Kentucky Basketball: Who's to Blame for 'Cats Missing 2013 NCAA Tournament?
Selection Sunday brought no good news to the Kentucky Wildcats. The 2012 NCAA tournament champions will not be able to defend their title.
After ending the regular season with a quality win over Florida, John Calipari's team fell flat in the SEC tournament against an underdog Vanderbilt squad.
So, with a 21-11 (12-6) record, the Wildcats missed out on their first NCAA tournament under Calipari's regime.
Their quality wins are outweighed by their bad losses. The bubble was weak this year, but Kentucky's resume was weaker.
Kentucky played inconsistent and never quite lived up to the hype.
Who do you blame?
5. Big Blue Nation
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At the beginning of the year, Kentucky fans believed the hype.
Another strong recruiting class plus a returning sharpshooter and an experienced transfer was supposed to mean another run at a national title.
Kentucky fans believed it.
Hell, we all did. Anyone that said Kentucky would miss the NCAA tournament in October would have been foolish.
In the middle of the season, fans were restless. Kentucky wasn't playing up to expectations. "Wait till March" was a phrase commonly uttered, particularly when Kentucky lost to Duke and Louisville.
But here we are, in the middle of March, and Kentucky has no NCAA tournament bid. The team is as disheveled as it was at the beginning of the year, arguably even more so.
Kentucky fans showed their support, their disapproval and their disappointment in this team. But they weren't the problem.
Big Blue Nation showed up in Nashville on March 15 to support a team that didn't exactly deserve it. That support wasn't enough.
4. The Media
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The Big Blue Nation did its part to support a ninth national title in 2013.
But it was the media that fueled that fire. From ESPN's All Access early in the year to preseason rankings to Final Four predictions, the beginning of the year was all about the Wildcats.
Kentucky believed the hype.
As it turned out, the team never quite lived up to those expectations.
The media gave Kentucky an out when it lost to Duke and Notre Dame early in the year. The same "wait till March" phrase was used by fans and media alike.
The media (myself included) hyped up the 2012-13 Wildcats. No outlet was immune.
And, on paper, no one would have disagreed at the beginning of the season. The team had the makings of a title contender.
But the on-court product didn't quite match up.
3. John Calipari
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John Calipari may be the most popular person in the state of Kentucky.
After three years in Lexington, there is no doubt why.
But his fourth year brought troubles that, as we've seen, no one expected. He had another star-studded recruiting class, and he'd made a fine transition in 2010 after the entire 2009 class went to the NBA.
Another smooth transition should have happened. But Calipari's team was different this year.
Calipari had to treat this team differently to teams in years' past. This team had no returning starter, no leader. The team had no identity.
It was this problem that surfaced throughout the year. Nice wins were negated by ugly losses that put these same problems at the forefront of discussion.
Kentucky was soft. Kentucky lacked focus. Kentucky showed no effort.
Can you place all these things on a coach?
But Calipari has a track record at the University of Kentucky, one that shows that he can make it work.
Chalk up this year as an anomaly more than anything on Calipari's resume.
2. Nerlens Noel's Injury
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There was one player that emerged as a leader down the stretch for Kentucky: Nerlens Noel.
On Feb. 11, Kentucky was 8-2. The next day, Kentucky would play at Florida for the rights to sole possession of the top rank in the SEC standings on the line.
Kentucky lost the game.
More importantly, Kentucky lost Noel.
Noel was more than a shot-blocker for the Wildcats. His impact wasn't only on the defensive side of the ball.
The mindset of the Wildcats seemed different, sometimes lacking, without Noel on the court. He was the heart of the Kentucky team, and without him, Kentucky seemed lost.
His impact on defense was considerable as well.
1. The Players
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In the end, the team can't place the blame on any third party.
The talent is there. Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein are all potential lottery picks. Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays make up a strong backcourt on paper.
Nerlens Noel could be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.
But that talent didn't show on the court. Physicality was there on occasion. Focus was hit or miss. Effort was lacking.
These are intangibles that can't be taught by a coach. They can't be willed into a team by their fans, nor can they be told to a team through the media.
The players have to have that desire.
Could it be that this inexperienced team simply lacked a leader to show them how to play this way?
But that still falls on the team. Someone needed to step up, particularly in Noel's absence.
No one did.