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Kentucky is a flawed team, but does that mean they can’t contend?

Dec 14, 2013, 8:29 PM EDT

Kentucky v North Carolina Getty Images

We are now 11 games into the college basketball season, but No. 11 Kentucky still appears to be a long way away from being a team capable of winning a national title. The Wildcats are sitting at 8-3 after Saturday’s 82-77 loss to No. 18 North Carolina, with one final chance against Louisville to try and post a marquee non-conference win.

Is it time to be worried about the Wildcats?

This Kentucky basketball team has some major flaws this season, some of which can be corrected and some of which are woven into the fabric of this team.

As good as Willie Cauley-Stein is at defending the rim, the other four players that join him on the floor just don’t seem to be all that good on the defensive side of the ball. Some of it is a lack of desire to keep their man from penetrating. Some of it is an overabundance of gambling for steals. Some of it is the failure to understand help-side rotations.

Simply put: Kentucky is not a good defensive basketball team right now, but that can get better. With those athletes, defense can always get better.

That’s not it.

The Wildcats are some issues on the offensive end of the floor as well. I’ve seen some bemoan the lack of a point guard for the Wildcats, and that’s part of it. The bigger issue is that Kentucky’s three best perimeter players are all guys that are shoot-first scorers that need the ball in their hands to be effective. That’d be fine if they had, say, T.J. McConnell out there to facilitate their offense. But they don’t, which is why their offense too often gets bogged down. On Saturday, the result was that Kentucky’s offense devolved into the Harrison twins going 1-on-1 on every possession.

They also don’t have any perimeter depth. Their three best perimeter players are, more or less, their only three perimeter players. Alex Poythress is not a small forward, but he’s Kentucky’s first wing off the bench. Dominique Hawkins and Jarrod Polson are a great story, but they should be getting spot minutes when Kentucky is in foul trouble, not playing a significant role in UK’s rotation.

That issue isn’t fixable. Neither is Kentucky’s lack of a leader. Who is the guy that settles people down in a timeout? Who takes control offensively in a moment when Kentucky desperately needs to get a bucket? Who is the pulse of the locker room? Who is the guy that refuses to lose, that convinces his teammates that, no matter how dire the circumstances, they’ll find a way to win? Right now, whoever it is isn’t doing a very good job. Kentucky’s body language was awful in the second half on Saturday. That team didn’t look like they believed they could win late in the game. That’s not a good thing.

Consider all of that.

Now add in the fact that Kentucky was playing their first true road game against a team that has already beaten Michigan State and Louisville. Then toss in the foul trouble that the Wildcats were dealing with, and the fact that their best player — Julius Randle — was a non-factor, finishing with 11 points and five boards on 3-for-9 shooting.

Think about all of those problems.

And remember this: Kentucky lost this game by five points. They weren’t run out of the gym, they were slowly overwhelmed by a more experienced team. This wasn’t like last year’s Notre Dame loss.

It’s obvious that all the talk about this Kentucky team being legendary has quickly gone out the window.

But writing this group off as a national title contender at this point is too early.

  1. atwatercrushesokoye - Dec 14, 2013 at 9:08 PM

    Does this mean that the media might consider pumping the brakes on their annual preseason proclamation of Kentucky being the best team in college basketball? Yes Calipari gets a lot of 5 star recruits, but he’s turning over most of the roster annually constantly recruiting one and dones, but just having a bunch of highly recruited freshmen doesn’t make them the best team, they’re going against teams comprised of older more mature players…oh and actual teams. And for all the praise Calipari gets he’s only ever won one championship, he’s probably the best recruiter but he’s far from the best coach.

    • bsharp61 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:02 AM

      thing is that stands out ….over all the declarations of anti one and dones…and Cal’s coaching abitlity…over all hate for UK….if they shoot a average division 1 free throw % of 70 in the 3 games they lost…they’d be unbeaten right now. The games they lost they shot 50% from the free throw line….so with all their selfishness…all their incohesiveness…all the negatives that the same basketball experts are declaring about them now that put them up on a pedastal before the season…some free throw practice may go a long way….making free throws…is becoming a lost art….

  2. jjohnb5393 - Dec 14, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    UK didn’t play that poorly….missed too many free throws . Held a lead for a lot of the first half. Outrebounded UNC…..and Chapel Hill is tough to win at. The SEC isn’t very strong ……..3 seed or so in NCAA tourney is legit…..went to final four in ’11 as a 4 seed lost to eventual champ UCONN ……by 1 point ….the sky isn’t falling…..

  3. jjohnb5393 - Dec 14, 2013 at 10:00 PM

    How many championships has the great Jim Boheim won? In 35 years?

  4. tg1896 - Dec 14, 2013 at 10:10 PM

    Atwatercrushesokoye – I think your comments are spot on. I was at this game. UK players were out of synch in the second half and Calipari could not get a handle on them. UK was playing schoolyard one on one. No one was helping and there was a lot of finger-pointing going on. This team has serious flaws.

  5. cranespy - Dec 15, 2013 at 12:16 AM

    One more time……when it comes to recruiting….Cal is a savant….he has no equal. When it comes coaching…Calm is mediocre at best.

  6. brianjoates - Dec 15, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    How did Dakari Johnson get a scholly to UK? Good for him, but this young man should not be playing at this level. Yes he is big, but his basketball skills are very far from being developed for a D1 player. He is also not very basketball coordinated.

  7. jjohnb5393 - Dec 15, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    Dakari was a top 20 recruit and has only played 11 college games. Are u expecting Kareem at this point from him?

    • tomtravis76 - Dec 15, 2013 at 5:26 PM

      Did you see the HS he played for and their schedule . It’s not like he hasn’t been playing against top tier talent. He is not very basketball coordinated at this stage. He should be playing at western Kentucky for the hilltoppers instead. Maybe he will develop but I think Montverdes reputation with the coach got him that ride.

  8. prov1x - Dec 15, 2013 at 11:40 AM


  9. prov1x - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    Yup. And if Memphis could have shot free throws they would have beat Kansas and won a title. Oops.. That was vacated? Who was their coach again?

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