Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: What to Look for Before the Louisville Showdown

This article was originally published on December 11, 2012. As far as it’s accuracy, I can say that the improvement of Harrow, Wiltjer shooting out of his slump and the continued maturation of Nerlens Noel  have been exhibited. Poythress still disappears at times, Goodwin’s transition has improved his play, but I think this team still lacks a killer instinct. Regardless, this is what I think needs to happen in order for the Cats to win. 

Do you feel as if these issues have been addressed satisfactory enough to defeat Louisville?

The Kentucky Wildcats have only two games left before the highly anticipated (and extremely nerve racking) game against Louisville at the Yum! Center. The Wildcats should be 8-3 heading into that contest against a top five opponent, depending whether or not Louisville loses to either #12 Memphis, FIU or Western Kentucky before they face the Cats.

There are a couple things that I would personally like to see from this team before that game. Let’s take a look at what to look for pre-Louisville:

The Continued Improvement of Ryan Harrow- This is the number one thing to watch for on my list. Harrow has to continue his upward trend of play. He had by far his best game of the season against Portland on Saturday afternoon. He scored 8 points, had four rebounds, six assists and only one turnover. That’s a giant leap from four previous games where he had only two points in each contest. Louisville has one of the best guard tandems in the country with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Archie Goodwin will be as hard to handle for Smith, but Harrow needs to prove that he can go toe to toe with Siva.

Kyle Wiltjer Breaking out of his Slump- Wiltjer was only 1-3 from the three against Portland and 4-25 in his last four games. Ouch. Wiltjer isn’t much use to Kentucky if he isn’t nailing his threes. Part of what makes him dangerous is that his shooting ability as a big man stretches the floor and makes a bigger player come out and guard him. This frees up space down low for Poythress and Noel to work. If Wiltjer isn’t hitting, then he is nothing more than a defensive and rebounding liability.

The Growing Leadership of Nerlens Noel- Noel is averaging 11.1 points, 9 rebounds, 3.6 blocks, 2.7 steals and 3.5 floor burns per game for the Cats. His energy is the one sure thing that this team can count on right now. He leads with his actions, now it’s time for him to lead with his voice, much like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did last year. The biggest myth is that there needs to be a senior leader on the team. Calipari’s past Kentucky teams and his teams at Memphis prove that to be wrong.

Alex Poythress Needs to go into Beast Mode- Alex Poythress is Kentucky’s best player in my opinion. When he turns it on, he can’t be stopped. He is a monster down low and he is 5-9 from the three, so he can go long range as well. The problem with Poythress is that he doesn’t do it all the time. He takes plays off. That needs to stop. He looked much better against Portland as he added 6 rebounds and two blocks to his 15 points. Camp Cal seems to be working for him. I know for a fact that if he comes with his “A” game, he will be too much for a smaller Chane Behanan to handle.

Archie Goodwin needs to be Archie Goodwin, minus the Turnovers- The team’s leading scorer is also leading the team in turnovers. Goodwin can’t be stopped when he goes to the basket, but he needs to improve on deciding what to do with the ball once he gets there. Archie is easing back into his natural position at shooting guard, so he has the ball in his hands less than when he was running point. Now he has one thing on his mind: score. This is a good thing, as I don’t think Louisville has a player big enough or strong enough at the guard position to stop him. Russ Smith included. If Archie can make smart decisions near the basket, like kicking the ball out to an open man on the perimeter instead of forcing a bad shot, then that adds another facet to his already amazing game.

This Team Needs a Killer Instinct- I love this team as much as coach Cal does. But damn it, they aren’t mean enough. I want Noel to get a rebound and be nasty about it. I want Poythress to yell in someone’s face after he dunks on them. I want Archie Goodwin to flex after he posterizes someone. They don’t need to showboat every play, but they need to show some emotion and some nastiness. Terrence Jones, John Wall, Boogie, MKG, all of them had an edge to their game.


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