Posted: 3:06 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
By Glenn Logan
A Sea of Blue's front page authors examine two critical questions about the Wildcats.
It's time again for the A Sea of Blue author round table. This is where I ask a couple of questions, and the front-page authors at Sea of Blue answer them. This round table had by far the highest participation of any one we have ever had, so there are plenty of insights to chew on.
Today's questions for consideration are:
Are 3 losses more than you expected at this point in the season? Rate your level of concern on a scale of 1-10.
If you could fix only one thing with the Kentucky basketball team right now, what would it be, and why?
I expected this team to have at least two losses going into conference play. I thought the Michigan State game would be a difficult contest for the Cats to win considering MSU's experienced talent, and figured there would be one other loss along the way. Perhaps a surprise loss, due to the youthful Wildcats overlooking a quality mid-major opponent like Boise State, Cleveland State, or Belmont.
Baylor is much better than I anticipated prior to the start of the season, so I didn't foresee UK falling to Scott Drew's club, and North Carolina without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald seemed imminently beatable, even in Chapel Hill. Both teams deserve credit, though, for delivering in the clutch, while UK floundered in end-game situations.
At the moment, my level of concern for this team's chances of making a Final Four run (isn't that what most UK fans were expecting?), stands somewhere in the neighborhood of three-to-four. I'm seeing improvement in some areas -- guard play for example -- but regression in others -- the big men's performance -- something that fits nicely into the prevailing wisdom which states that the number one symptom of youth is inconsistency.
If I could wave a magic wand and change something about this team, it would be turning someone -- preferably Andrew Harrison, James Young or Julius Randle -- into a floor leader, something this squad is woefully lacking at the moment. A coach, regardless of his paycheck and experience, can only do so much to motivate, instruct, and lead his team. It's (almost) imperative for a team searching for greatness to have one or two players who have the respect of their teammates, and who will use that respect to bust tails, rally, berate, and/or coddle team members into playing up to their capabilities. Additionally, a leader should also possess the skill and cold-blooded nature to take over a game at a critical juncture, an element sorely lacking through UK's first eleven games.
Furthermore, in order for one of the Wildcats to become a legitimate leader, he must fully, or at least mostly comprehend what it is his coach wants done in any given situation. One can't competently lead if he isn't fully, or at least mostly cognizant of the game-plan, which is one reason freshmen seldom make effective team leaders.
At the moment, Kentucky doesn't appear to have a personality-talent mixture of former Wildcat (freshmen) leaders Michael Kidd-Gilchrist , John Wall, or Brandon Knight (and to a slightly lesser extent, Anthony Davis), but it's certainly possible a player could develop the characteristics of a leader, as Knight did, and spawn the Cats to greatness.
More than I expected, which likely says more about me than the team. I bought into the hype that the sheer amount of talent on this team would obviate things like "understanding what it takes to play basketball at the D1 level." My level of concern is relatively low: maybe a 2.5. This team isn't getting a #1 seed and it should not be considered a national title contender or a Final Four threat at the present moment, but we're entering the semester break which allows lots of time for improvement. However, if they start SEC games playing like they have against Michigan St, Baylor, and UNC then my concern would increase substantially.
Play. Defense. If I need to be more specific then I guess I would go with communicating more, since that seems to be a particular bugaboo with this group. I don't think they are too far away from being a good defensive group - their overall numbers are very similar to previous UK teams under Cal which - to me - indicates that the problem exists in the "little things" such as communicating better on screens. Fixing the defense is best way to leverage better results - the offense is already pretty good.
My concern is at a 6. This team has talent and good pieces, but I don’t see a leader emerging and I don’t see the kind of chemistry that led to Cal’s first three teams at Kentucky being as successful as they were. I’d like to think they’ll get it figured out, but after last year’s debacle there is at least some precedent that makes me fear they will not. I did not expect to be undefeated at this point in the season, but three losses is more than I expected. I’m disappointed so far.
I’m going to keep my real answer to myself but point out that if this team shot free throws well in its big games, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The losses hurt, to be sure. Panic and disappointment are pretty much knee-jerk reactions at this point however. From what I understand, the officiating at North Carolina resembled something nigh on to an event which the military has a name for beginning with the letter "C" and ending with the letter "K". On the road to a Jekyll and Hyde team and losing by 5??? In truth not a huge reason to panic. Add on the loss to Michigan State in a game that was maybe winnable and either one could have gone the other way and this post never occurs.
