Two years ago would you have ever guessed that in early December without a bowl game in sight, the main focus of many Kentucky fans would center around Kentucky football? We are nine games into the college basketball season and I have already heard more than a few people make statements such as, “I can’t wait for football season.” Now I know that most of this excitement and focus on football comes from the new hire and the anticipation of what is to come. The excitement for football is not necessarily a reflection of a lack of excitement for basketball. Either way, two years ago we were not talking this much about Kentucky football. We were talking about basketball. Not only were we talking about basketball, but we were talking about many of the same issues and situations that we are talking about with this year’s team.
I dug through the KSR archives to find some of the posts written following Kentucky’s third loss of the season, which came in early January to Georgia. Granted, that loss was nearly a month after this year’s Kentucky team experienced its third loss of the season. The 2010-2011 Kentucky team struggled through the beginning of the season, especially on the road in conference play. This year’s Kentucky team has faced similar early season struggles, though they have yet to reach conference play.
Here’s what we were talking about with the Kentucky team 2 years ago after 3 losses:
1. “The many faces of Terrence Jones”
2. Foul line troubles
3. Defensive struggles
4. Point guard issues
5. Limited returning experience
–Some comparisons can certainly be drawn to the struggles facing this year’s team early. Terrence Jones had moments of brilliance where he showed the type of dominant/athletic player he could be, causing nightmare match-ups for opponents. Jones also had games or stretches during games where he simply disappeared and wasn’t able to assert himself into the offense. Does that sound a bit similar to Alex Poythress? Poythress has had games this season where he has completely dominated and taken over, almost scoring at will when driving to the basket. On the other hand, he has had games where he has disappeared and struggled to contribute offensively.
— Kentucky is only shooting 63% from the free throw line on the season. Kentucky shot 62% from the FT line in the 2010 loss to Georgia.
— John Calipari was asked the other day about who he thought could be this year’s version of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or DeAndre Liggins. He admitted that up until this point, he’s not sure who that “defensive stopper” type of a player will be. As a team, Kentucky is not forcing enough turnovers throughout the course of the game. And when they do force turnovers, the conversion rate on the fast break leaves much to be desired. Early in the season two years ago DeAndre Liggins was already his team’s defensive stopper, but the rest of the team was facing similar struggles as a unit to create turnovers and produce extra possessions.
— Much of the conversation surrounding the Kentucky team 2 years ago at this point in the season was the point guard play of Brandon Knight. Even when Knight was scoring at a nice clip offensively, questions remained about his ability to control the team and run the offense. Knight was tabbed by some as more of a “shooting guard” than a true point guard. The point guard position has been perhaps the biggest question mark on this Kentucky team so far during this young season. The early struggles and health issues with Ryan Harrow put the ball in Archie Goodwin’s hands early. Harrow began to show signs late in the Portland game that he might be taking hold of the position for good moving forward. Either way, Kentucky has still yet to completely nail down the position at this point. Harrow will face his biggest test in a few weeks when Kentucky squares off against Louisville. If he plays well in that game, he may be able to put some of the point guard questions to rest. Much like two years ago though (and like last year with Teague in the early part of the season), the point guard play has clearly been an issue.
– -As we are all keenly aware of, Kyle Wiltjer is the only returning player on this year’s Kentucky team with significant experience (at least at Kentucky/under Calipari). Ryan Harrow had a year of practice under Calipari, and Julius Mays played 4 years at a smaller program in Wright State. The bulk of the rest of the minutes though are shared by newcomers such as Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. Kentucky was plagued with similar experience issues two years ago. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins were the only key returners from the previous season. Josh Harrellson was seldom used as he sat behind the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton. The bulk of the minutes two years ago came from newcomers as well, such as Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones.
Two years ago, Kentucky was facing a number of issues after their third loss of the season. This year’s Kentucky team is sitting on three losses as well, and it seems as if they are a facing a number of similar troubles. The talking points and the conversations are centering around some of the same things. The 2010-2011 Kentucky team found a way to overcome many of their struggles on their way to reaching the Final Four. John Calipari said on Tuesday that he suspected he might not have his team this year “figured out until February.” The middle of February was when the 2010-2011 Kentucky team experienced their final loss (in overtime to Arkansas) before stringing together an impressive 6-game winning streak heading into the NCAA tournament. Perhaps the parallels for this year’s team and the 2010-2011 team will continue. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. What can be said though is that plenty of time remains for this young Kentucky basketball team. The issues are not so irregular for this point in the season.