Case Study: Why Kentucky tops the polls

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Kentucky is currently ranked #1 in the country, and that’s no mistake. With its devastating defense, and consistent offense it has cruised to a 23-0 record. This success comes from one of the most well-crafted teams in the country, led by coach John Calipari. But what makes Kentucky such a great team? Let’s dive into its technique to find out.

If you dive into some team statistics, you can see that Kentucky is not top in steals, and it is just in the Top 20 for rebounds. In fact, a huge part of that defense lies in its big men, as it ranks second in the nation in blocks. Not only is Kentucky one of the tallest teams in basketball (with 7 players over 6-8.), UK relies on some of the most versatile and athletic big men in the country, playing 3 of them most of the time. These guys control the court, locking down the paint and forcing teams outside. Driving opponents into low-scoring games, its defense makes it easier for an offense built more for inside ball. With an uncanny ability to block lanes inside, and its great blocking ability, Kentucky’s interior defense is without a doubt the best in the nation.

From an offensive side of the ball, these big men also play a role. Junior Willie Cauley-Stein (forward) and sophomore Dakari Johnson (center) are both 7-0, with freshman Karl-Anthony Towns (forward) at 6-11 also starting. These three average a combined 18.0 rebounds per game, and 24.2 points per game on top of that. While none of their stats top nationally, this is not due to skill, but more to the top to bottom efficiency in Kentucky, with freshman Trey Lyles (forward) and sophomore Marcus Lee (forward) averaging 12.3 rebounds and 16.0 points per game combined. This kind of incredible depth inside makes a relatively low-flying offense into a powerhouse.

Despite Kentucky’s inside focus, it is not short on perimeter shooters. Since it is built for a consistent inside game, whenever it is pushed out onto the perimeter it needs to be able to make shots to spread the defense out and get back in. Sophomore Aaron Harrison (guard), who the Wildcats look to on the outside, has been averaging 38 percent from 3-point range through the last five games, top five in the SEC. Freshman Devin Booker (guard), also does well on the outside, though mostly as a ball handler facilitating Kentucky’s inside game. This part of the strategy is key, as enabling those inside players is what has led them to the top ranking in the AP poll.

Calipari has led yet another team to a successful season start, as the veteran coach has to be pleased with how his team is playing today. Executing on both offense and defense, it looks like not much can stop this team when it is clicking, which is bad news for the rest of the SEC, as they almost always are.

One thought on “Case Study: Why Kentucky tops the polls”

  1. Matt, your case study is dead on. Kentucky has been dominating this season and I would not doubt a number one seed in the NCAA tournament.


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