Kentucky Wildcats: Why this Season has Been Disastrous thus Far

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Heading into the Georgia Tech game on Dec. 6, Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari met the media, via Zoom as we always do in 2020, and he provided a very spirited question and answer session. During several stretches of the press conference, he sounded similar to the professional football coach character portrayed by Al Pacino in the 1999 film “Any Given Sunday.”

“If you’re LAST in the gym, NO ONE follow you,” Calipari said quite loudly. “If you’re FIRST to practice, EVERYONE will follow you.” The literal statement also served on a metaphorical level, but apparently, his team still didn’t get fired up enough.

They lost, quite badly, 79-62 to a Tech side that isn’t very good at all. Anyone doing some sports betting here this season, most likely did not see this coming. Kentucky were huge favorites versus the Yellow Jackets, and they entered the season with some of the more favorable odds for making the Final Four and winning the national title. They actually had the sixth most favorable national championship odds at around 13/1 or (+1300).

At about +200 or 2/1 to make the Final Four, only three teams (Gonzaga, Villanova and Baylor) had more favorable odds. Entering the season ranked #10 in the country, our Kentucky Wildcats season preview has proven to be all kinds of wrong. Off to their worst start since before The Great Depression, the last time a Kentucky Wildcats team started 1-5 was 1927. That’s three years before Adolph Rupp, who the arena is named for, even came to the school.

So how did it all go wrong? Just what on Earth is going on in Lexington right now?

First and foremost they’re very very young, even so by Kentucky Wildcats standards. Keion Brooks is the lone returnee who saw any minutes last season, and he’s been out injured. After the disappointing 75-63 loss to #16 North Carolina on Saturday, a game where Kentucky blew a second half lead, Brooks met with the media, despite not even playing.

“I was kind of proud of him that he would step up and face the music, and he didn’t even play,” said Calipari of Brooks.

“Well, you’re talking about guys that are going through stuff that’s really, really hard for them: to take responsibility, to own their performance, to accept where they are on the team.”

Kentucky’s youth, i.e. the inexperience is really hurting them right now. They’ve also been lax in LEX on the defensive end of the floor for long stretches of time. Shooting, especially from behind the arc, has been a problem.

Rebounding however, has not.

“We outrebound them and you would think – they’re out rebounding everybody by 18, 16 rebounds – I thought our guards rebounded the crap out of the ball,” Calipari said after the Carolina loss.

“But again, some immaturity and stuff like that. It just keeps creeping in. We’re going to have to get a whole game in.”

The pandemic is very tough, on all of us, but it seems to be hitting this team and this program even harder, because they’re a group that just hasn’t been together very much at all. Immaturity is a big issue with this bunch, and this aspect reared its ugly head in Cleveland against the Tar Heels.

Four star recruit and freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher was visibly upset towards the end of that game, and following his outburst, Coach Calipari has asked him to step away from the program for the time being.

When Coach Cal made this decision, he announced it via Twitter too. Fletcher has issued a public apology via the social media platform.

“Right now, we don’t have the maturity and experience to keep a lead and believe that we’re going to pull this out and we’re going to win this game,” said Brooks after the UNC loss made it five straight defeats.

“When you press so hard, and are so focused about not messing up, you actually mess up. I just think that over time, right now coaches are still coaching us up, we’ll do all of that.”

A lot of this is mental right now. The Wildcats makes mental errors in bunches, and each loss brings further damage to their swagger and self-esteem. This is Kentucky Wildcats basketball, where everything, good, bad and all that is in between, is all magnified.

“The media stuff they go through at Kentucky, a lot of NBA teams don’t have,” said DeWayne Peevy, who left Kentucky’s Athletic Communications department after a dozen years to become the new Athletic Director at DePaul.

“People have to realize is that one, you have ten new faces, who have never played at Kentucky, two they dudn’t come in in June and start being together, practicing, getting the time together that you normally have and then thrre you don’t even get exhibition games,” said Peevy.

“At at Kentucky, your problems are magnified. They could easily be 4-2 right now, with a break here and there in a game,” said Peevy.

“Could have won the North Carolina game, could have won the Kansas game. Had a chance to win the Notre Dame game, and those are three pretty good wins.

“I would caution everybody not to panic…if there is one thing we know, all bets are off in 2020.”

Up next is Kentucky’s biggest annual non-conference game, against their fiercest rival of all, Louisville.

Brooks, who remains day-to-day, hopes he will be able to play in the Bluegrass Battle on Boxing Day.

“It’s killing me that I can’t go out there and help the team, be on the floor, be a part of what they’re going through as far as playing,” he said.

“If I can help from the sideline, I will.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of  “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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