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Kentucky's Two Major Weaknesses: Exposed In Columbia

What we just witnessed tonight was the worst offensive performance from this Kentucky team that we've seen all season long. Yes, worse than the UNC Wilmington loss at home. Kentucky's strength in shooting on a high-scoring offense was a no-show tonight for essentially the entire evening and once that started to unfold in real time, I could tell this was likely going to get ugly.

My point being, this team got exposed in two ways: Being stuck with no answer when your shots aren't falling and on defense allowing your opponents to put up as many points as they want.

This team came into the game averaging a NCAA-best 91.6 points per game while also being one of the highest volume three-point shooting teams in the country, ranking in the top-five of any program. Heck, just three nights ago they put 105 points at home to Georgia. Early in the non-conference, they posted 118 points against Marshall as well. To go from that being your ceiling to your floor being this far apart is a big, big concern. That's a 56 point swing of difference which to me says something went extremely wrong. The cause of that is a mixture of relying too heavily on the three-point shot to go in and absolutely no ability to stop the ball on defense. That is in fact the key to not only beating Kentucky, but to exposing them such as the 17-point loss tonight quite did.

Again, hitting on the season-lows of stats from this game, let's discuss it. The 62 total points were a season worst, falling thirteen points below the projected team total for the betting odds, a feat that they've scored over in during almost every game this season. They average 10 made three-pointers a game, making just 4 total tonight. Assists were down, steals were down, and they got out-rebounded as well. I think when the shots are falling, this team cannot be beaten no matter what the circumstances are. But when they aren't..? You get this. So what do you do?

A few things. I think what this team should revert to during those times of desperate measures is to go back to the basics and not overthink it. You have a team-leading scorer in Antonio Reeves who gets double-digit points in the lane each game with his floaters and jump-shots. Another option is DJ Wagner. Over the last month he's been getting over 12 points a game all within six feet from the basket. Why not target what's been consistently working? That close to the rim has much higher percentage of falling in if you aren't able to get anything going from deep. You can't just rely on being able to shoot the ball every night, you have to have a backup plan. Sometimes the rims feel stiff at other arenas, the crowd heavily plays a role, and some nights you just get cold. You must have other options available.

Another angle of this would be to constantly feed it to your big men down in the post. Between Aaron Bradshaw, Zvonimir Ivisic, and Ugonna Onyenso, you're telling me they can use their length to get some shots off? I know they aren't the bulkiest centers in the country, but with two 7-footers at the same time we should be able to make some type of action happen. I know if the other teams had that kind of length, they'd definitely do so. Tonight, Kentucky's three big men combined for 9 points on 4/7 shooting in 41 total minutes. They should be getting seven shots each a game in my opinion. Just a lot that needs to be relooked at by this staff in the coming days to not have all of your eggs in one basket.

Continuing on the issues, the defensive struggles are a major issue, clearly. The feeling during the game was that the Gamecocks were more likely to score on each possession than not. Against this team? With over a full hand of projected professional players on its roster? How can that even be reality? Well, it is. This is becoming one of the worst defensive teams in Kentucky history, especially under Calipari. They average 77 points a game given up through the first 18. It's absurd. For the next three weeks this team's priority has got to be focusing in on learning how to stay in front of your man and keeping him out of the lane, living with a contested shot from deep. For the big men, they need to figure out how to hold their weight in the post and to protect the rim at all cost. Even if you do live and die by your high-scoring offense, if you can score 90 but give up 80, those aren't very comfortable margins I'd want to be riding with. Learning how to play some defense will provide you a lot of comfort in each contest.

Yeah, many can spin this to this being an "early loss" that can "get us prepared for the NCAA Tournament" but not me. This wasn't one of those losses. And quite frankly, I'm tired of those after the last few seasons because we've come to overusing that line. This was tonight an absolute beatdown where I don't think we learned anything at all outside of another dose of what it's like to play on the road in the conference. Kentucky got scouted and exposed, despite having an immense amount of more talent to work with. Listen, in March you are on a one-game series. You don't get one of these games during that stretch if you're wanting to chase a title. These are clear issues within this basketball team and if they aren't aggressively addressed here soon, we're going to slip up again down the road likely when the pressure gets hot the second we're away from Rupp Arena. At that point, you get sent home for the season. Let's fix this now.

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