Cats have reason for hope going forward

Published 3:50 pm Thursday, November 14, 2019

By Shane Shackleford

Contributing Columnist

Evansville 67, Kentucky 64

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I know BBN. It hurts. It hurts really bad.

The Kentucky Wildcats, coming off toppling then No. 1 Michigan State to ascend to the top of the mountain and claim the top ranking in college basketball, lose at home in their opening game to…Evansville.

So much for the top spot for the foreseeable future for the Cats.

It’s almost like Prince opening to his iconic song- “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” UK fans feel like that right now. We just are trying to get through a dark point currently in Kentucky basketball.

But the rest of that lyric holds the key to my message to BBN — “But I’m here to tell ya, there’s something else, the afterworld.”

You see grieving UK fan, there are things that need to be considered when viewing where this team is now and where it is going forward. Things that will help get us through the tough times (like this) and put the proper perspective on this team and the season going forward.

Consider the following, if you will.

The first thing that needs to be considered is this is the second game in a long, long season and this was the third game of it. No team wins a national championship in the month of November, so for the fans out there who are ready to cash in the season right now, chill a bit. This team will be totally different than the one seen on Tuesday night a month from now, let alone in March.

The second point of this is the Cats needed to be humbled and taken down a peg or two. If you consider how the season started (beating No. 1 Michigan State and waxing Eastern Kentucky at Rupp), this team had the mindset that just being Kentucky was enough for them to dispatch the Aces easily. But the Aces started hot and punched the Cats in the mouth, and the Cats didn’t respond.

Now if this happens in late February, I’ll be more than a little concerned. But nothing brings the team’s focus in like finding out they can be beaten any given night and every team on the UK schedule now believes they too can pull an Evansville and shock the Cats.

Don’t think for a second that coach John Calipari won’t instill that in the psyche of his squad. Look for a vicious answer from the Cats both in the present and going forward.

Last, and maybe most importantly, the game speaks to the parity that purveys in college basketball. If Evansville came out in Duke jerseys or Carolina Blue colors and did what they did to the Cats, most observers would say that this game was entirely plausible and could happen on any given night.

But since it says Evansville on the players’ chest, it was a great upset. Make no mistake, in many ways, it was no upset. The better team won Tuesday night, and it wasn’t Kentucky. For 40 minutes, the best team was the Aces. Straight up.

Therein lies the beauty of college basketball. Every school has players now that can perform at a high level. Some teams can recruit the blue-chip studs at will, and some teams have ace recruiters that mine the high schools and AAU programs for their players and develop them.

Is one way right and another wrong? No, not at all. Talent is talent, and it seems the college basketball world is full of it.

In conclusion, the Cats learned some valuable lessons that going forward may sting in the present but could pay huge dividends in March. I think most UK fans would trade a loss in November for a chance at championship number nine in March.