Why does Joker Phillips deserve more time as head coach at Kentucky? He was asked this question in his Monday press conference. His answer, “We got 72 freshmen and sophomores in this program. We just played a program that has 50 juniors and seniors in their program.”
This quote really shocked me. Does that sound legit? To me is sound like a gimme-answer for an inexcusable loss. And to Joker’s credit, I think he understands how bad the situation really is. He added, “I get that we got to be better than that that.” True enough.
Is the answer Joker gave — a mismatch of experience; his guys being out-smarted by savvy veterans from the Sun Belt — reason enough to comprehend and accept a loss to Western Kentucky? In my mind, Kentucky’s talent alone should be enough to overcome an experience gap. Though it can’t stack up to conference heavyweights like Alabama, LSU and others, Kentucky does have SEC-talent on its roster. So does it really matter that a Sun Belt team has 50 juniors and seniors?
I looked into Rivals rankings of the last four recruiting classes for Kentucky and Western Kentucky. Obviously significant roster turnover happens over the course of four seasons as players come and go. But this gives a good indication of what kind of talent both teams have coming in, and more importantly, how that talent is developed.
What I found is what you should expect: UK dominates WKU on the recruiting trail. Kentucky owns Western in all the high-ranking recruits, out-nabbing four-stars six to none, and three-stars 75 to 26. This only adds to the confusion in the loss suffered in Commonwealth Stadium to the Toppers.
It’s a rough translation from football to basketball, but earlier this year I did a study on experience versus talent in college basketball. What I found is that it’s all bogus. Neither experience nor talent means anything in deciding a winning formula. What determines a victor? I would argue the coach. I’ll leave you to your own interpretation of what makes a winning coach — but Willie Taggart must be doing something right with his players that are ranked so much lower than Joker’s. I think that became very obvious to a lot of people last Saturday.