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What Is Wrong with Kentucky?

It is starting to seem like a long time ago that Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a group of
James Young
star Wildcats pounded Thomas Robinson and the Kansas Jayhawks to win John Calipari's first national championship. It is extremely difficult to remember Calipari's first two years before that championship year, when the Wildcats went to the Elite Eight and Final Four. What isn't hard to remember is Kentucky's embarrassing loss to Robert Morris in the NIT last year. The 'Cats hoped to put 2012-2013 behind them, in a year where they went 21-12, missed the NCAA tournament and were stunned by Robert Morris. This year, things looked different with the best recruiting class in history, when Kentucky brought in forward Julius Randle, the Harrison twins, James Young and big men Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. Along with sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress the Wildcats received the preseason No. 1 overall ranking. Now the Wildcats sit at 21-8 after a loss to 11-18 South Carolina, who sits at 13th in the weak SEC. Why, after three years of massive success are the 'Cats suddenly having real issues, despite the talent level extremely high in Lexington?

Chemistry plays a big role on teams and Kentucky really hasn't had it and the past couple of seasons. It makes sense, considering the fact the Wildcats are trying to blend a group of players who have never played with each other before on to one team. The one-and-done approach is one that Calipari used at Memphis and has used with Kentucky and it is a smart idea; picking up a number of high talents for a year and then casting them off to the NBA. But, these guys don't know how the others play and how to work well without each other before they leave to the NBA.

On paper, this Kentucky team may be the most impressive in the entire nation. Julius Randle already has a pretty polished offensive game, with a good mid range and the strength to get to the rim. The Harrison twins have great size for guards, standing at 6'5" both and also do a great job of getting into the teeth of the defense. James Young is a great shooter, Dakari Johnson is a powerful big man and Marcus Lee is a great shot blocker. But, all of those things just haven't blended into a winning formula for Kentucky. The Harrison twins were expected to be the guards that Calipari didn't have on last year's team; they were supposed to be smart, run the offense and score, something Ryan Harrow never did consistently in 2012-2013. But, their shooting has proven to be a real issue, Andrew is shooting 37% from the field, while Aaron is hitting on just 31% from deep. Randle has proven to be a quality low post scorer, averaging 15.7 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game. But, he can turn the ball over often and defensively isn't very consistent. Young is streaky; he can take over games at times but lacks the consistency great shooters need. Overall, depth is a concern, South Carolina and Arkansas managed to really beat Kentucky in the second half when the bench really starts to show which is really surprising. Experience has just killed Kentucky at times this year, which is also something to expect with this young of a team. Adjusting to the college game can be difficult and the Wildcats really never got that much time to adjust before their big matchup in the Champions Classic with Michigan State. It is tough playing in a big-time conference like the SEC and playing in packed stadiums often when you are a team of 19-year-olds.

The Wildcats are 21-8 and 17th in the nation, but are likely to drop with two losses this week. They will end their season with a beatable Alabama team at home and then end things with the top-ranked Gators who they played pretty well against in their first matchup of the year two weeks ago. It appears the Wildcats are pretty safely entrenched in the Field of 68 but momentum is huge entering the Big Dance and struggling before it is not a good thing. Time is usually a good remedy for a young team but they desperately need another scorer to step up beyond Randle like one of the Harrison twins or Willie Cauley-Stein to quickly evolve into an offensive option, if he stays healthy. It has been a pretty disappointing year in Lexington but they could still end it on a high note if they can figure things out very quickly. A team that was talking about going undefeated before the year began, the Wildcats look to be in about the six seed range. Teams that can shoot are very dangerous in March and although they have been very inconsistent from downtown if the Wildcats find some range they could still make a run and make Big Blue Nation forget about what has been a rollercoaster of a season.

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