It has been more than a week since that fateful day in Lexington. That day when 24,000 piled into Rupp Arena to watch history. That history, however, would not please the Big Blue faithful as the Baylor Bears stopped a 55-game home winning streak dead in its tracks. And so began a phase of questioning the coaching, second-guessing the passion of the team, and in the case of some rabid fans, pestering the players themselves.
Since then Kentucky has won back-to-back games by a combined 60 points while holding those two opponents to 33 percent shooting. With a new sense of urgency from the coaching staff, along with the reemergence of point guard Ryan Harrow, the Cats seem to be back on their winning ways.
The Best of Times
Part of what has helped this team succeed is its exceptional shooting ability. Coach Calipari hasn’t always had the best shooters on his squads, rather the best slashers or lobbers or finishers. This team is different, though. It has a lot of all that. Kentucky is shooting 50 percent as a team from the field. A remarkable figure through the first nine games, which has seen the team face some stiff competition. The national leader in field goal percentage is Gonzaga at 52.7 percent. The Cats rank 10th in the country in that statistic.
How are those points being scored so efficiently? For starters, Alex Poythress struggles to miss shots. For a guy to be second on the team in points scored and still post a 69 field goal percentage, that is pretty amazing. For comparisons sake, Anthony Davis shot 63 percent last season, and half of those were lobs to the basket. It is likely Poythress’ numbers go down, but as for now he is playing incredibly well.
What’s more is all five guys are averaging double-figures, with Willie Cauley-Stein coming off the bench scoring more than seven per game. Throw Ryan Harrow back into the mix and this team could go two deep off the bench, all capable to go off on any given night.
The shots aren’t falling yet, but Julius Mays and Kyle Wiltjer have the stroke; they just need to find it more consistently. Combined they are just 33-for-92 from behind the arc, good for 36 percent. Once they become more dependable from the perimeter — which we should expect them to do — Kentucky will have an even easier time with Nerlens Noel and Poythress in the paint.
The Worst of Times
The biggest and most noticeable detriment to this team so far has been the rebounding, or lack thereof. It is no secret that winning the rebounding battle often goes a long way to winning the game, and through the early part of this season, the Cats are not getting the job done. Although, as of late against some of the weaker teams on the schedule, they have done what they needed to do — but there is always room for improvement.
Perhaps the first sign of trouble came right off the bat against Maryland in the regular season opener. Kentucky came away with the victory but was completely owned on the glass, giving up 23 offensive rebounds to the Terrapins. Since then, Kentucky has failed to win the rebounding battle in two of its three losses.
At just 37 rebounds per game, the Cats rank in the 100’s nationally. With a 6-foot-10 center capable of blocking shots to the roof and another 7-footer on the bench, there is no excuse to not be dominating the boards every night. The question comes down to toughness. Coach Calipari has been stressing being mentally tough on every possession in practice — it is something these young Cats are learning on the fly.