When the Kentucky Wildcats fell 82-80 at the Tennessee Volunteers on Tuesday, much of Big Blue Nation went into panic mode.
That wasn’t helped by the recent statements by head coach John Calipari in regards to his team and where they are as of now, ".... I told them last night. Doing what’s right for the team sometimes may not be right by you, but that’s how you win. You do what’s right for the team, not necessarily what’s right by you, as an individual player, and I’m not getting through to some guys."
"I’m not getting through to some guys." Schedule and NCAA tournament seeding be damned, if he still isn’t getting through to some guys in January, then this team isn’t going far in March, regardless of the seeding.
Seeding is important, we’ve seen that in the past. More often than not, it feels as though UK gets screwed, but I digress as that is not to the larger point of this article. Right now Kentucky is 2-2 vs. teams in the top 25. After playing number two Kansas on Saturday, this is how their schedule shakes out:
vs. Georgia Bulldogs
at #25 Florida Gators
vs. LSU Tigers
at Georgia Bulldogs
vs. #25 Florida Gators
at. Texas A&M Aggies
In a word: barf. Not a lot of room for error and only two more opportunities to face a ranked opponent. And that one ranked opponent is on the precipice of not being ranked.
If the ‘Cats do not improve their play and if they don’t buy into Calipari’s team concept, then they will find themselves being upset one or more times.
In the latest edition of Bracketology, Joe Lunardi dropped Kentucky down to a two seed. But seeding aside, there are some issues with this Kentucky team that need to be addressed before we even get into tournament placement.
- The unwillingness of the guards to get the ball to Bam Adebayo
- The inconsistent bench play
- The inconsistent nature of the four spot which I foolishly declared to be a non-issue going forward
- Isaiah Briscoe is stalling on offense, and his defense hasn’t been as tenacious as we are used to it being
- The defense as a whole has been, at times, dreadful
- Malik Monk is our best offensive weapon, but at times he tries to do too much
All of these issues return to what Cal is preaching to his guys: you need to buy in and do it now. The loss at Tennessee doesn’t bother me. There have been really good Kentucky teams that went far in the tournament that fell on the road to bad SEC teams in January (‘09, 10, 14). What concerns me is that the previously mentioned issues are turning into trends.
You see, Kentucky could get away with playing their B game against some of these SEC teams early on because they were so much more talented. But now, some of these SEC coaches are picking up on the trends and game planning to expose them. Nobody has done it better than Rick Barnes did on Tuesday night.
It’s been a couple of games since we’ve seen that run and gun, fun team we all loved watching. It seems as if some guys are pressing at times. It seems like they’re trying to do too much. Have there been outside factors? Sure. The officiating has been unbearable at times. De’Aaron Fox has been injured. Mychal Mulder has been ill and looks to be out for at least another week.
But Kentucky still has more than enough weapons and talent to overcome some of these factors. The bright side is that, in their three losses, Kentucky has had chances to win them all. They are still one of the top teams left that have not been completely blown out by another team.
Saturday is gut-check time for this bunch. Can this team compete for a national title? We will have our answer. The Kansas Jayhawks are good with Frank Mason, Josh Jackson and, Devonte Graham. But the Jayhawks are vulnerable inside, and they are dealing with their own issues, which are much bigger than Kentucky’s. The fact that the game is at Rupp should produce a win.
The eyes of the college basketball-loving country will be on them Saturday night. Will they show up as the dominant force on offense that we are used to, or will they continue to be the discombobulated mess that we have seen at times in the SEC?
This game is more about the NCAA tournament. It’s about the heart and the pride of John Calipari’s team.