In a WBN podcast right before the Maryland game, Cameron Mills expressed concern about the defense of this team. He talked about how difficult it is for a brand new team to grasp the defensive concepts and said frankly that Kentucky “was not that good right now” on defense. Also in talking about his Kentucky teams under Pitino, Mills brought up the concept of “We go further than I do” and about how important it is to find a leader in a group of freshmen. If you have time, definitely listen to the podcast. It’s pretty telling. And judging by their team results, its obvious that Mills and Woods definitely bought into that concept but 15 games into the season, it is kind of disconcerting to see that the current Cats may not be.
As of now, it is kind of obvious that this Kentucky team is not getting better, but has regressed. This last week is an indication of that as Kentucky struggled mightily with a weak Vanderbilt team and were embarrassed at Rupp by a likely bubble team, Texas A&M. The good thing about all the talent on Kentucky is that practice is usually where this team gets better. The players are practicing against a team of NBA talent that is likely has more talent than the team you are playing that week. Not to knock Vandy and A&M, but maybe only Elston Turner from those two teams would find time in the UK rotation.
And it’s not coaching at this point. John Calipari has coached as much as he can. If you isolated a camera on him Saturday, you could edit and sell a workout video ten times tougher than “Insanity”. Calipari can only cajole, plead, and beg so much. He can’t play the game and he can not make a leader. That has to come from within, and to date, no one has stepped up to put this team on his shoulders. Nerlens Noel has bought into the system and has channeled his “inner MKG” lately and but he can’t do it alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not all gloom and doom on this team and not ready to give up the half season mark. Nor do I think that Kentucky is a NIT team or a “first four” team. The national media is having a ball trolling the BBN for hits and playing into their hysteria, but this season is not a lost cause. However, the team is at a crossroads and Woods statements could act as a self fulfilling prophecy. If it does, expect about a thousand articles to pop up saying this is the bad side of Calipari’s “one and done system”. Regardless of what happens this season, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, and others will find a NBA team ready to throw money at them and draft them “on potential”. That will happen regardless of whetehr Kentucky is national champs or a 10 seed. The players have to make that choice however. At this point, Calipari can’t pull it out of them.
The bright side is that it is as easy as flipping on a stretch. The talent is there to run the table for the rest of the SEC season. Just at this point, the team has to decide whether they want to make a run at a repeat title or if they are content to treat Kentucky as a glorified AAU team and part ways at the end of the year to NBA riches. Do they want to look at the name on the front of their jersey and play for it or do they want to play for themselves?
All the pieces are in place and there is no dominant team in college basketball. Calipari has said recently that 30-40 teams have the talent to win the title. Kentucky should be one of them. It just all depends if that switch is flipped or if the season continues to dim with a very talented and very desperate Tennessee team headed to Rupp Tuesday. This is the chance to embrace the legacy of UK and realize what it means to wear the uniform. It’s on you, 2012-13 Wildcats. If there is a time to be humble, it’s now. Are you going to listen to the warning signs or head right into the storm blindly like the crew in “The Perfect Storm”?