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So, maybe Kentucky isn’t so great after all


Looking back, Kentucky’s four wins in the Bahamas did more harm than good. John Calipari said so earlier this week. “It may have hurt us more than helped us,” he said of the August trip. “Did we get arrogant, all of us, me included?”

Through two real games in the regular season — not exhibition games against uninterested (and some hungover) players in paradise — it is safe to say, yes, the Bahamas games were a little misleading. Kentucky looked like a team that was ready to dominate college basketball right out of the gate, a team far ahead of where John Calipari’s young teams usually are in the early season. It helped the Cats earn a No. 2 preseason ranking and planted national championship thoughts into fans’ heads, more so than usual. I can’t speak for what it did to the players’ confidence, but I imagine they got a little full of themselves too.

Then came the Duke game earlier this week. You don’t need me to tell you how that went.

And when Kentucky was given the opportunity to bounce back against Southern Illinois, it didn’t look so good through most of the game.

The Cats turned the ball over 12 times in the first 12 minutes and fell behind by as many as eight points in the first half. The Southern Illinois offense was scoring at will while the Kentucky offense was out of sync and passing the ball to people sitting at the scorers table and in the third row of Rupp Arena. If not for a late first half run, the visiting Salukis (tall, slender dogs) would’ve taken a lead into the break. Kentucky was lucky to be up by three, thanks to the play of Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards.  They had over half of their team’s points and Richards had 12 rebounds at halftime.

Then came the second half and Southern Illinois regained its lead. The lead got as high as seven points with around 14 minutes left in the game, and the unthinkable thought of an 0-2 start to UK’s season crept into fans’ heads. Is this really happening?

But the group of Immanuel Quickley, Quade Green, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards got things back on track and proved to be the winning lineup Kentucky needed, at least on this given night. It’s not the five anyone expected to change UK’s fate in the game, but they were the five to flip the script and put the Cats on the right side of the scoreboard. Green was great in setting up teammates and hitting some big shots, Richards kept grabbing every rebound in sight, and EJ Montgomery made a strong case for taking some of PJ Washington’s minutes.

In the end, it was Kentucky on top, 71-59, but the victory did little to prove UK is a good team. It will be a good team in time, but it’s not a good team right now and it’s far from the national contender we thought it was only a few weeks ago. Some of the players we thought would be stars aren’t anywhere near stars, and the team as a whole sometimes looks like they’ve never met each other. The cohesiveness and competitiveness will improve with experience, but it’s going to be a long couple of months until Calipari has them rolling — and I have no doubt he will.

Moving forward, defense should be an immediate point of emphasis because Kentucky is giving up straight-line drives and completely falling apart against the pick-and-roll. Protecting the ball should also be near the top of the to-do list after turning the ball over 19 times in this one. Finding the right shot is also a problem.

They’ll be fine, though.

Coach Cal said so after the game. “Let’s get this together. Let’s enjoy the process,” he told fans.

Until then, the ride is going to be a little bumpy.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

62 responses to “So, maybe Kentucky isn’t so great after all”

  1. Natureboy42

    Let’s have it we had a Duke hangover in the first half. But it’s ok we are still gonna be one of the ones to beat come March. I have faith in Cal and this team wants to be great, once they figure things out the sky is the limit

    1. JTHinton

      Totally agree!

    2. jrbh1250

      No, we won’t. We will lose in the second round.

    3. zoupman

      Natureboy, I like your positivity. Coach Cals teams always get better. Love Coach Cal.

    4. Ruppstartedit

      Duke had higher ranking big men but in the case of Townes and Davis the ranking flipped by the end of the season. Cal has recruited the potential to form a awesome team. These guys don’t guard, block out or know the simplest plays at this point. It’s Cal’s ability to bring them along.!!

    5. BigolBlue

      Lol @ this!!!

    6. SGD

      Figure it out? Its basketball with a supposed veteran team. What it is, is a bunch of NBA rejects and operated freshman.

