The Kentucky Wildcats are sitting at a 13-3 record, 2-1 in the SEC, with a few really good wins and a few clunkers in there for good measure. John Calipari's team is a microcosm for college basketball as a whole this season. Inconsistency across the board, puzzling performances, with flashes of greatness from time-to-time.
This bodes well for the Wildcats as the playing field is about as level as it has been in years and a number of teams, including Kentucky, could peak at the right time in March to make a run at a championship. At the same time, a number of teams that are ranked now could completely collapse.
At this juncture of the season, we need to be realistic about some things with Cal's squad. There are great players on the team, but the team itself has gaping holes. Are those holes fixable? Yes, indeed they are, but the true question is will they be fixed in time for the March run.
I am going to play a little buy or sell and focus on the team's deficiencies.
The Frontcourt Will Be More Consistent
Buy: I'm buying this because Marcus Lee has been consistent on the boards and on defense. His offense comes off of missed shots and the occasional post move. Lee can be counted on for, unless he gets in foul trouble, about 10 points, nine rebounds, and a couple of blocks per game. To me, the question here is with Alex Poythress. Can he be the consistent post player to go along with Lee? After blowing up for 25 against Alabama, Poythress looked lost in the next game against Mississippi State. He did come to the rescue in the end, but he again laid a goose egg.
But he has it in him to do it and I think the corner will be turned when tournament time comes. You have to remember, he is still dealing with a serious knee injury and he admitted this week that it still bothers him. But when this team needs him the most in a do or die scenario, Alex and Marcus will be there giving 100%.
Skal Will Be a Factor by March
Sell: I hate to sell this but I don't see it happening. Skal Labissiere is a project and he will continue to be a project. As the season lumbers forward, Skal's minutes are diminishing, especially in the second half when the game is on the line. Since playing 21 minutes against Ohio State, he has played 10 minutes against Louisville, 14 minutes against Ole Miss, 16 minutes against LSU, 4 minutes against Alabama, and 14 minutes against Mississippi State. His totals have dropped to 7.9 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Instead of playing Skal when Marcus Lee is out of the game, John Calipari has opted to go with a smaller lineup with Alex Poythress at the five and Derek Willis at the four. With this lineup, the Wildcats add offense but they take a huge hit on defense with Willis. With less minutes, less production, and mounting frustration from his coach, I don't think this is the year that we see Skal become the player he was touted to be.
Isaiah Briscoe Will Be the Third Scoring Option
Buy: For a stretch, it looked as if the only scoring options Kentucky had were Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and whichever player decided to step up that game. There were times when nobody else stepped up, and Kentucky was left in a tight spot. Briscoe was derailed a bit in early January after injuring his ankle before playing Louisville. He did not play in the game against the Cards, and was limited in the practice the following week. He came back after the Louisville game and scored six points against Ole Miss and five points against LSU.
But it looks as if he has again found his stride. He put up 12 points, five rebounds, four assists, and shot 60% at Alabama. He scored 14 points, had four rebounds, five assists, and shot 78% against Mississippi State. This is the norm for Briscoe. Before the Louisville game, Briscoe scored in double-digits in seven out of ten games. He has found confidence in a nice midrange jumper to go along with his driving ability. He is becoming a smarter basketball player and he's learning to pick good open shots. The emergence of Briscoe as a third option on offense opens the door for Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis to do more on offense as well.
Free Throw Shooting Will Improve
Sell: There aren't enough good free throw shooters in the team for me to buy this. Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, and Derek Willis are the best shooters the 'Cats have who are playing meaningful minutes. We all know how bad Briscoe and Lee are, Alex is hit or miss (no pun intended) depending on the game, and Skal is supposed to be a good free throw shooter but he isn't in the game enough to affect it and he's been inconsistent at the line lately.
Two out of five starters are good at the stripe along with one guy off of the bench. Dominique Hawkins can knock them down, but he hasn't been good historically. Unless something clicks with Briscoe and Lee, I'm afraid we are going to be left with a poor shooting team at the charity stripe.
We Will See More "Good Jamal Murray"
Buy: This is a big time buy for me. Murray is the biggest offensive threat on the entire court on most nights but that positive was almost nullified by poor shot selection and bad turnovers. Murray hit a low against Louisville when he turned the ball over seven times and let the Cardinals back into the game almost on his own. But since that game, he has nine turnovers combined over a four-game stretch.
His shot selection is getting better with every game played and he is learning not to force the issue if it isn't there. We have to remember that despite playing with Team Canada over the summer, he should still be in high school. But he is picking up the college game at a fast clip and by the time the SEC tournament rolls around, he should be a dominant force on the court.
Kentucky Will Get More From the Bench
Buy: This is a soft buy for now. I think with the return of Dominique Hawkins the bench will improve. Cal has his rotation set for the most part and it includes Mychal Mulder, Derek Willis, Skal Labissiere, with a small dose of Charles Matthews from time to time.
This isn't one of Cal's deeper teams, particularly in the frontcourt. They remind me of the Brandon Knight team with either Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, or DeAndre Liggins coming off of the bench, and Eloy Vargas. Cal had an eight man rotation and by the end of the season, it was as good as any rotation in the country. Will this team click like that one? That is still to be determined.
Tai Wynyard Will Play Meaningful Minutes
Sell: I don't see it happening. For whatever reason, Cal is extremely hesitant to play the Kiwi. I think a lot of factors play into it: Wynyard is a month into adjusting to a new country and a new culture, he is still learning and trying to gel with his teammates, Cal is set on a rotation and has a plan for his team and Wynyard just isn't a part of it at the moment.
Will we see him at all? Yes, I think he will get in eventually. And maybe when he does he lights it up and Cal's plans change, but I would not bet on that happening.
What do you think? Do you agree with my buying and selling? Do you have some of your own? Let us know in the comments section.