Kentucky Wildcats Basketball

Kentucky Basketball: No Reason for Fans to Panic Despite Wildcats' Slow Start

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 25:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team 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
Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

Who would've thought that a team built around freshmen and sophomores would incur some early-season struggles? It's like they're young, inexperienced kids or something.

When Kentucky won the national title in 2012 with a team built in much the same way, it proved that a coach can win without relying on much veteran leadership. Of course, it helps when you have Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

So when John Calipari secured the best recruiting class in the country heading into this year, people began acting all crazy and predicting a perfect season.

Suffice it to say, things haven't gone according to plan, with the Wildcats starting out 8-3, causing panic in Lexington.

What's there to be worried about, though?

When you rely on one-and-dones with the occasional sophomore holdover, sometimes you're going to have a team that has problems early in the season. The players need time to gel and build chemistry with one another, while there's also the transition from playing in high school to going up against the best college basketball teams in the country.

John Calipari admitted as much in a press conference ahead of Saturday's game against Belmont, addressing in particular the performance of Andrew Harrison.

So far this season, the Wildcats have put together some stilted performances where they've relied on star power alone, rather than any sort of cohesion. That's led to poor offensive possessions and disorganization on the defensive end, the latter of which is the biggest reason UK finds itself in its current hole.

Having the likes of James Young, Julius Randle and the Harrison brothers gives you an edge over the competition talent-wise, but talent alone doesn't guarantee success. They have to play as a team, and that hasn't happened yet.

Once it does, Kentucky is a force to be reckoned with. With Calipari's ability, that would seem only a matter of when rather than if.

When judging the Wildcats' start, you also have to evaluate the strength of Kentucky's three losses.

The first of which came against Michigan State in Chicago. The Spartans are 9-1 and ranked fifth in the country. There's no shame in a young team losing to somebody like that in the third game of the season.

Kentucky's most recent defeat was in Chapel Hill against North Carolina. The Tar Heels are a feast or famine team, and the Wildcats just happened to play them on the wrong day.

The only loss with which you can take umbrage is to Baylor. The Bears shouldn't have been allowed to shoot 47.3 percent from the field.

Otherwise, this is a team that realistically would've been lucky to not have two losses by this point in the season.

CBS Sports' Gary Parrish had a great verdict following the North Carolina loss:

I mean, I can't defend a team with no notable wins and three losses being ranked 11th in the Associated Press poll, so I'll give you that. But the preseason No. 1 ranking remains reasonable given the talent Calipari enrolled -- even if that talent hasn't yet meshed -- because preseason rankings are, by definition, guesses. Educated guesses, sure. But they're still just guesses, and a wrong guess isn't a stupid guess if it's rooted in something sensible.

Kentucky's preseason No. 1 ranking was rooted in something sensible.

This 8-3 start doesn't change that.

If by February or March, Kentucky has yet to find its footing, then you have cause for concern. Otherwise, what you're seeing are simply the growing pains of a young basketball team that needs to learn how to play as one.

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