The pre-season college basketball guides proclaimed this as the year of the Kentucky Wildcats. No superlatives were spared.
Coach John Calipari put together the greatest collection of freshman recruits ever assembled. His team - a perennial Southeastern Conference power - was anointed No. 1 before five of the team’s eight McDonald’s All-Americans had even played a college game.
The ‘Cats appeared to be so dominant that there was casual talk of an undefeated season - a “pursuit of perfection” in the Bluegrass. Few dissenting opinions were offered. Maybe Kentucky would lose a game or two but a trip to the Final Four - and a ninth national championship - were just months away.
When the season began, the reviews weren’t as glowing. Something wasn’t clicking.
Four months later, and Kentucky is far removed from No. 1. In fact, the Wildcats didn't even make the latest Associated Press poll. This team has had its moments but no one predicted a 22-9 regular season, much less a 12-6 record in conference play.
Some analysts who talked about perfection during the pre-season are at a loss to explain what happened. Individually the players may well be blue-chippers. Collectively the harmony is missing.
Basketball always has been a team game, though this group has had a difficult time accepting that. It was built around a collection of high school stars whose reputations were built to earn lucrative NBA contracts, not necessarily NCAA championships.
Successful college teams have strong guard play. The backcourt players dominate – scoring from all points on the floor or dishing to other players who are breaking to the basket. Andrew and Aaron Harrison - two imposing 6-5 guards - have shown moments of star power, but they haven’t dominated. Their shooting has been suspect.
Center Julius Randle has solidified himself as a one-and-done draft selection. But outside scorer James Young and upfront man Dakari Johnson have had ups and downs.