The Big Blue Nation was still suffering from a broken heart after losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four last year. Football season stalled us for a few months, but by the time October came around, we were ready for basketball season again. After suffering losses to SEC teams in football, Twitter was flooded with numerous tweets saying, “Just wait till basketball season.” No matter the recruiting class or the hype surrounding each season, the Big Blue Nation expects nothing less than a national championship. So, when Kentucky fails to meet this expectation, we tend to analyze everything that went wrong.
Region of Death
Following Kentucky’s win over Texas A&M in the SEC Championship, the team gathered at Coach Calipari’s house for Selection Sunday. Cal joked about not being surprised if the selection committee put us up against the Golden State Warriors in the first round. First of all, Skip Bayless, Dick Vitale, and Kirk Herbstreit all agreed that Kentucky should have been seeded ahead of Texas A&M considering we beat them. This is somewhat disheartening to a team because it feels like they just worked so hard for nothing. Along with the seeding, our region consisted of two of our most hated rivals, Indiana and North Carolina. By meeting Indiana in the second round, fear and excitement hit the Big Blue Nation. Although it is easy to place blame on the NCAA selection committee, it really makes the mental game more difficult for a team. With so many freshmen, it helps to go into the tournament feeling confident.
In a more technical sense, this Kentucky team faced inconsistency with power forward, Alex Poythress, as well as establishing a solid center. After enduring a knee injury his junior season, Poythress never seemed to reach his consistent potential this season. He was a monster against Alabama, throwing up 25 points and dominating the game. But in several games when Kentucky’s young team relied on a veteran for leadership, like against Vandy and eventually Indiana in the tournament, Poythress didn’t show up. Nevertheless, the Big Blue Nation loves Alex and we thank him for his four years at UK. Isaac Humphries, the seven-footer from Australia, looked promising in the Champions Classic. He successfully shut down Duke’s Plumlee and contributed to our first impressive win of the season. We also had Skal Labissiere, seven-footer from Haiti and projected first round NBA pick, to potentially be our big man. In the first 16 SEC games, Skal averaged a mere 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds. His development was slower than anticipated which resulted in less playing time and confusion as to who should be the starting center. The team never was able to establish a solid starting five, which resulted in late development as a team.
Not the Dream Duo
Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray created one of best guard pairs that college basketball has ever seen this season. With Ulis averaging 17.3 PPG and Murray averaging 20 PPG, the duo dominated college basketball in stats as well as performance. They were our only consistency this year and receive absolutely no blame for our disappointing season. I can’t even imagine how good we could’ve been if Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, and Karl Anthony Towns had stayed last year. But, Kentucky basketball is a cycle. We are consistently good but we lose players and gain players every season and our success depends on how well the players fit together to work as a team. This season, we developed just a little too late. The pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite fit together as perfectly as they should. Despite a disappointing end to the season, you can count on the Big Blue Nation to be just as excited for basketball season in October after suffering through football season. With one of our best recruiting classes ever, you can place your bets on Kentucky’s ninth National Championship in the 2016-17 season.
University of Kentucky ’20