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Are the Cats overrated or underachieving? Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy offers insights

Mike DeCourcy

Mike DeCourcy

By LARRY VAUGHT

With Kentucky now 15-5 — remember all the preseason speculation about the team maybe going 40-0 with perhaps the all-time best recruiting class — is it time to admit the Wildcats were overrated going into the season? Or is it time to acknowledge that the team has just underachieved going into Saturday’s game at Missouri?

Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy, who knows UK coach John Calipari well, thinks it might be a combination of both factors that have led to unexpected defeats and sometimes uninspired play.

“I did think Kentucky would be a lot better, and John (Calipari) did, too,” DeCourcy said. “Defensively, they are not playing with great energy or passion. Offensively, they don’t have a lot of cohesion. They do not always play with each other. There has been a little progress from when I saw them against Louisville.

“James Young has gotten better, but I would just like one time to see him pass up an okay shot to see if a great shot was available. I have never seen him pass up an open shot ever. If he has a shot, he shoots it. If he was Pistol Pete Maravich and there were not a lot of guys to throw the ball to, that’s one thing. But he’s often playing with four future NBA players.”

He’s not picking on Young, either, because he acknowledges that guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both projected as the top players at their positions in the 2013 recruiting class, have struggled. Andrew, the point guard, was ranked as the third best overall player in the 2013 class. But in the last five games, he has 19 assists, including just one in Tuesday’s loss at LSU, and 13 turnovers while shooting just over 30 percent from the field.

“Andrew is 6-5 but he is not a commanding point guard presence like you would think the second or third best overall player in a recruiting class would be,” DeCourcy said. “This year Emmanuel Mudiay (who picked SMU over Kentucky) is a phenomenal athlete but I am not sure about him being the next great point guard.

“Andrew and Aaron are both fine players, just maybe not the players they were promoted to be. They were ranked in the same neighborhood as (Andrew Wiggins), (Julius) Randle and (Jabari) Parker and you’ve got to be extraordinary to be in there with those guys. But they are still future NBA players. Don’t get me wrong. They are still excellent players.

Randle, once considered a potential No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft, has had his stock, too. He’s scored 20 or more points in just one of the last five games — with 16 turnovers — and had just six points and five rebounds at LSU while being outplayed by freshman Jordan Mickey.

“Julius’ problem is somewhat that he doesn’t get access to the ball as regularly as he would like or should be,” DeCourcy said. “Then when he gets the ball, he tries to do more than he should. When LSU played that zone, he tried to go through it instead of around it. If you try to take on a zone and go through it, you are going to lose every time. Even a bad zone beats you if you try to go through it. If you go around it, you have a chance.

“Julius tried to go straight through the heart of the zone and struggled as a result. That’s been his problem. When teams play man and rotate help on him, he can fight through that. He has momentum to beat his man and the other guy is coming late, so he’s just beating on man and making plays before the other arrives. In the zone, he’s trying to do the same thing facing two or three guys who are where they want to be and that doesn’t work.”

Perhaps the most puzzling player, though, has been Willie Cauley-Stein. Once on pace to challenge the blocked shots exploits of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Cauley-Stein has become a non-factor in recent games. He was manhandled by LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant much like he was by Tennessee’s inside player. He has blocked one shot or none in four of the last five game and played less than 20 minutes in all four games — and without him UK has not had a rim protector.

“I don’t know why he is not competing. I don’t understand why he has become less competitive,” DeCourcy said. “When you see something like that, there is usually a reason behind it. Maybe he has a pain he’s hiding and playing through. It could be something personal. It just doesn’t make sense and is not typical for someone who has been competitive like he has.”

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9 comments

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  1. TheProfessor

    Underachieving or Overrated? Does it matter which, or how the two blend. The bottom line is that this team has not played at the level required for a team to complete for the national championship.

    Larry asked me a couple of weeks ago what I thought the reason for this is, and I don’t know the reason. That is for the basketball experts, coaches, critics to ascertain, but I do know that it is true, this team has not performed, and that is all that really matters to me as a fan.

  2. Little Baron

    This team has definitely underachieved, if one looks at various individual performances in SOME games, and considering the depth of the team.

    The lack of cohesion has self-destructed the TEAM and made individual players look even worse. That is the coaching staff’s responsibility. A car manufacturer may have all of the best parts to assemble the top car, but if it is not properly assembled, it may look like a wreck.

    So, underachieved… DEFINITELY.
    Overrated… DEFINITELY because they have NOT performed up to their collective ability.

    I agree, though, with the Professor. It does not matter what the case may be, – overrated or underachieving – it is the fact we are not getting it done that is the biggest concern.

  3. Kokamo Joe

    That question will be answered by mid March. For me it is a given that we will win the remaining home games. The Florida win will bump us up a bit both in the polls and in the minds of those who determine the NCAA tournament seeding. The Cats could have us singing the praises of the team and the coach by Saturday night. It is a strange experience for us to fear going into Missouri, but many of us do. Missouri has lost to Georgia, Vandy, LSU and Illinois, a team which has lost 8 games. With the talent that we have there is no reason to lose Missouri. Yet, if they do Catland will hum again.

    The only signature win that we have is Louisville, a team which has no center and who have lost to two conference teams at home. That win is beginning to be tarnished. The only signature games left for us are the two Florida games. I am counting the Rupp game a win simply because we seldom lose at home. That leaves the Florida game away from Rupp as the icing on the cake which will help rise our all important tourney seed.

    We hear stories about the draft status of our players declining. That very well may be the kick in the rump which finally wakes up our rock star heroes.

  4. Juan4UK

    I am guilty of having a meltdown the other night. I apologize to the everyone here. And thanks for not ripping me apart. And again, sorry Joe.
    Haha, we’ve all had our moments I think.

  5. Juan4UK

    I believe that this team as whole just did not have the abnormal level of maturity and advanced mental fortitude that we have been luck enough to have under Cal. When is comes down to it, these are normal every day and every walk of life 18, 19, 20 yr old kids. That’s all. forget talent, forget all else. Just kids growing up. They will be fine and the ones who don’t rise to the challenge will hopefully realize it and return for one more yr under Cal. I have no doubt that this staff will get them there in a very impressive 2 yrs at the most.

  6. Larry T Clemons

    A good Missouri lose and WCS being a leader is the most important thing I’m looking for Saturday. Then we can breathe…

    1. Little Baron

      sounds like a good dose of medicine for an ailing team

  7. Phillip Barker

    IMO this is a very young team that is way short on basis fundamentals…one of the worst passing teams Cal has had to deal with since being at Kentucky. Ball movement has improved in transition somewhat but once in the half court the lack of player movement and passing skills jumps out at you. I’d love to see Cal make Aaron his brother’s back up and insert Willis at the two guard, then things would run much smoother, Anyone who thinks Derek is slow is mistaken…and he certainly can’t be any worse at guarding then what we are seeing presently out front. We have Andrew and Young doing the dribble drive,we don’t need three. What we need is a big guy that can shoot if the ball is passed back from a slasher or a good reentry pass which Derek does better than Aaron. Lastly, put some movement in Julius’ game, he’s too easy to triple team.

  8. Phillip Barker

    Just show me a mean, nasty attitude that you’re not going to be shoved around by anyone and I’ll be happy!-Go Cats!

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