The Kentucky Wildcats exist in an uncertain place right now. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it obviously isn’t the place where a team and a head coach want to be in the first week of March. A team would like to have set rotations, clear delineations of roles and responsibilities, finite expectations, and players who are entirely comfortable.
By Matt Zemek
Kentucky HAD BEEN this kind of team, but the injury to Reid Travis has disrupted this team’s flow and equilibrium. This isn’t the fault of the players. This isn’t the fault of John Calipari. It is an unlucky break at a bad time.
Yet, it is not yet time to freak out. It isn’t.
Kentucky has two full weeks to get ready for the really big show, the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will not be lower than a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance, so in round one, even if everything hasn’t been fully ironed out by then, Big Blue will get the equivalent of a dress rehearsal against a No. 15 seed. Kentucky will have to be fully ready and operational in time for its round-of-32 game. By that time, this roster will have to know what to do and how to adjust.
Until then, Kentucky still has some space and time if Travis can’t immediately return. That is the biggest point to emphasize right now.
A second key point to make is that after Quade Green left the program, the Kentucky lineup snapped neatly into place. A departure facilitated improvement on the roster. Obviously, Green leaving was addition by subtraction, and Travis is not the same kind of player. Kentucky needs him. Everyone could see that against Tennessee this past weekend. Nevertheless, when one player leaves — REGARDLESS of whether that player is a drag on the lineup or a helpful presence on the floor — it inevitably and necessarily means that another player will have to play more minutes. From this reality, Kentucky and Calipari can focus on developing the players who must adjust their roles and acquire different mindsets with Travis out.
Getting two weeks — this week in the last stretch of the SEC regular season, plus next week at the SEC Tournament (hopefully with at least two games if not three) — to redefine roles and redistribute responsibilities can create a more complete team with more resourceful and adaptable players. Then, if Travis can be healthy and whole in time for the round of 32, Kentucky could grow into an even stronger force.
Yes, this is conceptually simple, but it is much more difficult for the reality on the hardwood to match the theory put down on paper or a computer screen. This isn’t a simple process. It won’t be. However, this is John Calipari’s latest portal to jump through, the newest chance for him to pull the right levers and engineer a transformation in this team.
Calipari has been known to do this before, his ultimate example coming in March of 2014, which began with a humiliating loss to South Carolina and ended with a berth in the Final Four as a No. 8 seed.
Is Kentucky in the place it wants to be right now? No, of course not. Yet, there is time for this team to reshape itself in ways which will make this season’s story a happy one.
Kentucky might be a hard team to read without Reid, but the Cats can still write a happy ending to this book.