Kentucky Basketball: Ranking John Calipari's Biggest Worries This Season

Matt Overing@@MOveringContributor IIIJanuary 16, 2013

Kentucky Basketball: Ranking John Calipari's Biggest Worries This Season

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    John Calipari hasn't enjoyed this college basketball season on the hardwood. His current Kentucky Wildcats are 11-5 and 2-1 in SEC play.

    That's three more losses than Calipari's team from last year, and Kentucky remains unranked for the first time in his tenure in Lexington. 

    Cal may have a few more gray hairs after this year. He's coaching an entirely new crop of freshmen and, unlike years previous, has no veteran leadership on his squad.

    The conference season is young, and Calipari's 'Cats can still salvage their season. A strong finish in SEC play and into the postseason is not out of the question. 

    Here are the five most worrisome issues for Calipari this season.


    All statistics via

5. Road Games

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    It is no secret. Kentucky struggles on the road.

    The Wildcats are 1-2 in true road contests. The only win came at Vanderbilt by a mere two points.

    In their remaining 15 contests, Kentucky will play eight games on the road.

    Would it be a surprise to see the Wildcats finish 2-6 in those road games? That record may sound familiar.

    The 2010-11 Kentucky Wildcats, led by Brandon Knight, went 2-6 in SEC road games. Knight led a team that finished the year by winning the SEC tournament and reaching the 2011 Final Four in Houston.

    A similar run could await the current Wildcats, but eight road games loom large on the schedule.

4. Team Toughness

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    The five you see here (note Ryan Harrow is behind Archie Goodwin) all have the talent to be drafted in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft.

    Depending on which Kentucky game you watch, however, you may struggle to figure out why.

    Watch Nerlens Noel against Maryland or Goodwin at Notre Dame.

    Ryan Harrow was practically non-existent in the first eight games of the year.

    Willie Cauley-Stein struggled mightily against Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor.

    Alex Poythress has not played over 25 minutes in over a month.

    With their talent, this team should not have five losses.

    They have squandered wins and have lost in Rupp Arena, a first for Calipari as coach of the Kentucky Wildcats.

    Toughness is what it takes to end an opposing team's run, to come back from a slow start. It's toughness that brought the Wildcats back against Louisville on Dec. 29, but we haven't seen it since.

3. Youth

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    You've heard it ad nauseum. Kentucky is young.

    No starters returned from the 2012 national championship team. Four freshmen receive over 21 minutes of playing time each night.

    Inexperience shows. It showed against Notre Dame on Nov. 29. It showed against Baylor on Dec. 1, Vanderbilt on Jan. 10 and Texas A&M on Jan. 12. 

    There are more instances of the Wildcats struggling that you could blame on inexperience. 

    Nevertheless, "youth and inexperience" is an easy answer to most questions that ask why Kentucky has lost five games.

    On most occasions, it is the correct response. Youth and the challenges it brings are a given with Calipari.

    The lack of a veteran presence means that this team is searching for an identity and a leader.

2. Who Will Lead?

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    Calipari has been searching for a leader all season.

    During the preseason exhibition games, Archie Goodwin appeared to take the helm as a leader and a scorer. Then it was Jarrod Polson, who emerged against Maryland to start the year.

    Julius Mays was the most vocal on the court when Ryan Harrow was out for four games.

    Nerlens Noel has spoken like a leader off of the court, particularly with comments like this—from the Louisville Courier-Journal. But he doesn't command respect on the court.

    Alex Poythress is quiet in general.

    There is no true leader of this Kentucky team. The Wildcats rallied in most of their losses, only to fall in the final minutes. The team made those games close, but there was no leader to step up and finish the job.

    Calipari can't lead this team on his own. He needs a player in the locker room to step up, but that has not happened all season.

1. Lack of Progress

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    The three previous slides are reoccurring themes with the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats.

    Team toughness was questioned from day one, when Maryland out-rebounded Kentucky 46 to 34.

    Kentucky hasn't struggled on the boards as much of late (although rebounding is still somewhat of an issue), but the inexperience and lack of leadership still shows.

    When Kentucky lost to Duke on Nov. 13, Calipari told reporters his team needed to improve. Via Cats Illustrated:

    "If this is what we look like in December and January, we're not going to be the team everybody thinks," Calipari said.

    Kentucky turned out to be exactly that. These players had no business being ranked No. 3 at the beginning of the year. 

    But improvements were expected, and the classic "Wait till March" line was frequently used. 

    Granted, it isn't March yet. But we are in the middle of the college basketball season, and many early-year ailments are plaguing the Wildcats now. 

    There is time for Calipari and his young Wildcats to turn it around. Kentucky is still, by most accounts, one of the most talented teams in the country.

    Cohesion has not been there for this team. Throwing talent together doesn't always equate to wins. Unity takes time.

    How much time, though?

    We'll have to wait and see.