It’s a nice thing to have lofty goals mixed in with high expectations. Nobody has them set higher than everyone remotely involved with the Kentucky Wildcats basketball program. From head coach John Calipari all the way to the fans, every year is supposed to be the year they have their one shining moment in March. Then, a weird thing happened, this season.
To most observing Kentucky from the outside, this season would already be called a monumental disappointment. After all, a 12-6 overall record with losses to teams like the Alabama Crimson Tide, isn’t exactly Kentucky basketball. But it’s only unsuccessful because of what is expected from this program year in and year out.
Calipari, more than anyone, uses the NCAA’s “One and done” system to perfection. During, after, in the middle of the night, Calipari recruits the nation’s top-tier prospects until he lands the best recruiting class every single year. This past recruiting class was no different, Calipari landed Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Nerlens Noel. Despite their record, that’s a recruiting class that any coach in the country would take at the drop of a hat.
But there has to be a problem if they aren’t playing up to Wildcat standards, right? If Calipari has had 20 win seasons, gone deep in March, and won a National Title with freshmen like this, there has to be a problem, right?
Calipari did what he has done since he landed in Kentucky, recruited the best available players in the country to play for him. The only difference between this group and the others, they aren’t as good.
I’m not saying these guys are bad. On the contrary, Kentucky is still chalk-full of NBA Lottery picks. Noel, the gem of Calipari’s recruiting class, is likely to be a top 3 pick in the draft(possibly as high as 1). However, that doesn’t mean that Noel is as good as Anthony Davis was during his time in the Blue Grass State. He’s not, it’s really that simple.
Just because a player is slotted very high(Or similar to a former college force) in somebody’s national recruiting database doesn’t mean that player is as good or is going to have similar success. It’s the same way a number one pick in the NBA Draft one year is pegged as a franchise player while the other might still be considered a developmental project. Not every player projected as high numerically to another is the exact same type of player. They could be as good but maybe in different ways. Or not live up to what a 39 year-old, who never saw him play, says the player projects to in college (I actually don’t think that’s the case here).
Calipari’s philosophy isn’t broken, his players aren’t bad and it’s not because he is a horrible on the floor coach. Those are just ridiculous statements. It’s exactly the complete opposite. His philosophy works, his players are well above-average, and he is a great coach on the hardwood.
Kentucky is just a really young and inexperienced team. It’s just that we have all been brainwashed into thinking that every year Kentucky will take a group of kids to the promise land (Explains their preseason ranking at number five despite most of his players never playing in college).
While everyone is going to try to explain what is wrong with Kentucky, we should know the truth, everything is just fine. Calipari will start to get lambasted, these kids might get booed on their home court, or who knows, they can still make a run late in the season. But after it’s all said and done, a bunch of these kids are going pro after this season is over.
But that’s okay, this year’s recruiting class is ranked number one, just like last year’s. The key difference, the group of freshmen coming in next season are better.
Joe covers the Catholic Seven for Rant Sports. For the love of Sam Cassell, follow Joe on the Twitter Machine @JosephNardone