What a difference a year makes. The 2012-2013 Kentucky Wildcats already have more losses(3) as they did the entire last season where they went 38-2 and won the 2012 National Championship.
To make matters worse, the Cats’ recent loss to Baylor was not only the first home loss in Calipari’s tenure as Kentucky’s head coach, it snapped a 55 game home winning streak at Rupp Arena, dating back to 2009.
Surely the entire Big Blue Nation as well as talk radio will be abuzz in the upcoming week discussing what exactly is wrong with their beloved Cats.
Is the sky falling or will this year’s team just taking a bit longer to round into shape? Let’s take a look at 5 reasons why Kentucky is struggling….
While last season’s NCAA Player of the Year Anthony Davis was clearly the cornerstone of the team, it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that was the heart and soul of the team, providing toughness, determination, and anything else needed on a nightly basis.
In the early going, dare I say that this year’s Kentucky team appears soft? Many had pegged Top 10 rated recruit Alex Poythress as MKG’s replacement and successor, but outside of some decent nights statistically, Poythress has been tentative and played more like a role player.
While Noel and Goodwin have been good, the player with perhaps the most heart looks to be Willie Cauley-Stein, who comes in off the bench. Maybe it’s time to start the twin towers line-up of Noel and Cauley-Stein?
True, sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer was the least heralded member of John Calipari’s #1 rated recruiting class in 2011, but he was a top 30 recruit by most sources and the MVP of the 2011 Elite 24 Game.
It had to be hard to breakthrough on a loaded, once in a decade type squad last season with 6 NBA Draft picks like Davis, Gilchrist, Jones, Lamb, and Miller all playing valuable minutes.
But Kyle has been given his chance this season, starting all 7 games so far. He has upped his scoring from 4.8 last season to 10.3 ppg this year, including an impressive 23 point output vs. Lafayette.
But he ranks 4th on the team in scoring and 5th in rebounding,……….not exactly what one would expect out of a highly touted 6’9 forward. He is shooting an above average 37% from behind the arc, but has struggled mightily to defend on the collegiate level.
There’s no denying that this Kentucky Wildcats team will be a much better team in March than they are on December 3rd.
It’s totally understandable since Calipari returned only Wiltjer with any game experience, and that consisted of only 11 minutes per contest.
Senior transfer Julius Mayes does bring a veteran component but even he is totally new to Coach Cal’s dribble-drive offense.
Many point out that last year’s team relied heavily on 4 freshmen but they also had “veteran” sophomores Jones and Lamb, along with Darius Miller for support, something sorely lacking this season.
We’ve heard all of the comparisons. Nerlens Noel is the next Anthony Davis and Archie Goodwin could be the 2nd coming of Russell Westbrook.
While it’s sometimes our jobs as writers to anoint the next in line to greatness, it’s really unfair to the players.
Noel, Goodwin, Poythress, and Cauley-Stein may all one day be good NBA caliber players but in no way are they as talented from the get-go as Davis and Gilchrist were last season.
In honesty, this team reminds me more of 2010 when a less heralded group led by Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones lost 9 games, developed nicely, and went to the Final Four.
More than any other reason, John Calipari and the Wildcats have had to make a go of it without the services of a top flight point guard.
We all know the pedigree, starting with Derrick Rose, moving on to Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight, and Marquis Teague last season.
In a less than stellar recruiting class for point guards, Cal went with NC State transfer Ryan Harrow to run the show in ’12-’13.
The experiment has been a disaster with Harrow averaging 1.3 ppg and less than 2 assists per contest. He’s played in only 3 games, missing time due to a mysterious illness and a family emergency.
Andrew Harrison can’t arrive soon enough next season…