Preseason rankings have been known to mislead as the Wildcats finished with a 27-9 record after being placed atop of many preseason rankings at #1. Coming in with the second best recruiting class behind the almighty Duke, UK had high expectations especially with a returning floor general in Tyler Ulis at the helm and other key pieces like Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Derek Willis coming back for another shot at the title.
The previous year, Kentucky was opening eyes all across the country; with depth that was unheard of in college basketball, Cal had ‘two starting lineups’ as he famously called them. That depth was not at his disposal this year as he had to find a way to be efficient but productive with the talent that he had.
Heavy Workload on Ulis and Murray
The Wildcats had their ‘big 3’ this year as so may call it; Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. These three led the team in minutes which all hovered around 33 MPG and all were in the top four in scoring, respectively. One of the big problems that hindered this year’s Wildcat squad was the workload; Ulis and Murray found themselves having to do it all on the offensive end with some random spurts from either Briscoe or Poythress. Kentucky played a 7-man rotation with Willis and either Labissiere or Lee coming off the bench. With no true backup point guard, Ulis saw himself playing 36 MPG out of 40. That is the most in the SEC and 27th in the nation. There was just simply no scoring past the starting lineup, or half of the starters I should say; the highest scorer off the bench was Derek Willis who averaged 7 PPG in 18 MPG. Depth is key to hanging a banner in college basketball, having fluent bench production will ultimately result in success.
Lack of An Established Big Man
Coach Cal brought in recruits like Jamal Murray who was an established guard from Canada with a full arsenal, Isaiah Briscoe who was described as a ‘bulldog’ when driving to the rim and is a defensive anchor, and Mychal Mulder the JUCO transfer guard who didn’t see the floor much at all. What do these fine gentlemen have in common? They’re all guards, backcourt magicians. Cal hit the jackpot with his guards in this recruiting class, but failed to bring in any top of the line big men.
Skal Labissiere who was the 2nd best overall recruit in the nation and the best center in his class never lived up to his potential and panned out to be a bust. Skal only scored in double digits 9 times out of 36 games and never received any big time minutes due to his inconsistent play. Cal admitted he tried transforming Skal into Karl Anthony-Towns (KAT) but still, Skal never performed to the level he needed to be at and led to Kentucky’s demise. All of Kentucky’s big men played scared all year long, which led to only grabbing 38 rebounds per game. Marcus Lee was famous for finishing with more fouls then he had points. Being 6’9 with arms as long as his, he was seen as more of a defensive anchor if anything. Last but not least, Isaac Humphries was the only big man who I saw that played tough on both ends, but never got love from Cal with only 9 MPG. Hopefully our new incoming big guys (Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones) can turn it around and solidify the paint and become a force throughout college basketball.
For the second year in a row, Kentucky was placed in the toughest region of the bracket in my opinion with notable opponents like UNC, Indiana, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. It was a tough test for a young, inexperienced Kentucky team but in the end they were just not built to win it all last year.
Heads up Kentucky fans, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m sure any other program would take a 27-9 finish in a heartbeat, but here at University of Kentucky we strive for the closest thing to perfection. Coach Cal will have us in the top 10 all of next year and I’ll be writing about why we WON the championship. Keep calm, and believe in Cal.
University of Kentucky ’20