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The ones that got away: The missing pieces that cost UK titles


I have a theory that almost any UK basketball team could have won a national championship under John Calipari if the Cats had just one more weapon. Maybe UK missed out on a recruit or  a player went to the NBA Draft that surprised the staff, but nearly every year since the 2010 season the Cats have been missing just one player. A couple years the Cats were a player off from having a perfect season.

I will tell you those players and how things would have been different, but let’s remember we’re keeping realistic expectations. We can’t say Anthony Davis could have returned in 2013 to help UK go back-to-back. No one can convince me that woulnd’t have happened, but Davis was never going to have a sophomore season. You all are smart, you get the rules.

2010: 35-3, UK lost in the Elite Eight to West Virginia.

The Missing Player: A senior Jodie Meeks.

The hypothetical result: Kentucky would have finished the season undefeated with a national championship with Meeks. How would you stop a UK team that had John Wall attacking the rim and Meeks waiting for open shots on the perimeter? Remember (how could we forget), three-point shooting sunk the Cats against WVU. Many believe Meeks was close to returning to UK.

@Enes_Kanter

2011: 29-9, UK lost in the Final Four to UConn.

The  Missing Player: An eligible Enes Kanter.

The hypothetical result: If things had just gone as planned and Kanter was ruled eligible by the NCAA the Cats would have cut down the nets. The hard part here is that Kanter would have completely changed the regular season. The Cats wouldn’t have been a four seed. They wouldn’t have had a dramatic win over Ohio State and UNC to get to the Final Four. But they definitely would have had enough talent to beat UConn and Butler in Houston.

2012: 38-2, UK won the title.

The Missing Player: A senior DeAndre Liggins.

The hypothetical result: Kentucky beats Indiana and crushes Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship game with Liggins and UK goes 40-0. Liggins was the best defender in college basketball in 2011 and would have only improved in 2012. Imagine a lineup with Teague, Liggins, MKG, Jones and Davis. Good luck scoring. Liggins didn’t seem forced out but UK bringing in MKG probably made his decision slightly easier.

Joe Murphy / NBAE / Getty Images

2013: 21-12, UK lost in the first round of the NIT.

The Missing Player: A sophomore Marquis Teague.

The hypothetical result: If UK doesn’t win the title in 2012 Teague and Doron Lamb likely return. Rumors suggest even after winning the title UK expect both players back and were surprised when both left for the NBA Draft. Teague would have improved the disappointing 2013 season more than Lamb. UK isn’t winning the title with a sophomore Teague but if Noel stayed healthy it could have been a Sweet 16 team.

2014:  29-11, UK lost in the title game to UConn.

The Missing Player: Andrew Wiggins.

The hypothetical result: I’ll never forget Wiggins’ decision day. Staffs from UK, FSU and Kansas had no clue where the five-star wing would end up and Bill Self said he was shocked to hear he picked the Jayhawks. Had Wigg

ins picked UK the Cats win it all in 2014. UK needed perimeter defense and Wiggins would have provided that while also helping offensively. Like 2011 the regular season isn’t as ugly with Wiggins, so the road to the Final Four would have been much different.

2015: 38-1, UK lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin.

The Missing Player: Justise Winslow.

The hypothetical result: UK was late to recruiting Winslow, who was somewhat of a late bloomer, but had the Cats prioritized him earlier the recruitment could have gone differently. UK could have used his defense and versatility offensively, but let’s be honest: UK should have won in 2015 and had its ideal roster. Ugh.

2016: 27-9, UK lose in the Round of 32 to Indiana.

The Missing Player: Dakari Johnson.

The hypothetical result: UK also expect Johnson to return and it’s not crazy to think the Cats could have competed for the title with Johnson. Johnson would have allowed Skal Labissiere to play a stretch four and I’m not sure how you guard a team that features Ulis, Murray, Poythress, Skal and Dakari. UK really struggled guarding physical bigs and also struggled on the glass. UK is at least a Final Four team with a junior Johnson.

2017: 32-6, UK lost to UNC in the Elite Eight.

The Missing Player: Miles Bridges.

The hypothetical result: UK was thought to lead for Bridges for the majority of his recruitment, but after visiting MSU he set a commitment date and canceled a visit to UK. That was all she wrote. Had UK landed Bridges the Cats win it all in 2017. Fox, Monk, Bridges, Willis and Bam would have been Calipari’s best offensive lineup and Bridges would have provided some much needed rebounding. Marcus Lee was also considered for 2017 and the Cats suffered when he transferred to California.

2018: 26-11, UK lost to Kansas State in the Sweet 16.

The Missing Player: Mohamed Bamba.

The hypothetical result: UK had outside shooting (at times streaky). The Cats had attacking guard. The only thing UK was missing last season was a dominant center and had Bamba picked UK instead of Texas the Cats could have made a serious run at a championship. I don’t think UK wins it all because Villanova was just on a different level, but Kentucky could have been the second best team in the country with Bamba.

In 2019 UK is just a Reid Travis away. Come on down, big guy.

Article written by TJ Walker

26 responses to “The ones that got away: The missing pieces that cost UK titles”

  1. KYFAN4LYFE

    WOW…I know things are slow right now, but this is a massive waste of time and effort.

