December 08, 2013
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.