Offensively, Kentucky has a number of actions that will work against Louisville. A lot of Kentucky’s offense is based on crisscrossing player movement with handoffs into pick and rolls, something the Wildcats ran to perfection back in the days of Josh Harrellson and Brandon Knight. It got to be so effective you knew Kentucky was either going to get an open look or a layup out of it.
These days, the Wildcats run this action more from the top than from the side, where Knight and Harrellson were so effective. What’s even deadlier now is that Kentucky has so many big guys who can run this action, and it’s almost always a tough stop. Let’s look at the setup.
Willie Cauley-Stein is out top — many of Kentucky’s sets start this way, with the 4-man at the top of the key. He takes a pass from Andrew, makes a dribble to the left wing while the 3 (Alex Poythress) posts up on the left block. At the same time, Dakari Johnson moves to the top of the key an Aaron Harrison moves to the right corner. Here’s the illustration.
That gets Willie to a decision point. He can hit Alex in the post, but the defender has good position, so he pulls up short:
Willie fakes the post pass, causing his man to edge closer to Alex to double-team or dig the pass. Willie now has an easy pass to Dakari, who’s out at the top of the key. Here’s where the play really begins.
Andrew comes around, takes the ball from Dakari. Notice how the right side has been cleared out now. This gives Andrew a perfect driving lane.
Dakari sets a screen on Andrew's man, and Andrew turns straight between Dakari's defender and Aaron's wing defender, the big, inviting lane. Aaron's defender makes a little fake toward Andrew but stays home to prevent an open three. Dakari's defender moves to cut off Andrew's path to the rim:
Kentucky now has a mismatch as the defending big has to pick up Andrew, who’s hurtling toward the rim. But so is Dakari, and Andrew’s defender has his back turned to Dakari’s roll to the rim. The outcome is predictable:
Dakari takes the hook pass from Andrew and lays the ball in the basket. Kentucky will run this almost every time or two down the court, and Louisville has to worry about mismatches on the pick and roll. They cannot switch like Kentucky can, and that’s where Kentucky’s biggest advantage lies. Even if Andrew's defender defeats the screen, he's too small to stop Andrew going to the rim if Andrew can get his shoulders by him.
Note that in this action, you also have potentially two open shooters on the wings. If Aaron’s defender digs down from the right wing to stop the drive, Andrew passes to his brother for an open three. if Willie’s man rotates into the lane to stop the roll, Willie gets a lob dunk. If Alex’s man leaves him to stop the roll or cover Willie, Andrew has a skip pass to the left wing for an open shot.
You will see this action all day against Louisville. The question is, can the Cardinals stop it?
3 Offensive Keys for Kentucky
Get Louisville in the pick and roll as often as possible to exploit the size mismatches. Louisville is much smaller than Kentucky, and even though they have several players at 6‘8" or better, none of them outside of Montrezl Harrell are particularly talented, and the talented ones lack bulk and experience. Getting big-small mismatches is going to be particularly easy for Kentucky on offense.
Setting good screens is critical. In the sequence above, you don’t see it, but Dakari actually set a moving screen on Andrew’s man and should’ve been whistled for a foul.
Force help defenders down from the wings, to give open looks to three point shooters. If Kentucky executes this play and scores a few times, Louisville will be forced to help from the wings. They’d rather give up a three than a layup or lob dunk, so when that happens, Kentucky must make shots.
Get out in transition as often as possible. Louisville is a very good transition offensive team, but they are not a great transition defensive team, and Kentucky has a significant size advantage at every position.