Grading the Cats at mid-season

The start to the Billy Gillispie era has not gone exactly how UK fans desired, with the Cats nursing a sub-par record at 7-8 (1-1 Southeastern Conference). But UK has at least 15 games left to play — 14 remaining in the regular season and at least one in the SEC tournament. With Gillispie claiming that his team continues to improve each day, it is time to grade UK’s performance through the first half of Gillispie’s first season.

Few offensive options

If college basketball were a three-on-three game instead of five-on-five, UK’s offense would look much better. Senior guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley and freshman forward Patrick Patterson have carried the Cats thus far, but after that, there is a significant drop-off in offensive production.

Together the trio accounts for over 48 of the team’s 72.3 points per game with Patterson leading the way averaging 16.7 points. Crawford is second on the team in scoring with 16.4 and Bradley closely follows with 15.7. All together, the trio delivers 67 percent of the Cats’ scoring. UK is the only SEC team that boasts three players ranked in the top 11 in scoring, but that may be the Cats’ biggest downfall. Of the players who have played in at least 10 games, sophomore forward Ramon Harris’s average of 4.2 points is the only player who breaks the four points barrier. UK’s fourth-leading scorer, sophomore guard Jodie Meeks, has played only six games because of injury, and the fifth leading scorer is Alex Legion, who transferred to Illinois after six games.

On top of that, the Cats are 11th in the SEC in offensive rebounding (10.5 per game) and dead last in the conference in turnover margin (minus 1.8 per game), likely due to the fact that point guard Derrick Jasper has played only four games.

If UK doesn’t have the ball it cannot score. With an injury-prone backcourt, the Cats are turning the ball over more than setting up baskets with assist.

Defense still improving

The UK defense has had its lapses, but statistically speaking, it still is not bad. The Cats rank second in the SEC in field goal percentage defense (38 percent) and fifth in scoring defense (66 points per game) despite ranking eighth in 3-point defense (32 percent).

Patterson and sophomore forward Perry Stevenson have combined as a formidable defensive front line, blocking more than four shots per game (fourth in the conference). Harris said he has made a commitment to defense and several players have lauded the efforts of Crawford on the defensive side of the ball. The Cats’ defense has improved as the season has worn on. Last Saturday, UK held Vanderbilt to just 73 points, the Commodores lowest scoring output of the season, despite playing two overtimes.

Again, UK would benefit from the return of Jasper, a lanky defender capable of guarding almost anyone on opposing teams.

Gillispie on the trail

If UK football can teach UK basketball fans anything, it might be to hold judgment on the coaching staff. Football coach Rich Brooks won just nine games in his first three seasons before winning 16 in his next two.

Gillispie is not saddled with probation as Brooks was, but the first-year coach has said he needs more talent on his team, and the coach continues to say that his team is improving in practice every day.

Gillispie has begun to prove himself on the recruiting trail, signing Patterson last season and highly-touted recruits Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins for next year. He’s already received verbal commitments from players in the classes of 2009 and 2010 as well.