Kentucky (10-6, 1-3 SEC) has turned around in the first half of the regular season remarkably largely due to being completely unremarkable. Wildcats’ best victory? A victory in London over Michigan, a team hovering around .500. There is nothing to see there.
But the bad games are gone Is that true Bad for the Wildcats, from a rout in Gonzaga to a defensive no-show in Missouri to open an SEC game to a 26-point blow against a superior team in Alabama earlier this month.
Tuesday brought a new low: a 71-68 loss at home to South Carolina, which was coming off a 43-point loss and not anyone’s idea of a cohesive team.
“You know, this is a long season,” Calipari told reporters afterwards. “It’s a marathon. Am I happy? No, I’m not happy. I hate losing. We were short in numbers, but it doesn’t matter. You’re still playing to win.”
There seems to be more widespread grumbling about Calipari’s stewardship of feral cats than ever before, prompting He calls an end to his Lexington career and a Detailing an ineffective business relationship between him and his athletic director. Nobody ever pleases everyone, unless patriotic headline banners are an annual event. But frustration is definitely at its peak.
This isn’t as interesting as the confluence of developments that led up to this season. Kentucky holds the second-worst record under Calipari over 16 games, better than just a 5-11 mark during the 2020-21 pandemic season. This flop, 9-16 innings with a super-young team under conditions that weren’t good for anyone, is recent enough to still rile fans.
This team, however, is not young. It ranks 109 in KenPom.comExperience the Division I metric, which is a measure of college seasons played weighted by minutes used. And she has National Returning Player of the Year Oscar Chebue (16.0 ppg, 13.1 rpg, . 581 field goal percentage). His numbers are down slightly from last year, but he also scored at least 19 points in four of Kentucky’s losses. Is not the problem. far from it.
Timing is also important. Kentucky has not reached the Final Four since 2015. She bounced back in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Last year by St. Peter’s. Postseason success can mask a lot of regular season struggles. This team is not on track to earn this opportunity.
With an unimaginative offense fit for the early days of Calipari’s career, Kentucky needed a sophisticated defense. Arguably the most impressive aspect of his career with the Wildcats (besides recruiting) is his ability to get individual players to stick on defense. But this is arguably the worst defensive team Kentucky has played in during its tenure.
“I thought we were going to be one hell of a defensive team and we have to support that, because that’s the basis of what we do,” said Calipari.
Calipari never outgrew his welcome job at the college level (obviously, that doesn’t apply to his NBA stint with the New Jersey Nets). He led Massachusetts to the Final Four in his final season there, and had a Final Four and Sweet 16 to finish his time in Memphis.
Arguably one of the problems with the country’s most notorious program is the difficulty of crafting an escape route. There is the NBA (see Pitino, Rick). A strategic skate to a low-ceilinged spot happily lands the seated Kentucky coach (play Tubby Smith-to-Minnesota).
But that’s a subplot for later. Kentucky still has half of the season left, starting with Saturday’s trip to No. 5 Tennessee. The anxiety can build even more with a lopsided loss, which is a real possibility in Knoxville.
“We have to be better,” said Calipari. “We have to be better than this. This is Ali. You have to be better.”
Those who went to bed a little early on the East Coast on Thursday missed out on one of the best New Year’s games so far, Gonzaga’s 75-74 run at BYU thanks to Julian Strother’s three-pointer with 9.8 seconds left. The Bulldogs gave their first lead since 11:19 of the second period.
Now, Provo is a tough place to play when nearly 19,000 fans are screaming at a visiting team, which is why the end of Gonzaga’s annual outings there is arguably the most important collateral damage of A move looms for BYU to the Big 12. The thing is, it wasn’t the Zags’ first close call in West Coast Conference play. Or two, for that matter.
A week earlier, Drew played Tim & Co. from behind almost the entire way in San Francisco and trailed up to 12 before Bolton’s Racer go-ahead layup in the last 10 seconds of a 77-75 win. Two nights later, Santa Clara held a 90-second lead before Gonzaga asserted itself late on with an 81-76 victory.
The tempting thing to suggest is that Gonzaga (15-3, 4-0 WCC) will get more testing in March thanks to these games – all of which came on the road. It’s a nice conception, and it just might work that way. Realistically speaking, however, the meaning of required rallying late in the game is that Mark Few’s team is not exponentially better than the rest of the league as is usually the case.
And you know what? good. As far as Gonzaga takes offense as a program to never win a national title, it is one of the greatest college basketball success stories of the 21st century. It has reached every NCAA tournament since 1999, won at least 28 games in each of the past 10 seasons and advanced to the second weekend of the last seven NCAA tournaments.
