John Calipari’s confusing starting lineup has Kentucky fans frustrated after slow start

Nearly 15 minutes into the first half of their Round of 64 matchup, John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats are down to Oakland, the Horizon League Champion, and Cal's starting lineup could be to blame.

Kentucky Wildcats guard D.J. Wagner (21)
Kentucky Wildcats guard D.J. Wagner (21) / Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA

The Kentucky Wildcats have two freshmen who will almost certainly be NBA lottery picks this summer. Yet, neither can crack the starting lineup. In the Round of 64 matchup against Oakland, Calipari, who said after a quarterfinal loss in the SEC Tournament that he’d be making some tweaks, again started D.J Wagner over Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham, along with reinserting Tre Mitchell at the four with Antonio Reeves, Justin Edwards, and Ugonna Onyenso rounding out the starting lineup. 

Oakland plays almost exclusively zone on defense, so Calpari refusing to start his two best shooters, Sheppard and Dillingham, and playing Mitchell and Onyenso in the frontcourt over Zvonimir Ivisic, a stretch five tailor-made to dissect a zone was confounding to Kentucky fans. 

J. Kyle Mann, basketball writer for The Ringer and fanatical Kentucky supporter, has been outspoken against Calipari’s stubbornness with the starting lineup and he’s not alone. 

Kentucky has spotted Oakland a lead, which isn’t a good idea against a slow-paced team that is looking to play a low-possession game in a win-or-go-home scenario. At this point, it’s blatantly obvious that Calipari is honoring some sort of handshake deal with D.J. Wagner to start him every game, as he’s done in the past when Devin Booker came off the bench in 2015. That 2015 team was good enough to have one of its best five on the sidelines until the under-16 timeout, but this group isn’t. 

If Kentucky loses this game, then Calipari will rightfully be ripped by Kentucky fans, but many won’t even wait that long. Something is holding back the most talented roster in the country, and while he did put it together, it might be the head coach.

Ranking the 10 best players in the South Region that Kentucky could face. The 10 best players in the South Region that Kentucky could face. dark. Next