The conundrum of Kyle Wiltjer



What to do with Kyle Wiltjer.

The freshman is an offensive asset. He showed that Thursday, leading the team with 24 points with efficient 7-for-11 shooting, including all three of UK’s 3-point makes.

The freshman is also a defensive liability. He showed that too Thursday, getting beat by his man off the dribble and in the post.

“We’ve got to help him defensively,” coach John Calipari said. “We have to do some schemes with him, because there are certain matchups that he’s not ready to go with. But we need that shooting and that scoring on the floor.”

Games like the one against Loyola are an audition for Wiltjer, especially with Terrence Jones out. He will get a lot of minutes against mediocre teams — he played 25 this time around — to prove he should get a lot of minutes against SEC teams.

So whatever UK does with Wiltjer will involved trying to hide him on defense, even though Calipari has said multiple times this year that he simply won’t play freshmen who can’t play defense. But, despite his defensive limitations, he can (sometimes, but not always) make up for it, and then some, on offense.

“Stretches out the defense,” Calipari said when asked how Wiltjer helps on offense.

Calipari wants to play Wiltjer. He’s been high on his skill set since the beginning of the season, and UK needs more than its six “starters” and whatever they get from Eloy Vargas. But Wiltjer has made it tough on him, as evidenced by his limited playing time (less than 10 minutes) against Kansas, Indiana and North Carolina.

“I think the kid has a toughness at heart,” Calipari said. “We just gotta help him. I got to get him to take more charges. Block out more. And when he’s in the post, we have to do some things.”

Wiltjer isn’t the only player with a weakness that has to be worked on. Calipari said after the game that everyone needs a break, because he’s “fighting” his players too much. He launched into this list as improvements that must be made:

“I’m fighting my point guard to be a point guard, I’m fighting Darius to be tougher, I’m fighting Kyle for defense, fighting Eloy to come up with balls.”

The one thing to point out, though, is that Wiltjer’s defense isn’t a fix as easy to induce as the others. He just physically isn’t ready. He gets beat off the dribble and gets banged around too easily in the post and on the boards. Those things can change but aren’t likely to, especially not if the timetable is for SEC play.

And so Calipari gets to draw up schemes to hide Wiltjer on one end of the floor.

Wiltjer will have to consistently impress on the other side to keep getting his shot.

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