Kentucky basketball sits in a very uncertain position heading into the final 10 days of January. This uncertainty isn’t darkness, just fog. It isn’t a crisis, merely a period in which clear and confident knowledge about this team’s identity is hard to come by.
By Matt Zemek
Kentucky would have been facing a true crisis had it lost at Arkansas this past Saturday. Then we could have brought out the ambulance sirens and the emergency medical equipment, but given the way the Wildcats responded to John Calipari’s ejection in a tough building, it can be argued that they have saved their season and prevented this journey from going down the wrong path.
Ultimately, though, we don’t know where this road will lead. Kentucky does need to exhibit better characteristics, starting with Tuesday’s home game against Georgia, a rematch of a visit to Athens earlier in the season.
1 – Protect the ball
Kentucky has been very sloppy with the ball the past week. The good news is that Ashton Hagans displayed a much more reliable floor game against Arkansas this past Saturday, committing only one turnover. The bad news is that the Kentucky frontcourt committed nine turnovers. It’s one thing for the backcourt to commit turnovers, given the amount of responsibility it has with the ball. When frontcourt players commit a lot of turnovers in a game, that’s an alarming development. It either means that the guards are feeding the bigs or wings the ball in positions on the floor where the bigs have little room to maneuver, or it means that the spacing in the halfcourt offense is poor (and probably a little of both).
It’s not as though backcourt turnovers are better than frontcourt turnovers, but frontcourt players shouldn’t be putting the ball on the floor very often, and if they do, they have to know they are working in a one-on-one situation without defensive help. If bigs aren’t seeing defensive help come in for the attempted steal, that’s a basic problem in recognizing one’s surroundings. John Calipari has to address that. Kentucky gave up 16 turnovers to Arkansas and gave up a large bunch to South Carolina as well. This has to stop if UK is going to get its season fully on track.
2 – Make it Anthony Edwards against everyone
Kentucky did this well when it won in Athens a few weeks ago. Anthony Edwards scored 23, but no other Bulldog scored more than 10. Good luck, Georgia, if that scenario repeats itself on Tuesday. Georgia just lost by more than 30 points to Mississippi State, and MSU isn’t that good a team this season. As long as Kentucky makes Edwards earn every basket, and the Wildcats contain every other UGA player, this game should not be too much of a problem.
3 – Nick Richards, all the time
Nick Richards was Kentucky’s best player late against Arkansas. His rebounding and toughness have rescued Kentucky on multiple occasions this season. How he defends the rim and cleans the backboard are his foremost strengths. As long as his muscular, big-boy game alters shots and wins more possessions for Kentucky, any accompanying reductions in turnovers or free throws allowed to the opposition should give UK a reliable formula for victory in this game and the rest of the season.