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Is Kentucky physically and mentally tough enough to be Final Four team

By LARRY VAUGHT

Is there a chance that this Kentucky basketball team simply is not tough enough overall to be a Final Four contender?

“It’s hard to say if a team is soft as a unit,” said FOX Sports college basketball analyst Larry Conley. “I think they have guys that play with skills. Their skills actually are pretty solid. Are they mean and nasty? No, as a team they are not but that does not mean they can not go out and win games. I’ve seen a lot of teams do that.

“It’s always nice to have one or two guys like that (mean and nasty) to whip a team into shape to make the team better. They just don’t have anybody like that. You can’t make people something they are not. They are what they are. They have ability. John (Calipari) and his staff knew what they were getting when they signed these players and they have gotten better from the first exhibition game until now. But they are not an overly physical team at this point.”

That amen you hear likely could be coming from Kentucky coach John Calipari. His teams normally are physically and mentally tough. He’s had players like Patrick Patterson, Demarcus Cousins, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Deandre Liggins at UK known for their physical toughness. He’s had others like Brandon Knight, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Anthony Davis that were mentally tough. But the coach has openly worried about this team.

“The tape doesn’t lie. You watch a little bit of this tape, and you’ll see,” Calipari said last week after UK beat Lipscomb. “Their big guy threw our big guys around. Then you talk about the guards at Mississippi.  Wait till you see their big guys. The big guys at Tennessee, wait until you see their big guys. Their players are throwing us around is what happened.

“Just be more physical. You’ve got to bend over. You can’t stand straight up and down. You can’t accept that he’s going to beat you to the spot. All those things right now throughout their careers have been acceptable. It’s not anymore. Well, we’re trying to change habits that they’ve developed over a period of time.”

Conley said it’s also difficult to gauge UK’s toughness because they have played many “lambs for slaughter” this season.

“Maryland was okay, Duke is very good, Baylor is okay and Notre Dame is okay,” Conley said. “Now Louisville is really going to be a test (Dec. 29). I think Kentucky fans are frustrated with this team. Coming off a national championship year with a team that had tough guys and maybe better skill sets, it’s hard to be on this team.

“But look at the numbers. They are getting better. They defended much better the other night than they have all year. This is a not a team you are going to look at and say they do this really well, but they can do enough well to be a really good team. How good we won’t really know until the Louisville game and that’s when a lot of questions will get answered.”

What about Southeastern Conference play? Can Kentucky win a third SEC title in four years under Calipari?

“I had them and Florida at the top at the beginning of the year. Nothing has changed for me except that Missouri might be a little better than I thought,” Conley said “Tennessee getting (injured) Jeronne Maymon back could be the difference in winning or losing give games. If he is back, they will be hard to beat again. Those are the four best teams. Alabama has had a couple of key injuries. I am not sure if they can stay up there.

“The best darkhorse team is Ole Miss. (Marshall) Henderson out of junior college is averaging shooting 12 3’s a game. There are teams that don’t take that many. They are tough kids, too. They have about four kids that will take you to the woodshed. Texas A&M is good but not great. I am a little surprised at LSU but I know their talent and do not seeing them winning the league or Johnny Jones should get the best coaching job of the year.”

Since Kentucky has already lost three games and will be a decided underdog at Louisville, could there be a scenario where UK could find itself in danger of not making the NCAA Tournament?

“I could not see Kentucky not getting in the NCAA,” Conley said. “I still think they will win 22 to 26 games.

“The big thing right now is that they just don’t have that fire in their belly. It’s hard to put your finger on. I have seen Alex Poythress do things where you go, ‘Wow. Why doesn’t he do that every game?’ That lack of consistency is what frustrates John and all Kentucky fans. But they may get it one game and all of sudden they beat a really good team and say we are pretty good and just take off. I have seen it happen before and maybe it will happen to Kentucky this year.”

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13 comments

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  1. grant

    right now? No.

  2. P90XDude

    No

  3. Jim Boyers

    A definite NO…for the moment.

    However, Cal will get this turned around. I just can’t even begin to imagine that players, with this much talent, won’t start to do what they need to do. I think this team is going to surprise us against Loserville. I think we are going to see a few “Jorts-like” coming out parties on the national stage in 10 days.

  4. yvette

    I hope you are right!

