I say “reasonable” because we’re now four weeks away from conference tournaments, and any high level of concern prior to such time is, in most cases, premature.
Especially in the case of the chosen team of many of our readers, the University of Kentucky.
Entering Tuesday, the Wildcats were 6-2 in Southeastern Conference play, tied with Ole Miss two games behind conference leading Florida. UK and Ole Miss were set to play Tuesday (results unavailable at press time) and will play again in two weeks.
As of Tuesday, Florida was 8-0 in conference play and had yet to play either of its games against the ‘Cats, who have chances to avenge their two conference losses in upcoming games against LSU and Arkansas.
Those six games – two against Ole Miss, two against Florida, one against LSU and one against Arkansas – will go a long way toward determining Kentucky’s seed in the conference tournament.
I’m focusing on the conference tournament here because this is another year in which the NCAA Tournament is not a given for Big Blue Nation. Things aren’t as dire as they were for last year’s NIT-bound ‘Cats, but it was around this time last year that an injury to Nerlens Noel pretty much removed any chance that Kentucky would reach March Madness.
Kentucky is deeper this year than last, but not by much, and certainly not as deep as they were earlier this season.
Think about it. Last year’s ‘Cats had a rotation of Noel (until his injury), Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mayes, Ryan Harrow, Jarrod Polson and, occasionally, Jon Hood.
Three of those are in the mix this year – Cauley-Stein (currently in a monthlong funk), Poythress (improved and much more consistent than last year) and Polson (steady and perhaps deserving of more playing time than he receives). That group is joined by freshmen Julius Randle, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson and, occaionsally, Dominique Hawkins, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis.
That’s 11 players who are capable of providing solid minutes. It’s not as simple as that, of course. Of the various available lineup permutations, only a few seem to work. Why? Questionable effort, lack of communication, etc. The usual problems that accompany a team that struggles at playing like a true team.
That’s been Kentucky’s big problem much of the season. It reached its apex last Tuesday at LSU but appeared much less of an issue Saturday at Missouri.
Down the stretch in 2013, the ‘Cats were mostly down. This team appears, at worst, to have the potential to be up-and-down, which is technically an improvement.
Kentucky is one of those fan bases that remains in a championship hangover years after the ‘Cats last cut down the nets. The Anthony Davis-led ‘Cats won the title in 2012, and that season was preceded by a Final Four trip. Those seasons, and the John Wall-led Elight Eight trip the year before, followed what felt like dark ages in UK lore.
Those three years followed by the last year and a half seem to have Kentucky fans fearing the worst. By comparison to other programs, things aren’t bad at all.
Which is part of the problem – apparently, we aren’t allowed to compare Kentucky to other programs, only Kentucky teams of the past.
That seems to be where I differ from most of the Big Blue Nation. I no longer live and die with each win and loss. I’m looking at the big picture.
And as of now, that big picture is unclear. Which is reasonable. It’ll be a different story in four weeks.
Justin McGill is general manager of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.