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Kentucky Wildcats
The 2019-2020 season will be my seventh covering Kentucky, and I never feel like I know what to expect when a new season starts. It's incredibly rare that the Wildcats return a dependable contributor, so my initial thoughts are usually a combination of "if"s and "we'll see"s. This season is no different, but before the Wildcats tip off against Michigan State I wanted to highlight a few things I'll be watching for over the opening few weeks. Each of these will have an important impact in establishing a ceiling for the Cats and determining how quickly they reach that ceiling.

Before I get started, I want to set expectations about my coverage during the first few weeks. Most of my work relies on analysis of the play-by-play data for a given season, which I won't have much of for a few weeks. During the early season, I'll be much less definitive about spotting trends in the data and will instead highlight some things that pique my curiosity and may eventually prove to be interesting. Once we get into mid-December, I'll feel more confident in assessing what is real and what isn't. With that being said, here are some of my initial thoughts of what to watch for as UK starts their season:

If Immanuel Quickley's offensive game has expanded, he can become a star for Kentucky...
Last season, Quickley was almost entirely a spot-up shooter. 59% of his shots were threes, 2nd on the team to Jemarl Baker. Quickley largely avoided any dribbling forays toward the basket and took only 13% of his shots at the rim. That is an even more extreme avoidance of the rim than other outside specialists at Kentucky, such as Tyler Herro (22% of his shots at the rim), Malik Monk (20%), Jamal Murray (20%), Devin Booker (21%), and Doron Lamb (21%). In Kentucky's 2 exhibition wins, however, Quickley has taken 38% of his shots at the rim. If Quickley can keep getting to the rim, while maintaining his trademark accuracy from 3, he can achieve something very rare for a Wildcat: taking 35% or more of his shots at the rim, and hitting 35% or more of his three point attempts. Under Calipari, only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was able to reach these two marks in a single season...and he was not as frequent of an outside shooter as Quickley is expected to be.

 We'll see who steps up as crunch-time scorers for Kentucky...
During the last 10 minutes of games within 10 points last season, 74% of UK's shots were taken by either PJ Washington (25%), Tyler Herro (22%), Keldon Johnson (18%), or Reid Travis (9%). Those players are all gone this season, so the Cats have to figure out who they can depend on for late offense. Tyrese Maxey is a likely candidate given his reputation as a scorer, but Ashton Hagans is an interesting option as well. While he only took 12% of UK's shots during close late-game situations last season, he posted an effective FG% of 62.5% during these situations (compared to 51% for the full season). Despite the vivid memory of his late struggles against Auburn, Hagans was also less turnover prone in clutch situations last season than during the rest of games. If Kentucky's offense spreads the floor more, Hagans can exploit the driving lanes to get clutch baskets.

We'll see if Kentucky's big men can avoid foul trouble...
Last season, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards were the two most foul-prone players on UK's team. They averaged 5.7 and 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes, respectively. With a lack of depth in the frontcourt this season and increased roles, you could easily envision foul trouble being a significant factor. There is reason to believe that each of them can reduce their propensity for fouling, however. Both players (and PJ Washington) saw their foul rates drop dramatically last season when Immanuel Quickley was in the game. The key was that Quickley was outstanding at containing drives from his man, an area where other perimeter Wildcats struggled last season. UK's big men often got whistled for fouls when they rotated over to help after the driver had beaten his man; when the driver was contained, these fouls disappeared or turned into blocked shots. Given the defensive reputation for all three of UK's main guards this season (Quickley, Hagans, Maxey), it's reasonable to think that UK's big men will be left to clean up these messes far less often.

We'll see if defensive rebounding is a problem for UK this season...
The Wildcats were pretty good on the defensive glass last season, getting 74% of their opponent's misses (55th in the country). This dropped to 72% (roughly 170th in the country) when Richards and Montgomery shared the court, however. Both players' aggressiveness in going for blocked shots has led them to give up offensive rebounds. They aren't poor rebounders; the Cats have been excellent on the offensive glass with these two in, collecting 48% of their own misses last year. This is largely because these two don't touch the ball a lot, so they are free to crash the glass when other players miss. They clearly have the ability to rebound well, but need to be more consistent. Kentucky has frequently struggled on the defensive glass under Calipari, ranking outside the top 200 nationally in 2015, 2016, and 2018 despite abundant height and athleticism. This problem crept up during exhibition games against undersized teams, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Kentucky have some struggles keeping opponents off the glass early.

We'll see how favored lineups change over the first 2 months...
Ashton Hagans didn't start until December 8th against Seton Hall last season. During the month of November, Hagans played fewer minutes than either Quade Green or Immanuel Quickley. By the end of the season, however, 4 of UK's 5 most used lineups featured Hagans, and UK's most-played lineup of Hagans/Herro/Johnson/Washington/Travis played nearly 4x as much as any other lineup. Fans should expect that there will be shuffling in the rotation early on, so there's no reason to panic about who is and isn't playing. By the time conference play rolls around, a rotation should largely be established. Before that, there will be a lot of experimentation. 

These are a few of the things I'm watching for this season to help determine the ceiling for these Wildcats. The themes are pretty much the same every year: returnees need to grow into bigger roles, and some newcomers are expected to step up to offset the loss of first round picks. We should see pretty quickly if this season is going to look like 2017 (when Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, and Dominique Hawkins combined with De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo) or more like 2016 (when Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, and Skal Labissiere weren't quite ready to carry the frontcourt). Either way, it's high time we had some basketball to watch. 
I want to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. At Hoops Insight, I hope to use data to find insights that reveal things you didn't realize about the Kentucky Wildcats. I'm using play-by-play data to track what's happening, who's doing it, and who is in the game, in order to show you things the box score can't. Check out my past newsletters in the Hoops Insight Archive, and read about the stats I like to use in my stats glossary.

If you have any questions about things I'm saying, the data behind it, or if you just want to debate a point, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @hoopsinsights or email at sean@hoopsinsight.com. I'd love your feedback on the newsletter and how I can improve. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy my work.
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