John Calipari is doing all he can with this group.
Just think about this: Kentucky remains in the Top 25 with Josh Harrellson logging big minutes in the middle and Jon Hood and Eloy Vargas occupying the seventh and eighth spots in the rotation.
Calipari also has virtually no leadership.
A year ago, he had the combination of rock-solid veteran Patrick Patterson and poised freshman John Wall. This year he has to rely on Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones to lead.
“We’ve got no choice,” Calipari said after a loss Saturday to Florida in Gainesville. “It’s what we have.”
Although Knight played extremely well on Saturday night and nearly led Kentucky to a much-needed road win, he’s just not cut out to be a leader.
Jones almost has been thrust into the role, as well, but he’s not ready, either.
However, Calipari has no other option. DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller, the team’s two upperclassmen, are quiet followers. Harrellson has gotten the most out of his ability, but let’s be honest: No one is following his lead.
The Wildcats have lost two straight for the first time in the Calipari Era in Lexington — and the schedule doesn’t get much easier.
Kentucky has Tennessee at home on Tuesday in the return of Bruce Pearl, whose eight-game Southeastern Conference suspension is over, and still has a pair against Vanderbilt, a game at Tennessee and a home date against Florida. There also are home games against Mississippi State and South Carolina and a game at Arkansas in the remaining eight regular-season games.
This is a team that’s playing for a seed — and also some confidence. And right now, this young group has no one on the court to show it the way.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Alabama — The Crimson Tide sit alone atop the SEC with a 7-1 mark. Remember, this is a team that was swept in the Virgin Islands by the likes of St. Peter’s, Iowa and Seton Hall. However, Anthony Grant has this group buying into playing hard and defending, and it paid off with a pair of wins this past week: a home victory over Mississippi State and an overtime win at Tennessee. Tony Mitchell averaged 23.5 points in the two games as Bama has positioned itself as a legitimate NCAA tournament team after its rough start.
STUD (PLAYER OF WEEK): Kendall Marshall — Ever since the freshman point guard moved into the starting lineup, North Carolina has looked like a completely different team. Marshall had a modest seven points and six assists in a rout of Boston College and then dished out 16 assists with nine points in an easy victory over Florida State. Marshall also has helped Harrison Barnes, who had 26 against BC and 17 points and 10 boards against FSU.
MOST OVERLOOKED: For some reason, we continue to overlook Nolan Smith. The Duke senior has averaged 24.2 points and 5.6 assists since Dec. 8, the first game Smith had to move to point guard following Kyrie Irving’s injury. Smith averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in a win at Maryland and a home rout of N.C. State.
MOST IMPRESSIVE WIN: I’m not sure if this one was the most impressive or most important, but Syracuse’s victory over UConn in Hartford was critical, as the Orange were in the midst of a four-game skid and had all sorts of rumors circling the program. No one player stood out in the victory, but Jim Boeheim’s zone was far more effective than it had been in the previous four contests.
SHOWCASE PERFORMANCE: Florida coach Billy Donovan had never played a Gator for all 20 minutes in the second half. However, that’s exactly what he did with senior Chandler Parsons Saturday night in a victory over Kentucky. Parsons finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and not a single turnover — and also had the two most crucial plays with late put-backs — as the Gators moved 1-1/2 games in front of Tennessee for the SEC East lead.
WEEK TO FORGET: Kentucky got swept by Ole Miss and Florida on the road. Texas A&M was thumped at home by Texas and then lost in overtime to Baylor. However, Washington gets the nod after losses at Oregon State and Oregon. Washington, just about everyone’s preseason favorite to win the Pac-10, sits two games behind Arizona and a half-game behind UCLA, and still has some work to do to earn a spot in the Big Dance.
DUD: My guess is that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo won’t disagree with my choice of the Spartans and their 20-point debacle at the hands of Iowa and then getting pounded at Wisconsin. Izzo & Co. have been struggling, but really? Losing to a Hawkeyes team that likely will battle for the bottom spot in the Big Ten? Ouch.
WORST LOSS: Illinois losing at Northwestern. I know it doesn’t sound all that bad, but the Illini can ill-afford too many more slip-ups or they’ll be headed back to the NIT. Bruce Weber’s team is 15-8 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten, but the Illini have lost five of their past seven.
BEST GAME NO ONE SAW: Arizona’s triple-overtime victory over Cal in Berkeley. Wildcats star Derrick Williams fouled out, but it was Lamont “Momo” Jones who led the Wildcats to the win with 27 points. Kevin Parrom added 25 as Arizona has put two games between itself and Washington, which was picked to win the Pac-10 in the preseason.
MID-MAJOR TEAM OF THE WEEK: George Mason — The Colonials moved into a first-place tie with VCU atop the CAA after sweeping Hofstra and Old Dominion at home this past week. George Mason has reeled off nine straight wins, the latest a 17-point rout of an ODU team that was expected to win the league. Ryan Pearson had 18 points and 11 boards in the win over the Monarchs.
FEELING SORRY FOR: Central Florida coach Donnie Jones — The Knights have tumbled since C-USA play began, and Jones can’t find a way to stop the bleeding. Remember, this was a team that came out of nowhere early and jumped into the Top 25. But Jones was a magician because this team just isn’t that talented.
LOST RESPECT FOR: The Drews — I don’t care how bad things got with Larry Drew II in Chapel Hill. You don’t leave the team, but that’s exactly what Drew did on Feb. 4. His father, the coach of the Atlanta Hawks, was the one who broke the news that his son will transfer to Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.
WEEK’S TOP MATCHUPS:
1. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Saturday at 2 p.m. ET — Is this where the Buckeyes finally take their first loss? The Kohl Center is a big-time home-court advantage for Bo Ryan and the Badgers.
2. North Carolina at Duke, Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET — It’s certainly not what everyone anticipated this game to be heading into the season, but the Tar Heels are playing well since Marshall was inserted into the starting lineup.
3. Pittsburgh at Villanova, Saturday at 9 p.m. ET — At the end of the day, these still might be the best teams in the Big East.
4. Tennessee at Kentucky, Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET — Pearl’s suspension is history — and he will return just in time to go to Lexington and face his good buddy Calipari.
5. Missouri at Kansas, Monday at 9 p.m. ET — The Tigers could use a road win, but it’s not exactly easy to win at Phog Allen.
6. Alabama at Vanderbilt, Thursday at 9 p.m. ET — I never would have figured that Alabama would be involved in any game to watch this season, but the Crimson Tide sit atop the SEC and really could make a statement with a win in Nashville.