Kentucky Basketball: Calipari's Young Team Still Struggling to Find an Identity

Matt KingFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 25:  James Young #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 25, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 68-61.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

John Calipari is no stranger to No. 1 recruiting classes. He's had four of them in five seasons at Kentucky. But the ranking is where the similarities between those teams begin and end.

Cal is the best at what he does, there's little debate over that topic. He turns over players at a high rate and develops his new young players quickly into championship contenders by the end of the year. He's taken every No. 1 recruiting class to at least the Elite Eight (2012 was ranked No. 2), but they've all taken different paths.

The 2009 team was explosive. 2010 was overachieving. 2011 was special. 2012 didn't happen, la la la, I can't hear you. It remains to be seen what the 2013 team will end up being.

This team isn't fast enough to compare to 2009. They're more talented than 2010, but lack the veteran leadership. They've got a transcendent talent like in 2011 (Randle/Davis), but don't have the mature-beyond-his years heart of the team like Kidd-Gilchrist. And the super sophomore team of Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones is superior to this year's returners of Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein.

So we know what they're not: great. The question is, what will they be? For the first 30 minutes of their game against Cleveland State, it didn't seem like a very good team. But when the Wildcats got a little desperation in their game to replace what looked like apathy, the last 10 minutes told a totally different story.

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 25:  Andrew Harrison #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 25, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Andrew Harrison took control of the offense. He muscled his way into the lane and threw lobs to his big men when the defense shifted over. He used his big body to stay in control and complete a crucial and-1 to take the lead for good.

Aaron Harrison and James Young each hit big threes to pull away from Cleveland State later in the game. Julius Randle created havoc down low, and Cauley-Stein displayed great instincts going to the hoop at the right time and was the recipient of three alley-oops by my count.

The biggest difference was probably on defense as the team played with an intensity that showed just how good this team could be, but also shining a bright light on just how lackadaisical they had been playing up to that point.

Kentucky needs to find an identity other than "Julius Randle's Team," which is the narrative that has been painted the first six games of the season. Aaron Harrison and Young have both displayed a game-changing scoring ability. Andrew Harrison has shown the ability to be the leader this team needs. But all of them have only shown it in flashes so far. None have been consistent enough.

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 19:  Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats  shoots the ball while defended by Anthony Walker #44 of the Texas-Arlington Mavericks during the game at Rupp Arena on November 19, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyon
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We know what we're getting with Randle. He's a force inside, even if a little turnover-prone. He may just average 20-10 this season. That's nuts. But you'll notice that in most games, a team scoring 20 points is not enough to win. Randle needs help, and it has to come from one of those three other freshmen, if not all of them.

The Wildcats showed us in the last 10 minutes against Cleveland State that they can play defense. If they can play that kind of defense for 40 minutes remains to be seen. But a little more energy on either end would go a long way.

The best-case identity for this team? Still Julius Randle's team, but with the caveat that even if you manage to contain him, Kentucky will still shut you down on defense and let their three other playmakers beat you on the other end.

Those final 10 minutes against Cleveland State is the blueprint. It's not much, but it's a start.