The 118-84 beat down that the Duke Blue Devils handed the Kentucky Wildcats may be the most stunning result in the John Calipari Era. And yes, that includes losses to Robert Morris in the NIT and the Wisconsin Badgers in the Final Four.
This was stunning because not only were the Cats the higher ranked team, but most everybody thought that while maybe they weren’t exactly on par with Duke from a talent perspective, they were close enough and they had depth that the Blue Devils didn’t.
Boy were we all wrong.
This leads me to my first question.
Was the loss more Duke’s greatness or Kentucky’s failure?
The fact is the two teams didn’t look like they belonged on the floor together. I had a caller into my postgame radio show on ESPN 680 in Louisville that said Duke had pros on the floor and Kentucky had pro prospects.
I think that hits the nail on the head.
Zion Williamson, Cameron Reddish, and RJ Barrett are the three best players in college basketball and they all play for the same team. All three of those guys could be in the NBA right now and all three would be starters.
Their size, athleticism, shooting ability, and tenacity make them impossible to guard man-to-man for almost any team they will face.
Duke is as good as advertised. Honestly, I think they’re better than we all thought.
Which brings me to Kentucky. They aren’t as good as we thought. In fact, they’re more of a work in progress than we could have imagined.
That being said, I think they were legitimately shocked at the ease in which the Blue Devils were able to score. After the initial punch of Duke going 4 of 5 from three and then watching Zion and Barrett get to the rim at will, the Kentucky players were out of sorts.
While I think the answer to this question is “it’s a combination of the two”, I’m willing to concede that it was more about the greatness of Duke.
Who is the point guard?
Outside of one season, John Calipari has had an impressive run of point guards.
John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ulis, De’Aaron Fox, and, most recently, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have all made their marks at Kentucky. The one blank space belongs to Ryan Harrow.
Neither Ashton Hagans nor Immanuel Quickley staked their claim as to “next” on the list of the greats.
The point guards were not impressive last night. The offense wasn’t fluid, they didn’t do much to get their teammates involved, and both were anemic on offense. Jay Bilas noted that Kentucky was doing a lot of standing around and not making moves to confuse Duke. That’s on the point guards.
After the game John Calipari stated that he grabbed Quickley and Hagans in the tunnel to tell them that he needed to work with them more. That’s worrisome considering the fact that he’s been coaching them both since early August and they had six games under their belts before Duke.
If I was pressed to choose right now I suppose I would go with Ashton Hagans. While he only had two points he had more assists than Quickley and he was more active on defense. Neither guy can really shoot but consider the fact that Hagans should be a high school senior right now. He has a higher ceiling.
What happened to the sophomores?
Nick Richards, PJ Washington, and Quade Green were absolutely brutal last night. Here is the statline between the three of them combined: 9 points, 3-12 from the field, 1-4 from three, 2-4 from the free throw line, five rebounds, three assists, one block, and four turnovers.
In a word: pathetic.
For all of the fans clamoring for guys staying multiple years in order to build chemistry and endear themselves to fans, I have something for you: talent matters. Duke’s three freshmen completely clowned Kentucky’s three sophomores. The one year that Washington, Green, and Richards spent at Kentucky last season didn’t mean a damn thing last night and it sure as hell didn’t translate.
That being said, all three guys should be better. They need to be better. There’s no excuse for Washington to be bullied like he was and foul out with nine minutes in the game. No excuse for Quade Green to continue to take awful shots and be a liability on defense. And Nick Richards... well I’ll just leave it at that.
All three guys were hyped before the season as leaders and as better players. They failed that test miserably last night.
Can someone besides Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis show some heart?
Johnson and Travis were the only two players on the floor that competed for the entire game last night. They looked like they belonged on the floor with the Duke guys. The rest of the Kentucky players looked lost, scared, and a step slow.
John Calipari is going to have to figure out who that third guy is going to be. From what I saw, EJ Montgomery is going to be the answer to that question. He had flashes of what he could be and provided a spark for Kentucky in the second half. I can see his minutes increasing as the season progresses.
Tyler Herro has to be better. Sure, he ended up with 14 points but that all came in a late flurry during garbage time at the end. He looked very tentative at the beginning and settled for contested shots. Kentucky is going to need his scoring going forward.
How did John Calipari so badly misjudge this team?
John Calipari will be the first one to start pumping the brakes if his team is behind or if he knows they will not meet early expectations.
He did it last season. He did it in 2016. He did it in 2014. And he did it in 2013.
He hasn’t been doing it this season.
Cal has been talking about how he doesn’t have to yell at practice. He has a team of alpha dogs. He has a team that’s already taking ownership of the team.
We saw none of that last night.
They lacked effort, they lacked toughness, they lacked communication, and they lacked the ability to take ownership of what was happening to them.
How did Cal miss on this team?
Like us, was he blinded by what he saw in the Bahamas? I, for one, think that is the case. I think we all got a little too giddy form what we saw in Atlantis and visions of 2014/2015 starting dancing in our heads.
This team would lose to that team like they lost to Duke. Maybe even worse than that.
Is this salvageable?
Big Blue Nation is feeling quite low today. Our storied basketball program is a laughing stock.
But as bad as it was, it’s only one game. And I understand that people don’t want to hear that right now, but it’s true.
Calipari has a lot of work to do but maybe this butt kicking was a serving of humble pie that not only the team needed, but Calipari needed it as well.
The Cats have seven games to answer some of these questions and get things right before they take on their next meaningful opponent in Seton Hall.
This team could start clicking and really turn it one before SEC play starts. In fact I am going to bet that happens.
It’s going to take the players and Cal to take a long hard look in the mirror and figure out what this season is going to be about in the end. Is it going to be a lamenting of failed expectations or is it going to be a celebration of a resurgence?