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Monday, March 18, 2013

Is this Truly Kentucky Basketball?

Wild on Sports
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Is this Truly Kentucky Basketball?
By Wild on Sports Analyst Travis David
@Tdavid_21 @WildOnSports

There is basketball and there is basketball at the University of Kentucky. The men’s basketball program has accumulated the most wins (2111) and the second most national championships (8) in the history of DI basketball. The program also has the most NCAA tournament appearances (52) and most tournament wins (111) but those records will not be extended this season.

Kentucky became just the fifth program to fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament the year following a National Championship. A first-round exit in the South Eastern Conference tournament last week forced the hand of the NCAA tournament committee to exclude the Wildcats from the field of 68 this season.

Who can really blame them! After losing a sure lottery pick and projected top pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Nerlens Noel, UK was blown out to SEC rival Tennessee by 30 points in Knoxville. Two weeks later the Wildcats would have another embarrassing road loss at Georgia.

Those losses coupled with the early conference tournament exit to Vanderbilt erased quality wins over NCAA tournament members Florida, Ole Miss and Missouri.

The loss of arguably the most dominant defensive player in the country, Noel, was no excuse. This team had problems long before Noel went down in a road loss to Florida on Feb. 12.

This team simply did not seem to care about the importance of playing for the name on the front of their jerseys. After one loss head coach John Calipari mentioned there were some players on the team that were “uncoachable“.

According to ESPNs recruiting tracker the Wildcats had the second best recruiting class in the nation entering this season, led by Noel. But as members of the Big Blue Nation quickly found out this season, a high recruiting class does not translate to wins on the court.

After back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor (first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari) in late November and early December the Wildcats, who started the season ranked No. 3 in the preseason polls, fell to 4-3. Members of the Big Blue Nation kept saying wait until March. As the losses mounted the chants of “wait until March” progressed to “wait until next year.”

Calipari has assembled the nation’s top recruiting class for 2013. But in the meantime this season is not finished for UK. The Wildcats begin postseason play on Tuesday in the first-round of the National Invitation Tournament at Robert Morris University.

Calipari’s ability to bring in the best of the best helped restore Kentucky to national prominence since being hired on April 1, 2009. That first season, the Wildcats reached the reached the Elite Eight. They made it to the Final Four as a No. 4 seed in 2011, before winning it all last season.

Some will say Calipari, who had Final Four appearances at Massachusetts and Memphis vacated for violations, has made a mockery of the game by his manipulation of the one-and-done players.
The fact is, the mandatory one year of college (or overseas ball) out of high school before entering the NBA draft, is in place. Coach “Cal” did not implement the rule; he has just found a way to be the best at assembling the best talent.

But is the talent Calipari has brought to Kentucky really what the prestigious university is all about? Sure there has been John Wall and Anthony Davis and even this year Nerlerns Noel, all by the book example of a team players. But do true blue-blooded Kentucky fans enjoy the overall pool of talent Calipari has introduced?

People in the Big Blue Nation have seemingly given Calipari a pass on this season. But will they be tolerant of the system if NIT berths are in the cards at UK every other year or two? My guess is not, but only time will tell.

In the meantime, let’s just hope this year’s class is an example of what happens when players take more pride in the name of the back of the jersey than the one on the front.

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