Kentucky's ballyhooed platoon system for substitutions is good for getting players into games and UK's basketball program into headlines. But it might not be the best for getting three-point shots into baskets.
Tony Delk, Kentucky's career leader in three-pointers with 283, cited platoons as a possible reason for Kentucky's poor perimeter shooting recently.
Shooting is "about rhythm," he said before working the SEC Network telecast of UK's game against Eastern Kentucky Sunday. "What gets guys going is being on the court for consecutive minutes."
Delk's idea being: the longer a player stays on the court, the more comfortable he becomes, the greater the chance of getting into a good shooting rhythm.
Although not strictly adhered to, UK's platoons move players on and off the court at about four-minute intervals.
"It works for them," Delk said, "But as a player, you have to have a lather going and get touches."
In its last three games, Kentucky has made only six of 32 three-point shots (18.8 percent). Each game brought UK close to seeing the program's streak of consecutive games making a three-point shot end. Devin Booker made the first three-pointer against Providence with 8:41 left in the second half, Andrew Harrison with 2:47 left against Texas and Aaron Harrison with 2:57 left against EKU.
When asked about UK's three-for-19 shooting from beyond the arc against Providence and Texas, Delk suggested that the likelihood of staying on the court for extended minutes can lessen the anxiety about a miss. There's a comfort in knowing another shooting opportunity will present itself soon enough.
With platoons, "that shot might not come for another four or five minutes," Delk said. "It's hard to adapt."
As if on cue, Kentucky made three of 13 three-point shots against Eastern Kentucky.
In the latest NCAA statistics, Kentucky's average of 4.9 three-point baskets per game ranks No. 287 among 351 Division I teams. UK's overall three-point shooting percentage of 29.5 would tie for 259th (with Dayton and Manhattan) if the Cats met the requirement of 5.0 or more three-point baskets per game.
Not counting the 61 dunks, Kentucky's overall shooting accuracy is 40.9 percent (194 of 474) so far this season.
Of course, Kentucky is hardly suffering. The Cats lead the nation in victory margin (31.8 points). But the memory of four-for-32 three-point shooting in a 2010 Elite 8 loss to West Virginia nags.
Overall, Delk likes the platoon system. "Because there's no excuse for not playing hard," he said.
Delk, who played for UK from 1992-93 through 1995-96, ranks in UK's top 10 in career three-point accuracy (39.8 percent).
The players expected to be UK's best three-point shooters have been missing lately. Aaron Harrison, Mr. Clutch in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, has made six of 30 three-points in the last six games. Booker's three against Providence was the only one he's made in 11 attempts the last three games.
A palpable sense of anxiety filled Rupp Arena in the final minutes against Eastern Kentucky. A Kentucky victory long assured, what began as a murmur became shouts for three-point shots as if to remind the Cats that the streak was in jeopardy.
"I actually had no idea until I asked someone during the game. Why is everybody yelling for a three?" Marcus Lee said. "I was very lost."
Teammate Trey Lyles said that Coach John Calipari had mentioned the streak, which now stands at 909 games. UNLV has the nation's longest streak at 916 games.
"We were definitely aware of it," Lyles said. "Coach talked to us about it the other day telling us we kept the streak going against Texas."
Lyles said he did not know if the streak was important to Calipari. The UK coach sat impassively on the bench after Aaron Harrison made the first otherwise meaningless three against EKU.
When asked if the streak was important to UK players, Lyles said, "I think it's a little bit important. Not overwhelmingly. I just think we don't want to be the team that ends the streak.
"I don't there's any pressure on that," he added. "We're just out there trying to win. Threes or twos. It doesn't matter. Whatever wins the game."