3 Reasons why Kentucky basketball won’t keep up the high-scoring

Kentucky's Tre Mitchell, Reed Sheppard and Justin Edwards celebrated at the end of overtime as the Wildcats took on the St. Joseph's Hawks at Rupp Arena on Monday night. The Wildcats outlasted the Hawks in overtime, 96-88. Nov. 20, 2023.
Kentucky's Tre Mitchell, Reed Sheppard and Justin Edwards celebrated at the end of overtime as the Wildcats took on the St. Joseph's Hawks at Rupp Arena on Monday night. The Wildcats outlasted the Hawks in overtime, 96-88. Nov. 20, 2023. /

Through six games this season, Kentucky basketball is averaging 94.3 points per game. That’s the fourth-most in the country, behind Alabama, Arizona, and Eastern Kentucky.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but it’s not sustainable. While it’s clear there are some professional scorers on this year’s team, it’s clear the Wildcats are overperforming their potential.

1. Three-point percentage will dip

One of the main reasons UK has been able to score so many points is because they are shooting it at an unbelievable clip from outside. As a team, Kentucky is making 42.5% of their threes. As a quick aside, Colgate led the country in 3P% last year at 40.3%. If the Wildcats could keep up their rate, it would likely break the record.

I’m not saying the Wildcats don’t have capable three-point shooters. But that rate would be historically good. It’s also fourth in the nation, and even if the Wildcats stay fourth, the percentage will still dip. Better competition, including SEC play, will be a factor.

In the case of Antonio Reeves, he was a borderline 40% three-point shooter the past two seasons. So far, Reeves is hitting about 45% of his shots from deep. That’s about on line with the expectations, and not totally out of the ordinary. Tre Mitchell is a career 34.9% three-point shooter. He’s hitting about 38% of his attempts. Again, outperforming, but not too far off from the expectations.

However, not everyone is in the same boat. For example, freshman Reed Sheppard is 14-of-21 from deep to start his season. While Sheppard was in fact recruited to hit threes, 67% is sure to dip down to somewhere between 35-40%. Sheppard has started the season hot, but if he keeps that up for an entire season, Steph Curry better start taking lessons.

It’s no secret Kentucky basketball has a few flamethrowers from deep this year. But right now, just about all of them are scorching hot to start the season. I’m not saying the flame will be extinguished, but it will be kept under control.

2. SEC defenses will tighten up

Part of the reason Kentucky hoops has been able to average so many points is the competition they’ve been playing. In the last three games, they’ve dropped at least 100 twice, to Stonehill and Marshall. In between was a 96-point outing in an overtime win over St. Joe’s. While these teams aren’t Chicago State, they also aren’t Marquette. Whenever Power 6 talent takes on mid-major teams, points will come a bit easier.

This doesn’t mean Kentucky’s average will dramatically drop. Not every Power 6 team has been averaging close to 100 points in their non-conference slate. For example, Providence, a borderline top-25 team, is putting up about 75 points per game, almost 20 fewer than Kentucky. The Friars have also played three Power 6 teams, but in their three games against mid-majors, still never eclipsed the 80-point mark.

Still, Kentucky basketball did drop 84 in the loss to Kansas. I think it’s safe to say that the Wildcats have a supreme offense, but better competition will limit their ability to reach 90 points with ease. 75-85 points seem like a sweet spot in the SEC.

SEC defenses have also had their way with opponents. Mississippi State is holding opponents under 60 points per game. Tennessee is 27th in the country allowing just 61.5 PPG, which is incredible, considering they’ve already played Wisconsin, Syracuse, Purdue, and Kansas. South Carolina, Auburn, Ole Miss, Missouri, and LSU are also all holding teams to under 70 points on average.

Kentucky basketball is bound to test these great defenses, and maybe it goes without saying, but there will also be struggles. Expect more games below 80 points than above 90.

3. Freshman growing pains are sure to come

The freshman play has been outstanding so far this year, but they are bound to have their challenges.

The Kansas game was the most evident of this. DJ Wagner, who is averaging 14.5 PPG, is shooting 47% from the field outside of the game against KU. The Jayhawks forced Wagner into a 1-of-12 night.

Justin Edwards has struggled to get going to the level we thought he could be at but is still putting up 10.0 PPG on 46.8% shooting. However, against Kansas, Edwards was 0-for-6 with a single point.

Graduate senior Antonio Reeves also shot 7-for-25 against the Jayhawks.

With Kansas being Kentucky’s only Power 6 competition to this point, those numbers might tell the story of what’s to come in the SEC.

For Rob Dillingham and Sheppard, games that bad haven’t come yet. I’m sure Wildcats fans hope they never do. But life in the SEC isn’t easy and on a team with so many freshmen, cruising along like this is unheard of. The start has been incredible to watch, but don’t be surprised to see more growing pains than 100-point outbursts.