To this point in the season No. 1 Kentucky has been, in the eyes of many, the best team in the country. With their ten-man rotation chock full of highly talented players, the Wildcats entered Wednesday’s game against Columbia having won all nine of their games by 12 points or more. Yet even with that being the case there’s still plenty of room for improvement for John Calipari’s team, with perimeter shooting being the issue of late.
Kyle Smith’s Lions were able to effectively slow down the pace at Rupp Arena, with each team getting a paltry 52 possessions on the night. The combination of the slow pace and Columbia’s outscoring Kentucky by 12 points from beyond the arc in the first half led to Columbia leading 25-23 at the intermission.
However Kentucky’s ability to hit the offensive glass ultimately made the difference, with the Wildcats grabbing 21 offensive rebounds on their way to the 56-46 victory.
It should be noted that the Wildcats played without guards Tyler Ulis and Devon Booker (and Columbia is playing this season without Alex Rosenberg, who’s their best player), and that did impact the way in which Kentucky shot the ball from the perimeter. Overall the Wildcats shot 2-for-17 from beyond the arc, and over the last four games (playing three with their full rotation) Kentucky’s made just eight of their 49 three-point attempts. Yet even with their struggles in making perimeter shots the Wildcats have remained one of the best offensive teams in the country with regards to efficiency.
Why? Because they’re the best offensive rebounding team in America.
Prior to Wednesday’s game Kentucky was rebounding 45.5% of its missed shots, and against Columbia the Wildcats posted an offensive rebounding percentage of 52.5%. And while Kentucky may have scored “just” 15 second-chance points those extra possessions add up, and given Kentucky’s total scoring output that isn’t a figure to scoff at.
Willie Cauley-Stein was responsible for five of those 21 offensive rebounds, and he combined with Trey Lyles to grab 20 of Kentucky’s 41 total rebounds. The size and athleticism of the Wildcat big men produces extra opportunities against most opponents, and that will likely be the case throughout the 2014-15 season.
On nights when that doesn’t occur and they’re dealing with teams who can take away the lob without giving up the offensive glass, which Columbia was unable to do, Kentucky will need to hit some perimeter shots to loosen things up. However given the pieces at Calipari’s disposal, that strategy is far easier to plan than it is to execute.