    If “ifs and buts” were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas…

    1. kjd

      Totally agree.
      On the what ifs……if Cal doesn’t take the ball away from KAT, and into the twins hands, we go undefeated for #9.

    2. gregsj50

      If that happened and I had a feather in my ass, we’d both be tickled

  2. 4everUKblue

    If not getting Justise Winslow is the reason we didn’t win that year, I’ll take it. He’s a dirty player and fit dUKe’s dirty play perfectly.

    1. JTHinton

      Let’s be real, we had all the pieces to win. I’d argue having a healthy Poythress was what hurt us the most

    2. 4everUKblue

      Agreed.

  3. Blueballz

    What a colossal waste of time.

    1. ukkatzfan

      I guess with that name, you think other things are a colossal waste of time also.

  4. VolsSuck

    2015 is not Justice Winslow. He was too much of an “if.” A healthy Alex Poythress was the missing piece.

    His absence broke up the dominant platoon system into a 9-man rotation, and took away an absolute beast on defense. Sam Dekker doesn’t go off in the Final 4 if he has Mr. Athleticism guarding him for 20 minutes at least.

    1. ukkatzfan

      Was comment that I was hoping to see.

    2. Robkycats54

      I agree Poythress or if James young would have returned being 6-7 to slow down dekker, we tend to forget how good james young was…. actually our best player during the SEC Tournament & Tournament with Aaron Harrison hitting all the big shots, but if young return poythress getting hurt wouldn’t have been that bad….

  5. Rowinguy1

    I have to admit that I have spent some time thinking about this very same topic. I think the biggest one of these would have been having Jodie Meeks in 2009-10. If we had won in Cal’s inaugural year, and why wouldn’t we have, who knows what the recruiting bonus would have been.

    Having a healthy Poythress in 2015 delivers the undefeated season, too, I believe. I don’t see Duke staying within 10 points and what a sweet win that would have been.

    1. krautdog

      I’ve never liked Meeks bailing in 2009. He would have been the difference maker in 2010 & would have been a lottery pick in the draft & more than made up the loss of his first NBA years salary and sported an NCAA Championship ring as well! HUGE disappointment!

  6. katfan33

    Cool post!! I’ve often thought about the hypotheticals. Definitely Meeks in 09-10

  7. JTHinton

    More importantly, since when did Arkansas have a heisman hopeful

  8. UK Maine-iac

    Is “expected” not a word anymore?

  9. mashburnfan1

    2013 team was not one player away and was not that good before Noel got hurt. Last years team also was more than 1 player away as all the FR except Shai were way over rated. The others I could see, Kanter year I really feel we would have won a title. Still had the ” I can’t in game coach” though. That is what lost the perfect season, we had more than enough talent and experience just not enough coaching.

    1. ukcamel

      Last year’s team was a senior Karl Anthony Towns away from winning the title. 2013, maybe if Davis came back.

      Both are absurd hypotheticals, obviously.

  10. UKInsider

    Fun blog. Nice job

  11. Cincy Cayt

    I don’t know about the years where we already had a lot of talent such as 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2017. I feel like an additional player wouldn’t make that big of a difference those years since we weren’t short handed. On the other hand, I think Kanter puts us in much better shape in 2011 – maybe not a championship but I think that year goes a lot smoother with him…maybe a 1-2 seed. 2013 would have been a sweet 16-ish type season with a healthy Nerlens. I think maybe Teague gets us in the tourney though as an 8/9 team. 2016 contends for a Final Four with Dakari and 2018 does as well with Mo.

  12. catsby.5

    Holy cow, this a terribly stupid and irrelevant post.

  13. bluecrowe

    Living in Atlanta, I have been getting a strong Kentucky under Cal equals Braves run of 14 divisional titles and 1 WS vibe. I really really hope I am wrong. Though if Cal actually gets shooters it could really be a game changer. Plus they will tend not to be one and done, which will result in continuity.

  14. bluecrowe

    Actually, if the australian had returned we would have been a much more consistent team. Sadly, he decided after having one good game (his last against UNC) he was ready to play professional rugby.

  15. turdyshmurda

    This upcoming years missing piece will be Jared Vando.

  16. Wildcat Sheli

    Here’s another piece to the puzzle: look at our final games of 2011, 2015 and 2017 to see if there’s a common denominator. And then look at the final games of 2010 and 2018 for a common denominator there, too. Read news reports and notice a pattern regarding anomalies or controversies.

    That’s 5 out of the 8 NCAA Tournament Teams Cal has led at UK that have been affected by 2 people with a certain M.O. UK has never won an Elite Eight or higher with either of them officiating.

    Now get this: Cal coached UK to the Championship Game TWICE in those other 3 years without those 2 on the whistle, winning one title.

  17. ScoggDog

    2015 – if we’re REALLY going to be honest ?

    The missing player was Tyler Ulis. Best Point Guard on the team. Oh – he was on the roster. Cal just refused to play him when it counted.

    Why ? My theory always remains – boo if you want – but Cal isn’t bluffing. Getting guys to the NBA really does mean more than winning championships to him.