Posted by BHayes on January 16th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Youth and inexperience weren’t supposed to matter to John Calipari, to Kentucky. After all, there was still a lot of talent in Lexington, and it felt quite natural when nobody doubted the defending national champions in the preseason. But the two and a half months since have created a college basketball specimen that has been as rare in recent years as a senior superstar – the Kentucky skeptic. Their arrival is understandable, as Kentucky has already dropped five games here in 2012-13, the talented youngsters having yet to find the cohesiveness of UK’s past Calipari teams. There’s still plenty of time to get there, and all four of the key freshmen (Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein) will surely need to display growth for the wins to roll in, but the player who serves as the finest barometer for UK success is not a newcomer. Kyle Wiltjer has been about as consistent as his team this season (i.e., not very), and his off nights have frequently coincided with Kentucky failures. But when Wiltjer has it going like he did Tuesday night against Tennessee, the Cats looked a lot closer to being a complete team.
Kentucky Fans Agree That The “Three Goggles” Are A Good Look For Kyle Wiltjer
Wiltjer finished with a team-high 17 points in the 85-75 victory over the Vols, also chipping in with five rebounds and a pair of blocks. Quite a dramatic shift for both sophomore and team from a game ago, when Texas A&M walked into Rupp Arena and knocked off the Cats, holding Wiltjer scoreless in the process. Wiltjer struggling in a UK loss is not a new storyline this year; he is averaging just 5.6 PPG in losses, about half of his season average. He has also only scored seven or fewer points in six of the Cats’ 16 games this season, but four of the five UK losses have also happened to occur on those nights. One final measure of the value of Wiltjer’s involvement: He has gone for 19 and 17 points, respectively, in Kentucky’s sole two victories over top-100 teams (two top-100 wins, yikes!).
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