Here we are at the quarter of the season with the 'Cats sitting in the top five in the country and 8-1 on the season.
Although the play on the floor hasn't pleased all Kentucky fans in Big Blue Nation, it's difficult to complain about those two facts. Of course, we are the most passionate fans in the country and that means the Final Four talk is already making the rounds. This team is certainly capable of making that type of run and will be very entertaining to watch on the Road to the Final Four.
But this time of the year begs the question, what do the 'Cats need to improve on to return to the Final Four for the fifth time in six seasons?
1. Improve Perimeter shooting
At the beginning of the season this was talked about as something that may be a strength for this team; however, to this point in the season, it's been anything but. The 'Cats are an abysmal 39-of-142 from the arc for the season. That's just 27.5%, which ranks 327th in the country.
With this team's real strength being driving the ball into the paint for lobs, it is essential for guys to knock down open threes when they are available to keep teams from sagging off our guards to deny the drive. We know that Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis can shoot the three ball, but the two of them have combined to shoot just 27-86 (31.4%) so far this season. Others like Derek Willis and Isaiah Briscoe will also need to step up and knock a few treys down in the future for this team to succeed.
2. Defensive Rebounding
The largest complaint to this point in the season has been this team's toughness. I believe this is, in part, due to the lack of defensive rebounding this team is showing. The 'Cats are averaging 26.4 defensive rebounds per game which ranks 158th in the country. The fact that our big men are shot blockers is a big reason why this number isn't higher because when the ball gets into the lane our bigs rotate to try to block the shot leaving the back side rebound wide open.
So why not stop doing that? Well, Kentucky ranks 12th in the country in total blocked shots on the season, so pick your poison. As our young guards get to be more experienced, I expect us to get this problem solved as the season goes on.
They've figured out offensive rebounding to this point in the season as Kentucky is averaging just under 15 offensive rebounds a game which ranks 22nd nationally. Yes, UK needs more out of Skal in this area as well. Also, it's possible Tai Wynyard helps this problem when he gets to Lexington.
3. Assist/Turnover Ratio
Most would believe that this wouldn't be an issue starting three point guards, but when two of them are freshmen and it's early in the year, it happens. Kentucky has tallied 123 assists on the season and 115 turnovers which is a 1.07 ratio. This ranks 167th in the country. With the style of play that this team wants to play, fast-paced, turnovers are going to happen no matter how good your guards are.
However, the Cats need to raise this ratio to make it to their ultimate goal. Tyler Ulis has a assist/turnover ratio of just under 2.0 so let's hope that the other guards trend more towards Ulis' ways than their own in the future. I trust they'll be fine once they settle into the college game a little more.
4. Of Course, Free Throws
Every person's favorite thing to complain about year in and year out is free throws. Again with this team wanting to play fast and get to the rim, making free throws are essential to not only making teams pay for the foul but also closing out close games. The 'Cats are 162-239 (67.8%) on the season which ranks 199th in the country. This is a huge part to UK's offense with the new hand-check rules, and it shows as the 'Cats rank 18th nationally in free throws attempted.
It's one thing to get there a lot, but UK has got to make the free ones count. Especially Isaiah Briscoe who is so good at getting to the rim and causing contact. He is just 41% from the free throw line on the season and it's difficult to keep him in the game late in a close game if he can't make free throws. Especially being a primary ball handler.
I have no doubts that UK will improve on all of these things and be in place to make another run at playing in April.