I posted a few weeks ago that John Calipari has earned the right for fans to stand behind this team for the remainder of the season. He has multiple examples of teams struggling well into February and bringing it together in time for the NCAA Tournament. I still believe that. College basketball is not the greatest this year. If Duke and/or Villanova are the best teams in the country, then Kentucky has enough talent to get to the Final Four. They don’t have the toughness or togetherness at all for that right now, but the talent is there.
Some fans have already given up on the team. That’s their choice but they can’t come back on board if things go well in March. For the rest of the fanbase still trying to figure out a legitimate way this team could pull it together, there is one team that they constantly try and compare this team to: 2014. At the most basic of surface levels, I get it. That team had high expectations and did not seem to play well together, suffered serious freshman mistakes, had complete no-shows up and down the roster, and lost a few games that were unexpected. But the reality is that comparing this team to 2014 is fool’s gold.
It starts with the stars and this is the most glaring difference between the two teams. There is absolutely nobody on this roster, nor will there be anyone on this roster, that compares to Julius Randle. Despite that team’s struggles, Randle played at an All-American level for most of 2013-2014. He was nearly unstoppable in many games and he had something that nobody in the frontcourt has on this team: toughness. I understand that Aaron Harrison hit all of the memorable shots during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but it was Randle who was the go-to guy on that team. We don’t have a guy like that on this squad. We have no beast in the post. PJ Washington is a damn good player, but I don’t trust him as the go-to guy in the clutch — nor do I trust him to grab the key rebounds or make the key free throws. Kevin Knox is one of the softest players in the Cal era. Nick Richards is the epitome of a raw player. There is not a tough basket around the rim in any of those guy’s repertoires.
What about James Young? Young disappeared in games much like the guys on this squad but he was an absolute assassin from the perimeter. If the Cats needed a big shot, I trusted Young to take it just as much as Aaron Harrison. There isn’t a soul on this squad I trust to make a clutch shot. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t hit a few big shots at points in this season; it simply means I don’t trust any of them to be the clutch guy when it matters the most. Diallo probably wants to be that guy, but I don’t see it happening. I’m not sure anybody else even wants that shot. During the 2013-2014 season, James Young wanted that shot.
If you are looking for your strongest reason this team could get it together, citing 2014 just doesn’t match up. That team had certain qualities, even during their low points, that exceed this team. If this team is going to get anywhere near where the 2014 team got in March, they’re going to have to do it in their own way with their own strengths. There is no Randle or Young on this team, so it’s time we stop trying to find one.