  2. syrin23

    They are better than they look. Effort is there from the freshmen. PJ has been trash. No productivity, inconsistent to lackluster effort. Everyone else is working hard. They are trying to force things a bit, but that will go away. Herro is pressing, but his defense is under rated. he gets into passing lanes better than anyone on the team and is a great help defender. He is the best entry pass player on the team, and there isn’t a close second. His shot selection has been suspect. Not sure the team is running plays to get him open looks like the used to do with Doron Lamb. Montgomery looked great, Quickley looked great, Keldon looked great. Hagans is going to be a project. This team is much better than their performances would have you believe.

  3. bigbluebanana

    They’ll be fine. These are kids. The media and the fans are as much to blame as anyone for slobbering all over them after a meaningless showing in the Bahamas. There’s a whole thread on Reddit about how UK does this every year. KSR is mentioned by name as ALWAYS hyping up the team every year, and then everyone is shocked when they realize our guys barely have hair in their chins, yet we don’t win every game by 40. Temper expectations and games like tonight don’t hurt. They become what they truly are, early games played by a bunch of kids who never reach their potential by November.

    1. BTownUKFan

      I agree, forget the Bahamas. Cal’s teams always look lost in offense and defense at the start of the season. Mainly because most are freshman and easily get caught up in the moment. We know they can score from the outside, once they show some consistency things will open up in the middle. Our they on a level with Duke? No…I don’t think anyone is but a lot can happen over the next 4 months.

      GO CATS !!

  4. Cincy Cayt

    The good and bad thing about college basketball is that these early games mean very little. We destroyed Duke a few years back and ended the year in the round of 32 vs IU. True, winning early games can help seeding, but after the 2014 run I have a hard time getting too worked up about that. Let’s get better and try to reach our potential and then be happy wherever we finish.

  5. UKPROF

    We’re still in the top 50 and at least a pretty fair chance to make the NCAA Tournament.

  6. michaelb

    Somebody needs to tell pj Washington that he’s not gonna get drafted playing like that

    1. FanNotFanatic

      And I think this is the most worrisome thing so far. Alex Poythress?

    2. michaelb

      That’s exactly who he reminds me of . What causes guys to forget who they are? I’m scared I might wake up and not be able to do my job tomorrow lol it’s an epidemic

  7. ukkatzfan

    You look at Bahamas as bad, you look at Duke as bad. Why ? Why not look as Bahamas as good. Big loss to Duke as good cause it wasn’t a heartbreaker and it kept duke from learning anything. With Cal, its a process. Enjoy until March, then grade the process.

    1. notFromhere

      80% of Cal’s teams take a step back before putting things together. Others yoyo. It is what it is

  8. davis2319

    Such a young group and our “experienced” players have only been in college for one season. We do not have freaks of nature like Duke has, but I still think we will be a tough opponent for any team come March.

  9. henderblue

    Really disappointed with the way Washington is playing right now but I think he will get it going. EJ looks really good, he’s gonna be hard to keep off the floor. Quickley is our point guard. We’re gonna be fine when we get defense figured out. Was impressed with Green tonight. He showed some fire. And some firepower.

    1. michaelb

      Hell yea green is gonna be good this winter

  10. kysportsblog

    This team will be fine. This is just one game. Not having a go-to scorer does hurt right now, but these guys will grow into their game and become more confident in their ability. They’re just kids.

    1. zoupman

      Cal has won many tournament games.

    2. mlw333

      Fine is not what Cal is getting paid for being just fine is below the standard for UK. If we’re fine with losing to programs like Kansas State on a yearly basis, let’s just bring Tubby back for half the salary.

  11. bigbluehank

    “Let’s enjoy the process.” What process, Cal? The same one that ends up with a second week exit in the tourney, followed by multiple freshmen leaving for the Association?

