Kentucky Basketball: The Picking of Nits


Well, here we are. It’s almost Valentine’s Day and the University of Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball team is sitting atop the college basketball world.  The Wildcats are 23-0. The Wildcats are unanimously ranked #1 in both polls. The team has gelled, negating the pre-season concerns that many had about 9 McDonald’s All-Americans coming together and forming a cohesive team. The  young men, by all accounts, have bought into head coach John Calipari’s philosophy of being their “Brother’s Keeper.” Yet, even after gutting out a tough road win over a more than game Florida Gators team on Saturday, there seem to be more questions than answers.

It’s no secret that the Kentucky Wildcats are, year in and year out, one of the most examined and analyzed teams in the country and this year is no different. And as the pressure of the undefeated season grows, it’s only going to get worse. ESPN’s Jay Bilas predicted this is what would happen way back in August when then Cats were on their Bahamas exhibition tour:

"“You are going to be talked about as much, if not more than any team in the country,” Bilas said. “And arguably, any team over the last 20 years. As your season goes along, there are going to be people like me in my job, at the start of the year, we’re going to talk about how good you can be. Then, we’re going to talk about how good you are. Then, people are going to get bored with that. We’re going to start talking about what are their weaknesses. Instead of talking about what you’re really good at, they’re going to start hammering at little things, make you see a crack. It may exist, it may not. But they’ll talk about that.”"

But it’s not just folks on the outside of the Big Blue Nation. We’ve heard or been around people that ask why Tyler Ulis isn’t starting over Andrew Harrison. We’ve complained about slow starts. We’ve complained about lulls in play, demanding a full 40 minutes of dominance. We’ve wondered what wrong with Willie Cauley-Stein… until he provided an emphatic “nothing is wrong with me” dunk against Florida.

Instead of realizing that being undefeated at this time of the year is rare, something that the vaunted Kentucky program hasn’t reached since the 1965-66 season, we’re looking for reasons why this team won’t bring home title number 9. Instead of focusing on how there seems to be another star stepping up when the Cats need it, we’re focusing on the players that don’t step up. The strength with this team is depth. Georgia head coach Mark Fox said it after the Bulldogs and Wildcats played last week: “You never know who’s going to step up for those guys. That’s their strength.” Yet, that strength is now being portrayed as a weakness.

There’s always going to be room for improvement, but as the season draws to a its end, I feel more and more confident about this team’s chances on not only running the table. Not only do I think they can run the table, but most importantly I think they can and will bring home that ninth title. That road isn’t going to be paved just with blowout victories and easy games that the Cats can coast through. From here on out, the games are going to get tougher, the spotlight will become brighter and the weight of expectations will get heavier.

But I do know this: I trust John Calipari and I trust his staff. And nothing this team has achieved to date has shown that this trust is misplaced. This team will not be perfect on the court game in and game out, but they can be perfect by the time “One Shining Moment” plays and the confetti rains down. Instead of nit-picking this team, I’m just sitting back and enjoying what could prove to be a historic ride.