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Kentucky Basketball: Should The Big Blue Nation Revise 2013 Expectations

The answer to the question above is "Not only no, but heck no."


College Hoopedia has an article yesterday discussing highly ranked recruiting classes, and looks as far back as the 1950's. The author warns Kentucky fans that last season is a cautionary tale when it comes to highly touted classes:

Next year's UK crop is already being labeled as perhaps the greatest in collegiate history but it will do well to simply be better than four previous Wildcats classes (1978, 1983, 2013 and 2015). Last year's flop should give Big Blue Nation some reason to refrain from thinking they can promptly go from NIT first-round loss to Robert Morris to a Final Four.

We have heard this time and again from all manner of doubters, but I'm here to tell you that it is nonsense. Last year's class had some giant holes in it that were there for all to see. The fact that the Big Blue Nation, including yours truly, were blinded by the success of the first two years of the John Calipari era does not mean that we should now be cautious, or reign in our expectations.

What this kind of thinking purports to tell us is to learn from last year's mistake in judgment by essentially making another mistake in judgment. While it is true that last year was a failure by the standards of the Big Blue Nation, keep in mind that the last half of the SEC season was played without Kentucky's best performer and likely #1 NBA Draft pick, Nerlens Noel, on the floor. Those counseling Kentucky fans to be wary never seem to acknowledge that fact, opting instead to refer to the Robert Morris debacle as if it happened when Kentucky was at full strength.

While it is likely true that Kentucky would not have gone far in the NCAA tournament even if Noel's injury hadn't happened (although in my opinion, they certainly would have made it in), that doesn't change the fact that the Wildcats' #1 recruiting class of last year pales in comparison to the incoming monster class of 2013. Every weakness that the 2012-13 Wildcats had has been addressed in spades with the players coming in to replace Noel & Co.

Add to that the return of several major contributors from last year, and it is simply irrational not to have NCAA Tournament championship expectations. I think all of us can be forgiven for overestimating last year's team, but let's not offer some sort of upside-down penance by underestimating this year's team.

I would offer still more criticism of the writer by suggesting that attempting to compare the productivity of 4-year teams of a bygone era with the much shorter term teams currently in vogue in college basketball is unconvincing. Of course the teams like Indiana 1976 and UCLA 1965 are going to look great, having much more time to mature. To my thinking, that just makes the 38-2 achievement of Kentucky's 2012 class all the more impressive.

A better comparison would be to compare the classes in terms of their first year impact. That doesn't mean that, for example, Kentucky's 2011-12 class would come out on top, but certainly they would be much higher than their current ranking of #12. It's his blog, of course, and he can run it how he will, but comparing a one-year class to a four-year class isn't quite cricket to my way of thinking.

It also baffles me how Kentucky's freshman class of 1978 isn't higher than #35, which would be the class including Mike Phillips, Rick Roby, Jack Givens, and James Lee. All they did was go 102-21 during their career, finish NCAA runner up in 1975, got to the Elite Eight in 1977 and won the tournament in 1978. How Louisville's 1982 class is reckoned better beggars belief.

In any case, my counsel is to ignore the naysayers and get ready for a great year next year. This incoming recruiting class is extraordinary in many ways, and although they will be different from the 2012 national title team, I expect them to be similarly successful. You should, too.