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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky fans should not panic. Or at least that’s the advice ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale has in spite of UK’s weekend loss at North Carolina that dropped the Cats to 19th in this week’s Associated Press poll.
Vitale thinks Kentucky, which has also lost to Michigan State and Baylor, will find its way back into the top 10 in the near future.
“Number one, there is just too much talent for them to get back up high,” said Vitale Monday. “Ultimately, their talent will prevail. They played really hard against North Carolina. Really hard. They made some key mistakes, especially on missed free throws, but they will eventually get it together. They just need to get that one big win. Playing at home against Louisville, that could be the key to getting them rolling if they win that game. The win over Louisville could be just the medicine they need.”
Vitale doesn’t think losing to three teams ranked in the top 14 is a long-term detriment for Kentucky.
“You don’t lose anything by losing early. It’s not like football,” Vitale said. “People hear so much great recruiting news about these players, but they have to learn, too. They were all the top options on their high school teams. The ball was always coming to them. They were the guys to always make the plays. Defensively, they could relax and not have to play with the intensity they do now.
“It’s hard learning to be like the third or fourth option and not be the first option like you have always been. It just takes time to blend and better understand team strengths and weaknesses. Playing those good teams helps you do that.”
Vitale says not every player progresses as fast as former UK stars John Wall, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did.
“You expect everybody to do that, but this group just need a little longer to adjust,” Vitale said.
He noted that twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison “have talent” but still need to get “more in sync and cohesive” with teammates.
“There was no cohesiveness at North Carolina between the inside and outside games,” Vitale said. “(Julius) Randle never got in the flow of the game, and Kentucky can’t have that. But the cream always rises to the top, and they’ve got talent. Don’t doubt that and panic over Kentucky.
“That 2012 team with Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist was so unique and all about winning. A lot of these kids are thinking about too much. Look at the body language. It does not demonstrate joy. They are playing so hard and want to please the coaches, fans, family, everybody. They just are not playing in a relaxed, flowing motion like you would want. When they get that, watch out. And it will happen with one major win that they need badly.”
Vitale says early-season upsets are good for college basketball, but fans should “not get carried away” with giving up on a team that loses games early, especially to ranked teams. He says messages he’s got on Twitter from some UK fans questioning coach John Calipari’s ability, blaming officials and belittling players “ruins Kentucky basketball for the 90 percent of the fans” who use logic.
“Right now everybody is just too carried away. People there in Kentucky are not patient, but they need to be with this team,” Vitale said. “Some fans there don’t understand other teams get players and have good coaches, too. It’s not automatic that you just go out and win.
“Hey, they better not take Belmont lightly. It’s a bit deceiving that they beat Carolina because Carolina missed 26 of 48 free throws that game and was actually probably 15 points better. But they are well coached and get the most out of their talent. That game is no gimme for Kentucky, either, and they can’t afford to lose one like that now.”