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CBT Exam Week Essays: How do you fix what ails Kentucky?

Dec 11, 2012, 4:00 PM EDT

john-calipari AP

For college students and college basketball fans, Exam Week is the worst week on the schedule. For students, this week is the culmination of three months worth of procrastination, cliff notes and Wikipedia. For college basketball fans, it’s the lightest week of hoops action we will see all season.

With so very little going on this week in terms of action, the staff at College Basketball Talk is going back to school. Over the next five days, the CBT Staff will be responsible for answering an essay question in one of five different subjects.

Monday’s exam covered covered sociology. Tuesday is the psychology exam.

Kentucky is currently battling through the roughest year of the John Calipari era. In your opinion, what is the root problem for the Wildcats and how, if at all, can it be remedied in order for the team to make their second-straight Final Four?

By Dan Martin

It seems as though we go through this every year with John Calipari and Kentucky. There’s a young group of highly-talented freshmen, analysts cite the Wildcats’ lack of experience as the reason they won’t make a deep run in March, then we see how the season plays out.

One year after the “youth” argument was debunked, Calipari finds himself in the toughest stretch of his tenure in Lexington, on the outside of the Top 25, looking in, and with the most question marks of perhaps any Kentucky team he has had.

There are a number of reasons for UK’s less-than-optimal start, which we’ll explore here, but here is one that many are overlooking: context.

Kentucky is coming off a national championship run, supposedly the great triumph for Calipari, proving that he could once and for all assemble a team that defies convention and takes home a national title.

But you have to look at it in context.

That team, though young, did the most fundamentally important thing any team can do. The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats played team defense and they played it well.

They had a historically good shotblocker in Anthony Davis. They had one of the hardest-working players in college basketball, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They had (get this) experience with sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, not to mention senior Darius Miller.

Now, in reference to this year’s Kentucky team, how many of those variables have carried over?

Calipari has no Darius Miller to come off the bench and provide stability when the team needs it. The only senior on the roster who sees regular minutes is Julius Mays, who is working through his own transition, having played last season at Wright State.

Aside from seniors, there are virtually no seasoned, experienced college players returning for Kentucky from last year’s national championship team. Kyle Wiltjer played, yes, but he averaged under 12 minutes per game.

For Calipari to have pieces like Jones and Lamb stay in Lexington last season was instrumental to UK’s championship run, even if they weren’t upperclassmen. In a program where the roster is turned over every season, being a sophomore with playing experience makes you a veteran by comparison.

The next biggest problem for Calipari is his point guard situation.

Ryan Harrow is just now working back to full speed after missing four games due to illness. That has meant that natural shooting guard Archie Goodwin has had to take the majority of the ballhandling duties.

Has he performed? Statistically, yes. He is the team’s leading scorer with 16.4 points per game, but he’s not built to be a true point guard. He’s averaging 4.4 assists, but also 3.2 turnovers per game.

Added to that, inconsistencies shooting from the floor as a team have plagued the Wildcats, including 29.6 percent vs. Baylor and 40 percent vs. Notre Dame.

But how can it all be remedied?

The easiest answer is that this simply does not look like a Kentucky team capable of  a Final Four run, especially with the way Florida is emerging in the SEC.

Calipari’s words have proven true that, as talented as Nerlens Noel is and the ceiling he has as far as his development goes, right now he is not where Anthony Davis was last season.

There are questions that remain at the point guard position, which is one of the more difficult liabilities to overcome.

Once they get their feet under themselves, talent alone makes them a Top 25 team. They could even reach into the Top 15, but those inconsistencies are what will keep them from making it much further than the Sweet 16 this season.

Professor’s Notes: This is a brilliantly written essay. You attack the cause of Kentucky’s problems, their lack of experience and consistent guard play, and explain why this team differs from last season’s National Championship squad. I would like to have read more about how you think Calipari can combat the issue. Nonetheless, this an excellent essay.


  1. mungman69 - Dec 11, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    Maybe some of these freshmen will come back for their sophomore year.

  2. jjohnb5393 - Dec 11, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    Doesn’t seem they need to be ‘fixed’ , close losses to a very good Duke team and a good Baylor team…..Calipari sorta has a history of late season improvement ….

    • Troy Machir - Dec 12, 2012 at 12:25 AM

      Calipari coaches his teams for the end of the season, so struggles like this aren’t too big of a concern.

      But I do think that changes, or fixes, will be made.

      Not to say that this is a grave issue and there must be a solution, but more along the lines of “This isn’t what we may have expected, so what do they need to do going forward?”.

  3. hawkti62 - Dec 12, 2012 at 6:39 PM

    Ah, the haters…yes, Kentucky is a young team and all of you “purists” out there love to bash the Calipari formula for winning in the modern college basketball era (not to mention the inate drive to bash UK basketball in general). But the truth is as plain as the wart on your collective Mom’s noses: Kentucky will be ready to compete at a final four level in March.
    The two gentlemen of Italian descent that currently reside in the world capital of college basketball are the GREATEST tournament coaches alive today…
    Get over it or die mad.

  4. jorgepancho - Dec 12, 2012 at 8:23 PM

    Kentucky will be going for its 3rd straight Final Four – not 2nd, as the essay question falsely asserts – next Spring. Comparisons between this year’s team and last year’s are foolish. This UK team much more similar to the team which lost 9 games two seasons ago, but still advanced to the Final Four.

  5. txnative61 - Dec 13, 2012 at 12:54 AM

    I do not underestimate the difficulty of pulling in immature high school stars from around the country and acclimating them to both the rigors of college, and the expectations of a championship team. Frankly it would be astonishing for Coach Cal to do so year after year, and rather than disappointing, it would be highly praiseworthy for Kentucky to again make the final four.

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