Kentucky basketball: 2017-18 Final reactions – Reaction No. 2

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Makol Mawien
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Makol Mawien /

Rather than “Rushed Reactions”, this week I will unveil my final reactions from Kentucky basketball’s 2017-18 season. Here is Part 2 of my Final Reactions.

This Kentucky basketball team experienced ups and downs, highs and lows, and drove BBN crazy at times. For the youngest team in college basketball this season, there was plenty to like from this squad. But ultimately not making the Elite 8, and some head-scratching losses, there was plenty to dislike from this squad too. Here is Part 2 of my Final Reactions:

Ball-screen defense

I have written quite often about this, but Calipari’s UK teams are horrendous at guarding the ball-screen. Whether it is a pick-and-roll, a pick-and-pop, or a slip on the pick, UK is terrible at defending ball-screens.

This season, opponents continuously put Nick Richards in ball-screen situations when he was in the game. Richards couldn’t hedge, he couldn’t contain, and he couldn’t switch. When UK would switch ball-screens, opponents looked to take advantage of mis-matches. The primary weakness in Kentucky’s ball-screen defense was Nick Richards and his lack of defensive versatility.

Rarely did Calipari ever trap on ball-screens, which is what I was hoping he would do occassionally. At Duke, Coach K switched to using the 2-3 zone exclusively because his team couldn’t defend ball-screens. BBN saw Calipari utilize zone defense throughout the season, but not to the extent of Duke.

This Kentucky basketball team seemed built for a lengthy zone defense, but Calipari is a man-to-man coach. Plus, Coach Cal repeatedly and publicly argues that using zone defense does not prepare his players for the NBA game. Ultimately for the Cats, Kansas St. had a great deal of success using ball-screens and knocked UK out of the NCAA Tournament.

It’s completely possible that UK teams under Calipari have always struggled this bad in ball-screen situations. But unlike years past, this Kentucky basketball team did not have a “rim protector” to alleviate this problems.

If ball-screen defense broke down in other seasons, players like Anthony Davis, Willie Cauley-Stein and Bam Adebayo protected the rim. Calipari did not have such luxury this year, and opponents scored too easily in ball-screen situations. Kentucky needed to defend these situations better, plain and simple. There are several teams and coaches across the nation that have terrific ball-screen defenses. Why doesn’t Calipari follow suit?

Moving forward, one of Calipari’s assistant coaches needs to take the lead in ball-screen defense. I was surprised to see how little improvement UK showed throughout the year with this. Kentucky’s defense as a whole improved, especially in defending the 3-point shot.

In pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations though, UK continued to get abused. Calipari teams have “gotten away” with poor defending in the past because they’ve had great shot blockers. Coach Cal’s defense was completely exposed this season when he didn’t have an NBA-level shot-blocker protecting the paint.