That, my friends, is what happens when a team that wants to win more than anything in the world hosts a team that simply isn’t very good. Sure, the programs’ track records and the NIT seedings say it’s an upset, but in reality, it wasn’t. Kentucky struggled all season in road environments and found itself in the biggest game in Robert Morris’ history — the first ever postseason game in Moon, Pennsylvania against the defending NCAA champions. It was the Super Bowl of all the “Super Bowls” and Kentucky went down, 59-57, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.
Although it’s incredibly disappointing, a Kentucky loss shouldn’t be a surprise at all, really. Anyone expecting something other than what we saw Tuesday night should look back to Kentucky’s last five games away from Rupp Arena:
Florida 69, Kentucky 52
Tennessee 88, Kentucky 58
Arkansas 73, Kentucky 60
Georgia 62, Kentucky 52
Vanderbilt 62, Kentucky 48
Why were we to believe Tuesday night would be any different?
Robert Morris isn’t an SEC school, I know, but you’ll have trouble convincing me Robert Morris is any worse than Georgia, Vanderbilt, and maybe Arkansas. Kentucky needed to win any of those three SEC games to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament and the Cats lost by double-digits in all three. If they weren’t motivated then, they certainly weren’t coming out fired up in front of 3,000 people in the NIT tournament. And they didn’t.
Let’s face it… It’s a loss we never thought we’d see in the John Calipari era and we just saw it. The University of Kentucky Wildcats lost a first round game in the NIT tournament. Now it’s time to put it behind us.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the basketball played Tuesday night. Everyone underachieved and underperformed; everyone, except Jarrod Polson. If not for the kid from Wilmore, the Wildcats don’t battle back for a look at a game-winner on the final possession and this game is likely a rout. Polson is the only player who showed any heart on every possession and he was rewarded with playing time for his tenacity and effort. Take a seat, Ryan Harrow.
Unfortunately, it takes more than six-foot-two, walk-on Jarrod Polson to win a basketball game. He played at the level Robert Morris was playing right out of the gate, but he was the only one in white/blue trim with any will to win.
You know it’s bad when you hear Jimmy Dykes say, “Jarrod Polson continues to be the guy holding Kentucky in this game.” At Robert Morris. In the NIT.
That’s what we just watched, folks.
I guess Archie Goodwin deserves some love, too. Goodwin scored a game-high 18 points with seven rebounds and a perfect 8-for-8 from the line. He, too, wanted it bad, but sometimes Archie Goodwin wanting it bad leads to Archie Goodwin moments with the basketball. Still, a valiant effort from him and Polson. Archie will be scary good once he figures it all out.
Remember that Karvel Anderson guy? He’s Robert Morris’ leading scorer on the year. Yeah, him. He scored two points in the win. Kentucky lost to Robert Morris with two points from its leading scorer. The Colonials didn’t even need an Elston Turner-like performance to get the win. It just took a balanced, hungry attack for 40 minutes.
After the game, John Calipari called the disappointing season a humbling experience. “You think you’re supposed to win 30 (games) a year,” he said. “All the sudden this hits you, and it’s humbling.”
Coach Cal’s teams averaged 31 wins per season over the last seven years, prior to this season. This year’s Wildcats finished with 21 wins, his lowest total in over a decade.
“The program almost got hijacked,” he said.
Depth was a problem for the 2012-13 Cats, but it won’t be a problem at all in 2013-14. Calipari said he may have three teams, fifteen guys, next season. The talent will be a lot deeper, too.
“We are going to be unbelievably competitive at every position,” he said of next fall.
That means no more pulling guys off the street — that really happened (Lanter) — to fill a spot so they can hold 5-on-5 scrimmages. It’ll be at least ten guys working to earn playing time in every practice.
If the 2013-14 season were to start right now, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein and Ryan Harrow would all be back for another season in Lexington. All four guys were asked about their basketball futures and all said they would likely be back, for now.
Here’s a recap of what each player said after the game:
“I can’t go anywhere, so I’ll be here next year.”
“I just gotta get back to Kentucky and start working immediately.”
“I’m not ready.”
“We’ll get it right next year.”
“If any of us were saying we should leave, we’d all be delusional. None of us need to leave.”
“Next year we have a strong group coming in… We’re all going to continue to get better.”
“(Lamb and Jones) came back and got a championship out of it, hopefully we can do the same.”
“It depends what my situation is. I want to win a national championship. I want to win a ring before I leave college.”
“If it comes down to, and my family needs me, I’ll go. But if not, I’ll stay and get a couple more years of education and develop.”
“I’m not letting this happen next year. The mentality is gonna be different all from the get-go.”
A quick, uneducated interpretation from the quotes suggest Willie Cauley-Stein is the most likely of the group to leave, while Poythress and Goodwin are seriously considering a return. Harrow sounds like a return is his only choice.
We’ll have plenty of time to discuss their options in depth over the next few weeks.
One of the players who could potentially be competing in UK practices next season is set to announce his decision on Wednesday. Julius Randle, the No. 1 power forward in the 2013 class, will pick between Kentucky and Kansas on an ESPNU TV special Wednesday afternoon.
We’re pretty confident Randle will commit to the Wildcats, but the folks over on the Kansas websites are feeling the same way about the Jayhawks. The most telling sign, to me at least, is Jason Jordan on the radio show Tuesday morning sticking with his pick for Kentucky. Jordan is the closest to the Randle situation and he almost has to know what the decision is by now. I can’t imagine him going on the air and guessing Kentucky if it’s going to be Kansas. That, plus everything we’ve been hearing since Randle’s visit in September, has me believing it will be the Cats.
We’ll be covering the Randle decision Wednesday afternoon with a running diary of the recruiting special beginning a little before 1:00 p.m. Join us as we get ready for his announcement, which could almost guarantee a preseason No. 1 ranking if he picks up the Kentucky hat.
In closing, I’ll ask everyone in Big Blue Nation to say a little prayer for college basketball next season. The 2013-14 Revenge Tour kicks off in November and it’s going to be a bloodbath.
Enjoy Kentucky basketball’s misery while it lasts, America. It won’t last long.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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