  12. kysportsblog

    Check me out on twitter: @kysportsblog

  13. Brad

    Big blue hank how many times have we exited in the 2nd round since Cal has been here? I’ll wait… once! Nit year our best player got hurt. Other than that in 9 years total 7 sweet 16s and 6 elite 8s. 4 finals 4. What more could you actually want. That means 6 out of 9 years we were legit title contenders. I think you being ridiculous to ask for more…

    1. bankerbh

      You should re-read Big Blue Hank’s post as he mentioned nothing about a second round exit. He said second week, which implied getting bounced out of the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 game. The fan base should stop living in the past as the Wall, AD and KAT teams are long behind us at this point. People have been content with the 2012 championship but that was just one and over 6 1/2 years ago. Cal needs to be on the hot seat and start coaching. He no longer gets the same level of talent that allows him to roll the ball out and let them figure it out. I’ve said in the past the end of the OAD will be a defining time for Cal and to see how well he adjusts and can start teaching/coaching. 3, 2. 1….I guess I’m supposed to go find another program because I want something better from the program at this point. GMAFB

    2. bigbluehank

      Well said, bankerbh!

    3. Booby Petrino

      Lol Cal on the hot seat. That’s so stupid.

    4. mrpokerchips

      LOL at you people crying. It’s tough winning 30 games and making it to the Sweet Sixteen every year. What a crappy deal. LOL

    5. rdcore2

      Bankerbh big man you are to come on here complaining about a top 5 coach who consistently has us in the elite conversations year over year and in a spot to win titles. There’s a reason guys like you are stuck in a 9-5 job behind a desk with no upward progression for 20 years, still “living for the weekend man!” Amirite? How’s Karen been, you still degrading her nightly as she finds ways to cheat on you because you haven’t made her happy in years. You pathetic loser, you wouldn’t know anything about how hard it is to be in the upper echelon with repeated success year over year in a billion dollar cut throat industry. You want Tubby back? Gillespie? How bout ole Rick?

      You are a toaster oven. Good for nothing but burning crap

    6. michaelb

      What is that a pic of?

    7. runningunnin.454

      rdcore2, ha ha ha ha…OUCH!
      (Who is Karen?)

    8. ClutchCargo

      rdcore2: savage! Ha!

    9. zoupman

      Bankerbs you are way off. Coach has one more games since he has been here then any coach in the country. So grateful he is our coach.

    10. ukcamel

      Won more games and gotten to more Final Fours!

    11. bigbluehank

      So, it’s ridiculous to dislike the fact that the coach has turned the program into a farm system for the NBA? Is it also ridiculous to be disappointed that over the last several seasons he has made lackluster coaching decisions in crunch time tourney situations?

    12. syrin23

      Bigblue is right. Villanova has more titles since Cal took over than Cal does. Cal has put 35 (!!) players into the NBA and has ONE title. If Coach K had the same results with 35 NBA players, this board would be all over how over rated he is, does he need 50 NBA players to win a second title, etc. The reality is he has not produced given his talent level. And we’re not talking about guys taken 29th in the draft. Lottery picks every year, a bunch of top five picks and at least three number one over all picks.

    13. syrin23

      And for the record, I don’t think we should get rid of Cal. We need the players, but he needs to get more results. The only person I would trade Cal for is Brad Stephens, and given what his Celtics are doing, he might be ready to go back to college and set himself up to a 20 year dynasty somewhere.

    14. mlw333

      One title with that amount of talent? Last year they were all but handed at trip to the final four, but I guess they didn’t want to attend.

  14. kfwa

    I’m tired of watching bad basketball in November/December with the promise of glory in March – especially if we’re on a multiple year run were its an empty promise.

    No one watches UK basketball to see good basketball for 1 month. This “process” is killing fan enthusiasm for the program.

    1. kfwa

      where

  15. Dowser

    Quade and Nick show against lesser talent (not that the Saluki’s are bad) but fade against the “big dogs”. I hope they make me eat my words. Go Cats!

