Tuesday night was not pretty. If you don’t feel like reliving it that would make total sense. However, as always, there were bright spots along with teaching points that need to be addressed. The Kentucky Wildcats survived about 30 minutes of a scare to move to 5-2 on the season with a 60-41 win over the Bellarmine Knights. In the first half especially, Rupp Arena was about as somber as it has ever been during the Coach Calipari era. Once the ‘Cats got rolling in the second half though the atmosphere turned around.
How you feel after the Bellarmine game has a lot to do with perspective. On one hand, Kentucky allowed just 41 points and held the Knights to 30.4% shooting. On the other hand, the Wildcats managed just 21 points in the first half and had their offensive issues on full display. Kentucky turned it over nine times and shot just 30% in the opening 20 minutes. However, they responded with a 39-point second half on 56.5%/45.5%/88.9% shooting splits. There is plenty that needs to be addressed, but it also wasn’t the all systems failure that it felt like at halftime.
It is time to step inside the KSR Film Room for another edition of watch the tape. We will take a look at what went wrong early, some adjustments that were made, and what went right in the second half. For even more clips breaking down the game you can follow @BRamseyKSR on Twitter. Let’s dive on in and take a look back at Kentucky’s (ugly) victory over the Bellarmine Knights.
Early Struggles Set Tone for Bad First Half vs. Bellarmine
Kentucky came out flat and played right into the hands of the Bellarmine Knights. Coach Scott Davenport’s group was very willing to slow the game down and play a low-scoring affair. Defensively, the Knights pack it in and essentially try to play shell drill as the offense passes the ball around the perimeter. That is exactly what the Wildcats did for much of the first half. Despite Bellarmine not even trying to apply ball pressure, the ‘Cats turned it over nine times in the opening half of play. Here is a look at some of what went wrong early.
It is hard to feed the post when the defense is packing it in. Bellarmine was able to build their shell and not have to help because Kentucky was simply passing the ball spot-to-spot around the perimeter. There was no player movement or attempts to drive. Eventually, Sahvir Wheeler tries to feed the post from the top of the key but the pass gets deflected and stolen. Wheeler completely telegraphed the pass and the defense was ready to get their hands on the entry pass. Having your 5’8″ point guard make a lazy post feed against a 6’5″ defender is not a recipe for success.
This is another example of Bellarmine being allowed to just sit in their defensive shell. A lot went wrong for the Wildcats offensively. On the initial ballscreen, Oscar Tshiebwe rolls too slowly (a common problem) and Cason Wallace picks up his dribble for no reason. Then, Sahvir Wheeler wasn’t playing up in the slot on the ball reversal. Once Wheeler gets the ball, both Jacob Toppin and Tshiebwe are trying to post up in essentially the same spot. That is the definition of bad spacing. Finally, Wallace gets the ball back and telegraphs another lazy pass to Tshiebwe. The Knights defender easily deflected the attempted post feed for another steal. An easy fix for these last two clips would be to make the ‘Cats interchange or basket cut after every ball reversal. That would at least shift the defense and open up post entry opportunities.
After turning it over earlier in the half trying to feed the post, Cason Wallace just ices Tshiebwe out on this possession. This was a major decision-making error by the freshman. First, the decision to not throw it to an open Tshiebwe on the block is not good. Then, he compounds the mistake by throwing the skip pass to Daimion Collins. Why throw it to him on the perimeter? If you throw it to him he might shoot it. Unfortunately, that is what ends up happening. Completely wasted possession by Kentucky.
Kentucky’s lack of execution offensively has been their biggest problem this season. Nothing you call will work if it isn’t run properly. The Wildcats attention to detail appears to be very poor. It often takes the ‘Cats far too long to initiate offense. While the Bellarmine Knights start running offense in the first four or five seconds of the shot clock, Kentucky routinely doesn’t get going until 20 on the clock. Antonio Reeves floats out to the wing instead of coming off of the downscreen to begin the play. Then, at 10 seconds, Coach Calipari calls for “floppy” instead of just getting into a ballscreen. That action is best when you can feed the post off of it and with the personnel on the floor that isn’t an option. When the shot clock hits 10 seconds it should trigger an automatic high ballscreen.
