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May 20, 2013

Calipari hopes for return to defensive form in 2013-14

Kentucky's defense disappointed last year, posting the worst adjusted defensive efficiency ranking - easily - for a John Calipari-led team in a decade.

And that should mean Calipari will be even more keen to get next year's Wildcats back into the upper echelon of the nation's elite defenses.

He's done it before at UK. In the three years before last season's run-of-the-mill group that ranked No. 77 in the country in defensive efficiency, the Cats ranked sixth, 15th and ninth.

All those teams had long, athletic players throughout the lineup. But they also had a rim-protecting big man or men and player who could lock down opposing point guards or wings.

Last year, Calipari had the first (and can expect to have the same again with Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee), but didn't have the second.

Calipari thought he had another DeAndre Liggins-type defender in Archie Goodwin before the season began, but that comparison never came close to materializing.

Calipari thinks he could actually have that player this year in shooting guard Aaron Harrison.

"(He) should be and will be and is expected to be and will be demanded to be a lock-down defender," Calipari said.

Calipari said that having the 6-foot-5 Harrisons - Aaron and his point-guard brother Andrew - in the backcourt could allow UK to use a big zone.

But Calipari has talked a lot more about using zones than he's actually employed them in the past two years.

Another change that he tossed out as a possibility seems much more likely, however.

"We should be able to press because we're going to be so big with our guard play and whoever we put up there," Calipari said. "But it will start with Aaron."

And continue with everyone else.

Calipari says that with the increased depth on his roster, he will be able to instill more of an attacking mentality in his defense. He also plans on picking up the pace.

"I'll be able to play like we played at Memphis," Calipari told Andy Katz. "We'll be pressing and getting after people because we have more people."

That could mean more turnovers. In four years at Kentucky, his team's turnover rate has been no better than 218th in the country. In his last four years at Memphis, it was no worse than 119th.

Going back to Memphis' style would also mean more fouling. From 2003-08, his teams ranked 73rd or worse every year in defensive foul rate.

At Kentucky, where he's professed a philosophy that values committing six or less team fouls per half to avoid giving opponents one-and-ones, his teams have fouled far less frequently.

Because he's had (relatively) thin rotations, each player meant so much that they HAD to stay on the court. UK had the eighth-lowest foul rate on defense in the country two years ago. In the three others years at UK: 25th, 38th and 54th.

He plans on letting his players be more physical because he has more players (and more talent) on the bench behind his starters.

"Now we have numbers," Calipari said. "We'll play more toward our team, how this team needs to play."

If those foul numbers return to Memphis-like levels, it won't mean a drop-off in defensive prowess.

That approach was effective for him there. From 2006-08, when he started accumulating more talent comparable to Kentucky's and making deep tournament runs, Calipari's teams ranked sixth, 11th, fourth and first in defensive efficiency.

That upper echelon is where he envisions this Kentucky team ranking, even if he uses a different style than we're accustomed to seeing from his Wildcats.

"Will we play different? Absolutely. We'll press more. We'll foul more," Calipari said. "Because that's the way the game's going."


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