John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats are supposed to reload, not rebuild. That was presumed to be the case once again as Kentucky started the year tied for No. 1 in the preseason polls, even after losing its top seven scorers from last season's powerhouse that started 38-0. But 11 games into the year, it's becoming apparent that Calipari's new team simply doesn't have the level of talent he's accustomed to working with in Lexington.
Kentucky suffered its second loss of the season Saturday, as unranked Ohio State pulled off a 74-67 upset in Brooklyn. This was the same Buckeyes team that lost by 20 to UConn in their last game, and hadn't beaten anyone more impressive than Northern Illinois (ranked No. 180 by KenPom) before Saturday.
UCLA exposed some flaws in Kentucky when they became the first team to beat the 'Cats earlier this month, and Ohio State found success by again attacking the same weak spots in UK's lineup. Yes, Kentucky has a young team and there's still plenty of time to fix their issues, but they better figure them out quickly if they want to be considered a national title contender this season.
Here's what's wrong with Kentucky right now:
They're soft inside
John Calipari had an embarrassment of riches in the front court last season. Karl-Anthony Towns was a transcendent talent and the eventual No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Willie Cauley-Stein was the most athletic center in college basketball, Trey Lyles was a versatile 6'10, 250-pound forward and Dakari Johnson gave Kentucky the type of size on the bench (7-foot, 255 pounds) no team could matchup with.
It's just not the same team this year. Kentucky doesn't have a post presence on offense or a big man capable of protecting the rim on defense. They struggle on the defensive glass. The end result is a team with a gaping hole on the inside that won't be fixed unless their young players start to develop rapidly.
Freshman Skal Labissiere, who entered college as a consensus top three recruit, has been a major disappointment thus far given where expectations were at coming into the season. Labissiere put up only two points and five rebounds on 1-of-7 shooting in the loss to Ohio State Saturday, after finishing with zero points and zero rebounds in Kentucky's last game against Arizona State. He's too skinny to bang in the paint and he looks lost on both sides of the ball right now.
Alex Poythress is back for his senior season after tearing his ACL last year, but he looks like a man without a home. Poythress has always been a player stuck between a wing and a big man: he can't shoot well enough to play on the perimeter and can't score with his back to the basket to play on the inside. He was ineffective against OSU and just looks like a player struggling to impact the game right now.
Marcus Lee was a bright spot for Kentucky (12 points, nine rebounds, two blocks), but he gets most of his points off putbacks and isn't someone you can run the offense through.
The lack of an interior presence is an even bigger problem on defense. Ohio State sophomore center Trevor Thompson played his best game of the season with 10 points and five blocks Saturday.
It's simply becoming too easy to score on Kentucky on the inside.
The offense is too dependent on Jamal Murray's shooting
Murray, a 6'4 freshman guard, was truly incredible Saturday, finishing with 33 points on 7-of-9 shooting from three-point range. Murray entered the game as a 33 percent three-point shooter on six attempts per game. Just imagine how much Kentucky would have lost by if he shot closer to his season averages against Ohio State.
When Murray isn't slicing apart the defense, Kentucky seems to have few options in the halfcourt. The offense is dependent on their three starting point guards, but Tyler Ulis has struggled after suffering an elbow injury earlier in the year (he went 1-for-7 from three against Ohio State) and Isaiah Briscoe doesn't have much of a plan unless he has a straight line to the rim. Briscoe finished 1-for-9 from the field versus the Buckeyes.
On the year, UK is making only 29.7 percent of its threes as a team, which is No. 301 in the country according to KenPom. Ulis will probably turn it on at some point, but without an inside presence, he and Murray will have a huge burden to carry offensively all year. If either has an off-night against a good team, UK will be in danger.
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Kentucky brought in what was again considered one of the best recruiting classes in the country this season, but only Murray has been an instant impact player. With another stacked recruiting class coming in next season in the vastly superior national class of 2016, it's already starting to feel like this is a transition year for Kentucky.
Calipari has become one of the best coaches in college basketball because he's consistently able to bring in the best talent, but during a year with a weaker national freshman class, Kentucky certainly doesn't look like it has the star power it usually does. The loss to Ohio State wasn't pretty, and it doesn't look like an aberration.