With a loss to Baylor, Kentucky is 4-3 for the first time in the John Calipari Era.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – John Calipari delivered a lengthy checklist of what is wrong with his Kentucky basketball team, the one that backed up its lackluster performance at Notre Dame Thursday with an equally shaky effort against Baylor Saturday.
Now the Wildcats have lost back-to-back games in the season's first month for the first time in the Calipari Era – by 14 points to an unranked Notre Dame team and 64-55 to an unranked Baylor team Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena.
Here is Calipari's list: His guys need more will to win. They get pushed around. They take bad shots. They have not learned to close out games. They don't listen.
Check, check, check, check, check. I won't fuss at the coach for any of that. Kentucky's invincibility is gone – as is the 55-game home winning streak. The Wildcats have slipped to 11th in the Pomeroy computer rankings and 14th in the Sagarin ratings. They figure to take a similar plunge in the writers' and coaches' polls.
"He's right," UK freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said. "We're not that good. Not yet."
But don't leave this item off the list: Pilot error.
A coach who thrives on attacking with the best point guard in the nation doesn't have one of the Top 20 point guards in the nation. Calipari the recruiter hurt Calipari the coach.
"Don't be mean with the guys," Calipari said on his post-game radio show. "If you want to say Cal doesn't know what he's doing, that's fine with me."
Cal knows what he's doing. Always has. You can't say that he doesn't. But you can say this:
For the first time in four seasons, Calipari hasn't done a good job of putting together a team. Calipari's first three teams started 7-0, 5-2 and 7-0. This one is 4-3 with a pair of losses to unranked teams.
Kentucky is at least one piece shy of the ferocious groups we have watched the last three seasons. It might be two parts. Time will tell. The Wildcats lack another ball-handler and a shooter. There are a few guys who could have filled both roles, but it might have taken two players.
If you had a chance to look at the blueprint Calipari was working from last spring when he and his staff were recruiting to finalize the roster for this team, they thought they would be OK.
Two things changed: Marquis Teague, the point guard from the national championship team, decided to follow the four other underclassmen out the door to the NBA. The coaches knew that was a possibility, not a certainty.
This move hurt more: Shabazz Muhammad signed with UCLA, not the Wildcats.
Even though Muhammad played high school basketball in Las Vegas, UK didn't expect that. They'd received multiple hints that Muhammad was coming to Kentucky. Look at the struggles of UCLA basketball the last two seasons. Compare that to the unrelenting winning by Calipari in his first three seasons here.
Had to pick UK, right?
Now Calipari is forced to scramble with a team that was overmatched in the backcourt by Notre Dame and Baylor. The Kentucky guards do not control tempo. They do not excel at setting up teammates. They have not been making shots. They're not a Top 20 backcourt. Not yet.
Archie Goodwin is as talented as any freshman in the nation. He might average 20 points while learning to play point guard. But Calipari is going to have to live with games like Saturday, when Goodwin makes five turnovers and several silly fouls.
Kentucky made less than 30 percent of its field goal attempts, missing 50 of 71 shots. Even Calipari seemed to wince any time Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow or Julius Mays shot.
This is why: They were 7 for 43.
"We came in here thinking we were that team," Cauley-Stein said. "We're not that team."
No, they are not. They're not close. Not yet.
What is Calipari going to do?
Bet on Wiltjer becoming the guy who rotates out of the starting lineup, replaced by Harrow. It's time to see what Harrow can do, starting with the Samford game Tuesday night. Kentucky's offense appeared to run more efficiently when Calipari sat Wiltjer midway through the second half. The coach told the media and the fans on his post-game radio show that he liked the way his team played with the smaller lineup.
"I thought we were more athletic and we still had the ability to score the ball," he said.
If that does not work? It will be wait ‘til next year – at least wait ‘til next year for the kind of greatness that Kentucky fans have learned to expect from Calipari. Even the coach hinted at that.
"If they're not winning players, then they move to the background and other players move in," he said from courtside on his post-game radio show.