It looks like the Kentucky Wildcats' secret tweak may have simply been Skal Labissiere being the guy we all thought he could be.
While the freshman forward's defense is still a very big work in progress, Skal had a much-needed breakout game against the Florida Gators to end UK's road woes and score an 88-79 win in Gainesville. Skal finished with 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting with some smooth jumpers to go with a putback dunk:
Skal also grabbed nine boards and blocked a shot, but it was his offense that made him stand out and help UK score a critical road win with the regular season winding down. This comes with the 6-11 freshman continuing to fall down the mock draft boards to the point he's not viewed as a lottery pick now.
But why are we even talking about Skal as a first-round prospect, even before this breakout game?
NBA Draft analyst Ed Isaacson told Larry Vaught what exactly it is that still has NBA scouts intrigued with Skal.
"No matter how Skal looked this season, so much of how people valued him in the draft was based on potential and physical ability," Isaacson said. "Even with the flashes he showed in high school, everyone realized he was very raw, which isn't itself bad, but things took a turn for the worse when he turned out to be timid and slow to pick up on things.
"I still think he could be a good project for an NBA team which has multiple picks this year or doesn't need to count on their pick this year having to play right away."
Everything Ed mentioned there was on display against the Gators as we finally were reminded what the Haitian big man was capable of. People forget Skal did very well early in the season before his inability to rebound led to his minutes shrinking to the point he was rarely seeing the floor.
My guess is what changed for the Florida game was John Calipari told Skal he would start and get a lot of minutes for this game, regardless of if he was still getting beat like a drum on the boards.
Then again, Cal made it sound like Skal starting was more of a spur of the moment thing after a good Monday practice.
Why start Skal today? "He had a great practice yesterday," Cal tells Tom Leach.— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 2, 2016
While Skal got pushed around at times, he looked much more confident on both ends of the floor. His jumper was silky smooth and his hook shots looked as crisp as they have this season.
There's no question confidence was the issue with Skal's offensive games. He was lights out over the first six games this season, hitting 34 of 55 shots over that span while averaging 14.7 ppg.
But an ice-cold stretch over the next six games saw Skal hit just 11 of 33 shots and slowly watch his minutes disappear. If he couldn't give UK anything on offense, Calipari certainly wasn't going to keep playing him with the lack of defense he possessed.
Now that Skal is re-gaining that offensive confidence, it may be enough that he continues to start and/or get 20-30 minutes. And as Ed alluded to, it may show NBA scouts and executives enough that Skal will be drafted in the first round if enters the draft this year.