At the end of a restless Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena, Kentucky players experienced something no other team in John Calipari's tenure has: A home loss.
Baylor avenged its Elite Eight loss from last March and snapped the nation's longest home win streak at 55 with an impressive 64-55 victory. The last time the Wildcats lost at home before Saturday was Billy Gillispie's final regular season game at Rupp Arena, a 90-85 setback against Georgia on March 4, 2009.
Even though Kentucky wasn't expected to be dominant this season after losing its top six scorers from last year's national title team, the way the Wildcats have started the season still has been a disappointment. They've lost more games already than they did all of last season, getting outclassed by Duke in Atlanta, humbled by Notre Dame in South Bend and now upset by Baylor in Lexington.
There's ample time for Kentucky to turn things around and a soft portion of the schedule ahead in which to make adjustments, but the Wildcats do have glaring flaws to correct before their next big test against Louisville on Dec. 29. Here's a look at Kentucky's biggest problems so far and what can be done to correct them:
1. Point guard play
NC State transfer Ryan Harrow isn't as talented as his predecessors in John Calipari's recent run of NBA-caliber point guards, but he was expected to do a credible job handling the position. Instead Harrow has struggled, taking two weeks off due to what the school has called an illness and a personal matter with his family and looking lost at times since returning.
Either unable or unwilling to trust Harrow, Kentucky coach John Calipari has played him sparingly off the bench and inserted shooting guard Archie Goodwin at point guard, billing him as a Tyreke Evans-type player. That transition has not been easy for Goodwin, who was more aggressive against Baylor than he was against Notre Dame but still is not a distributor capable of consistently setting up teammates for open looks.
What Kentucky has to do now is decide whether it's better off grooming Goodwin to play out of position or living and dying with Harrow as its point guard. Harrow had two points on 1 of 9 shooting on Saturday, but his aggression going to the rim was encouraging even if he couldn't finish over Baylor's tall front line. Goodwin got into the lane consistently and scored a team-high 17 points, but he is still ill-suited to the role of getting others involved.
2. Low-post scoring:
Willie Cauley-SteinNerlens Noel is a formidable shot blocker and a high-energy rebounder who consistently competes hard on the glass and for loose balls. Willie Cauley-Stein is a promising but still developing 7-footer who can be a presence defensively and on the boards. The one thing neither of them are at this point, however, are polished high-post or back-to-the-basket scorers.
Not having that element of the offense hurt Kentucky as it tried to attack Baylor's zone, just as it did against Notre Dame two nights earlier. While Noel grabbed 16 rebounds, tallied seven steals and dominated the offensive glass, he went just 3 of 14 from the floor and struggled with Baylor's length inside. And Cauley-Stein wasn't a factor in the game as a result of foul trouble, playing just 13 minutes.
There's time for both players to develop go-to moves in the post and incorporate them into their repertoire, something that would add another dimension to a Kentucky offense that relies heavily on dribble penetration right now. Perhaps upcoming games against Samford, Portland and Lipscomb will be the ideal opportunity for the two big men to gain some confidence.
3. Kyle Wiltjer's shooting:
Three-point shooting hadn't been a weakness for Kentucky prior to Saturday, but it killed the Wildcats against Baylor. They shot 4 of 22 from behind the arc against Baylor's soft 3-2 zone, an ugly shooting game highlighted by Kyle Wiltjer's anemic 1 of 9 and Julius Mays' not-much-better 2 of 8.
It's imperative Wiltjer in particular finds his shooting stroke both because the sophomore doesn't defend well enough on the perimeter to justify keeping him in the game if he isn't sinking jump shots. Since sinking 7 of 11 3-pointers in a win over Lafayette, Wiltjer is just 3 of 22 from behind the arc in Kentucky's last four games.
Of Wiltjer's misses on Saturday, Calipari was particularly irked by an errant step-back 3-pointer late in the second half as Kentucky was trying to launch a comeback and needed to exercise greater patience. Deadpanned a sarcastic Calipari, "But he was on fire."
4. A lack of leadership:
What made last year's Kentucky team special wasn't just the talent of freshmen Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It was also the veteran presence of senior leader Darius Miller and returning sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
Since Wiltjer is the only Kentucky returner this season who even scored a point during the NCAA tournament last season, this year's freshmen and newcomers don't have a veteran to turn to — and it shows. The Wildcats were criticized for their effort against Notre Dame once the Irish lead ballooned to double figures. They played harder against Baylor, but they didn't always make the smart plays down the stretch.
Asked about the differences between last year's team and this year's after Saturday's game, Cauley-Stein had a candid quote. "We came in here thinking we were that team," the Kentucky freshman told reporters. "And we're not that team."