With a totally new-look roster from the one that got the Kentucky Wildcats to the national championship last year, John Calipari's latest batch of five-star recruits have endured early-season growing pains.
That should be expected, and there's no need for Big Blue nation to hit the panic button just yet. Chemistry doesn't happen overnight. This is a slew of players who aren't quite as good to this point in their young careers as the likes of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were. Not many players are; those are big shoes to fill.
Standout freshman guard Archie Goodwin—who leads UK with nearly 16 points and 4.4 assists per game—admitted as much in a report by Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal:
I can see the difference in the way (past UK teams) played and how tough they are in comparison to our team right now. I would just say they were a lot more competitive than we are right now. They were more of a team than we are.
Despite a 7-3 record to date, the Wildcats have plenty of time to turn the 2012-13 campaign around and make an adequate defense of their NCAA Tournament conquering of a season ago.
The only significant contributor that isn't a first-year player is senior guard Julius Mays, who is a dead-eye shooter but has struggled to find his stroke through the first 10 games. It's quite a step up in competition for Mays, though, who played his junior year at Wright State and has suddenly walked into a situation competing for minutes against a crop of immensely skilled freshmen.
However, only two teams are ranked in the current AP Top 25 from the SEC conference, which bodes well for the Wildcats as far as when the conference schedule kicks up later in the year.
Tucker's report also mentions the fans' outcry at the lackluster beginning for the Wildcats. Not only could early season struggles serve as a rallying point for the team to overcome adversity, but it could also serve the long-term interests of the program.
Think about it: If a bunch of highly touted players had less-than-stellar first years in college, why would they leave? Especially with a tradition as rich as Kentucky's, at least some of the team would stay for at least another year.
That is too far in the future, though. For now, if these players truly do want to get to the pros after one college season, they know they will have to step up their respective games.
Scoring has been a problem against quality opposition, but that's not all. The old adage holds true here for the Wildcats: defense wins championships, and having the 97th-ranked scoring defense in the nation won't get it done (h/t NCAA.com).
It may seem like dire straits for the defending national champions, but it's far from the truth. With a breakout win on the road at Louisville on Dec. 29—easier said than done—all those concerns will be laid to rest.
Even if Kentucky doesn't pull out that game, the talent level is so vast. It prominently features dominant interior force Nerlens Noel and sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, Goodwin and backcourt mate Alex Poythress to highlight an outstanding starting five.
Coach Cal built this team to succeed immediately in the one-and-done era, and he will get his prized recruits playing together and turn the season around in time for March Madness.
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