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Archive for the tag “Kentucky Wildcats”

The Reasons There Will Truly Be March Madness In College Basketball This Season

(photo courtesy of www.cutcabletoday.com)

(photo courtesy of http://www.cutcabletoday.com)

Every year college basketball starts to pick up around this time. Teams are closing out their season and conference tournaments are getting ready to start. And along with that, many are starting to think on who their favorites will be heading into March Madness. Plenty are probably even scouting teams to see who they will pick to win it all. Usually by this time, there are a few teams that many are sold on in regards to having a good chance to win the title. Last year, there were really high hopes for the University of Kentucky and Duke was also a team many thought of as winning the title. Duke was able to do so and prove many right about them. And while Kentucky did not win the title, they made it all the way to the Final Four before being upset by Wisconsin. Coming into this year’s tournament, there is not that much certainty on who could win the tournament. There are some nights that there are apparently obvious teams that could win it all. And the next game, that same team comes out and lays an egg. So why so much parity in college basketball this year you ask?

The mass exodus to the NBA from programs has caught up to college programs, especially the top ones. Teams like Kentucky, who lost seven players, and Duke, which lost four (five if you want to count the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon), had a lot to replace coming into this season. And unlike the previous times when they were able to just reload and still be the same team, this year has been different. Duke, which has not exactly been the deepest team over the years, is really short this year with depth. And with senior forward Amile Jefferson missing most of the season with a foot injury, the Blue Devils were even more depleted. They have essentially been playing one big man all year (Marshall Plumlee) to go along with what they have. And because of that, they have been up and down all year long. Duke replaced their talent with more talent this year, but the magnitude of players they lost compared to what they have now is not even close. As far as Kentucky, they have been solid this season, but have not lived up to the hype they have had each and every season. They replaced the seven players they lost last season with the #1 recruiting class in the nation. And even though they brought in talent to replace talent, they have not been the same or played to the same level. They are starting to play well, but they have been up and down all season long. They sorely miss some of the guys they had last year and they are definitely not as deep a team. The fear they put into teams last season is not there in regards to this team and the effect they have on their opponents. And along with the fear they put into each opponent, some of the composure and experience walked right to the professional level.

But other than losing players, there are just some imbalanced teams that are out there this year. Some teams have good inside play and shaky guard play while others have good guard play and nothing inside. Teams like North Carolina and Oklahoma come to mind as imbalanced. North Carolina has been strong inside all year. Senior forward Brice Johnson has been the man inside, giving the Tar Heels 16 double-doubles all year long. And when the Tar Heels attack the basket as a whole, they can overwhelm you. But the make or break thing about them is their three-point shooting. When teams force them to shoot the basketball more, there can be an issue. For example, in their most recent loss to their rival, the Duke Blue Devils, the Tar Heels went ice cold from three-point range. They shot 1/13 from behind the stripe and they froze out Johnson essentially in the last 15 minutes. This deficiency in their game is one thing that has cost them time and time again (along with some games where they come out in a malaise). As far as Oklahoma, they were better than some thought they would be at the start of the season. Behind senior guard Buddy Hield, the Sooners have been shooting the lights out for most of the season. But when they lose, more times than not it is because they depend so heavily on their perimeter game. They do not have one player that can really get it going inside when they are missing the three-pointers. And since they have gotten into conference play, they have not been as sharp with the jumpers and threes they take. The result has been a few losses this year in the conference and people are starting to cool on them. The reliance on jumpers and threes can be something that could harm this team in a one-game scenario and could ultimately lead to their downfall.

 

The collective inexperience across the county with teams along with the imbalanced teams have led to the current climate we have going into the tournament. And what this has created is a tournament that is wide open. Anyone that can pick which teams make the Finals Four with 100% accuracy needs to play the lottery immediately. I hope everyone is ready to be entertained. This college basketball season is going to have an exciting finish.

