By Kristin York
Since the Cats suffered their third loss at the hands of LSU on Tuesday night, the Big Blue Nation has caught a bad case of basketball blues. This is not the season fans expected to see thus far. The Cats are not living up to the expectations of many. To calm the BBN, perspective is needed. Let’s take a look at the things we know and the things we do not.
Things we know:
We know this team has talent. Six guys with NBA potential are on this squad. Whether all six make a roster is something yet to be seen. Nevertheless, they potentially have what it takes to make it in the league.
We know the Cats have the right coach. The proof is in the pudding. He is rightfully a Hall of Fame coach. He brings in the right guys and he coaches them to deep runs in the tournament and on to successful NBA careers. This team has ails, and if anyone can cure them, Cal can.
We know that Skal Labissiere is not a fraud. He has not been what fans assumed he would be. They were hoping for a “poor man’s Anthony Davis”, and that is not what he has been. Most frustrating of all is that the makings of an elite player are within him, yet they have not come to fruition. However, having the pieces of greatness means he is assuredly not a fake. He is immature and inexperienced but deserves fan support during the process. Cal believes in him and that ought to be enough for the BBN to do the same.
We know they are struggling. This is a fact with a capital “F” and the “T” crossed emphatically. The manner in which they are struggling is infuriating. They rolled Duke and handled Arizona State only to fall in ugly fashion to three unranked foes. This squad is so consistently inconsistent, it is maddening to watch.
Murray shows up too late for it to matter. In the second half, he plays like a man on a mission, but in the first half has zero direction. He makes up ground in the point differential, but it is not enough to move them from the L to the W column. Imagine what he could do if he played a complete game.
If Lee has a bad game, they are in trouble. If Poythress has a bad game, ditto. If they both have a bad game, forget about it.
To say that Briscoe has been offensively challenged is an understatement. Will someone please give that kid back his mouthpiece?
If Skal’s current level of play is what we should expect from here forward, Marcus Lee will be exponentially more valuable than imagined.
We know that the heart, fight, and intensity that this team needs to cover all the chinks in their armor is nonexistent. One sentiment that I have drawn from the Big Blue Nation is, “If the Cats are not going to play well, they better with passion.” In the losses the Cats have experienced, they (collectively) have played with neither.
Speaking of chinks in the armor, we know post play is a big one. They have a massive hole under the rim where a typical UK team has a big man. There is no Karl-esque player who can bang in the low post. There is no Dakari-like guy who can muscle in offense. There is no Willie-type center who can guard 5 positions and finish at the rim. We have Lee, Skal, and Humphries who all have strengths, but their weaknesses are so obvious, every team we face will take full advantage.
Coming full circle to end our “know’s” on a bright spot, we know we have the best point guard in America leading this team, on and off the court. Tyler Ulis is a force. We all know what he does. We are all witnesses. When this team eventually becomes everything it is able, Tyler will have been the catalyst. This is his team and it is in good hands.
Things we do not know:
We do not know much about Tai Wynward. We know he is good because he is at Kentucky. That speaks volumes in and of itself. We know that Calipari offered him a scholarship after seeing him play one time. Cal has sung his praises since he arrived on campus, only to add that he “needs to get in shape”. We do not know why he has not seen the floor yet. The idea that he is red shirting was promptly thrown out the window at the end of the Ole Miss game. Much like in football where the most popular person on a struggling team is the back-up quarterback, the same can be said in basketball. Tai could be a savior, or he could just be a seventeen year old kid who needs some work before his big debut on the hardwood. I assume the latter, but time will tell. Fans would do well to trust Cal and know that when “The Lumberjack” is ready, we will see what he is made of.
We do not know the source of this team’s woes. Maybe it is a “gelling” issue. Surely there is a maturity issue; physical and mental. Lack of experience comes into play. They could be intimidated at times. Confidence is an issue for some, I am sure. The full weight of playing at the nation’s most prolific basketball program rests squarely on their shoulders. Is it too much for this young group? There are tons and tons of scenarios. It is probably a bit of all the above.
We do not know why they play inconsistently. We could go back to chinks in the armor, discuss match-up problems, dissect defensive flaws, talk about offensive obstacles, and still not understand why these ever-present holes glare at times, yet seem smoothed over at others.
Last, but not least, we do not how long it will take this team to get it together. Fans hypothesize their visions of the season, but we do not know how this will end. The pessimists compare this squad to the 2013 team who never gelled. The optimists see this team like the 2014 guys who failed to find their footing until tournament time. Those in the middle compare our present guys to the 2011 squad who were 22-8 in the regular season, but got to the Final Four. Truth is, no two Calipari teams will ever be alike. Although it is interesting to draw parallels, this team will write its own story.
It needs to be understood that the predicament these Cats find themselves in is complex. There is no “quick fix”. However, all of their problems are manageable until they are fixed… and they do not have to be fixed until March. They have talent, time, and Cal. Being reminded of that should be enough to calm the fans. It is January, BBN! Enjoy the (ever twisting, sometimes bumpy) ride!