  5. Kokamo Joe

    Put yourself in the shoes of a hot shot recruit, the kind of hot shot recruit that UK gets. The kid has been singled out early because of his talent and he has traveled the country playing for the best AAU teams. Most likely he has not attended a public school, but he has been schooled by a basketball factory high school that plays the best throughout the country. He is ranked as one of the best recruits in the country and people are already telling him that he is first round NBA draft material. John Calipari crooks his finger and tells him that he is super and that he will get him to the pros as soon as possible. If his high school team plays in the state of Kentucky fans show up wearing blue and chant “go Big Blue” all during the game. Sports reports like Larry print stories about how great he is, quoting his parents, his high school coach and former UK greats. He comes into the UK program with these sugar plumbs dancing in his head. WHO COULD BLAME HIM IF HE THINKS THAT HE IS GOD’S GIFT TO THE BASKETBALL WORLD. It takes three things to bring him back to earth: (1) a team that can beat UK early in the season, thereby demonstrating that yes, his stuff can stink. (2) Cup cakes at home and plenty of them. Easy wins give the team a chance to bond and work together and make winning a habit. (3) a conference in which the Cats can be challenged occasionally, but win most games.

    At this point the Cars are at the second point. They are winning and thay are slowly learning. The big test will come at Louisville. IMO they will be ready and will play their best game of the year. After that it another home cupcake and then the SEC. By the time that they have sharpened their claws on the SEC they wil be ready for the NCAA tournament and we will be saying……we knew it all the time.

  6. grant

    Kokamo , If UK goes on to finish great I would be the first to admit I did not see it coming. There would be no “we knew it all along” from me .. I just don’t see this team going anywhere. And I am ok with that.

    1. Kokamo Joe

      Re: going anywhere ok with that

      For a team with up to 4 first round draft picks, I would be greatly dissapointed if this team does not go anywhere. Check out the SEC. It is a football conference. Half of the league draws less than 8,000 fans to home games. Ole Miss and Texas A and M draw less than 4,000 fans. Watch carefully when Uk goes on the road. Big Blue fans have a habit of showing up on the road, in mass. Last year at the end of the season Florida the “Go Big blue” chant was almost as loud AT Florida as it is at home. In spite of the usual cup cake home schedule SEC teams are struggling. Mississippi State, Alabama and Georgia have losing redords. Vandy has lost to Marist and has a 4-4 record. Missouri and Florida are the only good teams in the league. FOLKS, IF THE CATS CAN’T “GO SOME PLACE” with this league then we are in trouble.

      Remember this, Calipari has next year’s team signed and more are comming. This year’s bunch knows this. They have to gel or lose millions.

  7. Mike Flannery

    This team has probably the lowest playing experience for any of Cal’s UK teams. Julius Mays has the most and it shows….Harrow sat out a year, it will take this group a little longer to get in the groove. I love what he has done and how much effort he is putting into this team. Poythress is an important key for this team’s success, he is very intelligent and I feel strongly he will come with the consistent effort shortly. Go Big Blue!

  8. UKFAN197TONE

    Poythress should be the “tough guy” on this team, strictly by “looks” alone. He’s built like a TE and at times, plays the toughest. WCS is another that could/should be tossing dudes on the floor. Wiltjer could be the same type of player, but I don’t think he has it in him. I would say that even Polson has a little tough guy in him, he’s definitely scrappy enough to bump shoulders with a few guys.

    Will they be the team we all want to see? Probably not because they are being compared to last years team, which as we all know, is not fair.

    1. grant

      Exactly!—– ukfan197tone. Hey I am just glad we have Cal , and great potential every year . Thats all I can ask.

      1. Kokamo Joe

        Re: glad we have Cal

        I am too. We know that we will get choice recruits every year. We also know that they will leave early, most after one year. We know that his system requires a soft schedule which transforms into a great winning percentage. This has resulted in a great 8, final 4 and a championship. This year’s team, so far illustrates where the system can go wrong. What if the recruits don’t buy into the idea that their play and the play of the team will result in a higher draft status. Suppose they read the press reports, like the one yesterday which put three freshmen in the top 10 projected drafted players and Cauley-Stein not far behind. This is in spite of how they are playing and the won-loss record of the team. Suppose they turn Calipari off and start counting their money. We like to think that these players are here BECAUSE OF UK. These players are human. It is the money that they are after, and who could blame them? Logic tells me that the better they play and the greater the team becomes the higher they will be drafted. According to yesterday’s story, that may not the case.

  9. LindaS

    Good thought, UKFAN197TONE…did you get those visions out of your head last night, you know which ones. Do you know how hard it is lately to find stories on basketball here? I mean, it’s getting really hard.

    1. UKFAN197TONE

      Yes ma’am, I did, but it was early this morning when I did. :)

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