I don't see any one particular thing glaring at me except for what I would refer to as judgment lapses. On a freshman laden team these will happen. All in all, not hugely disappointed, but not completely thrilled either. This is one of those things that we have to accept with this approach. It may take all year for this team to gel and become 100% cohesive and basketball smart. Again, I have not been able to see a whole game, but I do believe all the assaults I have been hearing about at PG are probably unwarranted. We tend to forget what we have seen in prior years. I still believe that each and every one of the kids we have are the best you can get. I believe our coach has a firm grasp of the situation and how things need to be dealt with when it comes to getting them ready by March. Time for a deep breath and a glass of eggnog. And to enjoy the holiday and start looking towards SEC play.
I expected Kentucky to lose early; I didn't expect them to lose three games early. Overall, I'm not that concerned. Let's say 3 out of 10. However, the lack of quality non-conference victories makes tournament seeding an uphill battle, which would be a different cause for concern down the road.
I said this after the North Carolina loss. Right now, Kentucky is a me-first team. Me-first teams lose. The talent is there; the teamwork is not. If (when?) Coach Cal can get his players to work as a unit, the sky is the limit.
I'm surprised the team has already lost three times. I never had visions of "40-0" dancing through my head, but I judged the team would perform better than they have. Even more disturbing, to me, is the way they lost two of those games. A loss to a decent UNC team that was missing their two best players, and letting a totally winnable game against Baylor slip away when faced with a modicum of adversity. Great teams win those games even if they are early in the year. UofL will pose a credible threat to UK and this team could conceivably have four losses going into league play.
I suppose I'd label my concern rating at a 5 for now. The variance for this team feels high so that makes me cautiously optimistic. I could see them making a serious March run, but I can also see them as a NCAA tourney 6 seed losing to a 3 seed in the second round.
I'd like to see consistent on-court leadership from the players - preferably this would come from the best or second best player. Someone who can be relied upon to execute in high-pressure situations, and will either motivate or inspire the other players to follow his lead and fill their roles in the wider machine. If this happens, I think most of the other problems (off-ball defense, taking good shots, mind-numbing turnovers, etc.) would solve themselves.
I honestly thought the 'Cats would have one or two losses at this point. I figured they would lose to Michigan State and was actually encouraged by what I saw from them in the second half. I also knew they would have trouble in Chapel Hill against a talented, if not short-handed, Tar Heel team. The loss to Baylor is really the only loss that I am upset with. I feel that Kentucky is a better team than the Bears and that loss was due to being out-hustled and out-worked.
My level of concern right now is at about a 4. They haven't been blown out and they are beating the cupcakes convincingly. I am concerned about cohesion and fighting through adversity. I don't think Kentucky works well as a team yet and they don't have the experience to fight through the difficult moments in a basketball game against a worthy opponent.
The one thing I would fix with this Kentucky team right now would be their TEAM mentality. Calipari has stated multiple times that guys are more concerned with individual performances and not team performances. That right now is the major obstacle holding this team back from being very, very good.
Yes, considering all the hype. Best class ever? That quickly became a joke. My level of concern will either increase or decrease with the Louisville game. If we lose, it will be more like last year in my mind, or at best, we will struggle until the end of the season. I do believe we will make the tournament this year, but my confidence in becoming a Final Four team dwindles with each passing loss.
I'm torn between our passing, which is god-awful, and our free throw shooting, so I'll go with the freebees. We could've won the MSU game had we hit from the charity stripe. UNC was as bad as we were, so I'm not counting that game.
Yes, I didn't expect this many losses at this point, and I certainly didn't expect to lose to either the Baylor Bears or the North Carolina Tar Heels. In retrospect, though, I think my expectations for the season at this point were irrationally high. I have not moderated my expectations for the season as a whole. I still expect for this team to win the NCAA Tournament championship, and I'll be at least somewhat disappointed if Kentucky does not.
As far as my concern, right now it is about 7 out of 10. I am concerned that if we do not defeat Louisville, we might have a hard time getting a top 2 seed no matter what happens in the SEC. That could be a misjudgment, because 2011 lost a lot of games and still got a 4 seed en route to the Final Four, but my concern primarily extends to NCAA seeding, not whether or not this team will be good enough down the road.
Focus. If these guys would stop making the habit plays that result in soft passes, soft defense and poor free throw shooting, I would be much happier. The problem is that focus is a habit, a good one, that gets formed from repetition. I hope there is enough time between now and Louisville for them to make progress on that front.
Okay, now all we need are your comments.