Baylor snapped Kentucky's 55-game home winning streak
John Calipari's Kentucky squad is in unfamiliar territory early into the 2012-13 college basketball season. Serving as the nation's defending champions after winning the 2012 NCAA title, this new bunch of Wildcats appears to be far away from the glory days of March.
The team played well in early contests versus Maryland and Duke, but struggled mightily in their first road contest against Notre Dame and were run out of the gym 64-50. After a quick two-day turnaround, Cal's Cats were derailed by the Baylor Bears and snapped the country's longest home winning streak at 55 games.
Who is most to blame for this 4-3 start to the season? There are plenty of culprits to point fingers at, and that is exactly what this piece will do. The following slides count down the five biggest culprits for Kentucky's early-season struggles from 5-1, so read on and leave your comments below!
Also, feel free to engage in a Twitter discussion by reaching me @PaulAbles
Polson has fallen off mightily since his great game vs. Maryland
Coming up with five people on the Kentucky team to "blame" for their struggles is a pretty tough thing to do, but someone has to do it, so I am starting with Jarrod Polson. The former walk-on guard has emerged as a key reserve off the bench and was relied upon early in the season to sub in and replace starting point guard Ryan Harrow during his absence.
Polson began the season brilliantly with a great game vs. Maryland. Kentucky fans witnessed a calm and composed Polson who iced the game with two late free throws and more clutch baskets than you can remember.
After that outburst, it was unfair to expect that sort of performance out of Polson game in and game out. However, the team has needed him to step up with Harrow on the bench and he simply has not done so since the season's first contest.
In fact, Jarrod scored zero points versus Duke, two points against Notre Dame and zero in the Wildcats' streak-snapping home loss to Baylor. For a player who gave fans so much hope in his season debut, he has failed to recapture that magic and is part of the reason why Kentucky has struggled as of late.
Goodwin needs more of these and fewer turnovers
Let me preface this slide by saying that Archie Goodwin has been a pleasant surprise so far this season and is playing extremely well for an incoming freshman guard. There is a lot of pressure being placed on his shoulders to become the team's de facto scorer, and for the most part he has delivered and then some.
However, Archie's many good decisions are sometimes outweighed by his bad ones that often lead to negative consequences. For every great dime he deals out to a teammate, he will also turn the ball over that many times on the other end. For every breathtaking drive that results in free throws, there will be another one that results in an ill-timed charging call that kills the team's momentum.
In other words, Archie has likely committed more negative plays for Kentucky than any other player at this point. It is due in large part to the style of play that he follows, which is to constantly attack and be extremely aggressive on offense.
The issue with his game is that he has yet to figure out how to slow the game down and relax. Once he does, the game will come much more naturally to him. But in the meantime, Goodwin would really benefit the team by cutting down on turnovers and leaving the ball in Ryan Harrow's hands to let him run the point guard position.
Once Archie Goodwin can reel himself in and stop hurting his team as much as he is helping them, that is when he will become a true leader of men. Hopefully for Wildcat fans, that day comes soon.
Kyle Wiltjer needs to shore up his defense
Kyle Wiltjer has been perhaps the most disappointing player on Kentucky's roster so far this season. After being ranked as a 5-star prospect in 2011 and contributing off the bench towards the school's 2012 NCAA Championship team, Wiltjer was expected to step up his all-around game as a returning sophomore.
Rather, he has simply played the same way he did last season and does not appear to be improving in any statistical category. Kyle still lacks talent around the rim and is neither a strong finisher on offense or a tough man defender on the other end.
In short, Wiltjer is simply not a good athlete for his position and is too slow to get off his own shot or create space. Kyle has turned into nothing more than a spot-up shooter who occasionally grabs a few rebounds.
As for shooting, he is having woes of his own in that category as well. Kyle started the season converting over 60 percent of his three-point shots, but is now in the middle of a slump and is only hitting 36.6 percent of his perimeter tries. That is simply not good enough to keep him on the floor at this time.
Ryan Harrow is struggling big time in 2012
The Kentucky Wildcats thought that they had their point guard of the future in transfer Ryan Harrow, but so far this season all that they have had is a hole to fill at the position.
Harrow has missed multiple contests in the early season due to a mysterious, unknown sickness that has plagued him until he rejoined the team a few days ago. Whatever it was that held him out, Ryan's absence created a mess at point guard, which was probably the reason why Kentucky failed to keep pace with the Blue Devils and Fighting Irish during this early offseason.
John Calipari's system relies on a talented point guard to run the show, keep teammates happy and create some general motion on offense. Those are the traits that Kentucky completely failed on during Ryan's absence as they failed to adequately address the point guard.
All in all, it is an unfortunate situation for Ryan and hopefully he can turn this season around for himself and his teammates. Until that happens, Ryan will continue to struggle in Lexington.
John Calipari created this mess, but is more than capable of fixing it
When it comes down to a sports teams' failure, the blame always goes on the head coach and that is no different here. Even though I personally believe that John Calipari is an excellent coach and is underrated in many circles, he has to be the person bearing the brunt of the blame for this early season start.
First of all, he did not do his incoming freshmen any favors. The team's first two games were neutral-court matchups against tough teams in Maryland and Duke. Those are good programs to open up against, and Kentucky finished that segment of their schedule 1-1.
However, after breezing through an easy nonconference run it was time to return for the annual SEC/Big East Challenge. Kentucky drew Notre Dame on the road, which is always one of the best home-court advantages in basketball.
It is questionable why John Calipari would open his team's road schedule versus the Fighting Irish and not against some weaker team. With a team full of youngsters, it is necessary to play on the road in an easier environment at first before exposing them to the full-scale hoopla that is Notre Dame.
Also, Calipari has to be judged when it comes to the non-development of Kyle Wiltjer and Ryan Harrow. He obviously saw plenty to get excited about with Harrow and allowed him to transfer to Kentucky and learn the offense for a season.
That obviously has not turned out to mean anything for Harrow or this team. He has either been out or limited in every game so far this year. It is difficult to rely on a player with that sort of track record.
As for Wiltjer, the rumors over the summer that mentioned his improved athleticism were completely false, and Calipari should have had him better suited for the season. It is clear that Kyle is a smart player and deserves a chance to crack the starting lineup. But he is still a liability on defense and is being relegated to a spot-up shooter. Calipari needs to find a way to utilize his skills more often while hiding his mistakes.
Until then, this team will play sporadically as its "veteran leadership" continues to struggle on a daily basis. John Calipari knows how to take talented players and mesh them together. However, it could finally be the case that for once, Coach Cal may have screwed up his group of players.