Nov 14, 2012, 2:37 PM EDT
ATLANTA – This wasn’t how the season was supposed to begin.
Coming off of a national title and with a roster made up of yet another ungodly recruiting class, this season was supposed to be proof that John Calipari had built the Kentucky program into a dynasty. They weren’t supposed to struggle against a borderline top 25 team in Maryland while watching Alex Len torch twin towers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. And they certainly weren’t supposed to get dropped by arch-nemesis Duke while allowing a beat up and out-of-shape Seth Curry got for 23 points.
But six days into the season, that’s precisely where we find ourselves after the Blue Devils hung on to win a scintillating, 75-68 slugfest in the nightcap of the Champions Classic.
Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not a trait that’s in high supply in Big Blue Nation.
It is, however, a state of mind that Kentucky fans are going to have to come to grips with, because as of right now, this team is not a national title contender yet. I emphasize ‘right now’ and ‘yet’ for a reason, because they will get there. They will improve as the season progresses.
“We’re still trying to figure out our team,” Calipari said after the game. “It’s all new to this team. We’re trying to figure out how we’re playing. We don’t play hard enough yet. We don’t compete on every possession yet. We don’t go after every rebound yet. We don’t know how to finish off games yet. We haven’t really figured out totally how we’re going to play.”
This is one of Cal’s more interesting rosters simply because nothing about it is standard. When his best five players are on the floor, he has two seven-foot centers (Noel and Cauley-Stein) playing with a guy who is ideally suited to be a four (Alex Poythress) and a pair of guards (Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow) who aren’t exactly known for their shooting ability. If you factor Kyle Wiltjer into the mix, than you’re including a player whose athleticism and defensive ability doesn’t exactly make him a perfect fit with the rest of this group.
Perhaps the most important note that needs to be made about Tuesday night’s game is that Harrow didn’t play. “We need him,” Calipari said of Harrow. “It hurt us today. It’s obvious.” Kentucky’s point guard play consisted of former walk-on Jarrod Polson and out-of-position Goodwin and Julius Mays. And Goodwin actually looked pretty good in the role, resembling Tyreke Evans with his aggressiveness and athleticism. But it certainly wasn’t ideal; Duke made their run when Kentucky had about three or four horrendous offensive possessions in a row.
“We had about three spells of a minute and a half where we did something dumb on our end and, like what a good team is going to do, they capitalized,” Cal said. “There were probably two or three spells of a minute or a minute and a half that cost us the game.”
And it’s not just the players that need to figure out how to play together. Calipari needs to learn this group and what situations he can put them into.
“The only guy I needed to get in there more was Willie,” Cal said. “I didn’t know if I could put him back in there and he’d be ok, because he missed a shot and he missed a rebound and he fumbled a ball back-to-back. I don’t know him well enough yet. Do I take him out and put him back in or is he rattled? This isn’t the game to figure that out.”
Kentucky will get there eventually. They’ll make plenty of noise once the calender turns.
But until then, have patience.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:38 AM EDT
Four autobids were decided on Tuesday as the NCAA Tournament has some new entrants into the field of 68. Find out who made the Big Dance and see how BYU is looking after its WCC title game loss.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT
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Mar 11, 2014, 11:21 PM EDT
Meet the North Dakota State Bison, the winners of the Summit League and one of the — likely — trendy upset picks in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT
The coaching carousel continued to spin on Tuesday night as Loyola Marymount opted not to renew the contract of head coach Max Good.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:06 PM EDT
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Mar 11, 2014, 9:16 PM EDT
The Milwaukee Panthers are dancing after winning four games in the Horizon League Conference Tournament. Meet one of the NCAA Tournament’s more dangerous double-digit seeds here.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
After only two seasons as head coach, Tennessee State has opted to fire head coach Travis Williams.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
The Southland’s top team has been upset in the conference tournament for the past three seasons. Will the trend continue? Or has the arrival of Stephen F. Austin’s new coach, Brad Underwood, altered the trajectory?
Mar 11, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
UNC Wilmington on Tuesday announced that head coach Buzz Peterson is out after four years at the school.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT
Every year, there are a handful of teams that could use a couple of wins in their respective league tournaments to gain entry into the field of 68. Here are five schools that need to string some wins together this week to feel comfortable making NCAA Tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
In light of the back injury that will keep Joel Embiid out for the Big 12 tournament and could foreseeably saddle him to the bench for the entirety of the NCAA tournament, we decided to take a look at season-ending injuries to key players on past National Title contenders: Kenyon Martin: Cincinnati was the No. 1…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here. Bowling Green will not be renewing the contract of head coach Louis Orr, the school announced on Tuesday. Orr had coached the Falcons for seven seasons, finishing with a 101-121 record and just one season with a .500 record or better. BGSU was 12-20 this past…
2014 American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview: Louisville looks to win its only year in the AAC
Mar 11, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The American came into this season as a big unknown, but with five likely NCAA Tournament teams and three All-Americans, this is one of the better leagues in college basketball this season. Can Louisville win the league in its only year in the American or will Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU or UConn get in the way?
Mar 11, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Vegas is good at predicting winners. Here are their odds for all of the major conference tournaments.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT
Four automatic bids will be earned on Tuesday night, with the West Coast Conference title game headlining.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
Doug McDermott. Player of the Year. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Saint Louis will look to repeat as the Atlantic 10 Tournament champion, but it won’t be easy. The field in Brooklyn could have six, yes six, NCAA tournament-bound teams.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
When you take your team to 34-0, you’re the National Coach of the Year. Pretty sure our forefathers wrote that into the Constitution.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
Now 15 teams deep, the ACC’s showcase event will span five days in Greensboro. Between the new arrivals, one upcoming departure and a plethora of talented players, this will be must-see television.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT
The Duke star is NBCSports.com’s National Freshman of the Year.
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