You have heard me many times talk about the inflection point of the season, and in particular, this season. That's what we'll be talking about now, but before we do, let's define what "inflection point" means in this context.
In mathematics, an inflection point is the point on a curve at which the curvature changes sign, from either positive to negative, or the other way around. In a basketball season, my definition of the inflection point is similar — around what game or event does the season suddenly turn from bad to good, or vice versa. A season can, of course, have more than on inflection point, just like the curve defined by a mathematical function can. But in this discussion, we will only be talking about one.
For a long time during the season, we were asking the question, "When will the light come on for this Kentucky team?" or something along similar lines. We were looking for the positive inflection point. Few of us were really thinking, or if so, little more than to ourselves, that the trajectory of the team could turn negative rather than positive. I know I wasn't.
Last season, the inflection point was easy to see, and revolved around the injury to Nerlens Noel. When he went down, the season went straight to NIT-ville ignominy on a bullet train. Even the somewhat surprising victory over the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena in the regular-season finale could not rescue it.
This season, though, the inflection point was a little harder to discern since it didn't revolve around a catastrophic event like an injury or something similarly final. This season's inflection point, in my view, was the first Florida game in Rupp Arena, and it revolved around John Calipari.
Calipari got a late technical foul that changed the complexion of that contest, and even though we can't quite blame the loss on that foul, it was a significant contributing factor. The team obviously played worse after that call, and it robbed them of all their momentum and put Kentucky on their heels. That technical undid what up until then had been a pretty good game, and gave the Gators just a tiny crack — and that crack was all a good team like Florida needed to upend the Wildcats in their own legendary building.
Right after that, Kentucky went down to Ole Miss and played well for the first half, but Calipari had become substantially more vocal on the bench and was almost out of control at times. Here was my observation from the postmortem:
Speaking of Calipari, I thought he totally over-coached this team last night, literally dictating when a shot should go up from the bench. I swear, at one point, I thought he was going to run out on the floor, take the ball away from Andrew Harrison, send him to the bench and take over at the point guard.
Jeez, Coach Cal, back off the caffeine and 5-Hour Energy, willya? As a fellow 55+ year old, let me remind you that as great as our minds are, our bodies are just not up for it. Let the kids play, and give them their head a little.
That advice was not taken, unsurprisingly, and despite winning that game, Kentucky looked very uncomfortable late. We didn't realize it then, but that's when Kentucky's fortunes were already headed in a negative direction.
The LSU game was the next data point, and after having some good stuff happen against Florida and Ole Miss, many of us thought that we'd be going along nicely against LSU. We reckoned without the bad, and that was the more potent of the two forces. Despite a dramatic overtime escape from LSU at home on a last-second Julius Randle putback, a team Kentucky recently pummeled in the SEC Tournament, the Wildcats were headed down.
And down they went. There's no point rehashing the Arkansas, South Carolina, or second Florida game. After the narrow escape at home against LSU, this was a team headed down the NCAA Tournament seed lines like an elevator with broken cables. Only a vastly inferior Alabama team at home on senior day broke the free-fall and a four-game slide that could have put Kentucky on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
It's my opinion that after the Florida loss, Calipari knew that a one-seed was out of reach, and he began to try to rescue the season from the bench by riding heard on this young Kentucky team. Not only did it not work, it broke them. The only thing that saved the season was the interregnum between the uncompetitive game at Florida and the SEC Tournament, where Calipari abandoned his micromanagement from the bench and took a more encouraging tone. That was another inflection point, but it came too late to rescue Kentucky from a low seed in a tough bracket.
So that's how we got here, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation. I am of the opinion that the SEC Tournament had maybe a one-seed net positive effect on Kentucky's seeding, but it may have a much larger effect on their tournament fortunes if the improved play continues. But in my analysis, the first Florida game, and specifically that technical foul against Calipari, started a sequence of events that cascaded down the season.
It looks like we're headed back up again. Let's all hope so, and hope further that the story of this season will not be defined by the first inflection point, but by the second one.