UK Hoops Off to Its Worst Start in 20 Years
If you thought a 1-2 record brought about unseemly wailing and gnashing of teeth among members of Big Blue Nation, imagine what a 1-3 record has wrought.
Me? I don't have to imagine it. I've seen the tweets and read the message boards. It's a rough time for the Wildcat fan.
The worst record Kentucky has sported since the 2000-01 season came about after a ghastly performance against lowly Georgia Tech in Atlanta yielded a 79-62 victory for the Yellowjackets and what, more than likely, was a very quiet trip back to Lexington for the 'Cats.
We have seen somewhat similar developments unfold in seasons past during the John Calipari Era, but not a two-games-below-.500 record--a fact not lost on ESPN. The Worldwide Leader's Myron Metcalf also highlighted THIS dubious distinction--never mind that this was the third straight loss for Kentucky; under Calipari, the Wildcats have never suffered two double-digit losses in one season to unranked opponents.
Now, before we go any further, let's go back to that 2000-01 season and take a look at THAT 1-3 record and see what subsequently unfolded.
Twenty years ago, those three losses in four games came at the hands of St. John's, UCLA, and Penn State--the latter two of which would make the 2001 NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. UK would go on to suffer two more back-to-back losses, in short order, to--wait for it--Georgia Tech and defending champ Michigan State by a point.
In fact, only two of Kentucky's 10 losses that season were by double digits. And both 10-point losses were on the road against ranked opponents (Ole Miss and Alabama).
It's funny. One week after the Wildcats were making fans lose their minds with a 3-5 record, they waltzed into the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and clocked the Tar Heels by 17. That final score was 93-76.
They started 3-5 and ended with SEC regular season and tournament championships, a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a Sweet 16 finish.
Am I saying, "If it could happen then, it could happen again?"
No, I'm not. Well, honestly, if we're saying "could," sure, I guess so. But I just don't see anything like that happening with this team.
For the first time ever, I believe, I do not recognize one single player who has touched a basketball this season. I don't know any of them.
I know John Calipari has confidence in his system. I know that it's only failed him one time--in 2012-2013. (Although it wouldn't have if Nerlens Noel hadn't suffered a horrific, season-ending injury.)
By comparison, that 2000-01 squad was flush with talent--Keith Bogans, Tayshaun Prince, Cliff Hawkins, Saul Smith, Jason Parker, Marvin Stone, Marquis Estill, Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels. Some of my all-time favorite Wildcats were ON THAT TEAM. And Tayshaun IS my favorite.
So how'd they lose five out of eight games to start that season? Brutal schedule. AND, all five of those losses were by single digits. Three of them were one-possession losses. The other two were five-point losses with one happening in overtime (to UCLA).
THIS year, it seems to be an uncomfortable combination of inexperience (par for the course) and a lack of chemistry. These players are all together for the first time.
There IS experience in the form of seniors Olivier Sarr and Davion Mintz and sophomore Jacob Toppin--transfers from Wake Forest, Creighton, and Rhode Island, respectively. And this team needs to make sure that forward Sarr gets a WHOLE LOT of touches. This team also needs to make sure sharpshooter Mintz can get his shots.
But right now, THIS TEAM is all over the road and learning to play with each other. And, of course, you can't rule out whatever stress the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing into the psyches of these young men. They have eyes. They're seeing games canceled and postponed right and left due to the virus.
This year, it seems, youth is even more of a hindrance because of the uncertainty that's already set in because of the coronavirus.
But Calipari is a good teacher, and this team will improve. But the going will be tough early on. Notre Dame, UCLA, Louisville, Texas, and the SEC are all on deck.
And every team brings its "A" game against UK.
CHECK IT OUT: 100 sports records and the stories behind them