Kentucky Blog - College

  • Planning on being at Commonwealth Stadium during the 2015 season?

    Kentucky released preliminary seating information for that year on Tuesday.

    A few quick highlights:

    -- Season tickets will be $320 throughout the stadium.
    -- A new online seat selection process that will allow every fan to choose the seats that best fit his/her needs will begin in fall 2014.
    -- This new seat selection process will be based on K Fund priority ranking as of June 30, 2014.
    --New suites are available now at a cost of $60,000 per season with a $15,000 capital gift due when reservations are made.
    -- Available existing end zone suites cost $50,000 per season with a capital gift of $10,000 due when reservations are made.

    For full details, head here.
    For premium seating options, head here

  • Mon Feb 03 12:34am EST

    On the CalZone

    John Calipari must have listened to you all. The die-hard man-to-man coach employed some zone defense against Missouri.

    But how did it do? Well, I went back through the film and charted them.

    In 10 possessions using zone defense, Kentucky allowed seven points. That's a great bottom-line number.

    It's also way too small of a sample to draw definitive conclusions, but digging deeper, the returns are promising. In those 10 possessions, Missouri attempted four 3-pointers, three mid-range jumpers, one lob dunk and turned the ball over twice. The zone "stymied" the Tigers in the first half, Frank Haith said.

    One out of 10 trips down the floor ended with a shot at the rim? That's a really positive result, especially given how much UK has struggled with keeping good guards in front of them.

    "This is a long team, a big team," Calipari said. "It’s a good zone team if they’ll scramble. But you’ve also got to rebound."

    That was one of the problems: Kentucky allowed one offensive rebound off seven misses, and Missouri came very, very close to hauling down an offensive board on three others. This is the play in which UK gave up that offensive rebound, and beyond that, you can see breakdowns: Aaron Harrison rotated too far into the center of the floor, allowing a shooter to get behind him and forcing Julius Randle up. Alex Poythress had his man boxed out but ultimately lost position.

    That out-of-position defense is something that would clearly be an issue if Calipari used more zone going forward. Check out this sequence, where Harrison overplays the screen, forcing Poythress to step up and give up a wide-open outside look:

    At other times, though, the zone stopped Missouri penetration into the lane and Kentucky scrambled well enough to cover up mistakes. And you have to figure that if Calipari made a more serious time commitment to teaching zone, this team would learn how to play it more effectively. There will still be natural shortcomings -- this team isn't exactly great at communication and moving around off the ball -- but it could also greatly help cover up other shortcomings that aren't going away -- namely, good guards tearing UK's defense apart.

    Quite simply, Kentucky's man-to-man defense is clearly not title-worthy right now, and I'm skeptical whether it can develop to that level by March. I'm also not sure UK could get there with zone defense -- there's so little time -- but I do think it's worth serious consideration to at least have it as a legitimate option, not one that's just a desperation ploy.

    To do that, Calipari will have to put aside his career-long defensive philosophy and make a concerted effort to implement more zone defense. Will he do it? I'm not sure. He's really prideful about this subject, no matter how often he talks about it. But maybe Missouri was the start of him recognizing that it's an idea worth exploring.

  • When Tennessee started focusing on Julius Randle, Kentucky went to another freshman.

    Andrew Harrison.

    He responded with his best game of the season, scoring 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 10-for-10 free throw shooting.

    A big part of UK's second-half surge was an offense that used a substantial amount of pick-and-roll with Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson. In the second half, UK ended a possession directly off pick-and-rolls from those two five times; the Cats scored on each of them, netting a total of 11 points.

    "We've been working really hard on pick‑and‑roll stuff for him," Calipari said, "and trying to teach him the pace of the game and how fast you have to go off the screen, how you have to set your man up ‑‑ how you have to attack the big man."

    Let's check out a couple examples:

    Play One: Harrison drives by big man for contested layup.

    Play Two: Harrison drives into traffic and makes contested layup.

    Play Three: Harrison crosses up big man, makes pull-up jumper.

    "You go and attack the (center)," Calipari said he instructed Harrison.

