1. IT'S THE FIRST WEEK OF JANUARY
There are more than two months of basketball remaining. We're still not halfway through the regular season, and this is not an unusual spot for John Calipari's teams to find themselves. In 2011, the Cats lost to unranked Georgia on January 8 in Athens. It was the Cats' third of what would become nine losses on the season. That team closed its season in the Final Four. The 2014 Cats lost at Arkansas on January 14, their fourth of an eventual 11 losses on the season. UK closed its season in the national championship game.
Both seasons featured similar January and February proclamations by fans and media alike that the Cats had no chance to reach a Final Four. Years like 2010, 2012 and 2015 become the standard in our minds, but in reality, years like 2011, 2014 and 2016 are just as normal with Calipari teams. This may be a team that has to go through a lot of growing pains to get primed for a championship run. Remember, too, that there does not appear to be a clear-cut favorite or even a group of teams that appears to have separated from the pack.
2. GUARD PLAY STILL DICTATES MARCH MADNESS
A lot of the criticism surrounding Kentucky right now stems from wildly inconsistent play of the frontcourt. Last night at LSU, Calipari said his 4s and 5s were "murdered," which may have been an understatement. Marcus Lee fouled out with 13 minutes remaining. Alex Poythress fouled out with 7:28 to go. They combined for four points and six rebounds. Skal Labissiere and Derek Willis didn't fare much better off the bench, contributing just nine points and five rebounds in 35 combined minutes. One would be hard-pressed to find a worse performance by a frontcourt in the recent history of UK basketball.That said, UK's frontcourt has had some good showings this season. Lee has been as solid as anyone on the roster. Poythress, as he has done much of his career, has delivered some "Wow" moments in between the head-scratching games. It's not like the Cats don't have talent in the frontcourt. Some years, you just don't have it, and it's not going to change. But this team still has potential at those spots.
That said, UK's frontcourt has had some good showings this season. Lee has been as solid as anyone on the roster. Poythress, as he has done much of his career, has delivered some "Wow" moments in between the head-scratching games. It's not like the Cats don't have talent in the frontcourt. Some years, you just don't have it, and it's not going to change. But this team still has potential at those spots.
The best news is that UK is really, really good in the backcourt, especially with Tyler Ulis at the point and Jamal Murray at the 2. Isaiah Briscoe can be a major weapon if he can find a way to fix his woeful free-throw shooting. Mychal Mulder may have shown last night that he's prepared to make a nice impact off the bench. Dominique Hawkins showed how valuable he can be in the UofL game. Guards are always center stage when March Madness begins. It's like pitching in the MLB playoffs or pass rush in the NFL playoffs. It matters. A lot. Nobody in the country will be in better hands than UK at tournament time.
3. LSU & "EVERYBODY'S SUPER BOWL"
We all got conned by LSU's pre-conference performance. The Tigers, as usual, are a pretty talented basketball team, headlined by perhaps the best player in the college game in the form of freshman forward Ben Simmons. Tim Quarterman is fantastic at the point and Craig Victor is a brute on the low block. That game may have been a bigger indictment of the Tigers (and what they didn't do prior to the UK game) than it was a statement about where UK stands. Keep an eye out for LSU's next game at Florida and the high potential for PKWS (Post Kentucky Win Syndrome).
As for the Cats, they are going to face this "Everybody's Super Bowl" atmosphere wherever they go for the rest of the season, especially in the SEC where venues stay mostly unfilled until the Big Blue rolls into town. Remember that 2011 season we mentioned earlier? Those Cats lost six of their eight road games in league play. But that kind of atmosphere won't exist in tournament time, where UK typically owns the stands and is not as likely to get a "whistle" influenced by an emotional home crowd like the one LSU had last night.