As everyone knows, this Kentucky basketball team is off to a very hot and exciting start to their 23-24 campaign, especially on the offensive side. The Cats are averaging a stunning 94.4 PPG which is the 3rd best in the country. So, how can the 'Cats keep this thing rolling through December and straight into conference play when it starts to count? Let's see.
1. Just Keep Shooting
Throughout the 6-1 start, Kentucky is shooting 42.6% from three and hitting twelve of those per game. As you may remember, they also just broke the John Calipari era record for most made three-pointers in a game against Saint Joseph's. So it's very evident that this team can find the bottom of the net on any given night.
Not surprisingly, senior Antonio Reeves leads the way for this team as the 'Cats go-to three-point specialist has hit 22 so far at a 44% clip. But one of the main reasons the Wildcats have been so dangerous from beyond the arc early is from the work of the two freshmen in Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham coming off the bench and providing a consistent spark. Through 7, Reed is shooting an incredible 63% from three with 19 made and Rob is shooting 53% with 16 made. Those are your sixth and seventh guys... These sorts of numbers are unheard of from a John Calipari team. Obviously Tre Mitchell, DJ Wagner, and Justin Edwards are each huge contributors to these stats as well, but those two mentioned before are on another level.
2. Keep the Lane Open
This goes without saying, but we all love Oscar Tshiebwe. He is one of the most dominant players Kentucky has ever had, and everyone loved the time he spent here, but we can all see the difference in the offense without an Oscar type player in the lane. With Tre being able to step outside and shoot, all the talented freshmen we have are able to take their man off the dribble at will. An open lane gives us a way better chance at that. Having a big man clogging the lane a lot of time forces a double-team as well as gives fewer options for a kick-out three. The fact that Tre Mitchell can also knock down the three-point shot is very important to keeping an open lane. It pulls out the defender away from the rim. The overall rebounding may have decreased this year from it, but the scoring and excitement sure has increased and we're seeing it in the point totals.
3. Make Smart Plays
John Calipari's teams have been built around freshmen for his entire tenure at Kentucky. With that being the case, fans have had to watch the young players make a lot of mistakes early on in the year as they adjust to the level of college basketball. But this team has been so different. So far through their 7 games, the Cats are number one in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio sitting at 2.56 as a whole. They are also sixth in the country in assists per game at almost 21 a night. Mostly all of this is due to the volume of young Kentucky guards. DJ Wagner, Reed Sheppard, and Rob Dillingham have been playing very clean basketball, which is unexplainable this early in a college career. All three freshmen are averaging only 1.3 turnovers per game or less. Another vital part to Kentucky's smarts this year has been Tre Mitchell, who they run the offense through when the defense steps up and finds ways to (temporary) limit the guards. He is averaging four assists per game this year and less than one turnover per game. Stats like these are astounding and it seems like every player has something to offer.
Don't change now
Everything listed is working and there is no reason to stop for a change. No matter how and when we get our seven-footers back, it shouldn't tank the offense. Playing two seven-footers or clogging the lane should never happen if they understand the success they're having playing the way they are right now. They will need to keep playing to their strengths and I think they will continue to win.
Another chance to keep building will arise this Saturday when Kentucky takes on UNC Wilmington in Rupp Arena at 4:00 pm. Let's walk away with win number seven.