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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Let Skal Labissiere Play

What's the worst that could happen?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats have been about as inconsistent this season as any John Calipari team we have seen in Lexington.

They won a close game against the Louisville Cardinals, they dominated the Duke Blue Devils on a neutral court, they rolled through five SEC opponents and took Kansas to the limit at Phog Allen.

But this team also looked awful on the road at UCLA and on a neutral court against Ohio State. They were dominated at LSU and didn't look engaged in the game. They blew a 12-point lead and lost at Auburn. They blew a 21 point lead and lost to Tennessee.

There are multiple flaws in this team, lack of defense at the three-point arch and shot hunting on offense to name a few, but the biggest wart is on the face of the interior of this team. Many thought that the issue had been fixed when John Calipari decided to insert Derek Willis into the starting line-up and start Alex Poythress and the five position. This looked like it worked for a while. Kentucky added an offensive weapon that it had been lacking and Willis had been doing yeoman's work rebounding the basketball.

But that was exposed at Kansas and at Tennessee. The Vols don't start a player over 6'5 but Kentucky was not able to exploit that without a big man. Alex is doing his best, but he is out of position and it's showing.

It's getting to be late in the season. It's not panic mode time but I think that time is drawing nigh. What can Cal do to get this team on track and make them a contender for the Final Four? Start Skal Labissiere and let him play. There's not a player on this team that has embodied the inconsistency as an individual like Skal, but he's been flashing some glimmers of hope lately.

In  the last three games Skal has played a combined 43 minutes, but in those 43 minutes he scored 18 points and went 9-13 from the field. That's pretty efficient on offense. He's also had nine blocks, which is a skill the Wildcats simply do not possess unless he is on the floor. The problem comes in his rebounding, which he has only had two. But the team as a whole already isn't rebounding well, so honestly they won't be missing that much in that arena.

Here is my case for Skal starting and increased playing time:

  • My starting five would be Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, and Skal Labissiere.
  • I like Willis as the stretch four and he's playing quite well in that role. This puts, in my opinion, Calipari's best offensive team on the floor.
  • I first thought of Briscoe as the sixth man on the bench, but he is the best defender on the team and arguably the best rebounder. Although I could see a case of playing Willis on the wing and putting Alex back at power forward. This would be a big line-up for Kentucky and a better offensive group as well. Something to consider.
  • Skal finally has confidence in his mid-range jump shot. This added feature spaces the floor and will allow free movement for the guards. It unpacks the middle and puts a zone-buster right where you want him.
  • I like Alex Poythress coming off the bench. It takes pressure off of him and allows him to be the glue guy off the bench that the team is lacking right now.
  • Skal is becoming the rim protector that this team desperately needs.
  • Marcus Lee is a great kid and a nice player but he is what he is; he's not going to cut it. He has no offense to speak of, he is way too prone to committing bad fouls, and his rebounding ebbs and flows. Between the two, I would rather have Skal at this point.
  • Skal can't realize any of his potential sitting on the bench. The start to his career at Kentucky was rocky, but he's showing flashes, and right now Calipari is running out of options. It's clear that Lee isn't the answer and Issac Humphries simply isn't ready, why not take the projected lottery pick and let him play? Who knows, maybe it clicks. If it does, then the team is much better off than it is right now. If not, the team is no worse off than it is now and that will be the team that takes the floor in March.
I have no delusions. I don't think Skal is going to be the second coming of Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns. But what I see is a team in need of something and a player that looks as if he is shaping into form.

This isn't a cure-all remedy. As I mentioned above, there are serious issues that need to be addressed on defense and in the effort department. But I think it is time to take Skal off the bench for extended periods of time and see what he can do. Call some offense for him. Get him and Tyler Ulis back on the same page that we saw earlier in the season.

I may be the only one left, but I think Skal still has something left in the tank that can help this team.