Sitting in Syracuse before the West Virginia game with Oscar Combs (one of my favorite people), we were discussing the state of Kentucky basketball. The topic came up concerning what would happen if Kentucky lost and I said that I assumed the fans would be fine after a great season. Oscar leaned forward with his trademark excitment and said, “Matt let me tell you this. I have been around a long time. If they lose tonight, there will be a lot of people who start complaining and saying Calipari needs to change this and that. Wait and see.” I told Oscar that I thought he was wrong and the fans would be fine and appreciate what a great ride it has been. We quickly switched to another topic (with Oscar topics come and go at a rapid pace) and I enjoyed my BBQ sandwich.
That conversation reentered my mind the other day as I noticed a small, but somewhat loud, minority of folks who seem to believe that Calipari needs to change everything because Kentucky lost to WVU. The mindset seems to follow this path:
1. We had the most talent
2. The Tournament was ours to win
3. We lost
4. That means we cant win with “one and dones” and Cal’s recruiting system.
There are a lot of holes to this argument and in the coming days we will break down the largets fallacy made (the notion that you cant win with “one and dones”). But the biggest mistake is the notion that because UK lost one game, we must abandon ship. If UK plays WVU ten times, they win seven. But the NCAA Tournament is the true “one and done” and we caught them on one of the three where we lose. That happens. As I have stated until I am blue in the face, RANDOMNESS EXISTS IN THE NCAA. There is much out of your control, including draw, early round upsets and the randomness of a game. Does anyone really believe that if the tournament started again tomorrow that Duke and Butler would play in the Finals again? I dont. But they did this time because of randomness.
Still there have been complaints and worries that this, which was only Calipari’s FIRST YEAR, was our “best chance to win it all.” Now, the complaints continue, everyone is going pro and we are screwed. Rather than indulge such negativity, I believe that the events of this year are instead reasons to be optimistic. Think about this:
1. Kentucky made a turnaround that is almost unprecedented: Folks, UK was in the NIT last year and Billy Clyde left Calipari a roster that with the exception of Patrick Patterson, was depleted. If you dont think that the average turnaround for such circumstances is not instantaneous, go ask our friends from Indiana how they feel.
2. With almost no time, Calipari assembled a monster recruiting class: He was here eight weeks and produced one of the three best recruiting classes in history. Think about that for a minute and process how that projects for the future. It is truly astounding.
3. The team was better than even the coaches thought: No one, and I mean NO ONE, thought this team could be 35-3. I talked to some staff members early in the year and they thought the team would lose 6-8 games, be a #2 seed and then hopefully make noise in March. The idea that going into the second weekend, this team would be the prohibitive favorite was never even really considered.
4. Every player ended up better than they thought: Fans seem to take the view that all Calipari wanted to do was have a team of “one and dones.” Going into the year, the staff thought that only Wall was a lock to leave after one year and that Cousins was the only other possibility. The notion that Bledsoe and Orton would show so much as to make NBA scouts potentially invest lottery picks was never even considered. This was supposed to be a balanced class…losing 1 or 2 and keeping the rest. The fact that all players improved so much that now they are wanted can hardly be “blamed” on the coaches.
5. Now recruiting is set to fly: You want to know how you bring in epic recruiting classes? Tell them, “look if you come here, you can succeed if you are good enough.” Dont believe me? I produced 5 of the top 25 NBA picks in one year. The world is your oyster.
6. Get Enough Talent and You Will Win: This goes to my larger point that “one and dones” can win a title, and we will deal with that at another time. But the reality is that the best chance to win is to have great players. UK will get great players and the unofficial year that those around the program had targeted for a potential NCAA Title run (year #3 with the vaunted 2011 class) is still on schedule.
So before you indulge in the negativity Oscar Combs predicted. Remember, this is UK basketball and its back. Had three three-pointers of the first 20 gone in and UK shot a meager 15%, they may have been cutting down nets on Monday night. You dont think it is possible that three could have went in? I do. And if that had happened, no one would be complaining.
Stay positive. There is a lot of good still to come.