Kentucky men’s basketball has suffered two disappointing losses just five games into the 2022-23 season. After everything that’s happened with the program over the last two years, patience is not a trait the Big Blue Nation is willing to accept right now — and for good reason. What happened to Kentucky in the losses to Michigan State and Gonzaga last week was admittedly concerning; offensive execution and a simple will to win reached an early-season low point.
But at the same time, you can still see the vision that head coach John Calipari has for this group. UK had Michigan State beat in both regulation and overtime before defensive miscommunications cost them a win. A poorly-timed fourth foul on Oscar Tshiebwe in the second half of a four-point game against Gonzaga saw the Bulldogs run wild from there.
A made free throw here, an unblown whistle there, and Kentucky could very well be 5-0 this season, or 4-1 at the very least. That’s not how this game works, though — UK is currently 3-2 with plenty of tough teams left on the schedule. But that’s one bright side: with more competition comes more time to learn from mistakes.
To Calipari’s credit, he has proven in the past that his teams can play their best basketball come March. But he’s not going to get the same benefit of the doubt this time around he has previously.
“This stuff is all fixable. It’s all fixable,” Calipari said Monday night during his first weekly radio call-in show of the season. “We have a good team. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. I like these guys. I think they’re unselfish, even though they look like they held the ball and played a lot of one-on-one. They’re not a selfish team. They’re not built that way.
“We just got work we got to do. There’s things that I’ve got to get on to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction. We got a tough schedule, and it’s perfect for us. Let’s learn.”
The good news, if you were looking for it, is he’s 100 percent correct: all of Kentucky’s issues are fixable. The chemistry can grow, players can show more fight, they can go over screens when defending elite shooters, the halfcourt execution can improve, and open shots can start to fall. Everyone is healthy and practicing together, which Calipari is leaning on heavily as a major factor why this season hasn’t gone as planned.
That’s not to say everything will get fixed, but UK’s problems certainly aren’t due to a lack of talent and versatility. Sometimes, it’s as simple as shots not falling.
As KSR’s Brandon Ramsey pointed out in his latest edition of Watch The Tape, Kentucky had terrific looks at a pair of 3-pointers on Sunday midway through the second half that would have cut the Gonzaga lead to just three for the first time since it was 3-0 in the opening 60 seconds. Instead, neither shot fell, and the Bulldogs went on to outscore UK by 10 points the rest of the way. It’s tough to talk in “what-ifs”, but a three-point game would have continued to bend the momentum in Kentucky’s favor.
The problems are definitely fixable, but with more popping up each game, how long will it take for Calipari to make it happen?