The Kentucky Wildcats are in limbo seven games into the season.
Is coach John Calipari’s first Kentucky team, full of youth and loaded with potential, overrated or deserving of its No. 4 ranking?
Most of the country will come to a conclusion based upon Saturday’s final score against North Carolina, who handed No. 9 Michigan State an 89-82 defeat on Tuesday night and is hedging on reentry to the top 10.
But that’s just not fair.
Not as long as Calipari continues to throw his team under the bus game after game, claiming they can’t play defense, don’t communicate well enough, and haven’t gained a firm grasp of the dribble-drive offense.
Even Calipari doesn’t expect to win Saturday, so why should anyone else?
“We are not near those guys right now,” Calipari said of North Carolina. “You are talking about two teams who are trying to figure out what is what.”
Only it’s Calipari’s team that has more figuring out to do.
Whether his words are coach speak or not, Calipari knows North Carolina is young at guard, but Kentucky is young everywhere. The Wildcats have five freshman and three sophomores on their roster. Three of those freshman—John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe—regularly start and need to contribute on a game-by-game basis for Kentucky to win.
They have, but the results haven’t always been Kentucky worthy. It took a last-second shot by Wall to secure a victory over Miami of Ohio. Then Sam Houston State piled up 92 points on the Wildcats. Last week in the Cancun Challenge, Stanford pushed Kentucky to overtime before depth conquered a Cardinal upset bid.
The final scores have been close already, but the road doesn't get easier.
After UNC, Kentucky is back on Wednesday against UConn. Indiana follows, a team that’s struggling from the opening whistle this season but playing at or above Kentucky’s level, according to Calipari.
“These next 10 days we are going to find out exactly where we are,” Calipari said. “It is not bad if we lose all three—it is not bad as long as we learn where we are and what we need to work on. The only way we will do that is playing those kinds of teams.”
The Wildcats’ No. 4 ranking speaks to where the nation—and more importantly, Kentucky fans—expect them to play this season. Calipari has said they don’t deserve it from day one, and in response, Kentucky hasn’t played like a top-five team.
So if a touch of the national spotlight fails to grace the Wildcats on Saturday, if they don't live up to the hype of the nation's top recruiting class, and if they fall to North Carolina, don’t write the Wildcats off before Southeastern Conference play even begins.
Wait until March to pass judgment—after the Kentucky’s youth has time to grow into its oversized college stature.