NCAA BK

Calipari was right: 'Cats were too young

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Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. Check out his Yardbarker blog. MORE>>
 
   
 

SYRACUSE, N.Y.

Often times it's difficult to differentiate "coach speak" from reality. For instance, every coach builds up their next opponent in the NCAA tournament.

"They're really good," they say.

"The best we'll face all year," others try and tell you.

And there's no one better than Kentucky coach John Calipari at making people believe things that just flat-out aren't accurate.

However, there was one mantra that Calipari continued to deliver over and over throughout the season that resonated as anything but coach speak.

His team was just too young.

Inexperience, along with the Wildcats' inability to make shots from the perimeter and the free throw line, were what sent Kentucky back to Lexington one victory shy of a Final Four appearance.

"I don't want to have excuses. They outplayed us," Calipari said. "But I think there were times that the inexperience, you know, hurt us."

Three of Calipari's top four players were freshman: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe.

Wall had his moments against West Virginia on Saturday night, but not unlike his other inexperienced teammates he appeared rattled in the second half when Bob Huggins' Mountaineers began to pull away.

Cousins played like the 6-foot-11 head-case that many — including myself — expected to see at times entering the season. He was frustrated, rattled and largely ineffective due to his inability to focus.

Kentucky played tight — especially when the Wildcats' young stars sensed that the game was getting away from them.

One of the glaring weaknesses of this team entering the season was perimeter shooting. Early in the year, Wall was able to make threes and Bledsoe had been far more effective from long distance than anyone anticipated.

However, the starting backcourt duo and the rest of their teammates couldn't make a shot from beyond the arc last night. In fact, they missed their first 20 attempts — and most of them weren't even close.

By the time they started connecting, it was too late.

Wall, Cousins and junior big man Patrick Patterson sat at the podium after the game and were gracious in defeat.

They may have been shell-shocked.

Cousins didn't bite on a question about the officiating, instead electing to heap praise on West Virginia.

"They outplayed us tonight," Cousins said. "And we lost."

Calipari did a terrific job with this group even though they didn't get to the promised land of Indianapolis. Sure, he may have four NBA lottery picks come June, but I'm not certain any coach in the entire world could have been able to get what he did from Cousins and also find a way to get this group to buy into the team concept.

Wall will almost certainly be gone to the NBA as the top overall pick in June's NBA Draft. Cousins and Patterson will likely join him as lottery selections and Bledsoe is likely to leave as well. Who knows, maybe even reserve big man Daniel Orton will test the waters.

But Calipari will reload.

He will, in all likelihood, bring in elite point guard Brandon Knight — arguably the most talented backcourt player in the entire freshman class. Calipari also has a signature from wing Stacey Poole and a commitment from talented foreign big man Enes Kanter, whose eligibility will, according to multiple sources, be in question by the NCAA. The Wildcats will also likely sign one of C.J. Leslie or Terrence Jones.

Orton, if he stays, will take Cousins' place in the starting lineup. Guys like Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins should see extended roles.

But Knight isn't Wall and Orton certainly isn't Cousins.

This was a special group that was put together, or as Memphis fans maintain, stolen, for a one-year run that was supposed to end with a national championship.

Instead, Calipari was right. This was one occasion where it wasn't just coach speak.

This team was just too young.
Tagged: Kentucky, West Virginia

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