Matt and Ryan tackled an interesting topic on today’s radio show–whether or not this team has “swagger.” All of Cal’s previous Kentucky teams have had it, sometimes so much that he’s had to tell them to tone it down, but this group? Not so much. In fact, most of the time, they don’t even look like they’re having fun playing the game. Let’s take a look back at the Cal’s past Kentucky teams to see just how much swagger matters.
2009-2010: John Wall swag
There are great players, and then there are star players. Cal’s first team at Kentucky had star players. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins had larger than life personalities and the talent to back it up. Example one? John Wall’s famous dance as he descended from the Rupp rafters during Big Blue Madness (an event that in itself was the rebirth of Kentucky basketball swagger). The dance became a craze that was emblematic of Kentucky’s return to the top in terms of talent and trendiness. More importantly, the team looked like they were having the best times of their lives every time they took the court. My favorite moment from that season had to be the buzzer beater to send Kentucky into overtime against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament. John Wall tackled DeMarcus Cousins into the scorer’s table on the sidelines, thinking they had won. They hadn’t, but the pure joy on their faces as their teammates came to join them was priceless. After two years of misery, the fun was back in Kentucky basketball.
Swag moments: Beating UConn in NYC, UK2K, the call from the President, DeMarcus Cousins’ “Call Me” gesture to the Mississippi State crowd.
Result: 35-3, loss in the Elite Eight to West Virginia
2010-2011: Working Man’s Swag
The next group of Cats weren’t quite as glitzy as their predecessors, but they still had talent. Brandon Knight may not have had John Wall’s style, but he had skills and an incredible knowledge of the game, something the NBA is realizing more and more every day. Freshmen Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb came in with high expectations, as did Enes Kanter, whose eligibility issues loomed over the early season like a wet blanket. Like the current team, that group had their share of stumbles during SEC play while they searched for their identity, which they ultimately found in a pair of forgotten work horses–DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson. After a brief stint in the doghouse for complaining about not receiving praise from Calipari, Josh Harrellson went out and earned that praise by stepping up in Enes Kanter’s absence and becoming one of the keys to the season. DeAndre Liggins found his niche as a defensive specialist capable of stopping almost any team’s top player. No one expected this group to go far in the tournament, but through hard work and perseverance, they made believers–and jorts wearers–of all of us.
Top swag moment? Jorts pelting the mighty Jared Sullinger with the ball as he was going out of bounds in the NCAA Tournament.
Result: 29—9, loss in the Final Four to UConn
2011-2012: Superstar swag
Early on, we knew last year’s team was special. They were the perfect mix of freshmen talent and veteran experience, with enough confidence to get BTI a decent looking date. Throughout this season, we’ve come to realize just how special last year’s freshmen were. Not only were they amazingly talented, they were light years ahead of this year’s group in maturity. What 18-year-old kid takes it upon himself to start an early morning weight lifting session before practice? MKG. With the possible exception of the SEC Tournament Championship, each game those guys played meant something to them. They took it personally, especially the loss at Indiana. After that, forget about it. The swag swelled so much in mid-February that Cal had to tell them to ease off it a bit:
“I am going to talk to them today about let’s make sure we are being humble and understand why we have been winning and where we have to take this to. The issue we have is this is one of the youngest teams in the country, and I imagine as a ranked team we are the youngest. There’s an easy transition from a swagger to arrogance and that’s where you get beat.”
Swag moments: countless
Result: You know.
This year’s team is notoriously hard to read. At the beginning of the season, we all assumed that was because 95% of them were new, but still. Nerlens Noel and his hair had swag, as did Archie’s All-Access wink, but every time they seem to find their footing, they stumble. Can “one step forward and two steps back” be a team slogan? And about All-Access: as Kentucky fans, we loved it, but looking back, should there have been warning signs? Cal’s insistence that this team wasn’t very good don’t seem so laughable now, does it Johnny Gold Chains? What about Harrow’s confidence? After leaving the team briefly, Harrow returned with a vengeance in late December and January only to regress back to his former self. Losing Nerlens may be a fatal blow to this group. Not only was he the team’s anchor in terms of defense, but he was the “energy guy” who brought intensity each game. The few brief glimpses we’ve had of this team’s emotions have come from Noel, and without him, the team fell flat. Their body language was so discouraging against Tennessee that Sean Woods’ remarks about some of the players’ attitude back in November ring faintly in the back of your mind. Cal wrote the game off as an emotional lapse after losing Noel and challenged his players to take responsibility for their actions, a sentiment echoed by the team’s oldest and wisest member, Julius Mays. In truth, this group needs an extra month to recover from losing Noel, but instead, they have six games and the SEC Tournament to prove they deserve a spot in the Big Dance.
Swag moments: The Archie Goodwin/Kyle Wiltjer chest bump at Auburn? Maybe? (Not really.)
Result: who knows
Is one of this team’s problems a shortage of swag?