Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Towns Feasting at Willie’s Expense?


Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Although Calipari insisted the “Platoon” system was implemented so that all 10 of Kentucky’s main players would have the opportunity to showcase their skills, it was apparent early on that a few of those 10 would shine above the others, regardless of how many minutes they were playing. And this was certainly true for Willie Cauley-Stein; in 13 non-conference games he averaged 10.1 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game, in addition to being an all-around lockdown defender capable of guarding all 5 positions. His performance was such that WCS was included in many “Player of the Year” discussions heading into conference play. Much of the offense seemed to flow through WCS; he averaged 6.8 field goal attempts per game in non-conference play, almost a 1 additional field goal attempt more per game than Karl-Anthony Towns, with whom WCS partnered in the front court.

In contrast, through those same number of games, here’s how WCS points, rebounds,and field goal attempts compared with Kentucky’s other big men:

PlayerPPGRPGFGA Per Game
Willie Cauley-Stein10.15.96.8
Karl-Anthony Towns8.26.85.9
Dakari Johnson8.36.14.5
Marcus Lee3.23.52.5

As is often noted during Kentucky basketball games, WCS is not a typical “back to the basket” post player. And, as such, most of his points came as a result of putbacks, lobs, and open court field goals. The net result of having the offense flow throw WCS is that, in non-conference play,the ‘Cats averaged 75.3 points per game.

Since conference play began, however, (and especially the last few games) there appears to be a change in the flow of the offense. No longer does it appear to go through WCS; instead, there is more of an effort by UK’s guards to get the ball inside to KAT. And, while KAT is capable of hitting a mid-range jumper or stepping out behind the arc, under Calipari, his game is within a 5-foot radius from the basket. Through 9 conference games, KAT is averaging 8.9 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, and 5.8 field goal attempts per game. However, over the last 3 games, those numbers have jumped to 11.3 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 7.7 field goal attempts per game. In contrast, again, here is how UK’s other big men have fared since conference play began (last 3 games in parentheses):

PlayerPPGRPGFGA Per Game
Willie Cauley-Stein6.8 (6.7)6.0 (4.0)4.4 (2.7)
Karl-Anthony Towns8.9 (11.3)5.2 (5.3)5.8 (7.7)
Dakari Johnson7.2 (5.7)4.8 (3.0)5.1 (3.3)
Marcus Lee2.6 (3.7)2.7 (2.0)1.7 (2.0)

And, now that there appears to be a focus on pounding the ball down low to KAT (and even Dakari when he’s on the court), the effect has, I believe, led to the decrease in UK’s overall points per game. Through conference play, the ‘Cats are averaging 71.8 points per game and just 69.3 points per game over their last 3 games.

Certainly, this may seem like nitpicking. After all, Kentucky is 22-0, ranked number 1, and is playing pretty good basketball right now. But, it’s also something to watch over the next month. Calipari hasn’t been shy about wanting KAT to be considered the best big man in the country by season’s end. But, in attempting to do so, is Cal making the ‘Cats oh so slightly vulnerable? And, for someone who seemingly needs to get into the offensive flow early in order to build and maintain his confidence, how might an emphasis on getting the ball to KAT down low affect WCS?

Of course, this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Both KAT and WCS can eat, so to speak. But will they?