After a nearly flawless national championship season last year, Kentucky fans find themselves in unfamiliar territory with two losses in a row. The 4-3 record to start the season looks a little scary on paper. Mike DeCourcy of AOL Sporting News finds this particular Kentucky team to be one of the most troubling in recent memory. DeCourcy understands the youth and inexperience that plagues this team, but he sees a laundry list of issues to sort through before this Kentucky team can resemble being “good.”
DeCourcy’s list includes the following IMMEDIATE issues, with still potentially more looming in the future: The point guard situation, pace of play and offensive emphasis. He believes the Kentucky turnaround can begin to take shape if those 3 issues are dealt with, though he’s not quite sure what the time table or expectation should be for that to happen.
DeCourcy on the point guard situation:
Calipari had convinced himself that Ryan Harrow’s protracted absence early in the season and Goodwin’s dynamic talent made a permanent switch toward Goodwin the prudent course. Calipari had rescued the 2008-09 Memphis squad by making a similar conversion, taking Tyreke Evans from the wing and making him a point guard as the Tigers were headed to a 6-3 start. They went on to win 27 in a row.
The switch to Ryan Harrow late in the game yesterday seemed to work initially, but Kentucky was unable to consistently score in the final few minutes with the ball in Harrow’s hands. Kentucky might be facing a situation soon where Calipari has to decide to flourish or falter this season on the back of one or the other– Archie Goodwin or Ryan Harrow.
DeCourcy on the pace of play:
To hear that Kentucky scored 105 points wouldn’t surprise any basketball fan. To hear that it took two games this week to get there probably would. With the athletes the Wildcats have, playing low-possession half-court games is not in their best interest, but that’s what happened against Notre Dame and Baylor.
Notre Dame did it with a patient, 35-second offense. Baylor did it with zone defense.
Given its talent advantage, Kentucky ought to be the team deciding how the game is played. Until it can do that, it will have days such as Saturday.
DeCourcy on the offensive emphasis:
The Kentucky coaches must decide how they want to play and whom they can depend upon.
Calipari has been expert at changing systems during the season to make better use of his players’ strengths. UK abandoned the dribble-drive motion offense in 2009-10 when it became obvious how overpowering DeMarcus Cousins would be in the post. The Wildcats used ball screens to get shots for Brandon Knight the following season.
DeCourcy nails it with this observation. Kentucky hasn’t quite figured out who will be their go-to guy on the offensive end. At times early in the season, Wiltjer seemed to be the go-to guy. With his streaky shooting as of late, and his inability to guard anyone on the defensive end, that option is losing steam. Alex Poythress was the go-to guy against Duke, and he rose to the occasion. In Kentucky’s last 2 games, both losses, Poythress has almost been a non-factor for large stretches. Archie Goodwin appears to be perhaps the most comfortable to be the go-to guy, but he hasn’t gotten himself under control enough yet to be relied upon steadily. Julius Mays was the most effective offensive player against Notre Dame, but he is a bit limited in his ability to create his own shots.
Calipari is still maneuvering the puzzle pieces at this point. Just like it took a while with some of his teams in the past to figure out what tweaks needed to be made to the offense to be the most effective, this team is no different. The talent of the past 3 Calipari teams has been so overwhelming that they were able to win some games before they really hit their stride and found their niche (remember the near loss in the Miami of Ohio game?). With this team and the early issues they are having, it might just take a little longer.