By LARRY VAUGHT
Were expectations too high for Kentucky going into this season or has Kentucky simply underperformed this year?
Kentucky was ranked first, or in the top five, of almost every preseason college basketball poll. The Wildcats had three returning players — PJ Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards — who had started games as freshmen. The Cats had graduate transfer Reid Travis from Stanford.
Then there was another marquee recruiting class with Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, EJ Montgomery and Ashton Hagans. Maybe none were top five recruits, but overall they combined to give UK what most recruiting analysts considered the nation’s second best recruiting class behind only duke.
So why has the Kentucky team that dominated opponents in the Bahamas had so many struggles and has even lost Green to transfer?
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy believes Kentucky has under performed.
“They have guys who have not performed at their best level,” DeCourcy said. “Not just Quade, either. PJ has had too many games not at his level. Reid at times has still been trying to find his way to be comfortable in games. So I just think Kentucky has been under performing but it is not a disastrous under performance.”
While Kentucky coach John Calipari and his players insist the 34-point loss to Duke to open the season was just “one game” with no long lasting impact, DeCourcy has a different feeling.
“Being handled the way they were by Duke really set them back and I think shook them to the core,” DeCourcy said. “They have been struggling to get their swag back. The teams they played in the Bahamas were not great teams but they had capable players.”
Maybe those “capable” players just didn’t play as hard as the players Kentucky has faced this season — even those on less talented teams. That effort level has made the game faster, and harder, for UK’s younger players.
“There is no reason Nick should not be a rim protector,” DeCourcy said. “They are making progress at point guard with Quickley and Hagans has been much better than he was against Duke. Hagans is going to be a work in progress offensively but on defense he is already elite.
“Herro has to play better offensively than he has. I think Keldon is fighting himself a little bit. He is trying to get himself back to playing with confidence. He is really talented, so it will happen for him.”
DeCourcy says it’s way too early to think what might have been an under performing Kentucky team to this point cannot still be the team many thought when the season began.
“They have not played well and at the level they are capable of playing and everybody in the program knows they are capable of achieving a level of play they have not reached yet,” DeCourcy said. “It’s still a long season. They are not good right now but if you think they are not capable of a lot more, you have not been watching the good moments this team has had and there have been some very good moments and I think will be a lot more very good moments for this team in the months ahead.”