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Kentucky Basketball: The 2014-15 Season In Review - Part 1

Before the NBA Draft begins and the summer starts, let's review the season that was, and what we learned.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while now since the Kentucky Wildcats’ season ended in defeat at the Final Four in Indianapolis, falling to the Wisconsin Badgers and putting an end to a historic season that saw Kentucky ultimately lose as an undefeated favorite. College basketball is notoriously unforgiving to great teams, and this season was a strong reminder of that, in case anyone actually needed it. The best team does not always win the NCAA Tournament, and in this writer’s humble opinion, that once again proved the case this year.

Now it is time to put finis to the 2014-15 basketball year. It has been over a month since the season officially ended with Duke as the last team standing, and as much as that may gall Kentucky fans, it’s exactly the kind of thing that college basketball is famous for. So before we embark upon a new adventure, it’s appropriate that we look back, perhaps a bit sadly and wistfully, at the season that was.

This review will consist of five parts: First, a look back at the trip to the Bahamas, the things we learned there, and how that experience foretold both the historic greatness and the disappointment. The second will be the non-conference season, the third the conference season, and the fourth will cover the post season. The final part will tie it all together and look at Kentucky moving forward into 2015-16.

So Sherman, fire up the wayback machine and let’s go back to early August of last season when the Wildcats arrived in Nassau for an intense six-game series facing various international amateur and professional teams. Let’s look back at a few of the postmortem comments from those games:

  • Game 1 - UK over Puerto Rico National Reserves 74-49 (Keith Garrett)

    Tyler Ulis is just flat out awesome for this team and the importance he will have to this team cannot be overstated. Jay Bilas was very complimentary of Ulis on multiple occasions and he hit the nail on the head with a few of his Quotes. Bilas said "most guys look, this guy actually sees." One of the most impressive things Ulis did today was actually something he did not do. He had tried to force a pass down low that resulted in a turnover. Just a few minutes later, he had the chance to try a contested alley-oop to a sprinting Marcus Lee but smartly opted against it.

    And we have video:

  • Game 2 - UK over Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket 81-58 (Glenn Logan)

    I have been keeping my powder dry about this team until I saw them in person, but I must tell you, this was somewhat terrifying. Honestly, against this team right now, I’m not sure the 2012 national title team could be them two out of three with all this depth and talent. It’s a little bit scary.

  • Game 4 - UK over Dominican Republic National Team 83-71 (Glenn Logan)

    But in early offense and transition, the defense was very bad. Early in sets when the offense attacked before Kentucky got their defense set, DR got a lot of layups. In transition, they beat Kentucky down the floor consistently, no matter who was in the game. I’d say we have a fundamentals problem there.

    This proved to be a harbinger for the early season games, too, but Kentucky cleaned that up in the latter half of the non-conference schedule and it was rarely a problem after that.

  • Game 6 - UK loses to the Dominican Republic, 62-63 (Glenn Logan)

    The last three games of this Big Blue Bahamas tour turned out to be more of a grueling affair than we might have thought, and it just goes to show that ten days of practice is not enough to round into game shape. Having said that, I think that UK fans are very happy with the outcome, and although losing the last game in a nail-biter is not ideal, the success of this trip was overwhelming from every standpoint.

The Bahamas experience seemed to cement the idea in John Calipari’s head that the platoon system had to be used this year. From that point on, news was very limited. But in mid-September, Calipari came straight out and said what we all suspected on

If you wonder why everyone is panicked outside of the Big Blue Nation, why everyone is curious as to how we are going to make this work, why writers with agendas to another program or coach are pitting player against player, platoon vs. platoon, it’s because they are afraid of what could happen. They know that if this turns out the way they think it could, it becomes a watershed moment for college basketball. There will be no going back. No player will ever worry about who else is in the program or who may stay. They will know we have their best interests at heart.

We’d all like to say Calipari was prescient about that, and perhaps it’s too early to say otherwise. But many blame the platoon system for the apparent collapse in recruiting in the spring. Rather than ushering in a new era of ambivalence about roster depth, some think that recruits were scared away by it. I’m not so sanguine about that, which is why I’m reserving judgment, but it’s interesting that this was one prognostication that Calipari could be said to have misjudged.

So it was at this point, well before the season, that the platoon system became the official policy of the Kentucky basketball program. Not that this was something Calipari did lightly or without reservations, but he made it clear in this and other comments along the way that platooning had to be the way it was this season, although he always reserved the right to change it. As we saw later in the season, the platoons dissolved into a more or less typical rotation, but who really knows how much of that was due to the loss of Alex Poythress and how much was due to competitive pressure? We can only speculate.

But this was a bold, non-traditional plan by Calipari, this platooning of his players. It quickly became a byword in college basketball, and the early success of it began to make many people wonder if beating Kentucky was even possible. But the Big Blue Nation knew it was, because they had seen it done … in the Bahamas.

After the bout of basketball in just before football season, the Big Blue Nation felt much more comfortable about the team, and its place in the upcoming basketball season. They suspected that with the return of Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, who were unable to play in the Bahamas due to injuries, that the team would be even better than they were in Nassau.

A college basketball hurricane would be born in the Caribbean archipelago that would storm ashore and blow down every opponent but one. In multiple ways, the Big Blue Bahamas were a presage for the NCAA season to come, both in glory and ultimately, in premature defeat.