Today was about as throughly depressing a day as I have ever had at a sporting event. Watching Kentucky fall to San Diego would be difficult enough on a normal day, but throughout the game I was struck with the question, where in the world do we go from here? Before one can take stock of what the next step is, it is important to realize where you are….and folks, it aint pretty. When the record is one day written about the history of Rupp Arena, I am confident that at least 2 of the worst 5 losses in the storied building’s history will have been received this season. The loss today to San Diego cannot be overstated. San Diego is a below 500 team from the West Coast Conference that has not beaten (nor will they) anyone of note all season. Kentucky was lit up by a Freshman walk-on who had scored 5 points all season, but went for 18 today and the grandson of Jim Jones, whose performance may have had Kentucky fans everywhere reaching for the Kool-Aid. Simply put, if not for the Gardner-Webb loss, it might be the worst home loss in the Rupp era.
Worse yet however is the fact that this team simply does not seem to improve. A former player told me today that he thought the team looked like robots, simply moving from place to place, with no thought process or understanding of the game taking place at any time. I watch this team play and I feel as if I am seeing the lowest basketball IQ for a team in my lifetime. The players consistently are in the wrong spots, make boneheaded passes, throw the ball to the wrong players in the wrong places and find themselves beat time again for no explainable reason. For Ramon Harris, Patrick Patterson, Michael Porter, Mark Coury and Perry Stevenson, the effort is always there….but for the other guys you sometimes wonder. I watch the team play and I find myself almost forseeing every blown layup, wide-open three pointer, dropped rebound, silly foul, unguarded walk, poor entry pass and non-existent defensive rotation and I wonder how it can continue to happen….but it does.
And then there is the bizarre series of tactical and coaching decisions. In terms of basketball knowledge, I am by no means John Wooden or for that matter even John Brady (ok well maybe we all are close to John Brady), but I often wonder what this team is trying to accomplish. The offensive gameplan seems to me to be completely non-existent, with a forced desire to accomplish one of three goals each time down the floor: force the ball to Patterson (not done enough), Crawford or Bradley go one-on-one, throw the ball around the perimeter until someone is open enough to fathom shooting. There is no flow to the offense and it is unclear what set is being run on numerous occasions. On defense, the intensity and ball pressure is there, but sometimes the rationale behind the decision-making is hard to fathom. When you have a team like San Diego who can handle the ball well and shoot three pointers, why trap the entire game and give up the open shot (and free off-side rebound)? Why not force San Diego to take the ball to the basket where they have a hard time finishing? Coach Clyde said after the game that giving up those open looks is a “coach’s decision based on scouting” and I accept that analysis. But do you want to give a team with no athletes open shots when that is the only way they can beat you? And then there are the substitution patterns. How is Jodie Meeks “available” in the second half but not the first half? How does AJ Stewart do enough to start the game, but then never comes in after the first five minutes? How does Mark Coury play more minutes today in the one game all season that he hasnt started? Why not at least one possession with the five players that every UK fan knows are the best on the team (Bradley, Crawford, Meeks, Jasper and Patterson) on the floor at the same time? Maybe there is a method to the decision-making….but I just dont see it.
There was a sense around the media area and the former players at the game that something just is not right at this point. Is it the leadership of the seniors? Is it the lack of talent? Is it the coaching decisions? Is it the injury bug? Or is it all of these things and something else? I watch this team and think, yes they dont have the talent they should….but they should be better than this. No Kentucky team should look like this Kentucky team has this year. And with at least five guys on it the team that will likely play for pay somewhere in the world during their career, how can they be this bad? How in the world can they lose to walk-ons from mid-major losing teams? It just doesnt make sense….and it doesnt look to be getting any better.
The NCAA Tournament looks like a pipe dream at this point and it is hard to imagine how this team will get through the SEC schedule. But even beyond that, it is just hard to wrap my head around this team. Like so many around the UK program, I am just left shaking my head, wondering what is going to happen next. At a few points this season, I have thought to myself, “well at least it wont get worse than this.” But after today, I wonder if the bottom still has yet to drop out….and if so, man it could get ugly.