The Kentucky Wildcats this year have been a lot different from the team a year ago, and in many unexpected ways, but probably the most important is that it has lost more games than the team last year, and a couple of them to opponents that you normally wouldn't expect to beat Kentucky.
For example, I doubt that anyone really expected Baylor to come into Rupp Arena after UK lost a road game and end the Wildcats' long home winning streak, but that happened. The loss to Duke was certainly one that you might have figured considering the youth of the team, but I think most people thought that UK could go up to South Bend and handle the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Be that as it may, what this article is about is more or less a round-table discussion -- I have posited a couple of questions to A Sea of Blue's contributors and authors, and they have responded in whatever depth they felt like, and responses were optional to those having the time or inclination to respond. Readers are invited to add their comments, either in answer to the question themselves, or in response to one or more of the answers. I also encourage you to avoid links and off-topic news stories in this particular thread to keep it on point.
Question #1. Has the Kentucky basketball team exceeded, met, or fallen short of your pre-season expectations so far? Explain why.
JC25: Given the exceedingly high bar John Calipari has set since he arrived in Lexington, "fallen short" is the obvious answer here. The 3 non-conference losses are already the most in the Calipari era. Further, the loss to Baylor was Coach Cal's first defeat in Rupp Arena. Both nuggets of information sting. But will things get better? Individually, each 'Cat has exhibited tremendous talent. As they accrue experience, I'm a believer that they will put things together as a team and win a bunch of ballgames. Another SEC Championship and Final Four appearance are certainly within reach.
A2D2: Met, because I set no expectations on a team but to have fun and honor the name on the front of the jersey. I've seen nothing that points to not having fun, and no one on the team has a mug shot, that I know of. :-)
JLeverenz: Basically met. The record is slightly worse than I expected at this point due to the loss to Baylor, but nothing about how this team has played has surprised me. Unlike Cal's previous three teams, this one is composed of players who have never played together and that's basically how they've played in games. It's not a surprise then that they've been able to beat the teams where they hold a clear and distinct talent advantage, but have struggled against squads that are in their neighborhood talent-wise. They don't have the benefit of returning stars and this freshman class doesn't have the unusual chemistry that last year's class possessed in addition to being incredibly talented, so they've had to learn all this from scratch.
Ken Howlett: Even though, record-wise, this team is about where I thought they would be, the squad isn't playing as well as I thought they would at this point in the season. This team, more than any other Calipari group, has had to face questions about their effort and attitude, which has seemingly placed these Cats behind the development curve adopted by their predecessors. Past teams have had issues, but playing as a team and playing with great effort, have never been in question (with the exception of Doron Lamb occasionally trotting up court).
If Cal's strategy of bonding his players through "shared sacrifice" works, coupled with a healthy Ryan Harrow running the point, and the light bulb comes on for these guys, the talent is there to turn the tables and become a very good basketball team.
I predicted a 29-9 record for this team, before the season started. If offered a chance to amend the prediction, I'm afraid I'd have to pass.
Alex Scutchfield: The Cats have fallen well short of my expectations. In our pre-season round table I predicted that Kentucky would lose 2 non-conference games. Unless we pull off a fairly substantial upset at Louisville on the 29th, the number will be at least twice that. In retrospect, we were a little spoiled with the cohesion that last year’s team showed. These things have to happen organically, and this year’s team just isn’t there yet. Kentucky looks disjointed on offense. That was probably to be expected. Unfortunately, this team does not get after it on the defensive end the way Calipari’s teams have in the past. Against the BCS level schools on our schedule, we haven’t closed driving lanes, haven’t always gotten back on defense and, of course, have gone for too many shot fakes.
With that said, the only real black mark on UK’s resume right now is its home loss to Baylor. Obviously there is no shame in losing to Duke on a neutral floor. Notre Dame is 10-1 and ranked #22 in the country (though I still don’t think they are a very good team).
Glenn Logan: So far, the team has fallen short of my expectations with respect to record, and development. I would have expected this team to be a bit more driven, given the résumés of the players involved. Yes, they were high-school players, but only the most talented and motivated ever rise to the level that they collectively reached in high school.
Of course, our current position leads me to wonder more about my expectations than the team. If you look back at last year, there were similar growing pains, particularly but by no means exclusively with Marquis Teague. But one thing you could never doubt is the will of last year's team to win. It was a little fuzzy at first, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's ability to lead by example was probably something that many of us undervalued. I think that's the main thing showing up right now -- the lack of a guy who can teach others how to refuse to lose, and constantly remind them that greatness is not given, it is taken -- taken by working harder and smarter than everyone else.
So that's what we think. What do you think?