To panic or not to panic?
Big Blue Nation is usually roller coaster ride of emotions and that is the case again this season. They started off the year very high after the Bahamas but quickly plummeted after the blow out loss to Duke. After a slow climb of wins against average competition they dipped again with a loss to Seton Hall. Then, wins against North Carolina and Louisville brought them back up near the post-Bahamas peak. After Saturday’s loss to Alabama they have headed back down hill but here are five reasons they will be headed back up soon.
- The Cats will win their next three games– Texas A&M and Vanderbilt will come to Rupp Arena this week and they will both go home with a loss. They will follow those games up with a road trip to Georgia where they will give Tom Crean his first L against the Wildcats since the 2012 NCAA tournament. Those three wins will help this young team build confidence but it will also help the fan base see the potential of this team. Going into the North Carolina game most fans would have been thrilled if they knew Kentucky would go 5-1 over the next six games. That should be exactly how it will play out.
- Road wins in the SEC never come easy– The easiest year to point to is 2011, when Kentucky lost 6 of their 8 road games. Most of those losses came to teams much worse than the Alabama team that Kentucky lost to on Saturday. The point is that a road loss in the SEC is not unusual and it is not a reason for concern, especially in this case.
- The Cats learned about playing from behind- Of course it would be great if Kentucky dominated every game they played in the rest of the season and never trailed but that is not going to happen. Kentucky had not faced a game that they were down by 8 to 10 points in the final few minutes. This game gave them a chance to learn how to play in that situation and that alone is very valuable. They battled back and gave themselves a chance to win. They can also learn from the things that led them to end up in a deficit in the first place.
- Ashton Hagans just keeps getting better- He had 12 points, 6 assists and 3 steals in the loss on Saturday. Those numbers look very nice but he is still only scratching the surface of what he can and will become. I probably sound like a broken record but Hagans is the key to unlocking this team. His play has already transformed the team but there is another level that he can get to. If he can get there by March it will make this team very dangerous.
- Alabama is a good team- They have a very good chance to be an NCAA tournament team in my opinion. In the past few weeks there was a prominent media member that continued to say Alabama was “terrible” this year. He was uninformed about it and it has led many fans to panic more about this loss than they should have. The SEC is full of very good basketball teams and Alabama is one of them.
We have covered the team for seven seasons and have watched a lot of talented players go through struggles before figuring it out. I am fairly confident in my ability to judge talent and to be able to see the potential ceiling for a team. I remain convinced that this is a team that will contend for a Final Four. The biggest area of concern for me is the lack of a rim protector when Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery is not on the floor. Cal’s defense is best when he has a shot blocker in the paint. In my opinion Cal has to find a way to get either Nick or EJ on the floor for 25-30 minutes a game. That will limit the minutes for Reid Travis and PJ Washington a bit, but it will also keep them more fresh down the stretch. As for the Cats back court, they are only going to get better as the season goes on. This team has the talent to do special things in March. They are not there yet but with more time and experience I believe they will get there. A roller coaster with no dips would be a pretty boring roller coaster. Enjoy the ride.