The life of a blueblood program means the highest of expectations year in and year out, and a fickle rabid fanbase that. While they enjoy past expectations, they are always hungry for more. When you are a team like the Kentucky Wildcats, winning the recruiting season must also lead to winning in March and April, and every loss from November to February gets put under a microscope. Then, they’re over analyzed by not only every possible media outlet but, more importantly, by the aforementioned rabid fanbase. While the seat may not be hot…yet, it could be possible that after a 2-6 record before Tuesday’s game against Vanderbilt, John Calipari may soon start feeling a warming sensation.
The beginning of a dynasty (2009-2014)
When Rick Pitino left for the Boston Celtics in 1997, it was on the heels of back-to-back appearances in the national title game, and although his successor, Tubby Smith, won a national title in his first season, the program had struggled to regain the success it attained under Pitino. Before the 2009-2010 season, the school hired Calipari who had won over 23 games a season in nine years at Memphis. In his first six seasons, it seemed as though the Wildcats had finally found the man to lead the team back to its glory days. The first six years of Calipari’s tenure resulted in four trips to the Final Four and two trips to the national title game with one championship.
Past six years (2015-2021)
Over the last six seasons, things have changed for Kentucky. Their NCAA Tournament success has amounted to two trips to the Elite Eight, despite having numerous NBA draftees over that time. One thing that hasn’t changed for Calipari has been his ability to recruit. Since the 2015-16 season, according to 247sports, Kentucky has been able to reel in a top-2 national recruiting class with the 2015 and 2020 classes being the nation’s best. The best-recruiting classes in the country have resulted in just two trips to the Elite Eight, and for most schools, those results would be seen as a resounding success. When you are the Kentucky Wildcats, people begin to wonder what is wrong. Kentucky has done a very good job over the past few seasons of proving the adage that the whole is better than the sum of its parts.
Now I know this season comes with a huge Covid caveat, but it’s still Kentucky, and there are still expectations. They began the year by beating Morehead State more than handily, but then came six losses in succession including a three-point loss at hated rival Louisville, and that never goes over well with Big Blue Nation. As SEC play began on Saturday, they needed double overtime and a breakout game from freshman Dontaie Allen to dispatch Mississippi State. Allen is one of eight freshmen, and in fact, to this point in the season, every Wildcat to find themselves on the stat sheet was not with the program last season.
While the unfamiliarity and youthfulness of the roster might be a reason for a pass for most programs when you annually have top recruiting classes in the one-and-done era, that’s the bed you must lie in. Not having reached the Final Four since 2015, is ranking 144th in the NCAA’s initial NET rankings, and starting with a 2-6 record, Calipari may not be on the hot seat, but it is about time it starts warming up.