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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: Basketball Slow Start Edition

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Kentucky basketball is off to an inauspicious start after an impressive summer in the Bahamas. What’s going wrong?

Southern Illinois v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Tuesday Morning Quickies.

First off, I’m not going to talk about the football team right now. I’m still really miffed at the effort I saw on Saturday, and I think it’s best to just stew in my juices rather than comment about that game.

What needs some discussion due to proximity is the basketball team, because the Wildcats will be facing North Dakota in their third game of the season on Wednesday at 9:00 PM in Rupp Arena.

After being routed by Duke in the season opener, the Wildcats managed to pull out a win despite a strong challenge by Southern Illinois last Friday. Kentucky was down for virtually the entire first 30 minutes of the ballgame before finding another gear (named Keldon Johnson) and finishing off the Salukis 71-59 in a game somewhat closer than the score.

So two games into a highly-anticipated season, Kentucky finds themselves 1-1 with a devastating beatdown and narrow victory (not quite an “escape”) to show for it. Uninspiring, to say the least, but for three of the last five years before this one, Kentucky’s early-season games have been fraught and underwhelming affairs.

Observations so far for 2018:

  • 3-point shooting, and in particular Tyler Herro, has been disappointingly poor.
  • Free throw shooting has been solid, and free throw rate excellent.
  • Rebounding has been a mixed bag, but overall it has been okay.
  • Turnovers have been a serious problem in both games. UK turned it over 28% of the time versus Southern Illinois, which explains why the game was so close irrespective of anything else. So far, UK has not even been competitive in the turnover statistic.
  • Assist percentage has also been a mixed bag, but mostly it is down from our best years, suggesting too much ballhandling and isolation play.

Many of these are the kind of growing pains we expect to see from UK teams in the early part of the season, but the turnovers, especially considering all the point guards UK has on the roster, is troubling. Point guard play in general has been a real mess, and if you want to look to any specific thing that has contributed to the Wildcats’ current unexceptional play so far, that’s the one I’d look at.

Kentucky’s players, at this point, look nothing like the confident team we saw in the Bahamas over the summer. I have no idea what could’ve gone wrong since then, probably nothing specific, but whatever it is, this is not the team I expected to see starting the season.

Tomorrow’s game against what is expected to be a very weak North Dakota team is not going to tell us very much unless it is a lot closer than it should be. North Dakota lost their top three players last year to transfer or graduation (Geno Crandall, their best player, now plays for Gonzaga). Returning senior guard Cortez Seales is the team leader this year along with returning big (6‘7” is big for this team) Conner Avants, also a senior. The Fighting Hawks are 2-0 on the young season with victories over the Northland College Lumberjacks at home and Milwaukee Panthers on the road.

Ken Pomeroy sees this game as an 89-65 Kentucky victory, and anything less will likely indicate that whatever malaise is infecting the team at this point of the season has not yet run its course. NDU is not a particularly experienced team, either, so keep that in mind.

Tweet of the Morning

I can’t see this as a bad thing, although part of me wishes New Orleans would get one every so often…

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Although Duke is probably going to be the most difficult team to defend in the country, the loss did expose one structural weakness in Kentucky’s roster: a lack of depth on the wing. Johnson will bring consistent defensive effort, but Herro is a liability on that side of the ball, and those are Kentucky’s two legitimate options against opponents boasting size on the perimeter.

This is right. We have to have better defensive play from Herro, not to mention better shooting.

  • Interesting.
  • Great news.
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