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Lowering expectations for the Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky Wildcats basketball

It seems like this happens every season. A Kentucky team filled with young talent normally finds a way to get it together midseason. The No. 2 recruiting class in the country has been struggling as of late.

They struggle to score outside of the paint and outside of second-chance opportunities. What’s even worse is it seems like this team just lacks toughness when the game is on the line. This Kentucky team hasn’t taken a step to being a title contender, and with the SEC being a strong basketball conference this season, who knows if they ever will.

Recent

The last two games, the Kentucky Wildcats have blown a second-half lead. They have lost to both South Carolina and Florida in those games. They blew a 10-point second half lead to South Carolina and let the Gators go on an 11-2 run to lose by two.

The Wildcats struggle to make plays because they have no clear leader. In past years, they have had at least one upperclassman around to lead a young recruiting class. This season, the Cats have 14 players on their roster, eight of them are freshmen and four are sophomores. Wenyen Gabriel is the most experience Wildcat on the team. He played nearly 18 minutes a game last season and now plays significant minutes again. He is used to SEC conference play and has more experience than others on the team who played less minutes last season.

Kentucky is 0-2 against the top 25 and are 2-3 in their last five games. They have lost five games this season to Tennessee, UCLA, Kansas, Florida and South Carolina and struggle in the clutch because they don’t have any defined playmakers.

Losing to South Carolina seemed to be one of the tougher losses for a struggling Kentucky team, especially since South Carolina struggles on the offensive end.

The biggest strengths of Kentucky is their length and their big men. They dominate the glass and the paint. However, Chris Silva had 27 points and eight rebounds in the Gamecocks’ win. He controlled the game and the paint. He especially controlled the paint in the waning minutes of the game, when the Wildcats began to falter.

The offensive struggles

Kentucky Wildcats basketball
Quade Green, Kentucky guard (Photo from USA Today)

In the five games that Kentucky has lost this season, they are 3-for-13, 6-for-21, 7-for-19, 1-for-11 and 4-for-17 from three. In total, that is 21-81, which is 26 percent.

The two most capable offensive weapons on the Kentucky Wildcats are Kevin Knox and P.J. Washington. Washington has been quoted by John Calipari as, “The toughest kid on our team,” and both have shown flashes of being the go-to guy.

With no clear go-to guy, the Wildcats struggle to close games. In years past, they have always had a guy who steps up and takes the shots when the game gets tough. Last season, they had Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Prior to that, they have had Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Brandon Knight among others.

As of right now, the Wildcats haven’t established that person yet. They are still in search of a leader and someone to take the important shots.

Figuring it out

The talent is there with this team. There is no doubt they are similar to previous Kentucky teams. Any team coached by Calipari has a good chance of getting a clear identity.

The sky shouldn’t be falling yet, but there is cause for concern. Kentucky as of right now isn’t a skilled enough team from the perimeter or in the clutch to run deep into March.

What they can do

Kentucky is now unranked for the first time since 2014. Two out of their next three games are at home against some of the bottom of the SEC. One thing they need to do moving forward is to find an identity before it’s too late for them.

Every season, Kentucky finds a way to take young talent and turn it into National Championship contenders. This season, Calipari is going to take the underdog mentality and have the whole Wildcats team rally behind it.

Don’t write the Cats off yet, but they still have a long way to go before March comes around.

 

Featured image by Chet White of UK Athletics

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