It’s been a tough stretch for the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. After an early season filled with positivity and great expectations, the once dominant looking team is out of sorts and have been victims of bad play leading to bad losses.
The loss at Tennessee could have been explained away. The loss to a Kansas team on the ropes at home stung. The flat-out beatdown in Gainesville to the Florida Gators was unacceptable.
ESPN’s Seth Greenberg has been an outspoken critic of Kentucky recently and he let all of his frustrations on his podcast with Andy Katz (h/t to KSR and Tyler Thompson):
“Their pieces don’t fit. Their pieces could fit. They do have some weaknesses, but they don’t defend like a John Calipari team usually defends. They don’t have a toughness on the defensive end. They’re not as committed as they’ve been, just guarding the basketball. You look at De’Aaron Fox, he should be a great on-ball defender, he’s getting beaten off the dribble. You look at ball screen defense, Bam Adebayo should be a very good ball-screen defender. He’s taking bad angles. To me, as I watch this basketball team, defensively, they don’t have a toughness, they didn’t finish with defensive rebounds and then offensively, like, Malik Monk is a special talent, but he doesn’t work all the time to free himself, to get open, to come off screens, to set up screens. Bam has not established himself as a low-post player. Right now, today, I don’t like their chemistry. I don’t think they’re playing at a high level, and they’re not a good basketball team. Do they have a chance to be a good basketball team? Yes. But right now, in this moment in time, they are not a good basketball team.”
I don’t think Greenberg is being unfair. In fact, I agree with him 100%. Anyone with a working knowledge of basketball and how Cal runs his teams could see all of this coming a mile away. The guys aren’t working hard on defense and on offense, they look clueless and are doing little to correct the issues in-game besides their de facto one-on-one answer.
That’s not all. The laughing Malik Monk incident became a social media sensation and polarized fans. I am in the camp that I don’t think he meant anything by it, but it still is not a good look as you’re getting crushed on national primetime TV.
And yeah, John Calipari saw it. Jerry Tipton asked him about it on the SEC coaches teleconference. (Again, h/t to KSR and Tyler Thompson):
First of all, when I heard it, you know, I got on him, and what they had done is they were singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him because it was his birthday and that’s why he was — he caught it. But, I said to him, ‘Do you understand you’re at Kentucky and the camera is always on, the mic is always on.’ You know, it’s a lesson for him. I mean, two seconds before, Joel [Justus], my assistant, was sitting next to him and Isaiah [Briscoe] and they were going nuts about how bad they’d played. ‘I can’t believe this, you and I are better than this, what in the heck, how did we let this,’ and then they started singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ which I looked at Joel, I said, ‘Joel,’ and he said, ‘Coach, I didn’t see any of it and I was sitting there.’
So, he learned a lesson. I’ll probably put him out in front of the media tomorrow and let him explain himself.”
My hope is that the team is taking all of this negativity as a personal challenge. It’s getting late in the season and March is a month away. If this team does not figure it out then it will be a second straight year in which a talented team exists the tournament early. And this would hurt worse as this team is extremely talented.
I trust John Calipari to fix this, but the task isn’t going to be easy if his players continue to not by in to his system and insist on doing things their way.