You wouldn't call Kentucky a good shooting team -- at least not by the typical definition of the phrase.
For example, the Wildcats shoot about 34 percent from 3. The team's most frequent 3-point shooter, guard Aaron Harrison, is 25-of-88 on the season. The team's best 3-point shooters, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, have attempted just 89 3s combined. As a group, UK shoots 3s on just 30.5 percent of its overall field goal attempts, which ranks 255th nationally. John Calipari's offense is not designed around multiple-read screens and pindowns away from the ball. It's just not how UK is built.
Not that it has mattered. For most of the season, Kentucky was a good shooting team in a much more literal sense. The Wildcats' offense was one of the nation's best because UK's size was so dominant that it didn't need to make perimeter shots. Instead, it devoured buckets around the rim. Lobs, dump-ins, drives, and a hearty supply of offensive rebounds and putbacks made the Wildcats plenty efficient on offense. Perimeter touch was a non-required, pleasant bonus.
All of a sudden, and somewhat weirdly, this is no longer the case.
On Monday, our amigos at ESPN Stats & Information unearthed a rather remarkable statistic: Since Christmas, no team in the country has been less accurate inside the arc. In its first 12 games, the Wildcats shot 54.2 percent from 2. Since Dec. 25, Kentucky has made just 33.9 percent -- the worst figure in the country.
Per the Stats & Info group, that has translated into a drastic dip in interior production. Before Christmas, Kentucky averaged 36.7 points per game in the paint, 11th most among major conference programs. In their past three games, the Wildcats are averaging 21.3 paint points, ninth fewest among the major conferences.
There are caveats, of course. One of those three games came against Louisville's own interior swarm. The second, against Ole Miss (itself a surprisingly tough interior defense), UK still scored 89 points in 75 possessions, thanks to an 11-of-20 3-point shooting mark and 40 trips to the free throw line; offense wasn't really the problem there. And, of course, there is the fact that three games is a very small sample size, and probably not indicative of the Wildcats' abilities overall.
Drawing too many conclusions seems like a bad idea. The soundest defensive strategy against Kentucky surely involves packing in as many defenders as deep as possible, encouraging outside shots, and fighting like crazy to keep the Wildcats off the glass. Will the continued application of such a strategy make Kentucky's offense less likely, over the long run, to gobble up easy interior buckets? Will constant zone defenses make it more reliant on perimeter shooting? Is this just the randomness inherent in any three-game window? Is UK just unlucky?
There's no easy answer, and there may be no answer at all, but bears watching. Without interior buckets, Kentucky's offense will look very average, which in turn will put even more pressure on the Wildcats' top-ranked defense. The current Kentucky narrative surrounds the ongoing Tyler Ulis-Andrew Harrison discussion and Calipari's exhortations about swagger. Meanwhile, the lone constant in Kentucky's two close SEC calls is far more tangible -- and probably far more important -- than any of that.