This Kentucky (and Calipari) Team is Different

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There is one huge thing missing from Kentucky coach John Calipari’s coaching resume: a national championship.

Kentucky Wildcat fans have seen this similar storyline- a freshman point guard leading a John Calipari team deep into the tournament and falling short at the end. It happened at Memphis with superstars Derrick Rose (he’s only the NBA MVP this year) and Tyreke Evans (vastly underrated and underappreciated in Sacramento). It happened last year in Coach Cal’s first year at Kentucky with an Elite 8 run and last year’s first overall pick John Wall. Fans hope there isn’t a repeat ending this year.

Good news for them is that this team is different. The type of different you have when you are expecting the same kind of taste from your favorite meal, but there’s a changed ingredient or side that makes it taste that much better.

This UK team wasn’t expected to be an elite group like the other John Calipari teams. They flew under the radar (never being ranked in the top 5), struggled against inferior teams, and didn’t have a consistent playmaker night in and night out.

That last point is a blessing in disguise for the Wildcats this year. In the first game of the tournament, Kentucky struggled against an underrated Princeton team as the team’s leader scoring in Knight, averaging 17 points per game, only scored 2 – the game winning shot.  In previous years, there would have been no second round, no Final Four run. This year’s team is doing its best at defining the word team, and it’s showing with their tournament victories.

During the season, Kentucky couldn’t win close games.  Before the NCAA tournament started, the Wildcats were only 1-6 in games decided by 5 points or less. It seemed like they didn’t know who to go to and couldn’t get that defensive stop or big 3 pointer they needed to win.  Those losses in close games have been a great learning curve for this young team. Since the tournament has started, they now know how to finish and close out games. Last year’s they didn’t play a close, meaningful game in the tourney until West Virginia – an Elite Eight game loss. This year, every game has been close until the end giving a young team the confidence it needs.

This team seems light years ahead of its youth and inexperience and this group is playing like a team full of upper classmen. When they get down, they see it as no big deal and they’ll rally. If they need a defensive stop – they get it. If they need a big 3 to stop a run – they get it.

There’s only one thing left for this group to “get” and that’s a national championship. And so far in this tournament, there hasn’t been anything they haven’t done right.

 

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