Kentucky Basketball: Are We That Good, Or Are They That Bad?

Hank Rippetoe
SB Nation

After six games against professional competition, Kentucky returned to Lexington and had impressed Jay Bilas and NBA scouts. The team now gets a break before preseason practice begins. Here's 15 reasons why Kentucky is that good.

I once had two favored Kentucky basketball T-shirts that eventually had to be tossed because of holes and frayed collars. I hate it when that happens. One said "Better Ingredients, Better Basketball," and the other asked the headline topic: "Are We That Good, Or Are They That Bad?"

I think everyone was shocked at just how good Kentucky looked in the first three games down on Paradise Island. They bruised the pride of the Puerto Rican "B" team, the French Moulon Rouge Champagne Chalons-Reims pros, and Orlando Antiqua's Dominican Republic team. I think the BBN owes a debt of gratitude to these three teams for the two games each played with the Cats. The six game stretch in eight days, will pave the way to a six game run in the NCAA Tournament.

The level of competition the Wildcats faced was vastly superior to that of North Carolina, Cincinnati, Ohio State and the others who also played in Nassau. I'm going to pick on North Carolina, just as an example.

North Carolina only played two games and lost the first against Providence 84-83 after leading 78-70 with three minutes left. Not the Providence of the Big East, but the Providence Storm of the Bahamas. A team which the Ohio State beat 115-63. Both UNC and tOSU finished their respective trips to Nassau by beating the Bahamas All-Stars (BAS): UNC 109 BAS 52; tOSU 88 BAS 66. If North Carolina's loss serves as a wake up call, the Kentucky's loss to the "Fighting Antiquas" serves the same purpose.

Kentucky (29-11) and North Carolina (24-10) suffered much the same last year and wound up #8 and #27 in the final Sagarin Ratings published back in April. The difference between the two teams was Kentucky caught fire at the end of the season and wound up playing in the national championship game.

Both teams had 10 days of practice before the flight to Nassau. Kentucky's loss and North Carolina's loss are no big deals, if the teams learned from the losses. This wasn't March Madness. For Kentucky, mental and physical fatigue set in. For North Carolina? Who knows? You can read about the Tarheels' loss here and decide for yourself.

Kentucky's first three games were nothing short of incredible. Their second three game set was entirely different, in my opinion. The intensity level was far higher for the first three games. What we witnessed impressed everyone. These Cats came to play and they looked it. They simply dominated in a fashion that no one expected. Of the three opponents, Kentucky destroyed all three. And, it wasn't close.

When you play an opponent you beat the snot out of the last time out, it isn't unusual to play them again with a different attitude the second time around. That's the way kids are, and with each passing game, the intensity level dropped. I expected that. The three opponents didn't take us seriously because they were professionals and Kentucky was just a bunch of kids. After Kentucky stole their lunch money, their pride was obviously hurt. So, they hunkered down and took us seriously in the second round and the last two games showed it. I'll give the Puerto Rican team a pass because they were the "B" team.

The French team gave us the competition in our second game with them that we were all expecting in the first match-up. Antigua's Dominican Republic team certainly gave us all we could handle, and we almost overcame their physical play and our own fatigue.

If that loss bothers anyone, remember that no one thought we would win more than a couple of games over the eight days.

Lessons Learned:

1. This could be one of Kentucky's all-time great teams, but they'll have to earn that status.

2. With Willie and Trey Lyles healthy, Kentucky has twelve players who probably will see game action.

3. No NCAA team has the depth that Kentucky can put on the floor. Nor can they match us in length and height across the board.

4. Kentucky will be even better by the first game in November than they were in Nassau. Even Louisville fans can figure that one out.

5. Point guard is not a problem this year. Andrew Harrison dished out 31 assists in 126 minutes of play and Tyler Ulis had 24 assists in 120 minutes. One is big and talented and the other is small and talented. No more going through the season waiting on the point guard to develop. By tournament time, both with be seasoned veterans.

7. Outside shooting should not be a problem as Aaron Harrison shot 43.8% from the field and 45% beyond the arc. Tyler Ulis shot 47.7% from the field and 60% beyond the arc. Devin Booker is supposed to be the best from the outside, but couldn't find his range, In spite of that, he shot 34.4% from the field and 42.9% beyond the arc. When he gets it going, and he will, Kentucky will be just as dangerous from the outside as they already are on the inside.

8. Alex Poythress is a beast. You know, the beast that everyone expected when he came in as a freshman. Alex led the team in scoring and was second on the team in blocked shots. Plus, he was third in rebounding behind Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns.

9. Towns played like a veteran. He's only going to get better. He's pretty good right now. Some are predicting he will be the #1 draft pick next time around.

10. Dakari Johnson has lost weight and can run the floor much better than last year. Bilas predicts he will be a real load for opposing big men. Who are we to disagree?

11. Marcus Lee, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins have improved and exude confidence that was lacking last year.

12. Perhaps the most important take away from this most excellent adventure was our boys had fun and grew closer as a team.

13. Coaching counts for something. Some of the coneheads in the media think Arizona and Duke will be better. Let them think that.  They were wrong last year and the year before. Some don't like Kentucky and John Calipari. Mike Francesca says that Calipari is not a very good  X & O coach. Is he kidding?

It seems to me that five Atlantic 10 championships, and an appearance in the Final Four while at UMASS is indicative of a pretty good X & O coach. How did he advance to the national championship game without being an X & O coach? How did he manage a 35-3 season in 2009-10? I guess he's not a good X & O coach because Kentucky lost to hot shooting WVU in the Elite Eight in 2010. The following season, he took Kentucky the Final Four beating media darling and # 1 seed Ohio State along the way.

That's terrible X & O coaching because we eventually lost to UConn, right? In 2012-13, Kentucky won its 8th national championship. Terrible X & O coaching. He should be ashamed.  Was it X's & O's that caused Kentucky to become a first round victim in the NIT or was it team chemistry? What about last year? X's & O's or lack of team experience? How in the world did we make it to the national championship game with his poor X's & O's coaching? Clearly Mike Francesca doesn't know what he's talking about and Calipari called him out on the radio as a caller after appearing on Francesca's show. As a result, Cal has dubbed himself as "The Magician."

14. The media guys will point out that Duke also has nine McDonald's All-Americans and that Arizona's starting five is as good or better than anyone's. My response to that is a very loud, "BIG WHOOP." Our second five will be playing substantial minutes and simply wear your butts down because you can't match our depth. Ask Jay Bilas.

15. I don't expect an undefeated season, but I can't bring myself to believe we will lose more than two games unless twelve players go into a funk. Come tournament time, I would not bet against the Wildcats because the six games are spread over 5-1/2 weeks, not eight days.

Are we that good?

The answer has to be yes. We're good enough for the NBA scouts in attendance, and Jay Bilas to fawn over the Cats. He admitted he didn't think Cal could do what he's done when Cal became our head coach. Bilas is the most BBN beloved Dukie ever. He may be the only one that we hold in such high regard simply because he's fair-minded.

Are they that bad?

I don't think so. We know that the Dominican Republic team isn't bad at all, and the French team gave us some real competition. As professional teams, they obviously don't compare to the USA National Team, who just destroyed the Dominican Republic team, but they should beat any college team and they didn't until the final game.

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