Lately, it seems as if the Kentucky Men’s Basketball team’s performance might as well coincide with the flip of a coin. After a much-needed victory over LSU (10-3) on Saturday night, ‘Cats fans are celebrating while simultaneously left scratching their heads.
The team this season has certainly been a unique one. Not many previous Calipari-led squads have gone from beating a rival such as Florida by 18, to getting embarrassed by typical baby-brother, Alabama, only three days later. The 2020-2021 Wildcats have undoubtedly been a tough puzzle to crack. Nonetheless, with certain pieces starting to appear more evident, there is still a chance for the puzzle to be solved.
The question is: what are these pieces and how can we consistently put them together? I may be able to answer the first question, but the second is up to Coach Cal and company.
When Brandon Boston Jr. is good, so is this team
A team is only great as its best player. Unfortunately for UK, every game this season has seemingly encountered a new star of the team. More often than not, that star’s name was not Brandon Boston Jr… until recently.
Over the past two games, Boston has played significantly better. Not only has he improved his scoring abilities, but more notably, his efficiency.
Before the team’s two most recent games, Boston was only making 34% of his shots on the season. In contrast, against Georgia and LSU, Boston shot a respectable 47% from the field. Not a jaw-dropping statistic, but a drastic change in comparison to the rest of his season.
Additionally, Boston seems to be finally cutting down on one of his biggest critiques: turnovers. In Boston’s past two breakout games he has only had one turnover.
Although it seemed like Boston may have struggled to adjust to the physical style of college basketball at first, he is starting to find his rhythm at the right time. If Boston can become a consistent threat out on the court, this team may be able to find consistent wins.
Playing above the rim leads to outplaying the competition
Despite the numerous criticisms thrown towards Calipari’s offensive strategies throughout the years, nobody has ever complained about his ability to capitalize on his players’ athleticism. A staple of the Kentucky offense during the Calipari-era has always been the alley-oop.
From Anthony Davis slamming it down on Tarheels’ heads to Willie Cauley-Stein posterizing a Louisville Cardinal, the ‘Cats highflying antics have always been equally entertaining and effective. However, as big as the team is this year, up until Saturday night, there had been very little play above the rim.
This disappointing lack of flashiness was turned on its head against LSU. Before halftime, the team had slammed down well over five alley-oops. This, of course, was largely due to Will Wade’s decision to press Kentucky. And to Will Wade, I say thank you.
The Tigers’ press appeared to wake up something within this team that had yet been seen. They were playing at a fast pace, but even better, they were playing together. Time and time again, Kentucky’s press break ended in an enjoyable dunk show at the other end. If the team can translate this fast pace against all teams, not just pressing ones, they may be able to translate their success, as well.
Be great at the strengths and good at the weaknesses
It’s not a hot take to say this team’s offense has been bad this season. Really bad. Sadly, due to the team’s woes on the offensive end of the court, our strong defensive presence has gone under the radar.
Oftentimes, Kentucky has been able to hold its opponents to a respectable score. Unfortunately, they’ve been just as efficient at holding themselves to an even lower score. In fact, every time the ‘Cats have scored more than 65 points this season, they have won. That’s right, a meager 65 points are all that has stood between BBN and sweet victory.
To put this lack of production in perspective, the 2019-2020 Wildcats played 31 games. In 30 of those games, the team scored at least 65 points.
As obvious as it may seem, this team’s failure truly comes back to their lack of scoring. If the team can replicate their shooting against LSU in upcoming contests, it’s safe to say they’ll likely be hitting the 65-point mark quite often.
Nevertheless, more than anything, this team needs confidence. With fans and coaches constantly demanding more, the pressure is on to deliver. If the LSU game is any indication of the future, there’s still a chance this team could deliver something more than any of us were expecting.