Kentucky has reached the Final Four in four of the last six seasons, but don’t be surprised if the Wildcats fail to make it five of seven. In fact, don’t be surprised if the No. 8 Wildcats (26-5) are once again bounced in the Round of 32.
“Except for (Malik) Monk, they don’t shoot the ball particularly well, which hurts them, and their defense is really their biggest problem,” CBS college basketball analyst Steve Lappas said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “It’s been off and on, but it’s been better lately. The question is, are they going to bring that defensive intensity? Here’s the hard part about coaching freshmen: even ones that are talented, if they don’t understand what level they need to be playing defense at, they’re going to get beat. They can get beat by an 8-, 9-, 10-seed. If they understand now, if John Calipari has been able to teach them that lesson of what defensive intensity is for 40 minutes, then they’ll be fine – because they have the talent on the offensive end. That’s the question that I have for them.
“The other question about them and young players in the NCAA Tournament,” Lappas continued, “(is) a lot of times you got to play half-court, and a lot of times young guys don’t know how to play half-court because they were in high school and they were just running fast-break. If you’re that good, you didn’t have to play half-court in high school. You just run up and down. So will they be able to score in the half-court? Will they defend for 40 minutes? I think those are questions that we really don’t know the answers to right now.”
Kentucky’s top three scorers – Monk (21.1 points per game), De’Aaron Fox (15.5) and Edrice Adebayo (13.3) – are freshmen. Teaching a new crop of one-and-done players how to play – and win – in college basketball isn’t easy.
“That is really hard, and it’s got to be really taxing,” Lappas said. “One of the things I used to look forward to when I coached was having a team that was back the next year and back the year after. Instead of having to go over the building blocks every day, you could get to the next step of the development, whereas John Calipari has to do both. He’s got to teach them the building blocks and the next step because of what their aspirations are and what the expectations are. That is really hard, if not impossible to do. The people that know, know he’s a great coach. I know a lot of people question it and think he just gets players, but it’s a lot more than that. It is very hard to do what he does year in and year out. Really hard.”