    One of the keys to Harrison's success: Dakari Johnson's screens. He's got a huge frame and uses it well, establishing a wide base. Tennessee's guards got snared in his picks throughout the second half, allowing Harrison to be matched up one-on-one with a less-mobile center.

    "I felt like in the pick-and-roll I could get to the middle and beat the big guy off the dribble," Harrison said, "and maybe get to the lane and find the open man."

    That happened here, with Harrison and Dakari sucking in an extra perimeter defender. James Young smartly rotated up from the corner for extra space and got a clean 3-point look.

    Something to watch going forward is how often Kentucky utilizes the pick-and-roll with Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein, who doesn't appear to be as adept at setting effective screens as Johnson. Part of that is the simply physicality of Johnson, but the sophomore's technique is also lackluster. Watch here as he moves to set a screen but really just stands behind Harrison's defender.

    Or here. The key moment is the frame where Harrison tries to go right, reverses course because a proper pick hasn't been set, and comes left. That's an optimal situation for Cauley-Stein because he's already stationed directly in the path of Harrison's defender. However, you can see Tennessee's guard easily skirt underneath his pick. Harrison has none of the separation and space that he got in all four instances with Johnson.

    I like the increased use of the pick-and-roll to get Harrison going. He's not beating his man off the dribble as easily as we thought he might be able to; using a screen is a good way to get him in a mismatch or, at the very least, momentum as he heads toward the basket.

    He's got good ball security while dribbling in traffic, and he's improving as a decision-maker. He still has some wild shot-taking in him -- I remember him flinging quite a few off the backboard at Vanderbilt -- but the more he feels things out, the better he will get. And if Calipari wants, he can get creative with off-ball action, whether it's Young coming off weak-side screens or finding better ways to set up lobs from Cauley-Stein, if he's the screener.

    Whether UK can continue to have this kind of success moving forward will be something to keep an eye on, for sure.

  • Wed Jan 15 01:33am EST

    So about those free throws

    Lots of talk about the FTs against Arkansas, so I wanted to dig a bit deeper.

    First, let's look at just this one game. Kentucky made 26 of 40, a 65 percent clip that's pretty much right in line with their season average (65.9 percent). So really, you can't be upset about them missing that many FTs, because it's exactly how many UK should have missed, going by their own average performance.

    Now, maybe you think UK can be better than 65.9 percent at the line. I think so too, especially because guys like James Young (67 percent) and Alex Poythress (51.9 percent) seem like they could be better.

    But will they be? Looking back at the last four years, there seems to be a trend, which is: you pretty much are what you are when it comes to free throws at this stage of the season.

    I took six-game rolling averages throughout each of the past four year to see how the team's free-throw percentages fluctuated over the course of a season. Some were consistently great all year (the Final Four and title teams) and others went from good to bad (the first team, which plummeted toward the tournament, and last year's, which were just pretty bad throughout).

    And here's this year's.

    They actually hit a prolonged stretch of near-70 percent shooting in the middle of non-conference play, and it would be excellent if this team could return to that range for the tournament. But it seems like they're settling into a mid-60s team, and that five percent difference does matter.

    As we saw in 2011, averages certainly don't preclude teams from having disastrously bad single-game performances. But I'd rather have a 70 percent team than a 65 percent team. The question is whether this team is already at its average, or whether it can actually improve.

  • What a trip to Dallas.

    A meeting with a former President in his own library. A four-overtime women's classic that pushed Friday's tip-off to the edge of Saturday. Ice storms that prevented the team from flying back for more than a day.

    And, ultimately, a loss to No. 20 Baylor.

    It's not a terrible loss. It was to a ranked team, in a weird environment and a weird situation, and this kind of loss happens to young teams (ask Kansas).

    But there were certainly points for concern. Free throw shooting. Getting beat on the boards despite being the best rebounding team in the country. A dry spell for more than 10 minutes down the stretch.

    Those offensive issues are a problem, yes, but I think that side of the ball is still coming along fine. Will there be some ups and downs? Yes. But this team will figure that part out.

    It's the defense that's more concerning, both now and long-term. The Wildcats rank No. 51 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and it's not as if Kentucky has played a murderer's row of high-powered offenses so far.

