LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — After his team's 80-64 win over Ole Miss on Tuesday, John Calipari threw some salt in the direction of his team's Associated Press poll freeze out this week, dropping to No. 18 from No. 11 after a loss at LSU.
"This is the most overanalyzed team I've ever seen in the history of the game, at any level, in any sport," Calipari said. " There is a weekly update on what we are and what we're not."
Wait a minute. Timeout. Tubby Smith's "Team Turmoil" would like a word with you, coach. Roderick Rhodes on Line 2. Rob Lock. Anyone remember him? The Harrison Twins are being critiqued? Somewhere, Ryan Harrow just did a spit-take.
I grew up watching Kentucky basketball. Overanalysis, to borrow a phrase, isn't just part of this state's basketball culture, it is its basketball culture. And it's not just in Lexington. When was the last time a UK player had four TV news crews show up in a courtroom to watch him answer for (pausing for effect) a speeding ticket?
The Cats' Pause, as far as I know, was one of the first magazines in the country to devote itself to a single college sports program. Jon Scott, somehow, runs one of the best statistical sites on a single program in all of sports. If I want to search UK players through history by nickname, it's there. If I want a list of left-handed UK players since 1932, it's there. Overanalysis? There are people in this state who could write books on it.
So this is how it is. And it's how it always has been. Calipari has been in Lexington long enough to know that. This has to be about something else, right? Let's listen to see if we can figure this out.
"Our losses are worse than every other loss in the country. We lose, you're not in the top 25," Calipari said. "Now you understand LSU has three NBA players, a junior guard and a senior guard. They're no schmo team now. At the end of the day, they'll be in the NCAA Tournament. LSU is good. This team has to deal with that. I went and told them. I told them before the ranking I thought we'd be as low as 19. I said it will be 17, 18, and 19, so when I was right I asked the staff, when is the last time I was wrong? They said 1978. I think it was '78. Might have been '77, but I think it was '78 though."
(Someone, somewhere, now will analyze that. I expect a full report on the Internet, somewhere, by morning.)
Now the statement, given context, makes a bit more sense. Calipari was smarting over a column from CBS' Gary Parrish dropping UK out of its Top 25 — plus one — after last week's loss to LSU. That, of course, was a classic overreaction. It was also just one guy. But then, the AP poll comes out and UK drops seven spots after one loss, and seems to get no credit for its win over Missouri.
I get it. That drop was too much. UK fans feel it was punitive -- especially compared with what happened to others in the poll who also lost games. Maybe it was. Duke moved UP six spots after a LOSS. But let's look at it. That loss did come to No. 1 Syracuse in front of the largest on-campus crowd in the history of college basketball — in overtime. You can't equate a loss to LSU — which was not in the NCAA Tournament field in ESPN's last bracketology and which has a home-court loss to Rhode Island on its resume — to Duke's loss at Syracuse. But is it a 13-place swing in the polls? It's a legitimate question.
Nor, the votes of the pollsters are telling us, were they blown away by a road win at Missouri, one of the last four teams projected to make the field before the game. Bottom line, UK is being penalized for playing in the SEC.
Regardless, it's not a question of whether a team is overanalyzed. It's actually a question of whether a team is ranked accurately. UK, in my opinion, is not. It's about four spots below where it should be.
It's also, if you ask me, and nobody did, but it's the job I have, exactly where Calipari should want to be. The most dangerous thing for this team is overconfidence. That could take it down faster in March than anything else. One two-day period of satisfaction, and everybody is scattering their separate ways to get ready for the draft.
If this team wants to make a run, it still has a great deal of work to do, and that work, I would think, would be best accomplished by a group that feels disrespected and undervalued.
Is UK being treated harshly by the national media? By some, I'm sure it is. By others, it isn't. It has its supporters and detractors, like everyone else. UK's last four losses came to teams not currently in the AP Top 25, three of them more or less NCAA bubble teams. If detractors want ammunition, the team has given them some.
In the end, I can't give Calipari too hard a time about saying his team is overanalyzed because I said it myself about a week ago. In a column on this very website.
I wrote, referring to the wretched excess of coverage of Willie Cauley-Stein's blonde hair and headband: "Only in Kentucky. Only at Kentucky. Three subpar games and you're part of group therapy. And there are 24,000 in the group."
Calipari put it this way: "So it's hard to play here. How about this one? When I recruit these kids, I can't hide you. Is that true? You're not hiding here now. You have a bad game, you can't play anymore. Another guy (at another school) has a bad game, yeah, tough game. He's a terrific player. My guy has a bad game, he can't play. He just goes from a great player to he stinks in one game. You're playing at Kentucky. Good luck."
Here's the problem. It's not outsiders who are making those harsh judgements, for the most part. Its UK's own fan base. But that's what Kentuckians do. We watch the games. Then we obsess over them. Over time, we've gotten fancier tools, like computers and Twitter. But the message has been the same.
Who in the media said Willie Cauley-Stein couldn't play? Who in the national media has said Julius Randle can't play? I'm not seeing the harsh judgments. That doesn't mean they're not out there. But all of us have critics.
I give Calipari a pass on this because:
1. All coaches exaggerate. They all do. And . . .
2. At UK, you're in such a fishbowl that you sometimes forget there's a world outside. Calipari is fond of telling UK fans, "It's not about you." I think it's good that he says that from time to time. But not every blip in college basketball and its rankings is about UK, either.
This team, in fact, has seemed to me to get less national attention than either of the past two, once the season began. Now, it got a ton of attention before the season started. But that was a flame, I would argue, that was fanned internally. Calipari stood up in Rupp Arena in October and proclaimed to the college basketball world these things:
"This is the pre-imminent stage in college basketball."
"Our biggest opponent? Ourselves."
"We don't just play college basketball, we are college basketball.
"If we play as one unit, if we play with one heartbeat, and a love for each other, we will be unbreakable."
He called the program, "The standard-bearer in college basketball."
The standard bearer. There are two meanings there. The first is of someone or something that is the best in its field. The second, however, carries military meaning. It's the person who carries the flag. And if you carry the flag into battle, where do you think the artillery is going to concentrate?
In the end, Kentucky wins a game against Ole Miss that it was supposed to win, maybe made progress, maybe didn't. But Calipari has all of us talking about whether the pollsters are too hard on his team, or whether it really is overanalyzed.
Underrated, overanalyzed, it doesn't matter. There's a lot of season left, and this UK team still has the ability to be scary good.
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