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This Isn’t John Calipari’s Wildcats

(photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

(photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

The Kentucky Wildcats came into this season having to replace a lot of talent. Seven players chose to leave school early and enter the NBA Draft, including #1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns. And with those seven leaving, there were plenty of spaces available. With that being said, Kentucky again had the #1 recruiting class in the nation and they were expected to roll again this year. The season started with being led by point guard Tyler Ulis and guard Jamal Murray, as they went 7-0 out of the gate. But when the Wildcats lost to the UCLA Bruins, the chinks in the armor started to show. The Wildcats would go on to lose three more times in the last nine games and there has to be some concern there. As time goes by, if they don’t get it together, they could be following the steps of the Kentucky team led by Archie Goodwin back and Nerlens Noel back in the 2012-2013 season. That team had a bunch of hype behind them and then ended up floundering in the first round of the NIT. And to boot, Noel tore his ACL chasing down a Florida player and trying to block his shot. This team was not as disjointed as that team was, but it seems they have not got it going and on the same page as of yet. So what needs to happen for this team to get it together?

Under Calipari, Kentucky has always had that one big man that could put the ball in the basket. His first one he got at Kentucky was DeMarcus Cousins. And after that there have been guys like Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Julius Randle and Karl-Anthony Towns. Along with the guard play that we have come to expect, we always look for the next big man Kentucky would produce that would get it done in the paint. Coming into this season, that guy was supposed to be freshman Skal Labissiere. He was the #1 big man in the 2015 recruiting class and he was multitalented. He was a 6’10” big man with a skill set that was more of a faceup post guy. His style, unfortunately, has not translated to the college level. He has not been as strong as many thought he was going to be and is only averaging 7.7 points while losing his starting job to senior Alex Poythress. Speaking of Poythress, he is a 6’8” small forward with incredible explosion to the rim. But he has been very inconsistent, just like his career has been to date. And if you take a look at Kentucky’s other big man, Marcus Lee, he is a guy that can finish at the rim but cannot create his own offense. For the Wildcats to go any further, they will need one of these three to step up and step up consistently. One other option to bring in up front is Derek Willis. The 6’9” junior from Kentucky can shoot the basketball, but he is not a guy that can give them much in the post. But even with that, his shooting touch would help spread the floor for the guards of Kentucky to attack.

Defensively, the Wildcats have been solid at times on the perimeter. The defense has caused havoc, led by guard Tyler Ulis. But when the shot goes up, that is when the adventure begins. Kentucky has usually been a team that boxes out and outrebounds teams. And at the beginning of the year, Coach Calipari alluded to this team needing to get better in that area. Well, it seems like they have not been getting the message. Even with the veteran players in Poythress and Lee, the Wildcats are giving up second-chance points. And when that happens, Kentucky is giving up an offensive rebound and more than likely two points. Those extra points have not hurt them a lot this season, but those extra points could hurt them at the wrong time. The one thing the Wildcats could do to alleviate some of the rebounding issues is team rebounding. What that means is instead of guards sitting around watching the big men rebound, they need to help them out and get down there to fight with them. If they are able to do that, there is some stress taken off the big men of Kentucky. It may take them out of the fastbreak a little bit, but it will be worth it if they are not giving up second and third shots.

Rebounding and scoring from their big men is a huge thing, but what is even bigger is leadership. Who was the voice of the team was never a question for the Wildcats in 2014-2015. Last year, there was leadership and focus for numerous people. And because of that leadership, it helped Kentucky have the type of season they had. With this year’s team, the leader is unquestionably point guard Tyler Ulis. He is definitely the one barking out the signals and making sure things run smoothly. He also is the guy that takes some of the big shots along with guard Jamal Murray. Both he and Murray are also carrying the team offensively, combining for 32 points per game. But for this team to take the next step, he has to ride some of his teammates. A leader is someone that is not always liked by his teammates and Ulis has to learn that. He has to push them to be better and do better. If he is able to strike that chord with them, then that means he is taking ownership of that team. Many teams have a player that steps up and does the things that a coach would do in terms of getting on guys and leading them. Ulis has all the capabilities and has shown he is capable of it, but he has to do it all the time. That is what leaders do.

The Wildcats are not doing terrible, but they are not doing as well as Calipari teams usually do. For them to take that step forward and be considered a serious National Title contender, they will need to get better play out of their big men. The Wildcats also have to have leadership take over this team along with the improved post play. Only time will tell what happens, but the Wildcats’ problems will only get worse if they lose Thursday night against Arkansas. Time is of the essence.

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