Kentucky Thoughts – Last Week of Regular Season

Right now the Wildcats are firing on all cylinders under John Calipari – most notably led by the success from Cason Wallace and Oscar Tshiebwe. After struggling to figure out roles and defensive scheme, UK has seemingly turned their season around and looks like one of the most dangerous teams in the country at the right time.

Coming down to the last two games of the regular season some things I’m looking out for in terms of continuity and improvement are:

  • Containing the shooting and offensive-minded Vanderbilt team this upcoming Wednesday
  • Staying in front of the athletic backcourt in Arkansas – which Kentucky struggled with in the previous matchup
  • Integrating Fredrick back into the lineup at around 12 minutes per game but keep playing Thiero on the wing

I’m really intrigued by these next two games just because recently Kentucky has been playing defensive-minded teams that struggle to score, and now coming up against Vanderbilt and Arkansas, UK has to remain focused on defense and stay in front of their man and navigate screens efficiently.

In terms of the Kentucky team, I think it is vital that they rarely post Oscar in back to the basket situations unless it is a clear mismatch. The team has found success having Oscar in face-up situations as he can hit that mid-range jumper with ease and can see any doubles coming early on. Additionally, even with the success we are seeing from Livingston and Reeves, it is imperative that Fredrick gets quality minutes (12 minutes/game) going forward as it gives guys a rest and can space the floor and give driving opportunities to Wallace.

Moving away from the drop coverage when defending ball screens has also been huge. It has improved the advanced metrics for the Kentucky defense and you can see a clear increase in energy on the defensive end. It will be very interesting to see how this tweak looks against Vandy and Arkansas.

Even if Kentucky loses to Arkansas, as long as it’s a close game and the team shows fight, I can live with it. At this point in the season it’s about working through any real kinks in the schemes and guys buying into the “refuse to lose” mentality that Cal has instilled.

But the real key for this team is staying focused even when shots aren’t falling. I firmly believe that if they all continue to play within the flow of the offense and limit their defensive lapses, then Kentucky could make a serious run in March. Depending on how they finish, we will most likely see the team as a 4-7 seed, but at this point there won’t be a matchup that is devastating as a UK fan.

Go Big Blue!


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