In this edition of All Wildcats' "Three-Point Arc," we take a closer look at the highlights from UK head coach John Calipari's press conference previewing the highly anticipated matchup between No. 2 Kansas (18-2) and No. 4 Kentucky (17-3) on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
1. Shoot It. Drive It. Pass It.
Kentucky has witnessed a decline in its assists and a rise in its turnovers the last four games, leading Calipari to emphasize the importance of running offense through Bam Adebayo. The freshman center is averaging 13.5 points per game despite ranking fourth on the team in field goal attempts at 7.4 per game. He is shooting 62.4 percent from the field and has displayed vastly improved free throw shooting since conference play began. On Friday, Calipari said he doesn't want to force his guards to do anything -- which limits their natural talents -- but he will no longer accept the ball stopping in the halfcourt offense. Film indicated that was UK's biggest problem in Tuesday's 82-80 loss at Tennessee, where the Cats took 15 shots on one or no passes and shot 41.7 percent from the field, the first time in eight games they've been under the 50 mark. "Just don’t hold the ball," Calipari said. "You’ve got things you can do. Shoot it, drive it, post it; if not, don’t hold it. That means you’ve got to just get rid of it, and that’s what we did yesterday and we looked better."
2. UK, KU Mirror Images, Except...
The Cats and Jayhawks are similar teams in many regards, but Kansas is better in one particular aspect of the game that has Calipari concerned. "We’re playing a top-ranked team that has veteran guards," the UK boss said. "... They play inside-out. Bill (Self) does a great job. They’re good. They drive the ball like we drive the ball. Difference is, they shoot 42 percent from the 3.” National player of the year candidate Frank Mason III, a senior, is shooting an eye-popping 52.8 percent from 3-point range this season. Junior backcourt mate Devonte Graham is streaky, but dangerous at 39.2 percent. A potential wild card is third guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who hits at a 42.3 percent clip. At 6-foot-8, he could be a tricky defensive matchup for the Cats, as is freshman standout Josh Jackson as a stretch 4 whose skills are more guard than forward. Kentucky, meanwhile, is shooting only 35.3 percent from beyond the arc. Malik Monk (39.9 percent) is the only Cat shooting well from long range this season other than senior reserve Mychal Mulder, who is currently sidelined with an unspecified illness.
3. NCAA Seeding at Stake?
Many college basketball observers believe Saturday's UK-KU matchup will go a long way toward determining whether the Cats or Jayhawks can earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With precious few opportunities remaining to impress the selection committee -- especially for UK playing in the SEC -- this could be a make-or-break game for the Cats if they want to earn a top seed. We should get an idea of where UK stands next week when the NCAA, for the first time, releases its top seeds for the tournament in a manner similar to the one used by the College Football Playoff system. Calipari says he likes the transparency and has another idea for the committee to consider. "I like transparency," he said. "So we don’t, on selection day, ‘Bang, you’re an eight seed.' What? So now as you go you have an idea of where it is—just be transparent." Calipari is now advocating that the top seeds get to pick which region they will play in. The first three seeds will pick their region, and the fourth team will be slotted into whatever region remains. "I think they're moving in that direction," he added.