If you’re playing more close games than usual but still sitting atop the WCC and on track for 25-plus wins and an NCAA Tournament berth is what’s been a down year in Spokane, there are dozens of programs that will switch places. Happily with zags.
Gonzaga has its issues, particularly a defense that is unusually weak by his standards. But it’s still a headache for someone in the post-season. Maybe several people.
Medium Spotlight: Florida Atlantic
In a sense, the Owls are as traditional as they are for a team in a potential league making one bid. They systematically recruited, developed, and retained talent under fifth-year head coach Dusty Mae, becoming progressively more of a powerhouse in Conference USA.
Along the way, Florida Atlantic has nominated two major transfers each year — Brian Greenlee from Minnesota in 2020-21, Vladislav Goldin from Texas Tech last season, Jalen Gaffney from Connecticut this year — to bolster their lineup.
But there is something decidedly unorthodox about the Owls: the top three players all score from the bench.
Senior quarterback Alija Martin (13.1 ppg) has started five games, and nothing has happened since November. El Tahir Jonelle Davis (11.8 ppg) has started the first four games, missed a couple and has been a reserve since. Fifth-year stalwart Michael Forrest (10.7 ppg) hasn’t received a starting nod all season.
It didn’t matter for a nine-player deep squad that averaged between 16.1 and 26.1 minutes – including seven recording what might be called starting minutes. (Golden, the 7-foot-1 quarterback and fourth-place finisher, scores 10.3 points in 19.8 minutes.)
The net effect is Florida Atlantic (15-1, 5-0) takes a 14-game winning streak in Saturday’s meeting with North Texas (14-3, 5-1). Both teams are at least two games away from the rest of Conference USA, and the Maine Green’s only league loss came on December 29 against the Owls.
FAU leads the country in scoring off the bench with 37.4 points per game (Wisconsin-Milwaukee is second with 36.2), and wisely leans on the three-point shot (37.8 percent from work out of 38th in the country). It’s a good combination, and she has the Owls in position to snag their first NCAA berth since 2002.
No. 19 Providence at Creighton (2 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports 1): Will the Jared Bynum brothers recover from an abdominal injury for the trip? It will certainly help Providence (14-3, 6-0 Big East) as it looks to bring its winning streak to 10. Creighton (9-8, 3-3) has slipped eight of 11, including back-to-back setbacks to Connecticut and Xavier. , and could use an uplifting victory to revive her season.
No. 11 Kansas State at No. 17 TCU (2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2): The Wildcats (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) brought a nine-game winning streak to Fort Worth to take on the Horned Frogs (13-3, 2-2), who would find themselves three times out of the conference lead if they absorb their third straight loss. TCU’s four league games were decided by a total of 13 points.
No. 14 Iowa at No. 2 Kansas (4 p.m. Saturday): The winner keeps at least a share of the Big 12. Kansas (15-1, 4-0) has won six straight in the series, while St. Bonaventure transfer Jaryn Holmes (13.1 ppg) leads a balanced attack for the Hurricanes (13-2, 4-0). 0). Iowa is coming off an 84-50 conference win record for Texas Tech, its most lopsided conference win since 2013.
No. 24 Duke at Clemson (5 p.m. Saturday, ACC Network): First place Clemson (14-3) is 6-0 in the ACC for the first time after Hunter Tyson showed 28 points and 11 rebounds against Louisville. Now coming to Death Valley comes a weak Duke team, fresh from late rallies against Boston College and Pitt. The loss leaves the Blue Devils (13-4, 4-2) three times out of the conference lead.
No. 25 Market at No. 12 Xavier (Sunday noon, Fox): Xavier (14-3, 6-0 Big East) has won 10 in a row. Marquette (14-4, 6-1) in five games, and the offense masterminded by Tyler Kulick ranks second nationally in efficiency according to KenPom.com He has preserved the Golden Eagles in every game. For sheer entertainment value, this is going to be tough this weekend.
No. 3 Purdue at Michigan State (2:30 p.m. Monday, Fox): It’s a weekend, so technically you’re playing a game on Monday. It’s the first of two meetings between the Big Ten giants, as Purdue (15-1, 4-1 Big Ten in Friday’s game against Nebraska) battles a Spartans squad that has quietly built a seven-game winning streak. The Spartans (12-4, 4-1 entering Friday’s trip to Illinois) have downed five of their last six in the series.