Young Kentucky team trying to find itself
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
John Calipari warned reporters and fans all summer not to expect too much from his young Wildcats this season.
He said this freshman class is not the same group as Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Co., who won a national championship. He knew he didn’t have many veterans on his roster. He thought voters were crazy to put Kentucky in the top five – as the Wildcats were ranked No. 3 in both the preseason USA TODAY Sports coaches poll and the preseason Associated Press poll.
Now, it’s clear Calipari was right.
Kentucky is 4-3, including back-to-back losses last week to two unranked teams (Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats dropped from eighth to No. 19 in the latest USA TODAY Sports coaches poll and have fallen out of the AP poll. Their drop in the AP poll from eighth to out is the largest fall for a team in one week since the poll expanded to 25 teams in 1990.
And Kentucky’s loss to Baylor on Saturday – the Bears’ first nonconference road win over a ranked opponent in program history – snapped a 55-game home winning streak at Rupp Arena.
“We’ve just got a ways to go with this team, and I think everybody now understands, you know, that you don’t just put a collection of players together,” Calipari said Saturday. “I don’t have a magic wand, folks.”
Calipari’s recruit-and-reload strategy isn’t working as well – and as quickly – as it has in recent seasons, and there are a couple of reasons why. Most glaringly, this team’s youth and weak point guard play.
Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer is the team’s de facto veteran after averaging 11.6 minutes per game last season while no other returning player averaged more than three. Entering last season, the highly touted freshmen of Davis’ class were surrounded by senior Darius Miller and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb – who had Final Four experience.
Without upperclassmen, these Cats have struggled to find an on-court leader. North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow has spent little time on the court at point guard because of a mysterious flu-like illness and Calipari’s interest in … [For more on Young Kentucky team trying to find itself, click here.]