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Kentucky Wildcat Basketball: Setting The Record Straight

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Like it or not, this is the only leader Kentucky has this year.
Like it or not, this is the only leader Kentucky has this year.

I came across this article today by Ryan Clark, who is a very good blogger for the the Cincinnati Enquirer site,  This is the passage that got me to thinking:

And that was a step. Still, this UK squad has a long way to go – and it will only go so far as the elders will take them.

That's the conventional wisdom -- that it must be the experienced guys that lead this team to whatever their fate is this season, and that this team will only go so far as the upperclassmen can take them.

I am going to disagree with this apparent truism.  Let me explain why.

Kentucky's team this year has a lot of moving parts for a team with so few players.  It takes every person, regardless of class, to play reasonably well for this team to succeed against most teams, and well for them to succeed against good teams.

Here is the thing.  Where would this team be without Brandon Knight?  Over, right?  Our depth after Knight at point guard consists of either Lamb, Liggins or freshman walk-on Jarrod Polson.  To me, this team without Knight might not get to the NCAA tournament from here.  Lamb is capable, but he is not really a point guard.  You have seen how we struggle when we are down a freshman or two at the end of the first half due to fouls -- Georgia won the game during that stretch, and others have cut significant leads.

What about Lamb?  Without Lamb's production off the bench, Kentucky would have surely lost the Tennessee game.  Lamb gives you not only some time to rotate Liggins, Knight, Miller and even Jones, he gives you a major scoring threat that other teams absolutely must respect.

Finally, what about Jones?  If we lose Terrence Jones, we lose most of our rebounding and all of our inside offense, such as it is.  Kentucky has been winning without a major inside presence, but it could not do so with zero inside presence.

More after the jump.

So is it the upperclassmen who must lead us?  No.  That was decided a long time ago.  The upperclassmen on this team are exclusively role players with the possible exception of DeAndre Liggins.  All we have to do is go to Ken Pomeroy's usage statistics to see what I mean.  Here's the breakdown:


Player % Usage % Minutes
Darius Miller 17 73.8
DeAndre Liggins 16 80.2
Josh Harrellson 12.5 63.1
Brandon Knight 25.6 87.7
Terrence Jones 30.4 75.8
Doron Lamb 20.3 71.9


(Go here if you would like an explanation of what these stats mean.)

I just included the six major players here, because that's sufficient to illustrate my point.  If you want to find out how much the others are used, follow the link above.

You can see that as a group, none of the upperclassmen are used even 20% of the time they are in a given game.  The usage of all the freshmen is significantly higher.  The freshmen have scored, together, 63% of the team's points.  The upperclassmen who play regularly, 32%, with the balance of 5% going to everyone else.  So the loss of any one of the upperclassmen would impact the overall team's scoring ability less than any one of the freshmen.

However, that doesn't come close to telling the whole story of the value of the upperclassmen.  Basketball is a team game, and even though the math suggests it would be easier to make up for, say, the loss of Liggins, those of us who watch the game know that his impact is far more than his scoring ability would indicate.  The same is true of Harrellson and Miller, even if only for the reasons that their replacements are far less capable.

To me, though, the bottom line is that basketball victories are determined by who scores more points, and scoring is always going to be easier than preventing a score -- otherwise, basketball would be like hockey or soccer where scoreless ties are common after regulation.  Scoring, therefore, is more important than defense.  The upperclassmen represent the "dirty work" stalwarts of this team, what we call the role players.  Harrellson is the big-bodied rebounder.  Liggins is the shut-down defender.  Miller does a little of everything.

So from where I sit, the upperclassmen are not the guys that the other teams are trying to stop.  They are the guys that do the grunt work, but this team would be severely challenged offensively if one of them had to score like the freshmen every game -- they just haven't shown the ability to do that consistently, largely because their roles are to do other things well.  Miller is the one exception in theory, but not in practice.

For this team to do well, everyone has to contribute, and stick to their role, and every player getting major minutes is essentially indispensable to team success.  This team, as we have seen, has only one leader -- Coach Cal.  John Wall and Patrick Patterson are not walking through that door, except as spectators.  All these players are leading the only way they appear capable -- by example. 

That's not the kind of leadership a team needs in an ideal situation.  But it is what we have, and as Calipari is fond of saying, "We are what you see."  How far we can actually go without a true floor leader, only time will tell.  Kentucky is 17-6 despite this handicap, and we haven't had a true leader in any game this year other than the coach.

That will have to be enough, and if everyone on this team just leads by example, it may well be.