In-Game Adjustments Led to Better Offense
There wasn’t a ton that seemed to go right early on for the Wildcats. However, the same guys that made mistakes also showed flashes of what makes them such good players. Sometimes, especially in November, you just need game reps under your belt. Kentucky is getting those reps in as we speak and it should pay dividends when SEC play rolls around. Here is a look at a few of the adjustments and improvements that we saw during game action against the Bellarmine Knights.
While some fans clamor for him to take over at point guard, Cason Wallace is still a freshman and has shown questionable decision-making at times. Earlier in the game he turned the ball over on a lazy post entry and then didn’t throw the ball to Oscar Tshiebwe another time when he was open on the block. However, he also showed flashes of why he likely holds the keys to Kentucky’s ceiling this season. On this possession Wallace feeds the post early in the shot clock before the Knights could set their shell defense. Also, most importantly, he used a pass fake before throwing the ball inside. Simple in-game adjustments like this give hope that the Wildcats can figure it all out.
Anytime Daimion Collins is on the perimeter the offense can be a little sketchy. However, Kentucky got away with it on this possession. In the first half many of the offensive problems centered around simply letting Bellarmine sit in their shell defense. They really didn’t have to work too hard to guard the ‘Cats because the ball was moving slowly and every stood around the perimeter. A simple handoff on the wing helped to shift the defense and allow for an easy post feed to Oscar Tshiebwe for the bucket. This is much better looking offense.
Earlier we touched on Antonio Reeves’ lack of execution on this same play. However, here we see why Kentucky’s “1-up” action can be so effective. Opposing defenses are always going to chase Reeves off of the downscreen because he is such a good shooter. That opens up the curl cut and he gets an And-1 off of it in this clip. If the Wildcats could execute like this more often it would make the offense much more effective and efficient.
Added Offensive Wrinkle Makes Debut Against the Knights
If you keep up with these watch the tape articles you have heard the mention of ballscreen continuity as a potential Kentucky offensive fix often. It puts the guards in playmaking situations, forces spacing and ball movement, and allows the big men space to play with around the basket on the roll. A ballscreen/handoff continuity offense could be the closest thing the Wildcats have offensively to playing to everyone’s strength. We got our first glimpse at that sort of offense with Coach Calipari’s new “double fist” offense that he called quite a bit later in the second half against Bellarmine.
Kentucky’s new offensive package is very much still a work in progress. That was clear based on the execution against the Bellarmine Knights. However, even with not being perfectly crisp, the byproduct of what it brings offensively created many more scoring opportunities than other things the Wildcats have tried. Even without a ball reversal, the structure of “double fist” opened up the lane for this Jacob Toppin slip. He can be really dangerous in this sort of action. Use his quickness to slip the screen and then his size and athleticism to score at the rim. So much better than a jump shot.
This is Jacob Toppin at his very best. Instead of three-pointers and jump shots he should be searching for straight line right hand drives to the basket. With his size, strength, and athleticism he can get to the rim in a hurry. Then, when he plays off of two feet like he does in the clip, it is simply very hard to stop.
While this clip isn’t exactly beautiful offense, it still gets a couple of ball reversals and some cutting from the ballscreen continuity base. As the Wildcats get more comfortable in the new offense it will look cleaner and cleaner. Love this play by Toppin!
Kentucky never got beyond the second side of their new continuity, but we still saw how effective it can be. As Cason Wallace cuts through, Antonio Reeves lifts up and catches his defender just a bit off guard. The defenders ends up getting caught going under and Reeves is able to rise up and knock in three behind the screen. Simple offense, but very effective offense. Coach Calipari needs to keep riding with the new “double fist” offense going forward.