    The perimeter is what's killing Kentucky most so far. Willie Cauley-Stein has provided some semblance of fortification inside, but it's not enough to make up for the litany of errors committed by UK guards on nearly every possession.

    Take just the first half against Baylor. Once they figured out UK had no idea how to effectively guard simple ball-screen actions, it almost literally became the Bears' entire playbook. Check out some examples:

    Play One: Andrew Harrison and Cauley-Stein both follow the guard around the screen. Cauley-Stein doesn't hedge high enough to disrupt his path nor recover enough to cover his man. Easy dunk.

    Play Two: Harrison can't fight through the screen fast enough to give the guard trouble, Cauley-Stein drops too low and allows a floater.

    Play Three: Even here, where Cauley-Stein's athleticism and reach lets him recover enough to contest a shot, it's not enough. Randle is under the basket but decides not to rotate to help. Kentucky's not only bad at defending ball screens with the two players involved, but the other three players don't seem to have much of a concept of rotating around the court and helping each other.

    Play Three: Both Harrisons get caught up in a semi-screen and chase the guard, leaving No. 4 open in the corner for a clean look:

    Play Five: Harrison does an okay job recovering to his man, but he's still behind him and needs help. That's fine. But Cauley-Stein drops off to his man, out of reach to help, and Julius Randle -- despite being in almost the exact location the drive is heading toward -- does pretty much nothing to contest. As impressive as Randle can be on offense and rebounding, I haven't seen much from him on the defensive end.

    Play Six: There's also little mistakes like this -- watch Julius Randle, completely out of the play, turn his back to his man to watch the ball and the drive, which he can't even help out on anyway. Result -- wide-open three in the corner.

    Play Seven: And if Baylor even felt it necessary to make things even slightly more complex, it was game over. Watch Brady Heslip move up from the paint to screen the screener. Cauley-Stein gets hung up as he tries to retreat to his man, and Harrison, caught completely off-guard, has no idea that he should have rotated down onto him.

    Ultimately, I do think defense will be an ongoing issue, and a troubling one. Calipari's been a consistently good teacher of defense, but this year's team isn't close to being really good (even though they should). And he knows it: he wouldn't be touting his wall sits and defensive slide drills in practice if not.

  • Mark Stoops was asked, after the finality of his first season as Kentucky head coach had set in with a loss to Tennessee, how his team had improved since the beginning of the year.

    "I know we're progressing," Stoops said. "It's hard for me to define that exactly."

    Perhaps that's because it's hard to find any areas where Kentucky made concrete improvement.

    The records (2-10, 0-8 SEC) were identical to the year before. And taking a deeper dive into the statistics reveals this: UK was slightly better on offense, and slightly worse on defense.

    Here's a full chart of Kentucky stats from 2012 to 2013 (note that positive integers in the difference column means improvement, not necessarily a higher number in the latter year).

    Perhaps most jarring is just how far UK's offense fell short of being what Neal Brown stated as his preseason goals.

    He wanted 75 plays or more per game, and the offense actually took a dip in terms of plays per game.

    He wanted a 40 percent conversion rate on third downs, and fell well below that (as well as well below last year's mark).

    And very striking is that UK didn't improve from the beginning of the year, when some difficulties were expected, to the beginning of the year.

    "I'm disappointed in our offensive output this year," Brown said. "I think our fans are disappointed. I understand that. What I can tell them is good news is, all the guys that made plays tonight will be back."

    That goes for defense, too, where opponents sliced open Stoops' defense even easier (statistically speaking) than Rick Minter's defense last year. Teams had much more success both passing and running.

    So Year One wasn't what Stoops wanted. He still sounded confident that things looked optimistic for the future.

    "We know that we are laying a foundation in our program," Stoops said, "and everybody in that locker room knows that we are going to get back to work here real soon, like Monday, and be ready to go and push forward for the future."

  • The month of December will be a very telling one for UK.

