Whats Wrong With Kentucky? An Expert Weighs In…Posted by CNguon on December 18th, 2012
Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached @anchorofgold on Twitter.
Kentucky ran through a storybook season in 2011-12, mashing together the country’s most talented freshman class and riding their skills to a NCAA title. John Calipari’s follow-up hasn’t been as successful. After losing all five starters from last year’s national championship team, the Wildcats are banking on players like Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress to carry them back to great heights. So far, that’s resulted in a 7-3 record and a tumultuous plunge out of the national rankings. The ‘Cats have righted the ship with three straight wins, but a big showdown with #6 Louisville looms later this month before SEC play starts. So what are the expectations in Lexington for the rest of this year? To learn more about Coach Cal’s latest freshman project, we went straight to the expert.
Glenn Logan is the Managing Editor of A Sea of Blue, one of the most comprehensive and well-written Kentucky Wildcat blogs out there. He was gracious enough to sit down and exchange some emails with me to discuss this team’s prospects for 2013 and beyond.
Rush the Court: First things first – Kentucky hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, losing games to Notre Dame and Baylor in November and December. What has been the biggest factor behind the slow start? Is it a lack of cohesion, the adjustment to an entirely new starting five, a lack of talent, or something else?
Glenn Logan, A Sea of Blue: Mainly, Kentucky has suffered from defensive lapses against better teams. In their three losses, they have allowed both Duke and Notre Dame to be offensively efficient and shoot a high effective FG%. Against Baylor, they simply could not score, because they did not communicate and play solid basketball. Kentucky at the moment is a team that is still figuring out how to play the college game. Each team is different, and learns how to play at a different pace, and we’ve seen this at Kentucky for three years. Back in 2009-10, the Wildcats should have been 10-4 going into conference play instead of 14-0, and that team was pretty bad until midway through the conference season. But they won the SEC anyway, and by that time, they were very good. This team is a lot like that one, or like 2011, where Kentucky was 4-4 at one time in the SEC. Both 2010 and 2011’s teams made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament despite their early struggles.
RTC: Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Poythress have all gotten off to great starts in their college careers. Of these three, which freshman do you see having the greatest impact for the ‘Cats in 2012-13?
GL: I think overall, Nerlens Noel will have the most overall impact. That’s because he really brings it on the defensive end and is a very good passer out of the post. Goodwin and Poythress will be the primary scorers, but I think Noel will have the most overall impact on the Wildcats’ success.
RTC: Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays are UK’s most prolific shooters, but neither one is shooting better than 38 percent from three-point range. Is that a problem that will fix itself, or will Kentucky have to adjust to a game plan that is more interior-oriented when conference play rolls around?
GL: I think it’s a problem that will fix itself. There is nothing mechanically wrong with Wiltjer’s shot; he’s just not getting his feet set properly and is trying too many high degree-of-difficulty threes that are fine to take when you’re hot but are bad shots when you are struggling. Mays has one major flaw in his technique, which is that he often shoots off- balance, jumping toward the basket. Mays will do better when he starts jumping straight up instead of forward when he shoots the shot. The coaching staff will probably help him fix that.
RTC: Noel, Goodwin, and Poythress are projected lottery picks for the 2013 NBA Draft. Who can the Wildcats expect to see leave early once the 2012-2013 season comes to a close? Can Coach Calipari’s recruiting keep the ‘Cats in a reloading-but-not-rebuilding mode in 2013-14?
GL: I think the three you mentioned will probably be the only three that leave, and Poythress still has a ways to go before he’s anywhere near the lottery. Willie Cauley-Stein could develop enough to leave, too, because seven-footers are at such a premium in the NBA. Can Coach Cal keep reloading and not rebuilding? I think with Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, and Marcus Lee already signed for next year, you have the answer to that question. If Andrew Wiggins signs on also, which I actually expect to happen, you will have arguably the greatest freshman recruiting class in NCAA basketball history, eclipsing even the 2011 class that was a major part of the Wildcats’ eighth national title.
RTC: Did Baylor’s streak-busting upset of UK at home do anything to diminish the atmosphere at Rupp Arena? How have the Bluebloods reacted to this year’s slow start?
GL: I’d have to say no. It’s just the inevitable end to another of Kentucky’s many amazing streaks, and they all have to come to an end sometime. For the most part, expectations of this team are lower this year than last, and when you have recently grasped the brass ring, it’s easier to put up with disappointment than when you’re as hungry as UK fans were for a championship last year. Consequently, the reaction to the slow start has been mostly tolerant disappointment, with expectations of improvement.
RTC: Aside from Kentucky, who do you feel is the biggest threat to win the SEC? Which dark horse teams could you see posing an upset threat to the ‘Cats in 2013?
GL: Definitely Florida. I think they have proved themselves a top contender for the SEC, and any reasonable power ranking would put them at the top of the league right now. For dark horses, there is always Ole Miss, who has played very well early, Alabama if they can get healthy, and I think Arkansas is a dangerous team who could be a big-time spoiler this year. Missouri is also capable of winning the league, although I really don’t think they are as good as many people think.
RTC: I loved Kyle Wiltjer in his starring role as Sam Weir in Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks. Is this the year that he finally hits puberty?
GL: No idea. Wiltjer is one of those players that has a great deal of basketball skill, but few athletic skills. As such, he must find a way to compensate for his lack of athleticism by effort. When he does, he will achieve a measure of maturity. So far, I’d say he still has a lot of work to do. In Kentucky’s most recent game against Lipscomb, Wiltjer played his best defensive game of the year, had a double-double in points and rebounds, and made 7-of-9 three-point shots. That’s a hopeful sign, but Wiltjer needs to show that kind of effort, and success, against better players that Lipscomb could provide.
There’s work to be done in Lexington, but, as usual, the Wildcats have the talent to rise up to any challenges that the SEC can throw at them this season. Thanks to Glenn for taking the time to answer these questions. If you’re interested in hearing more of what he’s got to say about Kentucky basketball, be sure to visit A Sea of Blue and follow him on Twitter @ASeaofBlue.