Is Kentucky Wildcat Basketball headed for a Big Blue Nightmare?

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Jan 12, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts in the game against the Texas A

With the hated Louisville Cardinals at number one in the latest poll and our beloved Kentucky Wildcats not even sniffing a vote, it’s time for a “the sky is falling” story. Right? Well, Eric Crawford looks skyward and gives us his best “Chicken Little”:

 

But the Wildcats are missing the kind of seasoning and tenacity that those two players had. What they have instead, is talent. But it has to be about more than that, especially in a year with more good teams than college basketball produced back in 2011.

This is a team missing leadership and toughness. The scouting report on Texas A&M begins with one goal — stop Elston Turner. Contain him. Make him give up the ball. If he has to get the ball, don’t let him operate on the right side of the court, push him to the left. Double-team, triangle-and-two, whatever it takes.

That UK lacks such a shutdown guy, and in fact seems to get caught scrambling late in games defensively, as it did at Vanderbilt, is indicative of a young team, and perhaps indicative of a tired team. Yes, it won a national title with a young team a year ago. It also led by 20 late in a lot of games, and had several NBA-level defenders on the perimeter, including Anthony Davis, who could guard out on the court. One wonders what Nerlens Noel might’ve done on Turner.

Regardless, depth has never cropped up as an issue for UK coach John Calipari in Lexington. Maybe it is now.

The other issue is rebounding. If Nerlens Noel is going to try to block shots, opponents are finding ways to slide into his vacated position for offensive boards, or are beating UK to long rebounds after perimeter misses. The only fix for this is for UK guards to do a better job of rebounding. The Wildcats need more rebounds from Goodwin and Harrow. This is a team that is capable of getting big stops — but letting teams grab an offensive rebound after 35 seconds of good defense negates all of that.

And, of course, the Wildcats need more of everything from Alex Poythress. Simply put, without him emerging to be the kind of consistent all-around player he aspires to be, this team fizzles in March, if not before.

 

Not saying that I disagree with a lot of what Crawford has to say, but I’m not ready to throw the dirt on UK yet. I am hoping that the Texas A&M game was “Arkansas 2011″ for this team and we see an improvement starting now. If now, I will start wearing a helmet and keeping my eye on the sky as well.

 

Jan 2, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Ryan Harrow (12) dribbles the ball against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After a bumpy start to the season, Ryan Harrow is one of the Wildcats that have bought into John Calipari’s system and turned his season around. Harrow talked with Larry Vaught recently and twice he mentioned that more players need to buy into the system:

 

Question: What does this loss do to the team’s confidence?
Harrow: “I hope it doesn’t mess with anybody’s confidence because we have been working so hard. We just have to go out and be prepared for the next game. We have to keep guys’ morale up in the next practice and just be focused for our next game (Tuesday against Tennessee).”

Question: What kind of message did coach John Calipari have for the team after the game?
Harrow: “He just said more guys need to buy into the system. We just need to make changes.”

Question: What sort of changes?
Harrow: “Just who we are going to play and how we are going to play.”

Question: Do you worry that losses like this could keep you out of the NCAA Tournament?
Harrow: “I don’t worry about it. We are always supposed to make it to the NCAA Tournament. We have to keep that attitude.”

Question: Is there just a different mentality with this team compared to last year’s national championship team?
Harrow: “You have to remember that last year’s team had Darius (Miller) who was a senior, Doron (Lamb) and Terrence (Jones) who had played here one year already. They just had those type guys on the team. They had a little bit more depth. We definitely have had to grow faster.”

Question: Is there any chance some players thought it would be easier this year than what it really is?
Harrow: “I hope that is not the case. I don’t think that is what it was. It’s just a different level of basketball.”

Question: Were expectations too high for this team?
Harrow: “I wouldn’t say that. We have a good team. Everybody is just not buying into the system.”

Jan 2, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Archie Goodwin (10) reacts in the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, it kind of speaks to the prestige of the Wildcat basketball program that a 10-5 record calls for a Big Blue Freakout.  I can think of perhaps 30 programs that would be rushing the court if they started 10-5, but this is Kentucky Basketball.  And we have been here before.  Ken Howlett from A Sea of Blue takes a look at other UK programs that have started 10-5. 

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