    Why? Every opponent will be a competitive team, one capable of testing (and beating) Kentucky. It's not usually that way for every single game in December; this one is. UK faces three teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (Baylor, UNC and Louisville) and two others that are in the 'receiving votes' category (Boise State, Belmont).

    The list, with KenPom rankings listed in parentheses:

    -- Providence (52)
    -- Baylor (37)
    -- Boise State (58)
    -- North Carolina (11)
    -- Belmont (62)
    -- Louisville (1)

    That's an average ranking of 36.8.

    The average ranking of December opponents in previous years in the Calipari Era?

    -- 2012: 178.3
    -- 2011: 121.6
    -- 2010: 137.8
    -- 2009: 162.6

    The main difference is playing Boise/Baylor in place of the usual cupcake games. Those two are solid teams and can test UK.

    All told, by the time the New Year's starts, I think we'll know a lot more about where Kentucky sits in the college basketball pecking order

  • Andrew Harrison had his first big-impact game against Cleveland State, and did it when Kentucky needed him most: down the stretch.

    Hindered with foul trouble, he directed Kentucky's late-game charge that turned an upset alert (and concerning loss) into a close win with a couple redeemable takeaways.

    As Kentucky changed the score from a 47-54 to a 63-57 lead in the last seven minutes, Harrison directly factored into 12 of those 16 Kentucky points.

    "Great players get better under pressure," Harrison said.

    "Andrew made the plays," John Calipari said. "It's nice to know we got two or three guys now we can go to if the game is in the balance."

    How'd he do it? Let's take a closer look:

    Lobs

    I've been critical of Harrison's ability to create for others this season. Through five games he hadn't drove from the perimeter to initiate offense and get his teammates open looks.

    Late in the game, he was able to do that against a packed-in zone by taking advantage of mistakes and using his bigger frame.

    In this play, Harrison capitalizes on a Cleveland State breakdown -- you can see one of the guards scrambling across the top of the zone to retreat back toward a UK shooter, leaving the other guard slightly susceptible to a drive to the left. Harrison does just that, and even better, is able to read the floor. He's got a shoot/pass/pass option here with both Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle hovering near the basket; he chooses Cauley-Stein and places a quick lob pass in a perfect location.

    And this one, where Harrison takes advantage of a defense that's scrambling, out of place and in no shape to defend a drive. I especially like that Harrison passed up decent opportunities for either a pull-up jumper or floater (the lane was pretty clear for either) for a great look to Cauley-Stein.

    It's the direct opposite of one of Calipari's criticisms, who said that Harrison is too often "not ready to play" when he gets the ball. Calipari said Harrison "needs to know he's a playmaker for us" and drive it immediately upon receiving a pass, which is precisely what he does here:

    And-ones

    Harrison did a much better job of driving with confidence against Cleveland State than, say, Michigan State, when he would try to beat his man and then end up stuck in traffic in the middle of the lane, forced into a bad shot or pass.

    Granted, it's a much easier defense to drive and finish against, but these types of plays were encouraging to see for a player that has seemed to struggle with deciding when to facilitate and when to be the natural scorer he's always been.

    And this one, where UK's offense flows smoothly from a Harrison-to-Harrison dribble handoff into a Harrison-Cauley-Stein pick-and-roll that Harrison uses to beat his man:

    An Aware Assist

    This was a less eye-catching play, but one I think it just as important. Calipari runs the same exact set as the one directly above -- a Harrison/Harrison dribble handoff into a Harrison/Cauley-Stein pick-and-roll -- and I think Harrison shows some crucial patience in navigating his way and being aware of what's going around him.

    It would have been easy, given his previous successes at attacking, to just blindly charge into the paint. Instead, he realized the lane wasn't open and slowed down, but still remained active to find James Young for an open shot. (Also not shown: a craft little dribble-hesitation move as he went around the pick, although that move didn't result in anything great.)

    Ultimately, Harrison showed some very encouraging things down the stretch. I'm not ready to say it was a "coming-of-age" game for him. Not only was it against Cleveland State (so grain of salt), but it was only one game. No matter who it came against, I'd still want to see him do this type of stuff more consistently, both within a game and from game-to-game.

