After another embarrassing loss at home to Arkansas, the Kentucky Wildcats again face another crossroads. It feels as if every time Kentucky gets the Big Blue Nation believing again, Coach Cal and his team let them down with an egg that will likely cost Kentucky a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Since 2017, Kentucky has done nothing worthy of celebrating. Kentucky has gone from Championship contenders that programs would be terrified to see; to a program that nobody fears. There was a time not long ago when Kentucky played at Rupp Arena; they were unbeatable. We have seen three programs this season in Kansas, Arkansas, and a terrible South Carolina program go into Rupp and defeat the Wildcats on their home court. Two of those came in butt-kicking to the hands of the Razorbacks and Jayhawks.
Kentucky gave Coach John Calipari a lifetime contract at the end of the 2019 season despite having only one National Championship in 2012. Some might argue that his early tenure at Kentucky was a success, with multiple Final Four and several SEC Tournament Championships. However, in coaching, the current success is more important than ten years ago. Since 2019, Kentucky has not won an NCAA Tournament game, given there was no Tournament in 2020, but last season the Wildcats were embarrassed in first-round as the two seed by the Peacocks of Saint Peters. For Kentucky, the standards are, at the very least, to reach the Final Four, or the season is a bust. Kentucky last played in the Final Four in 2015, where Wisconsin ended its season.
Since around the 2018 season, we have seen the Southeastern Conference get better as Kentucky has fallen behind the curve. Since around the 2018 season, we have seen the Southeastern Conference get better as Kentucky has fallen behind. Kentucky has seen changing of the guard in the Southeastern Conference with the resurgence of programs like Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee. We saw Auburn in the 2019 Tournament make it to the Final Four after beating Kentucky in the Regional Finals. Since then, under Nate Oats as Head Coach, the Crimson Tide of Alabama continues to turn the corner as a legitimate National Championship contending program. At Tennessee and Arkansas? Those programs are only going to get deeper as each respected coach recruits at the caliber that has taken shape at the two.
So, where does Kentucky go from here? As it stands, Kentucky will need to win the SEC Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament. Once there, Kentucky will face a difficult road as the Wildcats will likely be a lower-tier seed having to face Purdue or Houston in the second round. Say Kentucky does the unthinkable, and Calipari coaches his team to a remarkable finish with an NCAA Tournament win or two; Kentucky fans will still be restless with the current coaching staff. The saving grace for Calipari will be the best recruiting class in College Basketball history coming to Lexington next season. That alone could give Coach Calipari the time he needs to build Kentucky back to a respectful program under the Kentucky Basketball standard of excellence. However, Coach Cal has not done his job and has a lot to prove to Kentucky fans if he wants to continue to be the Head Coach at the University Of Kentucky. Kentucky Basketball is a program that isn’t for everyone; Calipari said so himself. To regain that trust and support, he has to fulfill his duties as Head Coach at Kentucky and retake the college basketball world.
There’s still a lot of basketball to be played for Kentucky, but the end of the embarrassing season could be around the corner unless changes within the program happen. Kentucky will hit the road on Saturday as the Wildcats travel to Athens, Georgia, to take on Mike White and his Georgia Bulldogs. Under no circumstances can Kentucky afford to lose on Saturday if the Wildcats want any hope at an NCAA Tournament bid. Following the Georgia game on Saturday, Kentucky will head to Starkville to take on Mississippi State on Wednesday before returning home to take on Tennessee next Saturday. A clean sweep of all three would position Kentucky to control their destiny as they look to close out the season. A loss in two of the three would be a disaster for Coach Cal and his program as they will likely lose the support of the Big Blue Nation down the stretch.