CRAWFORD | Trick or tweak? UK needs to change script in SEC Tourney
ATLANTA (WDRB) -- Trick or tweak?
That seems to be the question around University of Kentucky basketball these days at it prepares to play LSU in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Friday night.
I've already written about the tweak. I've given my suggestions for things that need tweaking. I'm all tweaked out. You can read about that here.
My last thought on the tweak -- if you were a coach and you'd made an adjustment that you thought was going to pay big dividends, would you announce it to the world, even if you only announced its existence and not its substance?
No, my guess is that you'd just roll it out there and let people deal with it. The whole thing has an "Emperor's New Clothes" feel to it.
This tweak is as much about changing the conversation as changing the offense. And at that, it already has succeeded. There has been far less pontificating about the relative merits of one-and-done aspirants and more speculation about what has been tweaked.
He gave the media a chew toy and, as usual, we chewed.
I give Calipari credit for that. I also give him credit for doing something to change the energy around his team. Any good coach in his situation would try to change the "mojo" of his group. Calipari just happens to be able to change the mojo of a massive fan base in the process.
So on game day, I'm putting the tweak talk to bed. No wagging the dog today. The truth about this UK team is simple.
Either it will play aggressive, solid defense, or it will go home. Either it will run the offense through its post scorers, first and foremost Julius Randle, or its postseason stay will be short. It will have more assists than turnovers, or it will be finished early. It will force more turnovers than it commits, or it'll be done.
Frankly, even if UK does execute well, it's hard to see the Wildcats maintaining a high level of execution over three straight days -- at least, with its current rotation.
Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins all have played at least 75.5 percent of UK's minutes this season. (Young, by the way, leads the Wildcats with 80.2 percent of the minutes played).
Alex Poythress has played in less than half the team's minutes, and been used on only 18 percent of its offensive possessions when he is in the game. Willie Cauley-Stein, a possible lottery pick and another of the only four players on this team with any postseason experience, has played 60.6 percent of the team's minutes but been used on only 15.5 percent of its possessions when he is on the court. Those numbers are courtesy of the efficiency statistics on KenPom.com.
At a time in the season you figured Calipari would ease more players into the rotation, he has tightened the reins, and played fewer players. If he has to call on a Dominique Hawkins or Marcus Lee in tournament play, he'll be turning to players who received only token minutes during the SEC schedule.
Another look at Pomeroy's numbers yields one more insight. When Young is in the game, he takes 25.5 percent of the team's shots. When Aaron Harrison is in, he takes 23.4 percent. When Randle is in, he takes 22.7 percent. Andrew Harrison takes 19 percent when he's in the game.
The opportunities for Kentucky's offense, then, may lie outside of those players. If defenses are accustomed to stopping three guys, then the fourth and fifth can get things done. The Wildcats have to get a big tournament from Poythress to be successful. And Cauley-Stein has the ability to change games as much as any player in the country, and certainly any big man.
It's not rocket science with this team.
But it's also not as easy as Calipari's admonition to "just ball." At the upper levels of college basketball, execution counts. You can't just throw a full-court press together. There are rotations and decisions to be made on the fly. Even teams that do it often take half a season to get it right.
This Kentucky team's most impressive performance of the season was a victory over an NCAA Tournament-bound Providence team on a neutral court in December. They shot better than 60 percent from the field (can you even imagine that today?) and beat the Friars by 14.
The problem is that the more you play, the more tape opponents get on you, and the more they know how to handle you.
The book on Kentucky is that even if you fall behind, they're not going to put you away. You might get down 9 or 12, but they'll let you hang around. James Young and Aaron Harrison aren't going to move without the ball. Randle, most of the times he touches it, is going to the hole. You can help without being burned. And if you get a lead, they struggle. The body language gets bad. They get frustrated with each other. And Calipari, at times, is the most frustrated of all.
Change should be on John Calipari's mind. If people have you scouted, you switch things up. That's just basketball.
The problem is, with such a young team, big changes are impossible. Simple, small changes are all they can handle.
As this talented young team heads to the postseason, Calipari has to hope that little changes will be enough.
Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.