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Kentucky Basketball: Themes for the Wildcats vs. Florida Game

We have seen the emergence of several themes for the Florida Gators at Kentucky Wildcats game tonight, all of which are being roundly discussed on the Internet. I'll take a look at them one by one.

Kentucky becoming "arrogant"

It would certainly be understandable if the Wildcats showed a bit of an attitude coming off several games in which they were able to play some of their best basketball of the year. Arrogance, on the other hand, seems a real stretch for this team given what we have seen of their personalities so far this year. If anything, these guys have been a bit too humble and a bit too willing to defer.

Calipari is said to be concerned:

"I am going to talk to them today about let’s make sure we are being humble and understand why we have been winning and where we have to take this to," Calipari said Monday. "The issue we have is this is one of the youngest teams in the country, and I imagine as a ranked team we are the youngest. There’s an easy transition from a swagger to arrogance and that’s where you get beat."

It's important for these young guys to keep their head out of the clouds, and Coach Cal is right to remind them that believing your own press clippings can be fatal to what you are trying to do on the court. Arrogant teams tend to play loosy-goosy and don't take their opponent seriously enough to give their maximum effort.

We have yet to see a game this year where the team didn't give a great effort, but there have been games where they were more focused than others. It's very important to be focused against the Gators because of the nature of their team, and the ability they have to make three-point shots in bunches.

Peaking too soon

Another concern I have seen widely debated is the question of whether or not UK is peaking too soon. This is actually more of a fan and media concern than a concern expressed by Coach Cal, but here's what he had to say about it:

"I’ve seen teams in November, December play so well that I’m thinking, ‘I’m glad he’s coaching that team and not me.’ Sometimes I’ll pull the reins back. I won’t give them as much stuff offensively," Calipari said. "I just want them to get in shape and play hard. I’ve seen teams come out of the gate like, ‘There’s no way they can sustain this.’

Sounds like a problem, right? Not to me. The thing is, as well as this team has been playing, it's my opinion that they have more, maybe a lot more, growth in them. These are just freshmen and sophomores (not counting Darius Miller), and they are nowhere near as good now as they are going to be two and three years down the road, no matter where they are playing. That's what maturity is about.

In my opinion, there are so many things that the Wildcats can improve -- ball handling, how we play the screen and roll, communication (a big one -- even though it's getting better, it's still only so-so), decision-making, shot selection, late-clock situations, out-of-bounds plays (do we even have any?) ... the list goes on and on. Free throw shooting has improved, but there's plenty of room for more -- 73% in-league is good, but hardly great. 3-point shooting was still better last year, and a lot of that comes from shot selection or, more correctly, willingness to take an open shot.

Defensively, Davis is still leaving his feet when he shouldn't be (he is improving, but he's not there yet). Our defensive rebounding could be a lot better. Finally, we should be getting to the line more than we currently are.

Individually, Marquis Teague has barely scratched the surface of his potential - his left hand is still weak and he finishes at the rim like a freshman. Davis is playing well and so is Jones, but both need to be a bit more steady and consistent. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is not scoring enough from the wing in 2 out of the last 3 games, and really needs to improve his consistency from behind the arc to become a threat from out there, as well as learn to avoid the charge on dribble drives. Darius Miller can shoot the ball better than this, and make better decisions. He could also be playing better defense, as could Doron Lamb and Kyle Wiltjer.

All in all, there is no way this is the best UK can be. In fact, I'd say we are right about where we should be at this point in the season, and we have been playing catch-up in terms of performance almost all year -- a point to which my frequent complaints in the postmortems will attest. Now that we are finally caught up, let's not lose perspective and somehow imagine that this team is "peaking." That's just not true.

And now to Florida

I'll have more about this in the pre-game, but Florida is a notably inferior basketball team to Kentucky this year. Your gut reaction may be "Aw, Glenn, that's hyperbole." No, it isn't. Florida is allowing 0.98 points/possession against a conference slate that's actually been easier than ours, and is scoring only 1.12 points/possession against those same foes. Compare that to UK's 1.19 and 0.90 against a slightly tougher schedule, and you can better understand my confidence.

If you've seen the Gators play much this year, you know as well as I that they sometimes struggle against lesser foes. The Gators have also been really average on the road, managing only two road victories all year long, and struggling to win those two. If this game were in the O-Dome at the point in the season, I would be much more concerned, even slightly pessimistic. But it isn't.

That doesn't mean that this game is going to be easy, or that UK is a sure winner. It means only that Kentucky is finally beginning to catch up with where they should be at this point, and Florida, a much more experienced team, has been mostly on point all year, or at least since the Florida St. game. Yes, they have dropped a couple since then, but that's going to happen to any team that relies on three-point shooting as much as the Gators do, have such a limited inside game, and are as defensively challenged as they are.

I'm not saying that tonight's game is going to be easy. I am saying we have every reason to be confident, if not cocky.