Has Kyle Wiljer finally found his role? - Andy Lyons
After the game against Tennessee, a feeling is growing that the lights may have finally come on for Kyle Wiltjer.
Sometimes, you feel things about a basketball team that can't be quantified statistically. Sometimes those feelings are right, and sometimes not, but one of the great things of having a platform like A Sea of Blue is that we are allowed to share those feelings with readers for open discussion.
A feeling has been growing in my mind all week, and while it would probably be smarter to wait until after the game with the Auburn Tigers to validate it, I don't really mind going out there on a limb, even if it might get sawed right out from underneath me.
I get the impression from events of this last week that Kyle Wiltjer might have suddenly discovered how he can impact games in a positive way without being just a spot-up shooter. There have been a few chirps out of the Kentucky camp this week that tend to support this perception, although all of us have seen enough college basketball to know that one good game doesn't mean a player suddenly "gets it." So I'll lay out the evidence to support my feeling for your evaluation:
- Big game against Tennessee. Kyle Wiltjer's game against the Tennessee Volunteers was, in my view, his most complete game against top 100 competition. He had better games against Lipscomb and Lafayette, of course, but in those games he made a bunch of threes. against Tennessee, a tough man-to-man team that is quick enough to give him problems, he found very cagey ways to score, got some tough rebounds against a tough, physical team, and showed a maturity beyond just pure shooting.
- He's due to get it. Kyle Wiltjer has been in this program longer than anyone else in the rotation. He is a sophomore +. and it's time for him to figure it all out. Every player eventually does.
This comment from John Calipari:
"He stepped up the practice stuff," Calipari said. "He's gone in the gym and done extra. Being more aggressive and talking. Right now, he's the most vocal player we have."
Is this thin evidence? You bet. Let's be honest, Wiltjer has been a defensive liability in most games, and I don't expect him to suddenly become a defensive stopper. But teams have been able to completely neutralize Wiltjer on offense, too, with very little effort. If Wiltjer can't offend, then Kentucky can't afford to keep him in -- except now, he's going to have to play, because Willie Cauley-Stein is likely out for at least a few games.
In short, if Wiltjer has found his game, he did so just in time, because we desperately need it right now. If he hasn't, and he struggles against Auburn, life as a Wildcats fan could get a lot more challenging.