There probably isn’t a fanbase in the country who has a set of higher expectations for their program than the ones who love the Kentucky Wildcats. Unlike what some other people might think, I don’t necessarily think that having those kinds of expectations are a bad thing either.
Because of those lofty goals which the fans set for the team each year, Kentucky is forced to attempt to put the best product out each and every year. That is why John Calipari was brought to the team to begin with. The Wildcats needed a recruiting mastermind, a guy who can make and keep them as a top-tier program every season as well as keeping the spotlight always shining on the team. All of which are things that have been pretty much met by the program since Calipari’s joining of the team — sans a little letdown last year.
Which is going to happen when you rely on freshmen. Still, people who knock Calipari for recruiting one and dones are about as normal as a 40-year-old who sleeps with his Teddy Ruxpin doll. I will never understand them. I mean, who criticizes someone for being really good at their job? Is he only supposed to recruit players who aren’t that good and will be forced to stick around for four years? Seems counterproductive, really. The goal is to win as many basketball games as possible. Generally, that’s accomplished by having the best players on your team. So, um, yeah. Having one and dones is going to get you the best players possible.
Eh, I digress. Kentucky’s use of one and dones is a different article for a different time.
This is about this season. This particular team. A team that features a new, different set of fabulous freshman. Including Julius Randle, who may very well be one of the best 3 to 4-ish best players in the entire nation. So, again, the expectations for this year’s version of the Kentucky Wildcats were (and still are) very, very high.
Some even started to whisper about them going undefeated. As in, 40 games where they leave the battle as victorious and zero of them with their heads hanging low. Fast forward nine games later into the start of this season and the Kentucky Wildcats already have two losses. Time to panic, right?
Here is the thing. Despite Kentucky’s fanbase hoping, proclaiming and believing that being undefeated was going to happen, it isn’t really a rational goal or one worth even having. Would it be all kinds of swell if they (or anyone, really) were able to go undefeated? Sure. But the main goal is to win the NCAA Tournament and to continue to add to the legend that is Kentucky basketball.
With all the freshman on the team this year (which is something I write nearly every year about Kentucky), it makes sense that they are going to lose some games, especially early on. These players are still learning to play with each other, find their specific roles on the team and — in truth — Calipari is probably still trying to figure out how to go about putting these guys in the best position to succeed.
Kentucky’s two losses have been to the Michigan State Spartans and the Baylor Bears. While roaming the mean streets of Twitter one would think they lost to the Club State Pool Cleaners and the University of Broken Dreams. Those two losses are not bad losses. In fact, despite the overflow of talent on Kentucky, these are games they probably should have lost. Both are good teams in their own right, have far more experience than the Wildcats and the games were played very early on in the season.
Panicking now or worrying about this team at all is not needed. The Wildcats have an interesting four game stretch ahead of them. With a bounce-back game against Boise State (a presumed win), followed by another test against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Then it’s another round of the same bounce-back/tough test again, as they face a better than expected Belmont Bruins and then the Louisville Cardinals. Guess what? Even if they come out of that stretch 2-2 I still don’t think it is time to believe this team will be anything remotely as disappointing as last year’s. Especially if you consider the fact that Kentucky will be (heavily in most) favored in their next 14 games after that little run.
All of this no need to panic comes down to one simple reason. Kentucky has one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the nation. Something that won’t be talked about because it isn’t as trender-friendly as calling for Cal’s head on a stick or questioning how good this Kentucky team is. Instead of doing or reading those things, think of this as a blessing in disguise. Because, come March, this young Kentucky Wildcats team will have already gone through all the battles, tough games as well as highs and lows that it takes to become a veteran team. Which makes having their talent even more that scary come March if they are already battle tested.
Heck, it’s not time to panic. It’s time to get excited if you are a Kentucky Wildcats fan.