Something about this year’s edition of the University of Kentucky Wildcats’ Men’s Basketball team has been off. There was something just not right about them. Sure, they wore Blue and White like every other edition, but there was something that wasn’t quite right. Like Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity, these Cats haven’t been able to figure what they’re supposed to do. They haven’t figured out their identity.
I’m not going to pile on say that these Cats are lazy (I don’t think that’s true) or uncoachable (which may be true to some extent). I just don’t think this team ever figured out the Rubik’s Cube that is becoming a successful college basketball team. Without the aid of a dominant locker room personality, it was solely on head coach John Calipari’s shoulders to get this team ready to play at a high level and I’m not sure any coach in the country could have done it.
In retrospect, it’s easy to say the Cats pre-season ranking of number 3 was a little high, but as I’d like to point out to the national media, Kentucky fans aren’t the ones that vote for the polls, so everyone had them too high. And it’s tough following up a historically great, championship level team. But I’m not sure that anyone anticipated this team still being as confusing and frustrating on March 2 as they were back in November. And that’s the problem, we really don’t know what kind of team, collectively, these guys are.
Unlike other disappointing teams in UK’s storied history, it’s not easy to pinpoint the exact reason this team isn’t meeting expectations. The coach is still the same coach that led the Cats to the 2012. The fans are still the same “you people are crazy fans” they’ve always been. And the freshmen came in as highly rated as Cal’s previous classes. Calling this team lazy or selfish isn’t fair because most of the guys never provided enough consistent play to form a baseline for what this team could be. Outside of Nerlens Noel, not one player played at a consistently high level for more than a few consecutive games.
This team, no matter when or where the season ends, will be remember as the team with the most “What Ifs” in UK history. What if Alex Poythress had been dominant from day one? What if Noel hadn’t gotten injured? What if Shabazz Muhammad would have signed? Or what if any one of the players from that 2012 team had returned (if Marquis Teague returns, he’s putting up 17 points and 6 assists a night)? But, the best thing about being a Kentucky basketball fan? When we say, “Wait until next year,” the college basketball world gets nervous. Really nervous.