  16. bf311

    Drew you really suck. For a guy that doesn’t have tv and checks the website to see how UK does because I’m a fan… you really piss me the hell off. You write the most negative articles about 18-21 year old kids I’ve ever seen and the most negative articles I have ever seen. What the hell have you done in your life to warrant just ripping into kids? I mean re read your stuff… you should be fired. I bet you would go out there and get demolished. How and the hell is this making you feel? Take a look in the mirror buddy before writing anything and anyone else commenting. I’m glad your all’s lives suck so bad that all you can do is rip some kids because they had a bad performance… the fact people can get paid for writing such bs blows my mind

    1. dgtuk

      You mad bro?

    2. bf311

      Mad at reading non sense. Cause you can make a judgement after 2 games. I’ll take cal any day to figure something out and if they have a bad yr so be it a national championship and how many ever final fours in 10 years is awesome

    3. antiquefurnitureandmidgets

      Did you read a different article than the rest of us? In no way, shape or form is it anything approaching your description. I’ve criticized KSR over many items over the years but this article is entirely fair to the kids and coaches. Or do you really think “we’re not that great but will be a really good team by the end of the year” is outrageously hypercritical?

    4. playmorezeppelin

      Kick rocks. I’d rather someone tell me how it is rather than pump sunshine up my ass. I think it makes matters worse when we act like we’re better than what we really are. You can watch this season in denial and stay disappointed but my expectations are right where they need to be: with Drew’s.

    5. mlw333

      Just because you’re a fan of a team doesn’t mean you cant critize or call out bad coaching decisions or bad play. And stop with that “just kids” shtick. Their legally adults and more than likely will be in the league next year

  17. J. Did

    It’s a process. Better to be humbled early and build toward March. dook will end up like the 30-0 CATS. They can’t play like that every game. It is early. KENTUCKY will be fine.

  18. ScottGreene22

    Hopefully can get better and improve as the season goes on. They are a mess right now

    1. zoupman

      Things will get better. Cal knows what he is doing.

  19. BPatte

    Not looking good for the Cats. I don’t understand how we can continue with the opposition constantly driving for wide open layups and under the basket layups! Trans did it, Duke did it and now Southern Illinois has done it. We got to get this fixed fast!

  20. Cmart0907

    Actual COACHING and TEACHING are two different things.

  21. playmorezeppelin

    I mean, am I the only one who thought we didn’t look that great in the Bahamas?

  22. dcforuk

    Remember asymptotes in H.S. Trig class? If not, then stop reading this comment because you won’t understand. When an asymptote first descends to touch the x axis, the drop is very significant. For H.S. Freshmen, the AD’s, MKG’s and Zion’s of the world (Keldon too) are already close to the x axis when they begin college. To use SIU coach language, their maturation needs no microwave oven attempts to cook them to full maturity. For many/most freshmen, they are like the beginning of an asymptote and will improve dramatically (get very close to the x axis quickley) as opposed to starting their career close. I think we will be fine. How can we not with names like Quickly (Quickley) and Hero (Herro)?

  23. bf311

    I apologize to drew I took it to far to say you should be fired, I just wish people would realize that all athletes are human too… none of us are perfect and to put so much pressure on people to perform it is hard. We all have human moments as I proved earlier and feel bad about.Go cats sorry drew

  24. Irish son

    I’m so sick of shitty basketball all fall and half the winter. This team is incredibly hard to watch. Just ugly

  25. catsarerunnin

    It surprises me that every year people go off the rails because a young team struggles. And every year we will have a young team at least as long as Cal is here. It’s frustrating and aggravating but it’s just how it is. And all the HOF coaches here at KSR also have a crystal ball that says this team will go down in flames. Of course any UK team throughout the history of UK basketball went down in flames if they didn’t win a title. And that means there’s only been 8 UK seasons didn’t go down in flames. So all of us should invest in fire extinguishers since here we go again.

  26. damage_control

    Herro looks like a 3-4 year guy.

  27. KYCat4EVER

    WOW! So, maybe CALIPARI isn’t so great after all… either. Hate to say it but… our team looks like something Tubby or Billy Clyde would put on the floor

    1. damage_control

      I see Captain Hyperbole decided to make an entrance.