My biggest Kentucky basketball takeaway through seven games is that this team has yet to play anywhere near their full potential all while boasting a 6-1 record and +23 point per game scoring margin.
Last season, UK fans were forced to endure a lot of unwatchable basketball. At times during the Cats’ abysmal 9-16 campaign, it seemed like putting the ball in the basket was an impossible task.
My oh my — what a difference we’ve seen this season with shooters and offensive weapons littered all over the court.
Kentucky has four players with double-figure scoring averages, led by TyTy Washington and Oscar Tshiebwe at 14 points per game each. Followed by Keion Brooks right on their heels averaging 13 ppg and Sahvir Wheeler not far behind pumping in 11 points along with nearly nine assists per contest.
Surprisingly, Kellan Grady has gotten off to a somewhat slower start than most expected considering he came to Lexington with over 2,000 Division-I points under his belt.
I’d expect by the time conference play rolls around, Grady will have upped his current 9.3 points per game average to double-digits. He’s just too lethal of a scorer to not have a breakout game or two here before the New Year hits.
All that being said — John Calipari has a lot to work with this season.
Through seven games, I think most would agree that despite some minor early concerns, Kentucky clearly has the pieces to make a deep run in March.
They’ve proved they can hang in there with one of the best teams in the nation by vigorously competing with Duke in the first game of the season.
Of course, the non-conference schedule after that has been cupcake city, but in fairness, they’ve whooped up on every team that they should have, which is all you can ask for from the players.
Here are three things that I believe Kentucky must do in order to win their ninth National Championship in 2022.
1. Limit turnovers
Understanding that Kentucky’s 12.7 turnovers per game isn’t a horribly concerning stat, this team has the talent and experience to cut that number down. Gaining even one or two extra possessions a game would go a long way during a potential title.
To get started on this subject I am going to shut down any Sahvir Wheeler slander before it begins. Despite his 22 turnovers on the young season it’s been so refreshing in my eyes to see a UK point guard forcing the issue and putting pressure on the defense the entire time he’s on the floor.
However, I would agree that cutting down his three turnover average to somewhere around two would be fantastic — I can live with mistakes considering all that Sahvir Wheeler brings to the table offensively.
You just can deny the production he creates by setting his teammates up for terrific looks.
If you’re in the same camp as me where you can live with several turnovers each game caused by playing extremely fast, the next question becomes what needs to change?
The UK frontcourt of Tshiebwe, Brooks and Collins have accounted for 33 of the 88 turnovers this season.
With some minimal adjustments like being strong with the ball and making better decisions the bigs should be able to save some possessions for their team.
Again — UK ranks middle of the pack in NCAA Division-I basketball at 127th nationally in turnovers — which isn’t a reason to panic.
You just don’t want to see that number climbing up throughout the season.
In Sahvir we trust.
2. One more guy must step up
By now it’s evident that TyTy Washington, Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler are going to consistently give you considerable production on a night-in and nigh-out basis.
But is that formula good enough to win a National Championship?
I don’t think so.
The two most obvious options to emerge here are Keion Brooks and Kellan Grady. Both are extremely talented and capable of getting the best of their opposing defender every night.
Brooks clearly has worked on his outside shooting in the offseason and has become much more of a scoring threat.
Yet I still don’t see him as being totally comfortable in the offensive scheme. Ideally he’ll continue to adjust and keep scoring the ball like he’s shown in spurts during his career at Kentucky.
In reality, defensively could be where Keion Brooks could add the most value to his team. When Oscar Tshiebwe is not on the floor, UK takes a major step backwards in the toughness department.
I find it unlikely that Daimion Collins or Lance Ware develops enough by March to play hefty minutes during a title run, leaving Brooks as the guy who needs to be that secondary enforcer in the paint.
Daimion Collins would be the other front-court guy you could throw out as well. Like I mentioned, not sure if he’ll be quite ready this season, but if he is, that means Kentucky has an athletic marvel on the floor.
Then there’s Kellan Grady.
During his short-time at Kentucky the grad-transfer from Davidson has already proven his knack for putting the ball in the basket.
To his personal detriment, it seems as if opposing defenses have been stubborn to disconnect from him on the perimeter.
Good for UK, not so much for Grady.
Getting him rolling probably has more to do with offensive scheme than it does his performance.
When the Cats have struggled in segments this year, like against Ohio, fans have clamored to run some sets for Kellan Grady and take advantage of his experience making quality shots.
You have to think that Calipari and his coaching staff are brainstorming ways to create space so that he can do just that.
Watching to see who steps up over the next eight weeks will be an important component for how this season will likely culminate.
3. Defense wins Championships
Kentucky is currently tied for 48th in overall scoring defense for NCAA Division-I. Their KenPom adjusted defensive rating of 91.5 ranks 27th in the nation.
Not horrible numbers, but a team with Sahvir Wheeler and Oscar Tshiebwe on the roster has the ability to lock down teams on a consistent basis.
Wheeler has quickly developed a reputation for creating chaos in the back-court and I don’t need to remind you about Tshiebwe’s prowess for snatching down every missed shot.
The Cats only surrendered 79 points to Duke, which is a season-high. Since then, only two teams have broken the 60-point barrier.
For a brand-new roster this early on in the season, you have to be encouraged by the defense.
Calipari has a ton of time left to make adjustments and polish up his defense before post-season play begins.
I’m sure you could name a number of things that take priority over what I mentioned.
It’s hard to win a title but this team may just have what it takes.