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Kentucky Basketball: Post-Thanksgiving Review Of The Connecticut Game

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I hope everyone had a joyous Thanksgiving, and apologize for not putting something up yesterday.  Unfortunately, cicrumstances conspired against me.  Nonetheless, I would like to wish a belated “Happy Thanksgiving” to all and sundry, and I hope it was a wonderful time for all our fantastic readers.

Between the time difference and the boundless energy of my bride, I was unable to find the time to post yesterday.  But I am now comfortably settled in to our digs for the next few days, and before heading out heading out on our next financial misadventure, I thought I’d post a few thoughts about the Kentucky game against the Connecticut Huskies.

I asked Ken to write the postmortem because I had to get up at 4 AM to catch a plane, and as usual Ken did a bang-up job, and has already said most of what needed to be said.  The focus of this commentary will be more about the future, and less about what happened in Maui.  In addition, I am not going to talk much about individual players, but more about the team.

The Kentucky Wildcats clearly did not bring the same energy on defense to the UConn game as they did to the game versus Washington.  That really isn’t that surprising, considering the rigors of the Maui tournament and the relative youth of this team.  With that said, Coach John Calipari’s comments after the game were focused on the one overriding problem the Wildcats suffered on Wednesday — selfishness.

When you hear someone use the word “selfish” toward a basketball team, you often think of it as meaning an attempt by a player or players to dominate the game in order to enhance his or her own reputation.  I am 100% positive that is not what Coach Cal was talking about in this case.

In the UConn game, selfishness came in the form of a failure to communicate with each other.  It was transparently obvious to me that Kentucky’s players did not share information with each other defensively, and offensively, they tried to implement the Drible Drive Motion in a manner that violates one of its most basic tenets — the necessity to kick the ball out to open shooters when your path to the basket is impeded.

Brandon Knight in particular has a lot to learn on this point, but so does DeAndre Liggins.  Part of the blame for this problem has do go on Coach Calipari.  The reason is that Calipari’s first teaching priority vis-a-vis the DDM is to finish at the rim through contact.  Both Knight and Liggins have taken this teaching to be a primary one, but it is actually co-equal to the others.  You don’t want to try to finish through contact to the point of ignoring your teammates, and that’s exactly what happened with Knight and Liggins, not just last night, but for the Oklahoma Sooners game as well.

The problem can best be described as a difficulty with decision-making –  when you begn a DDM attack on the rim, you must make a decision about 8 feet from the basket wheter to continue the drive and draw contact, or kick out to the open 3-point shooter, or just restart the offense.  From there, if the shooter has a clean look, he puts up the shot, or reverses the ball to the weak side for an open look, a headfake and one or two bounce midrange shot, or restarts the DDM.  Kentucky had an additional problem in that our perimeter players were often out of position, which made it easier for drivers to choose the finish over the pass.

Coach Cal must now show his charges how to make the proper decisions, and players without the ball where to go, wash, rinse, and repeat ad nauseum.  The ‘Cats did better in the second half, but the truth of the matter is, that performance was less a superlative by UK than it might seem.  Much of it was due to dynamite play from a hot Terrence Jones, and less to a vastly improved team effort, although the team effort was noticeably better.  The real improvement must come over the next few days in practice.

The other thing that was lacking was maturity on defense, but quite honestly, that is something that UK can only get to through time and experience, as well as repetition and effort.  We can expect the defense to be inadequate for a while yet, and it does no good, really, to bemoan anything but a lack of effort.  UK did not lack effort on Wednesday, they lacked technique, and you need good technique to successfully defend a hot team like UConn.  That will come with time.

I was impressed by the comeback the Wildcats made, although I never believed it would succeed.  With a more experienced team, I would have been seriously emboldened, but young guys can only sustain focus for so long at such an early time in their college career.  It takes practice and experience to sustain a comeback like that, something Kentucky is woefully short on this year.

In the end, this provides a “teachable moment” to the Wildcats, which I expect Coach Cal to use to its fullest advantage.  A loss is a loss, but you have to try to make the most of them and hope you don’t have to do it too often.  I am not a believer in the “good loss” theory, so you’ll forgive me if I reject that outright.  A loss is always bad, period.  Don’t bother to argue, because this is my story and I’m sticking to it.  Save it for those who are persuadable.

One quick final point:  A look a the Four Factors of this game:

 It doesn’t take an expert in statistics to see where UK went wrong here.  An eFG% difference of 20 percentage points is the only important statistic in this group. Even the turnovers, which were over average at almost 18%, were comparatively irrelevant (compare that to last year’s team’s frequent 20+ turnover% games).  Kentucky only narrowly lost the OR% stat, which continues to be a bright spot for this team.

I’ll have more from Sin City later, as we prepare to take on the Volunteers of Tennessee in a bid to break the longest losing streak in college football tomorrow.


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