By Mark Carpenter –
Let me begin this column with a startling revelation so I hope you are sitting down when you read this. I am a full-blooded, blue-bleeding, die-hard University of Kentucky basketball fan. Let me also say that I am not so die-hard that I will be jumping off bridges or sacrificing my first born to the basketball gods when the Wildcats lose. Right now, though, it might be decision time for us card-carrying members of the Big Blue Nation.
It’s no secret that Coach John Calipari is the undisputed king of recruiting the ultra-talented “one and done” players and sending them directly to the NBA to become instant millionaires. That is all well and good in the arena of college basketball today, and it yearly will produce 20 plus wins in a usually weak conference because of sheer talent, but is that really what the Wildcat faithful are wanting from their program? The goal in college basketball is to win championships and this year’s version of the Big Blue seems to be far, far away from achieving that goal.
The decision facing the BBN seems to be quite clear-do you want to win more NCAA titles or do you want to have a good team each year that populates the NBA draft? In other words, do you want to play for March or June?
This year’s Wildcat squad seems quite content with showcasing their own individual skills, as difficult as it may be to watch. The key to Coach Cal’s success is his ability to get his one-year wonders to buy into his system, to sacrifice their own individual stats for the good of the team. (See Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.) This year’s bunch hasn’t quite gotten that point, and don’t seem anywhere close to doing so, much to the chagrin of the loyal followers. Yes, numerous names from this roster will appear on the NBA Draft board in June, but right now it doesn’t look like any of them will be celebrating under confetti to the strains of “One Shining Moment.”
The loss at Florida on Saturday was a microcosm of the problems plaguing this team. Defense has suddenly become non-existent, rebounding is a lost art, and some not-so-smart play is resulting in turnover after turnover. Throw the ball to the post to a big man who either can’t catch it, tries to bull through double and triple teams, and can’t finish, or hit a free throw. The concept of putting up 80 points for the win as the “tape doesn’t lie” and teams have begun to figure out how to slow the game down and force the Cats to play half-court, something they don’t seem to be built for, especially when Malik Monk is smothered and someone else has to produce offense.
Perhaps I am overreacting and the team will somehow right the ship but the last couple of weeks have not done much to produce any postseason optimism. It is also painfully obvious that teams with experience, meaning juniors and seniors who can play, can get the best of these freshmen. That is why I think teams like Villanova or Kansas are the title favorites. And you know what hurts most? The Wildcats are not even the best team in the Bluegrass at the moment.
In his presser after the Florida loss, Coach Calipari had this to say, “Sometimes you gotta hit bottom, and maybe we have hit bottom, maybe we haven’t hit bottom. We’re not passing the ball, we’re turning it over, we’re making hard plays, we’re making cute plays. We kind of got away, and we gotta get it back. Now we see them at their worst, OK, now it’s a choice: do you want to be at your worst, do you want to be at your best?” There you go Coach Cal, let’s hope you can fix it…and soon.
Before any of you begin to assume, I will not be jumping off the bandwagon any time soon. My family would disown me and besides, I could never afford to replace three-fourths of my wardrobe. I think I look good in that UK blue anyway.