Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats Have No Choice but to Take Mulligan on This Season

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2013

Feb 5, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari gives instructions to his team in the second half of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 77-55. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After winning a national championship in 2012, John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats had a season to forget in 2013. Unfortunately, all that the team can do is shake this season off, call it a fluke and prepare for 2014.

This past season, Kentucky went 21-12 overall and 12-6 in conference play in an incredibly weak SEC, with an early conference tournament loss to Vanderbilt keeping the team out of this year's tournament. Things didn't even get better in the NIT, as No. 8 seed Robert Morris defeated the top-seeded Wildcats and bounced them out early, making the season all the more forgettable.

That isn't to say that Kentucky was a bad team by any means. Were it not for freshman and top shot blocker Nerlens Noel tearing his ACL, perhaps the Wildcats' season would have ended on a more positive note.

Keep in mind that prior to Noel's injury, Kentucky was 17-6 and on a five-game winning streak. Once he went down, the team went 4-4 to close out the regular season.

This can be attributed to this season's roster not being anywhere near as deep as last year's championship-caliber team. Kentucky lost key players in Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and others to the 2012 NBA draft, and the fact that most were underclassmen meant putting this year's team in the hands of inexperienced youngsters.

Again, that isn't to say that this year's Kentucky squad was bad by any means. Noel was a top recruit, and losing him might as well have been a stake through the heart.

His teammates Willie Cauley-Stein and Archie Goodwin certainly have the talent to compete in the future, but neither man has the same electrifying presence as Noel. The team was built around him, and no other Wildcat brings the same type of versatility to the table, nor dominating presence on defense.

That being said, all that Calipari can do for this year is write it off as a fluke and look forward to next season. He has a great recruiting class coming in, headlined by 6'9" power forward Julius Randle. Assuming most of this year's freshmen enter the draft, the stage is set for next year to be a good one in Lexington.

But that's only going to happen if he can quickly shake off this season and not let it bog him down going forward. Kentucky's program is too promising based on next year's incoming class alone, from Randle to the incredibly athletic Harrison twins, and this year needs to become a distant memory so that the next great chapter in the program's history can begin.


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