Kentucky’s Inconsistency is Likely Here to Stay

Posted by David Changas on February 1st, 2018

Kentucky walked off the Rupp Arena hardwood two weekends ago after losing a close game to rival Florida, and the Wildcats collectively had to wonder whether their season was headed down a dreadful path of no return. That loss was their second that week – the first coming to South Carolina in Columbia four days prior – and many observers of the program thought the trend was proof positive that John Calipari‘s current group of youngsters simply weren’t very good. To underscore that point, Kentucky’s only top-50 RPI wins had come against two teams — Louisville and Texas A&M — that were clearly struggling at the time of the games, and nothing Kentucky had done since those victories indicated that the Wildcats were headed toward a good place in March. Calipari’s squad bounced back with a strong second half performance in a subsequent 78-65 home win over Mississippi State, but a road trip to double-digit favorite West Virginia as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge was looming. Early in the second half of that game, West Virginia led by 17 points over the Wildcats and things in the Bluegrass State appeared headed to DEFCON 1.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander came up huge for Kentucky against Vanderbilt (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Somehow, at what appeared to be the lowest point of the season, something sparked the sluggish Wildcats. Kentucky proceeded to go on an improbable 25-4 run over the next seven-plus minutes before eventually claiming its best win of the season. At that point, the buzz around the program was no longer about whether falling to the NIT was a distinct possibility, but rather whether a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio was still on the table. Chatter suggested that the Wildcats had finally figured things out, thanks largely to the emergence of quickly-developing freshmen Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Riding high after the big victory over West Virginia, the Wildcats returned to Rupp Arena to face struggling Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. And in a shaky follow-up performance that probably should have been expected from such a young team (remember, the Wildcats rank 351st, dead-last, in experience nationally), it took a minor miracle to emerge victorious. On a loose ball play with two seconds remaining, Gilgeous-Alexander was fouled 50 feet from the basket and the Wildcats trailing by two points. He calmly sank two free throws to send the game to overtime, where Kentucky would ultimately prevail, 83-81.

At this point, the highs and lows that the Wildcats have exhibited over the past few weeks is what we should expect the rest of the way. The season is now nearly three months old, and we have seen the good, the bad and the outright mediocre from college basketball’s youngest team. While still gifted in terms of NBA-level talent, this version of the Big Blue doesn’t appear to have the steadying veteran or two that many of Calipari’s previous (and better) teams have had. Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander are clearly getting better by the day, but inconsistency from others like Hamidou Diallo, PJ Washington and Quade Green, as well as injury to Jarred Vanderbilt, have prevented this squad from fully developing on the same timeline. While such inconsistency may drive Kentucky fans and their coach crazy, performances like the sizzling second half against West Virginia and a come-from-behind win over Vanderbilt offer hope that, once the NCAA Tournament arrives, the Wildcats will be a team to fear. So although there will undoubtedly be more moments for Kentucky that leave us scratching our heads over the next month-plus of basketball, there will also be several that remind us that there are still nine McDonald’s All-Americans on this team. With the way it has been constructed this season, its consistent level of inconsistency should be of no surprise.

David Changas (158 Posts)


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