    Although Randle says Harrison's clutch play wasn't surprising to him.

    "I mean, I didn't need to see him do it," Randle said. "I knew he could do it. But maybe for himself. He needed to see himself do it so he can have confidence and know, 'I can do it.'"

    Harrison is arguably the player UK needs to play up to his full potential the most out of those not doing so. Behind Randle, I think he can be UK's second-best player on the offensive end.

    "He really stood out," Young said. "He directed us a lot. He told us where to go, what to do. He just really stepped up."

    We'll see if he can build on those last seven minutes against Eastern Michigan.

  • Is this Kentucky's best rebounding team under John Calipari?

    He thinks so.

    And the numbers prove him right, especially on the offensive end.

    On that side of the ball, Kentucky has successfully grabbed 90 of a possible 180 offensive rebounding chances (50 percent).

    Here are the offensive rebounding percentages of each of his UK teams through their first five games:

    2012-13: 45 of a possible 145 offensive rebounds (31 percent).

    2011-12: 61 of a possible 163 offensive rebounds (37.4 percent).

    2010-11: 74 of a possible 188 offensive rebounds (39.4 percent).

    2009-10: 75 of a possible 160 offensive rebounds (46.9 percent).

    That's strong stuff, and Dakari Johnson even called the offensive rebounding success the biggest positive surprise of the season.

    So who's leading the charge? Here are UK's top offensive rebounders, in order of their per-minute rank:

    1) Alex Poythress (1.79 per 10 minutes)

    2) Willie Cauley-Stein (1.75 per 10 minutes)

    3) Julius Randle (1.70 per 10 minutes)

    4) Marcus Lee (1.54 per 10 minutes)

    5) Dakari Johnson (1.36 per 10 minutes)

    Tt this point, they've been better than any UK group under Calipari, even one led by the beastly DeMarcus Cousins.

    To put that 50 percent rebounding rate in context, the highest offensive rebounding percentage since 2003 over the course of a full year is 45.3 percent, according to Ken Pomeroy's statistical database.

    UK won't sustain that figure over an entire season. They've put up that number against Michigan State and four bad opponents/rebounding teams. Once SEC play comes around, especially, it will dip.

    But how far? Of those four teams, the two strongest dipped between 5 and 7 percentage points by the end of the season. The third-strongest team stayed about the same, and the weakest actually improved.

    So maybe Kentucky doesn't get half of its offensive rebound chances this year. They'll still likely be a top-10 group, and I wouldn't be surprised if they challenged for that 45 percent mark.

  • There was a lot to take away from Kentucky's four-point loss to No. 2 Michigan State.

    So much that I wanted to take a little bit of a deeper dive into the game, since it's (by far) the most meaningful 40 minutes of high-level basketball the Wildcats have played and will play, until December.

    Here are 10 things, in no particular order, that I either liked or didn't like. Some involve the biggest and most glaring issues, good and bad. Some are perhaps a bit less overt. Anyway, here we go.

    1) Like: Julius Randle, Julius Randle, Julius Randle

    Where else can you start except here, with him? Randle continued his torrid (and record-setting) start to the season, despite a lackluster and timid first half. What was incredible was that, out of 14 shots, I really disliked only one (a jab-step/fadeaway from just inside the arc in the first half). Everything else was high-quality stuff, and he once again displayed silky moves darting in from the basket, bulldozer-like physicality in the post and polished back-to-the-basket moves, like this:

    The scary thing, of course, is that Randle has room to get much more polished. Michigan State scouted him to perfection and, as Calipari predicted, sat on his spin move. Both guards digging down and post defenders guarding him jumped that move:

    What I'll be watching for moving forward is if UK's offense stays this reliant on Randle. Coming into the season, I expected this team to be very balanced, a la the 2012 team, just because of how much talent was here. But Randle has quickly asserted himself as the primary option -- so much so that 12 percent of UK's points through three games are from Randle free throws.

    2) Dislike: Pick-and-roll defense

    Defense is the side of the ball with more concerns at this point. Part of that is natural, given that Calipari started working with the team later on it than offense. Guarding the pick-and-rolls, and lack of execution on that, can probably be chalked up to that factor. But it was still a bit disconcerting to see UK get beat consistently on simple pick-and-roll action, and here's why: they made mistakes in pretty much every way.

