Ryan Harrow is a Necessary Piece for Kentucky to Reach Its Potential This SeasonPosted by DPerry on November 22nd, 2012
Doug Perry is an RTC correspondent and SEC microsite writer. He filed this report from Wednesday night’s Kentucky-Morehead State game in Lexington.
After Kentucky’s closer than expected 81-70 win over Morehead State, members of the press wasted no time in addressing the elephant in the room: Ryan Harrow. The transfer point guard hasn’t seen the court this season, and after this week’s encouraging news that he was working out again, it was announced that the Georgia native would miss the next two games while tending to family issues. John Calipari indicated that Harrow’s mother is concerned about her son, and wants to make sure that he’s OK. “If I knew more,” Calipari told reporters, “I would keep it from you.”
The situation surrounding Harrow is mysterious, but the impact isn’t difficult to identify. Against the Eagles Wednesday night, the Wildcats’ offense once again looked out of sorts, appearing stagnant in its sets and committing 13 turnovers to only 11 assists. Though makeshift point guard Archie Goodwin was Kentucky’s best player against Morehead State, vision and playmaking aren’t strengths for the natural shooting guard. Eagles coach Sean Woods recognized the Wildcats weakness at the one. “(Calipari) gave Goodwin opportunities where he doesn’t have to think, and he did well,” Woods said, referring to the frosh’s opportunities to drive the lane. “But when he’s forced to make a play, he struggled.”
Kentucky’s inability to create space means that their only offense comes from players who can beat their defenders one-on-one. Goodwin and fellow freshman Alex Poythress (20 points) excel in this aspect of the game, but the rest of the team lags behind. Kyle Wiltjer is a stretch forward who needs the ball delivered in specific areas. Julius Mays is a more energetic offensive player, but he’s more comfortable with open jump shots. Big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein lack polish, getting their points on a steady diet of put-backs and broken plays.
The Wildcats’ sluggishness played right into Morehead State’s game plan, at least in the first half. The Eagles aren’t afraid to initiate contact (only 17 teams in the nation commit fouls on a higher percentage of possessions), and Kentucky’s poor ball movement made it impossible to avoid. The officials called a very loose game through the first 20 minutes, leaving the home team visibly frustrated. “They came after us early,” Calipari admitted, “and we couldn’t handle it.” Some touch fouls in the opening minutes of thesecond half indicated that the officials had made a halftime adjustment, and Morehead State couldn’t recover. Kentucky shot 27 free throws after the break, the Eagles descended into crippling foul trouble, and the defending national champion was able to pull away.
Relying on referees to call a tight game certainly isn’t an effective game plan moving forward. This particular Calipari-led Kentucky team requires a steady point guard even more than his others, and though we didn’t see him live up to expectations at NC State, Ryan Harrow appears to be the only one on the roster with the potential to fill that role. He doesn’t have to be John Wall or Marquis Teague (and he won’t be), but if he can perform as a reliable ball-handler, his younger, more talented teammates will be able to play their natural games.