The Kentucky Wildcats own a 14-0 record, with wins over quality teams such as Kansas, Texas, Providence, North Carolina, UCLA, and Louisville. They also have been unanimously ranked as the #1 team in the country by the AP for five straight weeks. There isn't much for head coach John Calipari to be upset about at this juncture of the season.
Kentucky played it's SEC opener against Ole Miss and had to pull out a three point win over the Rebels/Black Bears in overtime. Obviously the conference isn't going to be the cake walk that most media types and BBN members thought that it would be, the 'Cats have to bring it every night. But it's not easy keeping young people engaged in supposed inferior opponents.
Understanding that he is dealing with young adults, Cal knows that in order to keep them engaged he must focus on their ego. Consider the following statement by the head coach:
"If they're watching themselves, they can stay focused for four or five hours. Not even go to the bathroom. Just watch. If they're watching team video, you get them for three or four minutes."
In true Calipari fashion, he talked about doing what is best for every individual player and challenged them to come up with skills in which they would like to improve as the season progresses. This isn't a bad idea. This team does a fine job of sharing the ball and their selflessness has become a bit of a calling card, so if the team itself is working out just fine, how can each player take his game to the next level?
Here are a few suggestions from me in that regard.
Before the Ole Miss game last night, Andrew is coming off possibly his worst game as a Wildcat. What really stood out to me was again his body language and pouting. His confidence was absolutely crushed in the second half. A lot of that was due to being frustrated by a smaller, quicker guard in Chris Jones, a player that Andrew actually handled quite well twice last season. Andrew needs to work on his confidence and find out what aspect of his game works the best. He's been criticized recently for not being a true point guard, so improve on the skills that come with that position. Decision making is paramount: when is it a good time to drive and kick vs. taking the ball to the rim? He has shown the ability to do this, particularly in the SEC and NCAA tournaments last season.
Aaron's scoring average is down, his field goal percentage is down, and his three point percentage is down, all by significant margins. Aaron has proven to be the man when it comes to hitting the big clutch, this cannot be argued. But something isn't quite right about his shot this season. Maybe the expectations of the pre-season SEC player of the year have gotten to him, but whatever it is, it's fixable. Aaron will get his scoring back on track.
There isn't a lot to be desired when it comes to KAT's game. The pure numbers don't jump out at you when you look at them, but he is doing plenty while only averaging 19.5 minutes a game. His rebounding prowess was solidified against Louisville as was his ability to score around the basket. He is very good on the defensive end and blocks 2.4 shots per game. I wasn't expecting him to come into the season as a dominant big man, but he has proven me wrong. What I was expecting was more from the outside in terms of shooting. Karl can hit the open jumper from the baseline, the elbow, and the three point line, he just hasn't done it consistently. If he can get those shots to be a regular part of his game, then I'm not sure there is a center or power forward in the country that can guard him.
John Calipari did in fact give examples of what a couple of the players wanted to improve on and WCS was a player that he used. Willie wants to improve his ball handling skills and I think that is a good choice. He already moves extremely well without the ball. His jump shot has improved as have his post moves. If Willie can create for himself on the offensive end off of a dribble, then he will have NBA scouts salivating over his offense as much as they are over his defense and rebounding.
Cal pointed out that Trey is the most improved player. Remember that he started later than the rest of the team and missed the Bahamas due to a leg injury. He was thrust into the Blue Platoon after Alex Poythress tore his ACL, and he hasn't disappointed. While the team loses something on defense and rebounding with Alex, they gain a lot in Lyles' offensive ability. He can score from just about every spot on the floor and his rebounding isn't shabby either. Lyles needs to work on quickness on defense as he will be asked to guard the small forward position this season. While he will be a mismatch nightmare for almost every small forward on the offensive end, he will have to work extra hard on defense to guard the smaller, faster players.
Honestly it was hard for me to find something that Booker needs to work on with his game. He plays intense defense, he hustles, he can shoot the lights out, and he can finish around the rim. Booker is a very well rounded basketball player. I suppose my only advice would be to keep working on that three point shot. It disappears at times and the ‘Cats will need it in March.
He's about as complete a point guard as there is in college basketball. He can pass, he can shoot the three, he overcomes being dwarfed in the middle by using a beautiful floater, and he is a menace on defense. Ulis needs to take care of his health. He plays in a way that his 5'9 body cannot always support. He had already battled a few injuries this season, including a busted eye courtesy of Louisville's Chris Jones. As we have witnessed, there will be times when Ulis' game is better suited to situations than Andrew's, so a healthy Tyler Ulis is imperative.
Dakari is a rebounding machine and has a very solid post game. His quickness and defense have come a long way thanks to hard work in the offseason. Dakari wants to take his game to the next level and in order to do that he has to develop a better jump shot. The high post could be a deadly weapon for this team and it can be utilized effectively with Towns and Willie. Dakari's lack of shooting ability keeps him on the bench at times. And free throws? Cal has already lamented that he cannot keep Johnson in the game late due to his inconsistency at the charity stripe. Keep working on that jumper, big man.
Lee is a spark plug. He is an energy guy that gets it done on defense and has mastered the art of the put-back jam. But that's where his offense ends. Lee needs post moves and he needs them bad. He hasn't shown that he can back a defender down and display a move toward the basket to score. He needs to schedule extra time with Kenny Payne in the gym.
I wholeheartedly believe that Willis will enter into a game this season and make a difference. He has too many skills not to. If Willis wants to play more then he needs to give Calipari a reason to put him in and that reason needs to be his jump shot. As a team, Kentucky doesn't shoot the three ball well outside of Booker, Ulis, and sometimes Aaron Harrison. If Willis can master the three, then he will give Calipari a reason to put him in at crucial junctures of the game.
Hawkins is still a waterbug on defense and his offense is markedly improved. But when he has been called in to play the point guard position, the ball tends to die in his hands. The offense becomes stagnate with Hawkins at the point. While he may not be called to play that position much this season, it would do him a great service to become better as a more overall guard rather than just a shooting guard.
Agree or disagree? What do you think the players need to work on individually?
*Sidenote: This piece was written on 1/6/14 prior to the Ole Miss game. I made some changes at the start of the article but the rest remains fairly unchanged.