Be sure to check out Part I of our three-part SEC Tournament roundtable series, where we discussed our confidence level heading into the postseason.
Up next, we gathered our staff to discuss the biggest improvement UK needs to make this week before entering the NCAA Tournament.
I feel pretty confident about Kentucky going into the SEC Tournament. Nashville will feel a lot like Lexington and should give Kentucky an advantage, but the biggest improvement that the Wildcats must make to have a successful run will be starting games better.
Obviously, Kentucky has struggled to open up games the last few matchups, and they cannot continue to fall behind by so much early into the game. This is desperation time for some teams, trying to rack up resume-building wins for the NCAA Selection Committee while others are hoping to make a miracle run to seal their bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The stakes are much higher, so teams will be coming hard after the Wildcats to add a quality win.
To me, there isn't just one thing. Let's just take the top two though:
- Stopping the early cold shooting. While UK has been able to overcome cold starts a number of times this season, we have to execute better early in the post season. Teams are going to come out with blood in their eye, and even though they won't have home court advantage, we don't want to be at an energy disadvantage away from home.
- The other thing we need is back court consistency. Malik Monk doesn't have to go off for 30 for us to win, but it would be nice if we could depend on him to get 15-20 every game.
- It would also be nice to see Isaiah Briscoe continue to get his mojo back. We don't need his shooting, but we do need his rebounding and passing, and fewer turnovers like we got Saturday versus A&M.
They can be a single player team if they need to on any given night. We've seen Monk go off for 47 in the game against Carolina and just simply take over the game. If they face a team with good perimeter defense than can changes plans and just feed the ball down low. I feel like Cal has been saving Adebayo for this time of year to let him have that 35 point game which he has yet to do this year.
The slow starts are becoming a nuisance. Yes, UK has dug out of every hole, and they've won every game, but the teams they will face in the Sweet 16 and beyond will be too good for Kentucky to just flip the switch after they are down double digits. I would love to see this team start fast in at least two games in the SEC tournament and keep their foot on the gas for 40 minutes. It's been a while since they have demolished a team and they still have the talent to do it. They have proven they can win in a comeback effort; I want to see them destroy a team.
Being prepared to play from the opening tip, instead of playing hard and frantic for 20 to 30 minutes. I want to see a full 40-minute effort. Kentucky dug itself a hole during its last three regular season games and was very fortunate to surface 3-0 after clawing back from double-digit deficits. As Cal has often referenced in the past, make this personal, come out with a chip on your shoulder, and take control from the get-go.
As much fun as it is to see exciting comeback victories night after night, falling behind early does not always play out well in March. Even though things seem to be moving in the right direction with this group, the slow starts have to stop. The thing to watch for Kentucky throughout the SEC tournament will be whether or not the Cats can get into "tourney-mode" and play like they care for 40 minutes each game.
Well, the easy answer is "get off to better starts." To be more detailed, the offense needs more cohesion at the start of games. The biggest problem hasn't really been the defense - it's been the total inability to score. The team looks out-of-sync and rushed at the offensive end. Fix that, and the slow starts will end.
As to HOW to fix it - I would say getting Monk to begin games driving to the basket instead of taking jump shots. That leads to free throws for Monk and creates openings for easy shots for other players, Bam in particular.
STOP STARTING SLOW!! The Cats digging a hole and then climbing out of it has unfortunately become a trend over the last few weeks. In the last two games, the Cats have had the two of the biggest come-from-behind victories in the Cal era. Those games were frustrating then exciting to watch, but in a tourney atmosphere, there's a good chance you won't make that comeback teams will be playing much harder from tip to the final horn. Cut out the slow starts and this team could start a serious run through March starting in the tournament.
UK has to be consistent in their team play. Being their brother's keeper is the difference in a run at #9 or disappointment.