of how the 2013-2014 Cats would play.
Nobody wanted to hear it back then or since, and perhaps no one wants to hear it now, but this team is not much different now than it was then, when compared to the rest of the Top 25. While the team has gotten better within itself, it hasn't gotten better as a team compared to the rest of the country. It's just maintained level.
That's exactly what we see in games, too.
Playing well in stretches, playing well when the pressure is on at times, and playing with a chip on their shoulder only 30% of the time has not been enough. Anyone here could've told them that. It's not that they haven't heard it. It's not that they don't want to play better.
It's that they haven't yet understood that the way to the NBA is not by playing like you're that NBA star now that no one wants to be on the same team with later.
Passing in the NBA is critical. Knowing where you are going to go with the ball before you drive is critical. Knowing where your teammates are going to be is critical. Being ready to shoot, rebound, and pass the ball while your teammate has the ball is critical. Being clutch is big. Finishing is big. Having a chip on your shoulder is standard. Shooting is standard. Handling is standard. Hops are standard. Length is standard. Hustle is standard. Stamina and poise are standard.
Doing what you need to do without thinking too much and playing within the team framework as a matter of habit is what will make you stick on rosters even as an average NBA player.
The body language of this team is no different than last year's team. Their understanding of the offense and the movement of the team in that offense is no different. The way they play at times IS.
This team had potential that last year's may not have had. While Noel's team had the potential to beat almost anyone in 12-13 while he was healthy, this year's team has the potential to beat them all in 13-14 and some by significantly greater margins than that team could. That potential was squandered by the lack of bench development and playing time (going back to 10-11), inefficient use of the bench as a teaching tool, and an inflexibility in being able to put each player's unique skill set to best use.
What is left to recover of this season? At this point…. well, there's plenty to recover but there isn't much hope of it. There's no time. The lack of discipline exerted by Coach Calipari to this point leaves no room left for it to be established. The team has remained stuck in its rubbery state, flexing and flailing alternately, when it should have been firmly grounded and rooted by now with a foundation to build upon. Yet, we find it still digging deep into its teenage habits when it could be hammering nails into coffins, so to speak.
The myth of the "turning point game" is not unlike that of the fountain of youth.
It wasn't any turning point game that pushed UK into a Final Four and Championship in successive years. It was the discipline and character of the players around them that allowed the most tested newcomers to elevate their games. Each of those first three years it was like that.
The point guard is the key to this offense, but it was the play of veterans and a classmate that could spell him at the point in Bledsoe that helped Wall acclimate his freshman season. His talent and relentless drive did the rest from there. Knight had a solid foundation around and under him as well. Teague had the beyond-their-years Davis and MKG, as well as a few Final Four experienced sophomores and upper classmen.
Extract that foundation and hard wire people into the dribble-drive socket and the burning smell isn't pleasant. When you put too much on an untested and unregulated circuit, you can fry more than just the appliance. You can wind up burning the whole house down and you with it. There are a million metaphors to use here, but the point is the same.
You can talk about not forcing it. You can talk about using the bench and depth. You can say these things just as you can say, "We're going to press and run the floor because we have the talent this year.." It means nothing if you don't know how to do it, coach it, or implement it with the discipline required.
I didn't want to think this team looked like last year's team back in November and December. I wanted to be wrong about every word I said here and elsewhere. There is still something that can be done even for this year, though the best lessons the team could learn might die with any great success they might find.
One lesson we have learned is that our coach is not perfect, he can be wrong, and he can have as hard of a time changing as we all do. It wasn't having too few players that doomed last year's team. It's not having more players that magically made this year's team great. It's somewhere down at the bottom instead of up in the clouds that made the great things great and the great teams strong.
It was coaching and heart and discipline and teams-manship (respect) and talent after all.