A Rational Look at the Loss to Evansville
Most headlines that you will see in regards to Kentucky’s loss to Evansville last night will include words like, stunning, shocking and epic. Yes it was a huge upset in terms of the point spread and the fact that Kentucky was the #1 team in the country. But honestly it was not all that stunning when you take a step back and consider a few things.
- It was November 12th- That is extremely early in the season and if you compare it to when the season started 20 years ago it is easy to see how upsets happen. In the 1996 championship season for example, Kentucky did not play their first game until November 24th. As the start of college basketball season gets pushed earlier and earlier it gives less time for teams to prepare. This is especially problematic for a team that is as young as Kentucky is year in and year out. Early season upsets have become the norm in college basketball.
- Most of Cal’s teams have had close calls- If you go back and look season by season you will see that many of Cal’s teams won games by single digits against mid-majors. As a matter of fact Kentucky needed a John Wall buzzer beater to a Miami of Ohio team that went on to have a 14-18 record in the 2010 season. I sat through many of these games in Rupp and remember that they could have gone either way. Kentucky was able to come out on the winning side in all of those previous contests, but the truth is that some luck came into play. Last night they finally ended up on the wrong side of the win column. It was probably inevitable that Kentucky would drop one of these games eventually.
- Evansville is a good basketball team- The Purple Aces are going to have a very good season in the Missouri Valley Conference. The MVC is one of the top mid-major conferences in the nation and they have had a lot of success in the NCAA tournament. Wichita State, Loyala-Chicago, Bradley, Northern Iowa and Missouri State are all teams that have made noise from the MVC. I expect Evansville to be one of the top teams in their league and to challenge for an NCAA tournament bid in their conference tournament.
- Kentucky is not healthy- The Cats were missing EJ Montgomery and it hurt them last night. They needed his length and rebounding on the court. It was also a problem when they got into foul trouble in the first half. Ashton Hagans is also hobbled by a nagging leg injury. He was a shell of himself for the majority of the game last night and has seen limited practice time lately. They may be forced to shut Ashton down until he can get close to 100%. Practices are limited even more by the fact that Dontaie Allen has not been cleared to practice yet. The word is that Allen is getting very close to being cleared, so that would give them one more body. Hopefully EJ and Ashton can get healthy as well and give them a full team. Until then, the short bench is going to give the Cats issues in games and in practice.
- Youth has to learn the hard way- Coach Cal and the returning players can warn the freshmen about the dangers of every opponent they face. But the truth is that they have to experience it for themselves before they truly believe it. Taking an opponent lightly is not something that is done consciously, it happens in the sub conscious. After what happened last night, it will help get the full attention of the freshmen before each and every game. It will be a great reminder of what can happen on any given night if you are not ready for a battle.
- Walter McCarty was not intimidated- Walter knows a thing or two about winning in Rupp Arena. He prepared his team to come in and win the game. His game plan was terrific and his players executed it to perfection. If Evansville can make their way to the NCAA tournament this season, McCarty will be one of the hottest names among coaching circles. I will be rooting for him every step of the way.
- The team is a work in progress- This team is about a million miles away from the finished product that it will be in March. Cal is figuring out how to build the offense around the pieces that he has and it will be a while before he figures it out. If you watched one of Kentucky’s games from November in almost any Calipari season and then watched a game from March of that year, you would see two completely different teams. This is the reality in almost every season, yet many somehow forget it every year. The injuries have added an additional wrinkle this season and that has slowed things even more. In time, Cal and the players will figure things out together. This team has the talent to compete for the Final Four. It is just going to take time for them to develop. By now we should all be familiar with that process.
The Cats will not play again until they face Utah Valley on Monday night. In the meantime, fans need to take a deep breath and realize that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Cal has done this a time or two and he has some experienced players to help move the process along as well.