If you ask any Kentucky fan, this basketball season has been a wild roller coaster of emotions. In the UCLA, Tennessee, and South Carolina losses, we saw the worst of our beloved Wildcats. Against Louisville, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia, we saw the best.
One day, Kentucky looks like world beaters ready to compete for a national championship. The next, a disappointing loss in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament seems inevitable.
Mark Titus of The Ringer wrote an excellent piece on this Kentucky team, and posed the question of the hour…
Is this Kentucky team good?
One week after falling out of the AP top 25 for the first time in almost four years, the Wildcats now sit at 17-5 on the season, are tied with Florida and Tennessee for second place in the SEC standings, and have the ninth-best Vegas odds to win the national championship. And that brings me to a simple question that has anything but a simple answer: Is this Kentucky team good?
Titus says the measurables are pretty, and it’s easy to fall in love with the word “potential,” but the statistics don’t back up either of those things.
The problem, as the Monstars learned the hard way in their classic loss to the Tune Squad, is that no basketball team has ever been awarded extra points for being tall or able to jump high. For as great as Kentucky is in those two regards, the Wildcats are inconsistent at pretty much everything else. Gilgeous-Alexander is the only Wildcats player shooting better than 40 percent from the 3-point line, and he’s only taken 28 attempts from deep on the season. Kentucky averages 13.9 assists per game (tied for 169th in Division I) and 14 turnovers per game (tied for 231st). This group can’t shoot, pass, or dribble, and it’s prone to inexcusable defensive lapses. If you charted the statistics of any Kentucky player, the result would invariably look like a sine wave.
According to Titus, however, it’d be stupid to give up on this team given Calipari’s track record with this kind of youth and talent.
So why should anyone remain optimistic about Kentucky? Why should we give the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt when any other program this inconsistent would be cast aside and forgotten? The primary reason is that Kentucky has two projected lottery picks (Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander) and another player (Diallo) who could play his way into the lottery. In a sport in which every team has obvious flaws, sometimes individual (if unrefined) talent can be enough to win. More importantly, though, it’s impossible to give up on this Kentucky team because its story to this point is one that we’ve seen before. And the last time this story unfolded, it concluded with an unexpected happy ending.
For the Cats to go on an epic tournament run like we’ve seen in past years, their own version of Julius Randle or Aaron Harrison needs to be found in a hurry.
These Wildcats can’t afford to coast into the NCAA tournament and count on everything to suddenly click into place like it did for the 2013-14 team, which lost four of seven entering a tourney in which it went on to reach the national title game. If Kentucky is to ensure that this season doesn’t fall somewhere between “Billy Gillispie” and “first-round NIT loss to Robert Morris” in the annals of Big Blue Nation history, Calipari needs to find this year’s version of Julius Randle, and he needs to find him now. Cal needs someone—most likely Knox or Gilgeous-Alexander—to dependably set the tone with defensive effort and offensive aggressiveness every night. He needs someone to confidently step into the cockpit and land this plane, because February is here and there are only five weeks of runway left.
To read the entire article, head on over to The Ringer. It’s an excellent piece and certainly worth your time.