Preview of Kentucky:
Coming in as the 4th ranked team in the AP Poll ahead of their 2022-23 campaign, the Kentucky Wildcats have been nothing short of frustrating and inconsistent. A team that is loaded with talent, one of the greatest and respected college coaches of all time, and the returning national player of the year, Kentucky boasts a record of 18-9, which looks solid on the surface, but is beyond disappointing for a team who started the season with high championship expectations, expectations that the media has all but given up on, except for Kentucky. The team has bounced back in its last two games after losing to Georgia on the road with an away win against Mississippi State and a big-time home win against the now 11th ranked Tennessee Volunteers, completing the sweep against Rick Barnes and his squad. The SEC has not been as good this year as expected, especially with the emergence of the Big 12 clearly being the best conference in college hoops, but if Kentucky can close their season off strong in their last four conference games, and make a run in the SEC tournament, they are a program you would want to avoid in March Madness.
Why has Kentucky struggled thus far?
High expectations are always difficult, but, if you go play for Coach Cal and Kentucky, you know what is expected of you. You are supposed to stay ranked as a top program for most of the season, you are supposed to win big games, be the hot topic in media, culture, and society. These are incredibly hard expectations to live up to when you are 18, 19 or 20 years old. When you mix this with the fact that Kentucky was bounced in the first round of the tournament to 15 seed St. Peters last season, the expectations to bounce back is massive, especially when you bring in a top-5 recruiting class in the country.
When it comes to talent, Kentucky has all the talent in the world. They have the second most dominant big man in the country, second to Zach Edey, they have a true, sneaky, and high IQ point guard in Sahvir Wheeler. When you add these two to the all-around game that freshman Cason Wallace brings to the table, the big thing Kentucky seems to be missing is efficient three-point shooting. Only one player, Antonio Reeves, is shooting above 36% from outside the arc, and in modern basketball, that is not going to cut it, especially when teams gameplan around Tschiebwe and Kentucky must rely on shooting to win. Playing high level team basketball seems to also be a struggle for the Wildcats in their campaign this season, the team is averaging 15 assists to 12 turnovers a game, which is not great, but is a clear sign that something with their chemistry is off. When watching the Wildcats play, it is so clearly my turn, your turn type of game being played, it definitely looks a bit selfish, and it is why they have not been nearly as successful as expected. On top of this, the expectations put on Kentucky freshman are massive, and Chris Livingston has not lived up to his five-star ranking.
Could Calipari be on the Hot-Seat?
Two seasons ago, Calipari and the Wildcats failed to make it to the tournament with the top recruiting class in the country. Following that, Calipari and the Wildcats bounced back, with a very different approach. Cal hounded the transfer portal, getting Oscar Tschiebwe, C.J. Fredrick (who would miss the season due to injury), Sahvir Wheeler, Jacob Toppin and Kellan Grady. Along with this TyTy Washington Jr. was an awesome freshman guard for Calipari’s Wildcats. Headed into March Madness, the team was awarded a 2 seed, and was shockingly upset by St. Peters who would go dancing all the way to the Elite 8. This season, Calipari brought most of his talent back and more, and expectations were sky high coming into this season. With a home loss to a struggling South Carolina this season, a bad home loss to an underperforming Arkansas team, as well as a bad loss against Georgia, these are things we have not seen often in Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky. Obviously, it seems like Calipari is going nowhere, year after year he brings in a top five recruiting class, and year after year this generates Kentucky and its athletic program so much revenue. Calipari has only won once in his tenure with Kentucky, and it is probably his biggest knock as a head coach. Next year, Calipari is bringing in a record-breaking recruiting class, loaded with four of the top 10 ranked high school prospects in the country. If Calipari struggles in March Madness this season, and if Kentucky struggles next year with this recruiting class, do not be surprised if Kentucky’s athletic program and boosters want Cal gone. There is a belief that with their prowess as a basketball program, there are some coaches out there who can fill the shoes Calipari has established as Kentucky’s head coach. At this point in Calipari’s career, everyone knows he is one of the best recruiters of the country, and that will not go away. Winning is what matters in terms of Calipari’s legacy, and if he doesn’t make strides soon with the amount of talent, he brings in each year, there is a world where Coach Cal ends up on the hot seat.