    Some breakdowns came because the two players involved mixed up whether to switch or not; some came because the big man didn't hedge enough; some came because UK was trying to cheat through screens, like this one (watch Aaron Harrison lean into the screen and set his feet to move that direction):

    Or this one, where Poythress gets caught cheating in the same way:

    3) Like: Alex Poythress' effort

    Poythress had shown significant, and critical, signs of improvement in UK's first two games. The fact that he showed the same toughness and effort against Michigan State is even better. He's honed in on exactly what his game should be, and it complements the rest of how this roster should end up looking very well.

    He's also become a lot smarter and conscientious about chasing offensive rebounds. Watch him slide in from the perimeter, around two Spartans, to put himself in position for a put-back here:

    4) Dislike: Andrew Harrison's decisions

    A lot's been made of Andrew Harrison, and deservingly so. He's the star point guard on a top-five team. I think he'll be perfectly fine long term -- remember Marquis Teague and how long it took him -- but Tuesday showed us, and hopefully him, just what it takes to be a point guard at the highest level.

    So many of his drive/shoot/pass decisions ended up being the wrong one. And that's to be expected, but I also thought he didn't show much of an ability to make an adjustment against a Michigan State defense that was clearly packing the paint and trying to take away penetration.

    5) Like: James Young designed plays

    John Calipari said Young was "pressing" in UK's first two games. Didn't look like it Tuesday, and it was telling that as the rest of his teammates drifted through the first half, Young was UK's only true offensive option.

    He's also perhaps the best fit for one of Calipari's pet plays, where a ball handler sets up in the paint before running around a down screen on either side of the court. Young is especially well-suited for this task because he poses a dual threat coming off the screen: he can pull up for a 3-pointer or continue curling and drive. He showed both, as seen below:

    6) Like and dislike: Willie Cauley-Stein's defense

    It was Cauley-Stein who lost Brendan Dawson for the game-sealing putback. And he had the occasional lapse on defense, like this one, where he straight-up saunters, like a UK student crossing the street, to go help defend a pick-and-roll.

    But this play also shows why I like Cauley-Stein: he has so much natural feel for help-side and off-ball defense. He can cover up not only his own mistakes but his teammates' a lot of times. He's as close to the Davis/Noel type of last-line defender this team has, and that's a large part of why UK's defense is allowing 0.92 points per possession when Cauley-Stein is in the game versus 1.00 when he's on the bench.

    7) Like: Calipariiiiiii Calipari

    Usually, Calipari's screaming, pointing and verbally harassing referees as far as he's allowed to take it. But after one call that he thought should have been a travel it looked like he was just done even trying.

    8) Dislike: Transition defense

    This goes along with pick-and-roll defense. Kentucky is young, hasn't worked much on this and was going against a team that was looking to push the ball at every opportunity. So I get that mistakes will happen and assignments will be missed.

    But when you've got the numbers in your favor on defense, and it's off a set play, there's just no real excuse for it.

    Or:

    9) Like: Guard post-ups

    It's a ploy Calipari's used about once per game this season. Makes sense when you've got guards standing 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6. Against Michigan State, he used a James Young post-up to facilitate a Julius Randle cut down the lane.

    I'd honestly be perfectly fine with getting more post-ups for guards, especially when Cauley-Stein is in the game, since he's not much of a true post-up threat:

    10) Dislike: Guards' perimeter defense

    I've quickly pegged the Harrison twins as below-average defenders, especially off the ball. They gamble too frequently and at bad times; they get lost by following their ball as their man moves around the perimeter; and their defense on screens is inconsistent even when situations call for the same action.

    And, from the looks of this play, their communication is, at the very least, lacking at times:

    Ultimately, a game that showed that this Kentucky team is, in fact, just learning to play with each other (first half), and a game that showed why this Kentucky team is, in fact, still the national title favorite (second half).

    We've got a long way to go. I can't wait to see how it develops from here.

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