not make 96 percent at the line but it would be one of the better free throw shooting teams in the league, if not the nation. But the guys who don’t hit free throws at a high rate yet are going to be put on the line in most games and that will bring UK’s percentage down. The key for the Cats is for Randle, the Harrisons and Young to hit free throws at better than 70 percent, since they’ll handle the ball the most in late-game situations
—finally, it’s important to keep in perspective that two months remain before tournament play begins. And from a win-loss perspective, Kentucky is on pace with the only other teams to start at least four freshmen and make it to a national championship game. Ohio State’s 2007 team was 15-3 overall, 3-1 in its league with a 1-3 record against ranked opponents at this point in its campaign. And ’92 Michigan was 10-3, 2-2 with a 1-1 record against ranked foes.
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network