With a 5-3 record, the 2012-13 Kentucky basketball team has lost more games than the 2011-12 national champions from a year ago. Talent has been replaced with talent, but the current Wildcats have something missing.
"Last year (Jarrod Polson) and Kyle (Wiltjer) were in the gym as much as Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) and Anthony (Davis). They have not been in the gym one night this year."
The numbers support Calipari's claim.
Wiltjer is shooting 34.8 percent from three-point range this season, down from 43.2 percent from a year ago. Unfortunately, he's also nearly tripled his three-point shots taken from last season (2.0 to 5.8).
Polson has a very limited sample size from his first two seasons at Kentucky, but he has not shot the ball well from beyond the arc this year. He's 2-of-7 from deep—hardly a threat from the outside.
But it's not just Polson and Wiltjer that are struggling to shoot the ball. Against Baylor, Duke and Notre Dame, Kentucky has shot 65-of-189 from the floor (34 percent), 12-of-46 from three-point range (26 percent) and 31-of-53 from the line (58 percent).
In a nutshell, these young Wildcats have not performed well against teams of similar talent level.
Some will quickly direct blame towards Ryan Harrow, Kentucky's embattled point guard. Or they may point towards Wiltjer's struggles on both sides of the ball as signs of weakness.
But those problems will be resolved. Harrow has already regained traction since missing four games and has improved in each of the past three games.
Wiltjer will start making shots at a higher rate.
Calipari has noted that conditioning appears to be an issue (particularly after Kentucky gave up 42 second half points to Samford).
He's instilled "Camp Cal," a morning conditioning program designed to make the team "mentally tougher, mentally stronger" (via Rivals).
Poor conditioning, shooting and point-guard play (among other things) have all led to a middling 5-3 record.
The problem with these, er, problems, is that they are problems to begin with.
Conditioning has never been an issue with Calipari-led Kentucky teams in the past three years. There were shooting woes, sure, but they were hardly as frequent and weren't shown on a nightly basis.
A very real possibility is that this team lacks the leadership that previous teams possessed.
That void in leadership could have led an arrogance of sorts with the current 'Cats, and Calipari thinks that is the case (via Vaught's Views).
"I think we all got intoxicated, including me, about everything that was written and said about this team. I kept telling you, ‘We’re not that good.’ I’m looking, ‘Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’re better than I think.' Huh-uh."
After winning a national championship, it would be easy to think that another top recruiting class would lead to another lofty rank.
From this, we might infer that these inexperienced Wildcats were a bit too sure of themselves heading into the year. Gym hours haven't been there, and no player has stepped into a leadership role.
Julius Mays is vocal on the court. Nerlens Noel shows effort on every play. But it hasn't been enough.
A wake-up call was needed, and Kentucky received three of them. Duke and Notre Dame were predictable losses—oddsmakers actually predicted them both. But the loss to Baylor was alarming, and it was a loss that not many expected.
More hours in the gym are needed—not just for Wiltjer, but the entire team.
Will a leader emerge? Who will step up? How long will it take?
Time will tell, and a battle with Louisville looms large at the end of the month.
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