Kentucky Basketball: The Cancun Challenge in the Rear-View Mirror

So UK wins the Cancun Challenge, with difficulty.  We saw many interesting things in this tournament, from improvement to regression, from near-competence to near-futility.  I think what we have seen here is a microcosm of UK's early season, and it is both encouraging and disconcerting at the same time.

On the encouraging side, we have seen that John Wall is everything he was cracked up to be.  Every game he seems to get closer and closer to his potential, as he should.  The biggest thing holding him back right now is his tendency to try to take over ball games with his remarkable athleticism.  He needs to temper this tendency and do a better job of getting his teammates fully engaged.  A few times during this most recent tournament, I saw UK players watching John Wall instead of doing a rim-run, or moving into open spots.

We have seen that before, of course, as recently as last year.  Sometimes the guys would just watch Jodie Meeks as he went off on one of his famous streaks.  While that's the last thing we want with any player, we particularly don't want it when it is the point guard doing it.  So Wall must learn to control his tendency to go one-on-three or one-on-four, and use those situations to get his secondary break involved.

But aside from Wall, some other UK players have displayed their youth for all to see, like DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe.  Bledsoe struggled against Cleveland State, but came back with a strong game against the Stanford Cardinal.  Bledsoe's main difficulty seems to be in accepting his role rather than competing with Wall.  It's laudable that he is working so hard, but he needs to try to be more of a complimentary player at this point.

Cousins, on the other hand, is just a wild young buck out there.  He is as undisciplined a player as I have seen in years, but he overcomes this tendency with his remarkable knack for getting the ball in the basket no matter how hard he is hit.  That is a rare gift, but it can be a double-edged sword.  We can't afford to go in to him in close-game situations if he is going to shoot 37% from the line.  I am sure Calipari will make this clear to him.

Let's have a look at the Cancun Challenge as a whole, from a Four Factors perspective.  First, offensive efficiency and offensive rebounding:

 

You can see here that Kentucky had nice margins in OE in every game except for the Sam Houston St. Bearkats, who had a couple of players shoot a very high percentage from three.  For OR%, UK has done a very good job so far on the offensive glass, which makes sense since they are so big, long and athletic.

Now for a look at turnover% and free-throw rate%:

 

Kentucky has dominated the free-throw rate statistic against everyone they have played.  Unfortunately, that has been somewhat negated by the average FT% we  we have seen so far.  Even so, dominating this statistic bodes really well for UK's future.

On the TO% side, the picture is not quite as rosy.  Kentucky is averaging almost 24% turnovers, currently 316th out of 344 teams.

So where did UK go wrong against Stanford, you might ask?  How was that game so close, despite UK dominating all but one of the four factors?  This chart will tell you:

 

Now this looks ugly.  UK had 22 fewer attempts than Stanford due to the disparity in TO%.  We had an even bigger disparity against the Cleveland St. Vikings, but the Vikings shot a pathetic 26% against UK.  Stanford shot fully 10% better.  Our turnovers nearly cost us the Stanford game, and unless UK gets them under control, that "almost" will become a certainty.  The interesting thing is, these turnovers are coming in spite of the fact that UK has not one, but two point guards starting.

Winning this tournament will be a good thing for this young team, but they have a long way to go.  Until the Wildcats can either force more turnovers than they make consistently, or reduce the high TO% that they are making, this team will be in serious jeopardy of an upset every game they play, particularly against the tougher teams.

I do expect Coach Cal to get a handle on this problem, and even though the offense we run naturally has a high turnover rate, it cannot be nearly 24%.  UK must get this down to 18% or less to avoid beating themselves, and that's nearly the only way this team can lose, as deep and talented as they are.

The good news is, we won the Cancun Challenge.  The bad news is, our weaknesses have been exposed.

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