Despite the 8-4 early record for the Kentucky Wildcats, the sky has not fallen. Kentucky plays Eastern Michigan tonight and then opens SEC play next Thursday (yes, I hate this schedule too) at Vanderbilt next Thursday. However, Kentucky has been in this position before with four or more losses in the early part of the schedule and they still went on to have a successful SEC campaign:
In each of the three most recent seasons that began with four or more losses in the first 12 games, Kentucky fell out of the national rankings, then compiled 12-4 records in Southeastern Conference play and received a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2007-08, Billy Gillispie’s first season as coach, Kentucky won six of its first 12 games. The Cats finished 12-4 in the SEC, which was good for second place behind Tennessee in the Eastern Division. Unranked UK lost to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 2000-01, Kentucky was 7-5 after 12 games. A 12-4 SEC record got the Cats a share of the SEC Eastern Division championship. UK then won the league tournament title and was ranked No. 9 when it lost to Southern California in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
In 1999-00, Kentucky was 8-4 after 12 games. The Cats went on to win a share of the SEC Eastern Division and regular-season championships. No. 19 UK lost to Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Keep in mind that it is an 18 game SEC schedule for UK this year, but looking at the schedule, I see a worst case 15-3 mark and that would place UK at 24-7 headed into the SEC Tournament.
If anything, the Louisville game was a redemption of sorts for Ryan Harrow. Much maligned for the early part of the season, Harrow had no turnovers versus the best defensive team for turnovers in the country. Also, Harrow has been talking lately about his self imposed absence from UK basketball and the fact that he does not consider himself a leader because of that. It appears that Harrow is taking his UK point guard responsibility seriously, as he is now watching film:
Harrow’s team-first approach has opened up new vistas.
“I’ve even started watching (game) film,” he said. “I never used to watch film.
Before playing at Louisville, Harrow watched the Cardinals’ games against Duke, Missouri and Memphis.
“I don’t like watching basketball,” he said. “I used to be so flashy. The stuff I used to do would excite me. Then watching other players (made him think) ‘You all are boring.’ “
Now that Ryan Harrow is seemingly back on track, the focus of John Calipari goes to Alex Poythress and what “A Sea of Blue” calls the Alex Poythress Project:
Let’s get one thing straight right now — this isn’t a problem with Poythress’ desire, or his skills, or really, anything in particular. It is a matter of development, not attitude. By all accounts, Poythress is a serious young man with an intense desire to do well for his team. His problem has been getting a handle on what that entails and his physical development, mainly his endurance, hasn’t been as fast as others.
Players have to learn how to play through fatigue and still be effective. That’s not just a function of desire,although desire is a big component of it. It is also a function of conditioning and understanding that you can do it despite what your body tells you. Learning to properly interpret your body and master it’s wiles is one of the biggest challenges a college player has to face when transitioning from high school.