It happens all the time.
A good team will go on the road in league play, take a loss to a team they probably shouldn’t lose to and suddenly we all will starting talking about why this team stinks and how we knew it all along.
It happened with Duke when they lost at Boston College. It happened with Villanova when they lost at Butler. It happened with Michigan State when they lost at Ohio State. It happened with Arizona when they lost at Colorado.
And it happened last night when Kentucky lost at a rebuilding South Carolina team.
The only truly surprising part of Kentucky’s 76-68 loss to the Gamecocks was that it came after Kentucky held a 14-point second half lead. South Carolina has never exactly been known as an offensive juggernaut and, this year, they are still adapting to playing without Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. They closed the game on a 36-14 run just three days after winning a game where they shot 27.1 percent from the field.
If there is a concern here, it’s that Kentucky collapsed.
“This looked like a bunch of freshman playing,” John Calipari said afterward. “First time this year,” later adding that, “there’s an unwarranted arrogance that when we get up, we look really good. ‘I’m really good. I’m going to do what I’m choosing to do and I’m not going to listen.’ That’s what happened. It started rolling and all of a sudden we couldn’t stop it.”
Coach Cal is notorious for speaking to his players through press conferences. He knows that everything is said is going to get plastered all over social media and every Kentucky website, particularly after a loss like this. He knows it will pop up on his players’ twitter feed or when they are watching Sportscenter, so taking what he says publicly with that in mind is important.
And while there is some merit to what he’s saying, it’s also important to remember these three things:
- Kentucky is not only the youngest team in America, they were playing without their starting point guard (Quade Green) while trying to acclimate yet another freshman (Jarred Vanderbilt) into the rotation. Vanderbilt saw minutes at the point last night. Brad Calipari saw minutes, too.
- All of that happened against a team that just so happens to be one of the nation’s toughest and most physical defenses. South Carolina may lack some of the talent they had last season but they are still tough, strong kids that play for Frank Martin and are never going to back down. I guarantee there is nothing the kids on that roster love more than landing a shot against a team full of cocky future lottery picks.
- I’m going to say it slowly, so pay attention: Kentucky. Is. Not. That Good. We know this. They are ranked 21st in the AP Poll. They are rated 29th on KenPom. They don’t have a star. The only reason anyone is freaking out about this game is because of the name on the front of the jersey. If Auburn or Tennessee or Clemson blew a 14-point lead on the road against South Carolina we would chalk it up to a pretty good team falling victim to that home court advantage that is so prevalent in college hoops.
We will all save ourselves quite a bit of time and energy if we just accept what has become obvious: This is not a typical Kentucky team in the Cal era.
There is still Final Four upside should Cal figure this thing out, and with the way things are going in the SEC, a conference title is certainly still within reach.
But Kentucky is going to take some more lumps in league play. They’re going to end up getting a seed somewhere in that 5-7 range. Getting to a Sweet 16 would be good for them. A Final Four isn’t an impossibility, not with the upside on this roster, but dropping out of the dance before the final weekend certainly wouldn’t be a massive disappointment.
That’s just who they are.