John Calipari’s annual “tweak” of the Kentucky Wildcats offense has made an early appearance this season, as the Hall of Fame coach changed things up just in time for a convincing 98-69 win over North Carolina on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
After a horrible offensive performance in the loss to Notre Dame, Calipari confessed on his postgame radio show Saturday that pounding the ball inside to Oscar Tshiebwe and the Kentucky bigs may no longer be the first option in an effort to open things up.
Instead, the Kentucky coach says that the Wildcats must spread the floor, look for shooters, and score in the 80s to provide some separation rather than slugging it out with teams with offensive numbers stuck in the 60s and 70s.
John Calipari on postgame radio show today: Notre Dame showed us we can't play the way we were playing. We have to spread the court and look for our shooters, can't pound the ball into the post. Need to be scoring in the 80s, not 60s or 70s.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) December 19, 2021
Tshiebwe, a West Virginia transfer, leads the team in scoring and rebounding and has become an early favorite for SEC Player of the Year honors. However, a guard heavy roster that includes Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington, Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz might find better offensive rhythm if they can spread out and become spot-up shooters rather than trying to get to the rim and taking tough shots in traffic.
Kentucky, who just missed the century mark against the Tar Heels, had its lowest offensive output of the season in a 66-62 loss to the Fighting Irish and were held to 71 points in the opening-season loss to Duke. The Wildcats entered Saturday’s game shooting just 32% from three-point range on 60/187 shooting, but was deadly from the outside on Saturday, going 8/15 for 53% as Grady hit five threes in the victory.
Traditionally, Calipari has used the dribble-drive offense to beat defenders off the dribble and wear teams out at the free throw line. This has been an effective approach with a watchful eye on three-point attempts, which creates a good balance of “lane touches” instead of a one-dimensional attack from behind the arc.
In the end, offensive success will come down to making shots so Washington, Mintz and Grady need to come up big in the absence of the injured CJ Fredrick and Dontaie Allen, who has recently watched his minutes decrease the past few games.
A spread offense might also be the best of both worlds for Tshiebwe, who will still get his share of double-doubles and just might get a few more stick backs. In the end, the magic number on the scoreboard has to be somewhere in the 80s to give the Cats a chance to compete with the nation’s best teams.