#9 Kentucky Will Have to Rely on their Defense Until Offense Clicks

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Every season brings a ton of turnover at Kentucky; they’re “young” every single year of the John Calipari era. Every spring sees a group of highly talented NBA draft early entrants depart Lexington, replaced by an incoming group of 5-star recruits, a new set of McDonald’s All-Americans.

Naturally, it takes time for the new group to gel and pick up the system. Quite often the defense is ahead of the offense, and it might not be until January or February that the offensive end of the floor really gets into a flow. This looks like one of those years, and who knows it may take even longer than usual this season.

Kentucky, ranked #2 at the time, opened the season by beating #1 Michigan State. They ascended to #1, but didn’t stay there as they fell to unranked Evansville, a team that hadn’t ever beaten a ranked team before. In all the free college basketball predictions that you’ll peruse, you’re not likely to see anyone who called that one. Falling down to #9 this week, they almost fell victim to an unranked mid-major, at Rupp Arena no less, again last night!

The Utah Valley Wolverines, a team that was expected to be extremely overmatched against the Wildcats, took UK down to the wire last night. Before eventually losing 82-74, they pulled to within just one down the stretch, trailing the Cats just 68-67 with 3:26 to play. How did this happen?

Well, in the 67-64 loss to Evansville, Kentucky made just four three point field goals, in 17 attempts, for a very poor 23.5%.

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The Purple Aces didn’t set the nets on fire, but they were significantly better, shooting 9-30 from long range, or 30%. It happened again last night, and Kentucky head coach John Calipari said it best:

“Our issue right now is you can’t go and make one three-point field goal. So, we got to go and figure out, okay, how are we going to do this? Now, we had some guys that were wide open and almost shot air balls that are kids that make threes.”

“So probably some of this is mental, game in the balance, are not ready to be in that position. I don’t care how good you are. Maybe not ready to be in that position yet. But you can’t have a team make 11 and you make one. How did we win the game? We had nine offensive rebounds at half. I was ecstatic. We have three in the second half.”

Ashton Hagans scored a career-high 26 points and led the Wildcats with five assists. However, Kentucky was just 1-12 from the beyond the arc (a ridiculously bad 8.3%) while Utah Valley was 11-31 (35.5%). The Wildcats dominated the boards though 46-27. 

john calipari

“That’s, we can’t win with those two numbers,” Calipari continued. “And so, we got to get back, we made a couple things offensively, we changed, and I like what I saw.”

Kentucky just doesn’t have an offensive identity right now. It certainly doesn’t help that they’re so banged up, with more guys in warm-ups than suiting up last night. They can only roll about seven deep right now, but they need to have their defense create more offense for them right now and get more transition baskets.

The half-court sets are just struggling right now. While the defense is certainly not a finished product either by any means (especially with some issues defending ball screens), the potential to be elite at that end of the floor is there.

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With their length, athleticism and quickness, the defensive end can do enough to create opportunities on the other end, until it all comes together later in March. In the end, Kentucky should be alright, they’ll be just fine, but there will be more rough nights and scares ahead in the meantime.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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