Kentucky basketball: 5 adjustments Calipari has to make before the Louisville game
It’s a place Kentucky hasn’t been since, oh, 1926. You know, before Adolph Rupp came to Lexington. Not under Billy Gillispie. Not under Eddie Sutton. Not any of the slow-starting Tubby teams. Not Rick Pitino’s first team with 6 scholarship players.
Don’t expect the rest of college basketball to line up to shed tears for John Calipari’s ‘Cats. They’ll just gladly take their chance to try to curb stomp this most mediocre of Kentucky teams. With SEC play 1 game away and the next game as the annual rivalry tilt, here are 5 adjustments Coach Cal has to make before UK/UofL next weekend.
1. Improve scoring
Easier said than done, but the common element for Kentucky in this 5-game losing streak is simple: points. In those 5 games: 64, 62, 62, 63 and 63 points scored. Frankly, there’s no magic answer for scoring this badly. Shooting 24% from 3-point range hasn’t helped. Neither has totaling 100 turnovers in 6 games. But given that this Kentucky team has some players who are wildly lacking in offensive skills, it might be easier to teach scorers to play defense than to try to teach athletes to shoot the basketball. To whatever end, Kentucky will start winning when it starts scoring.
2. Keep the bigs in the game
Olivier Sarr was a key to UK’s near-comeback win over Notre Dame. He followed it up by fouling a lot. In 19 minutes of time against North Carolina, Sarr fouled out without taking a shot from the floor, and totaling 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, and 3 turnovers — a nothing burger of a stat line.
If only he had been alone.
Sarr, Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware all fouled out against the Tar Heels. Their combined stat line? Try 55 minutes, 15 fouls, 9 points, 16 rebounds, 6 turnovers. Ware is constantly foul-prone and Jackson and Sarr played like they were having a contest over who could get the silliest foul. A particular specialty seems to be moving screens. Regardless, if the big guys aren’t on the floor, they can’t help.
3. Figure out the point guard situation
Freshman Devin Askew had been miserable and found his minutes significantly cut. The new plan was for Terrence Clarke to be the point guard. Clarke basically spent the entire North Carolina game drawing Calipari’s ire, shooting 3-for-11, finishing with 0 assists to 3 turnovers and looking frequently disinterested in defense. He also fouled out. Meanwhile, Askew played better than he had since the season-opener, finishing with 12 points and 3 assists to 2 turnovers. Davion Mintz has helped some, but he’s not a point guard. His 17 assists to 11 turnovers are by far the best on the team, but Mintz is also responsible for 8 of Kentucky’s 25 3s. Clarke might not be a point guard either. Somebody has to facilitate some offense.
4. Hit the defensive boards
Kentucky’s solid first half against Carolina was overcome largely because the ‘Cats got lax on the backboard. Yes, UK held UNC to 36% shooting in the second half, but they allowed 10 offensive rebounds during that span. During UNC’s run to take the lead, UK managed to give up offensive rebounds off consecutive missed free throws. With a team that struggles to score and struggles to keep big guys on the floor, Kentucky has to learn to box out, to outfight opponents on the glass, and to greatly reduce second and third shots by the opposition.
5. Regain the locker room
Kentucky had one player in visible tears on the bench and another who was rumored to have left the bench before the game ended. Without naming names, it’s clear that Calipari is on the verge of losing any meaningful connection with his team.
Frustration with this season is only human. In some ways, it would be more welcome to see the entire team in tears than to see them stumble through another 60-point game with nearly 20 turnovers. But the team concept isn’t going to be improved with emotional outbursts from the players.