How can Kentucky Wildcats basketball improve for a tournament run?

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Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats basketball team got over the whole “can’t beat a ranked team” stigma when they beat Louisville 73-66. Now with no games in the past ten games, Kentucky fans are nervously waiting to see which version of the Wildcats will show up at Rupp Arena. Seth Greenburg over at ESPN listed his top ten title contenders and gave them ways to improve.

 

8. Kentucky Wildcats

There is no denying individually the Kentucky freshman class is talented. Julius Randle is as impressive a first-year player as there is in the country. Willie Cauley-Stein has developed into an elite rim protector and the Kentucky defensive fundamentals have improved.

Areas of improvement: Team chemistry and shot selection

Kentucky cannot improve their overall team experience, but by season’s end, their actual time together will be significant. The challenge for the young squad is to understand the day-to-day grind of college basketball. If you don’t work with a purpose every day, that is a day lost. Getting where you need to be by March is a process.

Though their defense has improved, Kentucky still needs to defend the ball better at the point of attack. John Calipari giving Dominique Hawkins more playing time will help in this area, as he’s a very good on-ball defender. This group needs to play with more of a sense of urgency. As a team, they need to treat every possession as a separate entity, with the goal of making each play the best play.

Kentucky shoots only 31.7 percent from the 3-point range, good for 249th in the country. The reason is not that the Wildcats lack shooters, it’s their shot selection. At times they settle, chase shots and do not get attempts in the flow. If they run their offense with better pace, cut harder and establish Randle early, that number will improve significantly.

 

It’s interesting to note who Greenburg lists as a top 10 contender as well. The list was published on January 3, but both Duke and Kansas are listed, which shows what kind of season this will be. And for the Louisville fans that for some reason come here everyday, not the Dirty Birds were not listed.

 

Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Most players would consider a trade to the Toronto Raptors as going to the NBA’s version of Siberia. But not Patrick Patterson. It seems that Patterson is thriving after his trade to the great white North and is starting to take off, Eh?

 

Whatever was going wrong for Patrick Patterson this season in Sacramento hasn’t been bothering him in Toronto.

The fourth-year forward has been playing some of the best basketball of his career in the 11 games since he was moved to the Raptors in the Rudy Gay deal.

Patterson’s shooting is way up. He’s hit 50% of his three-point attempts vs. 23.1% as a King and nearly 10% more of his overall attempts and has also picked up his game defensively.

Most importantly, Toronto has gone 8-3 with Patterson in the lineup.

 

Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Louisville game, I wrote an article stating that Alex Poythress needs to become a catalyst for Kentucky.  And his play against Louisville was a huge reason why UK won the game.  I have to admit I am becoming a HUGE fan of Poythress because he seems to really get it and knows it’s not all about putting points on the board.  John Calipari has definitely noticed and given him credit.  And you should too.

 

Recently, though, Calipari has noted time after time that Poythress is playing the best he has since has been at UK even though he’s not had a big scoring game.

“It just shows that you don’t always have to score to be playing good. You can do other things. You can rebound, you can defend. You can just do simple things, leadership out there, just directing traffic, directing people where to go and just doing little things like that,” Poythress said. “I feel like I’m getting a pretty good eye on what he wants.”

Poythress says he takes pride now along with freshman Dominique Hawkins to come into the game and provide energy for the team — and even the fans.

“Me and Dom, if we’re not going to start then we might as well come off the bench and bring off energy. If we’re going to play good, then play good while you’re out there so we can stay in. We just try to make the most of our opportunities,” the sophomore said. “We’re just playing as a team. We’re meshing together. We know how to play off each other more and more.”

Calipari says Poythress has been “unbelievable” in practice.

“He is in great shape. He is not winded twice up and down the court. He doesn’t have to think about how to take a minute off,” the UK coach said. “He is just playing. Now I need him to be more active offensively. If he’s open, make a shot. He can dribble left or right into the lane and shoot a jump  hook. But he is defending better. He is rebounding better.”

 

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