Preseason expectations often get people in trouble. There are countless predictions throughout history that have fallen laughably short. Take the 7-6, Sun Bowl Runner-Up, Trojans of Southern California as an example. They were predicted by many to win the BCS National Title at start the season without having a competent defense. Predictions like these aren’t limited to football either. Like all other sports, many had an opinion on this year’s Kentucky team. Depending on who you spoke with at the beginning of the season, Wright State transfer, Julius Mays, was predicted to be a senior leader who could knock down the perimeter shot at a high rate. Statistics supported that belief too. Last season Mays was able to connect on 42.4% of his perimeter jumpers and was the Raiders leader in possessions used. He was never expected to lead Kentucky in possessions this season, but he did live up to the perimeter shooting billing early on, shooting 42.8% in the first 6 games. However, Mays has entered quite the slump recently, only connecting on 19.4% (6-31) of perimeter shots since the Notre Dame contest. Such an early season struggle is frustrating, but it’s also reminiscent of another Wildcat senior who stumbled out of the gate.
Darius Miller entered the 2011-12 campaign playing the best basketball his of career. At the conclusion of 2011’s Final Four run, Miller achieved a career high three point percentage of 44.3%. Additionally, he tallied 31 minutes per game and used the ball on 17.3% of team possessions (both career highs). At the beginning of his senior year, fans and media alike, anticipated Miller to pick up right where he left off from the perimeter. However, like Mays this season, Miller started his senior year in a slump, only managing to connect on 9.1% (1-11) of his three point attempts (5 games played). Leading many to question when he would find his stroke again. It didn’t take long to regain that confidence though, in Miller’s next six games, he managed to drain 35.7% (10-28) of his shots from beyond the arc. As the season progressed and the sample widened, Miller ended up shooting 37.6% (56-149) from outside. In this case, the experienced senior just needed to shoot out of his lull.
Admittedly, the are undeniable differences in the style of game that Mays and Miller play. Miller was much taller, more athletic, and possessed the ability to back down defenders in the lane. Mays, in essence, isn’t much more than a perimeter shooter. It’s worth noting that Mays is facing a much higher caliber of defender than he did as a Wright State Raider, so that’s possibly a factor as well. While those reasons may help to explain the problem, what’s the solution to the shooting woes? To put it simply, keep shooting. For his career, Mays is a very respectable 36.6% (101-276) from beyond the arc, so it doesn’t make sense to prevent him from shooting. The “law of averages” tells us that things will swing back in favor of Julius’ shooting stroke. When will he break out? Impossible to know, but keep this in mind. After starting his senior season shooting 9.1% from deep, Darius Miller broke out in a big way against Portland, sinking 4 of 5. Kentucky’s next opponent is 272nd rated (KenPom) Eastern Michigan, the perfect opponent for Mays to build confidence against. As a fan (especially as a Kentucky fan), it’s frustrating to watch a player under-perform his abilities. But, like Darius Miller did before him, Mays will eventually break out of this temporary slump, bringing Kentucky’s offense to a higher level in the process.