Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kentucky 67 - 71 Arkansas (Overtime)

This game was an absolute disaster for Kentucky.  They couldn't shoot, they couldn't make free throws, and down the stretch -- both in regulation and in overtime -- they looked tired and slow compared to the more aggressive Razorbacks.

If UK had won the game in regulation -- as it should -- then you could take some heart from their second-half come back and the fact that they managed to pull off two close victories in a row against dangerous competition.

But this was a very bad loss.  It is probably now impossible for UK to get a top four seed in the NCAA's, which means that they will face a very dangerous opponent in the first round, and will probably have to pull a significant upset to advance past the second round.  That's certainly not what any of us wanted at the beginning of the year.

Also, I think we have to admit that Cal and the Cats have a big problem with Mike Anderson.  Cal's last team at Memphis was 33-3 and on a 27-game winning streak when they ran into Mike Anderson's Missouri team in the Sweet 16.  Missouri whipped Memphis 102-91 to end their season.  Anderson now has three straight wins over UK -- to go along with that big win he picked up at UAB back in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.  When Arkansas comes to Lexington next year, the Cats had better treat the Razorbacks with a lot more respect.

The Cats have certainly had some bad luck.  They are now 2-6 in games decided by five points are less, and every one of those games could have gone the other way.  On the other hand, however, they bring a lot of their problems on themselves.  Tonight, for example, they made countless silly turnovers -- if I see one more lob pass I might break my television -- and they took far too long to process the basic fact that Arkansas's players are simply quicker than they are.

And look, I understand that you're going to have bad nights with free throws.  But this team just isn't good at the line.  Coming into tonight's game they had only made 68.5 percent of their free throws, which ranks them 223d in the country.  Tonight their inability to shoot free throws killed them -- they made only 12-22 free throws all night, and missed a bunch down the stretch that could have clinched the victory.  That's a huge problem.

I feel bad for Coach Cal and I feel bad for these kids.  I know that Cal likes these players, that he thinks they have great character, and he thinks they've played hard.  And, like I've said, they have had terrible luck.  Tonight, for the second game in a row, they simply couldn't make jump shots.  If that had happened against Mississippi State or Auburn, they could have overcome it.  But it happened against a red-hot Arkansas team that is fighting desperately to get into the tournament.  I get all of that.

But we are now 28 games into the season, and here are the facts:

1.  The team has not significantly improved since the beginning of the year.  You could see tonight that Arkansas has improved more than UK since the teams last met.

2.  The team has serious holes -- it has no dependable three-point threat, and its defense is not up to championship caliber.

3.  While the freshman on the team are extremely talented, none of them has shown the type of NBA-quality dominant ability that we saw from John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis.

4.  The team needed a strong upperclassman who could have provided leadership for them the way guys like Darius Miller and Patrick Patterson did for some of Cal's other teams.  I wish Kyle Wiltjer could have been that guy.  But that didn't happen.

I'm sure the Cats will keep trying -- I think they'll play hard all the way to the end.  But I don't think their problems can be fixed by trying harder.

I remain a big fan of Coach Calipari and these kids.  I wish that they weren't going to have to face the volcano of criticism that is headed their way.  But as Cal has said many times before, there's nowhere to hide at Kentucky.

1 comment:

  1. A few more observations:

    1. KenPom now has the Cats listed at number 18 in the country.

    2. He has the Cats as number 306 in the country in terms of "luck."

    3. UK is now 1-4 in its last five games against Arkansas. Three of those losses were in overtime.