Kentucky players warm up before taking on Missouri. Who’s going to be in the lineup? Your guess is as good as mine (Dr. John Huang photo).
(COLUMBIA, Mo.) – Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.
Kentucky’s disheartening 89 – 75 loss to Missouri in the conference opener did nothing to soothe the growing hunger pangs of discontent. John Calipari’s team had rolled into Columbia ready to eat. Although they had feasted on cupcakes earlier in the pre-conference schedule, the Wildcats (8 – 4, SEC 0 – 1) had also upchucked all over themselves in marquee matchups against Michigan State, Gonzaga, and UCLA. Coaches, players, and fans were all starving for a meaningful win.
Instead of a fulfilling victory, Missouri (12 – 1, SEC 1 – 0) —under first-year coach Dennis Gates—served Calipari some more humble pie. That’s not a menu item that goes down smoothly. As a result, Kentucky’s season hangs precariously on life support, and many Wildcat fans are ready to pull the plug.
From the minute Truman the Tiger rappelled from the rafters of a sold-out Mizzou Arena, you knew the Cats were in big trouble. After all, this was Missouri’s Super Bowl—15,000 yellow-clad zealots ready to storm the court, a rabid student section in search of blood, and the always-entertaining Red Panda waiting in the wings as killer halftime entertainment.
If truth be told, Kentucky never really stood a chance in this one. Besides poor offense, perplexing defense, lack of team chemistry, and questionable coaching, there’s one obvious factor resulting in the latest crash and burn. Calipari still has no earthly idea about his current lineup or rotation. Nobody knows their role. That’s a huge problem, and the coach needs to fix it quickly for even a chance at recovery.
In the dental profession, we have a term used to describe the promotion of our services to the general public. We call it spaghetti marketing. Throw out whatever ideas come to mind—and see what sticks.
Twelve games in, John Calipari is still clueless in regard to lineup decisions. He’s spaghetti coaching—just throwing guys out on to the floor and hoping some of them will stick.
Unfortunately so far, no one is sticking. Jacob Toppin is shell of his former self. Ugonna Onyenso remains a lost ball in high weeds. Daimion Collins is missing in action. Try as he might, Calipari still can’t find enough minutes for Chris Livingston at any position. Dead-eye shooter CJ Fredrick has forgotten how to shoot. Antonio Reeves has forgotten how to make. Lance Ware plays hard, but he’s way too offensively challenged. Sahvir Wheeler and Cason Wallace are still learning to play to each other’s strengths. Adou Thiero is a work in progress. Even Oscar Tshiebwe has struggled mightily at times.
By this time of the year, Calipari has usually settled on a definitive eight-man rotation. Why, then, is finding the proper lineup so challenging for this particular team? Surprisingly, he pointed to Oscar, as if the returning Player of the Year (and his 23-point, 19-rebound performance) presented a burden to solving this massive lineup dilemma.
“Well, we’re different because we got Oscar,” Calipari explained. “You could say well, let’s just come down and have everybody out on the floor. You have Oscar. So you got to play a little different. The issue becomes if they don’t play a couple of the guys on the floor. Now Oscar’s got three guys around him. That’s an issue for us.”
Cry me a river, please. John Calipari is a Hall of Fame coach being paid nine million dollars a year to figure it out. His rookie counterpart didn’t seem to have any trouble setting his lineups, getting his players spaced properly on the court, and running Kentucky ragged on the fast break. Kentucky has more overall talent than Missouri, yet the game was never even close.
Here’s something else that was telling. At the postgame press conference, Calipari sat on the podium in a casual pullover, shedding the suit and tie he had worn during the game. He appeared totally relaxed, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“I still like the group,” he said. “I like the locker room. You know, we’re a work in progress and there’s things we got to do that we’re not doing.”
Immediately after he departed, a member of the Missouri media leaned over and asked me if Calipari was always so nonchalant after a demoralizing loss.
“Yep,” I replied. “I hadn’t really noticed. I guess we’ve all gotten used to it.”
Perhaps that’s the real problem. We’ve all become too fat and happy in this new era of mediocrity. We’re settling for spaghetti when we should be feasting on filet mignon.
Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION. https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669
2 thoughts on “Spaghetti Lineups”
This should be front page in every newspaper in Ky. Truer words have yet to be written. Always love your stuff.
John, thank you for not sugar coating the current state of the UK basketball program. A gem of an article that should be placed in the Journalism Hall of Fame!