You all know me around here. I’m generally a pretty level-headed fun, especially when it comes to John Calipari and Kentucky Wildcats basketball. I’ll be the first to point out Cal’s success and track record at UK whenever anyone starts to disparage his coaching ability or recruiting methods.
But that’s not easy to do with this current team.
An ESPN article titled “Is this John Calipari’s most disappointing Kentucky team ever?” is hard to argue against. Yes, Jeff Goodman is the author and I know how we all (and Cal) feel about him; but let’s not dismiss the notion because of the author.
Goodman correctly points out that in 2013, Cal’s only NIT season with Kentucky, there was a built in excuse because of the season ending injury to Nerlens Noel. The team fell apart once their lottery pick player went down and nobody else could step up and fill the void.
But this year’s team doesn’t have the luxury of an excuse of that caliber:
This team is at full strength now that Jarred Vanderbilt returned about a month ago, but the Wildcats are free-falling following Wednesday night’s 10-point loss at Auburn -- giving them their first four-game losing streak since Calipari was hired in 2009.
Now it’s time to start wondering if the Wildcats will make another NIT appearance, because it’s fair to question whether this team can beat anyone on its remaining slate.
The one quibble I have is that the team isn’t technically at full strength. Jemarl Baker was brought in to answer the shooting question but he’s out for the season with a knee injury. Would Baker have made that much of a difference if he had been able to play? That’s questionable but it is important to point out that Cal doesn’t have his fully recruited roster.
Then there’s the injuries to Jarred Vanderbilt and Quade Green that really helped lead to this team’s midseason collapse, as this team clearly doesn’t have the kind of chemistry a team with 26 games under its belt should have.
With that being said, it is completely fair to question whether or not this team can win any games left on the schedule.
The Alabama Crimson Tide comes in to Rupp Arena on Saturday with wins over Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Tennessee. They also have SEC player of the year candidate Collin Sexton.
Next up is at Arkansas where the Razorbacks are 12-1 at home.
Then the Cats will play back to back home games. The first one is against a surging Missouri team that already beat UK in Columbia and have won five in a row. They follow that up with Ole Miss, a team that is falling apart.
They end the season at Florida. John Calipari hasn’t had great success in Gainesville over his career. Even when Kentucky has had good teams they found it hard to win at Florida.
In the last five games of the season, I feel good about winning one of them. If Kentucky goes 1-4 or even 2-3 the NIT is a reality unless they make a run in the SEC tournament. This would be a complete disaster of a season.
Kentucky was ranked top 10 in the nation to start the season. Whether one takes any stock in preseason rankings is for another discussion. UK also had two potential lottery picks with Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo. Knox has had fantastic moments but he’s also notorious for disappearing. Right now Diallo looks as if he’s never seen a basketball in his life. Both players struggle with listening and confidence.
Players like Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt, and P.J. Washington were looked at as potential first round picks depending on how they played. Can we realistically say that any NBA GM would consider them now? Maybe Vanderbilt because of his size and athleticism, but that’s it.
This is a team constructed of young but talented five star and four star talent. Almost of them were McDonald’s All Americans. But, for whatever reason, their talent hasn’t panned out quite the way we all would have liked.
The shame of it all is that we have seen this team play extremely well. Before they got into SEC play, this team was scoring in the 80’s and 90’s regularly. They are capable of winning and being a good team but the light that seemed to have been coming on has been snuffed out.
And that’s why it will be Cal’s biggest disappointment if this team does not make it to the tournament. If this team had struggled out of the gate and lost some early games they should not have, then absolutely we could have seen this coming. But heading into SEC play this team was 10-2 with wins over Louisville and Virginia Tech, two tournament teams, and the look of a unit that was finally starting to click.
Now the bottom is falling out and the Cats are firmly in the Danger Zone. Calipari continues to say that he’s not cracking. He’s seen it all in his 30 years on the job. He still sees this team as a Final Four contender.
Hopefully he can convince his team of this because the fans are on the verge of checking out.
Win on Saturday and I think this team can build some momentum. Lose and... well I don’t want to think of that.