Cats Not in Unfamiliar Territory
It seems that some members of Big Blue Nation as well as national media members may be suffering from amnesia. With a couple of early losses to marginal teams many act as if John Calipari is sailing in uncharted waters. The truth is that Cal has captained this ship twice already in his time at Kentucky.
Kentucky basketball fans are the best in the world but they often are guilty of revising history. If the end product of a team is good then all of the past follies are somehow magically erased from memory. Today let’s take a minute to dig into the past and remind ourselves that not every team runs through the season like an unstoppable force.
Since John Calipari has been at Kentucky there have been two types of teams: the dominant and the really good-by March Madness. The dominant teams where of course the 2010, 2012, and 2015 teams that went a combined 111 and 6. The really good-by March Madness teams were 2011 and 2014. The 2011 and 2014 teams faltered often during their seasons losing 18 games before entering the NCAA tournament. Then both teams hit their stride and made Final Four runs that came up just short of a championship. The 2016 Wildcats have always seemed to fit much more into the really good-by March Madness group and the early season has seemed to prove it to be the case. What that means is there will be more bumps along the way as this team continues to grow and come together. What it does not mean is that this team stinks and the season is over.
Some will point to the 2013 team and try to lump the current Wildcats in with them but that is ridiculous to put it bluntly. First of all the 2013 Cats would have made the NCAA tournament had they not lost their best player Nerlens Noel. Perhaps that team wouldn’t have made a deep run in March but the loss of Noel is what completely derailed that season. Even with Noel the 2013 Cats where not even close to how good this Kentucky team will be in March.
For those that think the 2011 and 2014 teams did not lose games to the caliber of teams that the Cats have lost to this year let’s look at that.
2011 Losses in season
L 67-84 to Connecticut
L 73-75 @ North Carolina
L 70-77 @ Georgia
L 66-68 @ Alabama (NIT team)
L 69-71 @ Ole Miss (NIT team)
L 68-70 @ Florida
L 77-81 @ Vanderbilt
L 76-77 @ Arkansas (did not qualify for NIT)
2014 losses in season
L 74-78 to Michigan State
L 62-67 to Baylor
L 77-82 @ North Carolina
L 85-87 @ Arkansas (NIT team)
L 82-87 @ LSU (NIT team)
L 59-69 in Rupp to Florida
L 67-71 in Rupp to Arkansas (NIT team)
L 67-72 @ South Carolina (did not qualify for the NIT)
L 65-84 @ Florida
Ohio State may end up being an NIT team but clearly a loss to a team on that level does not mean all that much at this point in the season. UCLA will be an NCAA tournament team and it was the first road game of the season with multiple factors working against the Cats. A team filled with freshmen and players that have little experience in-game situations is going to have growing pains during the season.
In 2014 I spent the second half of the season trying to get some fans to understand that the team still had a very high ceiling and that they were capable of making a run like the Cats had done in 2011. At that time many replied with “but this team has no Brandon Knight” or “yeah but that team had heart and this one has none”. During the game on Saturday when I pointed to 2011 and 2014 as reasons not to panic a fan tweeted that this team has no Julius Randle. My reply was that the 2014 team did not have Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray. He then said that they had the twins, which I found comical since so many fans buried the twins during that season. After the loss at South Carolina in 2014 many fans said the team had quit, it had no heart, and that they didn’t want the players back. Those fans were strangely silent as Kentucky made a magical run to the title game.
With 2011 and 2014 in the memory banks of BBN I thought that fans had learned to be patient and remember that March is what counts. Whelp, it turns out I was wrong. After two losses the chicken littles are running around like crazy and hitting every panic button they can find. The lesson I have learned is that you can’t teach an old chicken new tricks but you can point and laugh at them. As for this team they have a long way to go before they can contend for a Final Four but of course they have over three months to get ready for it. With camp Cal now in full swing the Cats can begin to focus in much more over the next few weeks and that will show on the floor. Louisville will travel to Rupp on Saturday with hopes of finally beating the Cats again. Word of warning to the Cardinals, it is not safe to come at a cornered Wildcat.
P.S. If Chicken Little is reading this, there will be several more opportunities this year for you to stick your head out to proclaim doom. Don’t worry though; there will be room for you on the bandwagon when you jump back on in March.