BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- No one has ever accused John Calipari of understatement, but he might have been guilty of it with his assessment of his Kentucky team earlier this week.
"We're not where we need to be," Calipari said this week when he sat down with ESPN's Andy Katz.
The Cats aren't even in the neighborhood of where they need to be.
How did it happen? Let’s discuss:
Give the Buckeyes their due: Before we go on to dissect how the Wildcats lost, we need to pause and credit the Buckeyes. As lackluster and disinterested as the Wildcats looked until the final seven or so minutes, Ohio State played that hard from the tip. The Buckeyes hit shots early -- frankly, shots that they haven’t made all season -- and used that to not just build a nice cushion, but to bump up their confidence.
This is a team that has its limits and will have its challenges, but they outscrapped the Wildcats as much as anything. Virtually every 50-50 ball went Ohio State's way.
An example? With 1:28 left and the game pretty much on the line, the Buckeyes' Jae'Sean Tate scooped up a loose ball off a missed shot at the Ohio State end, scoring the easy bucket. That’s pretty much how it went the entire game.
No one starred for the Buckeyes -- four guys finished in double-figures, none with more than 14 points -- but they outworked the Wildcats on almost every possession.
So, what was wrong with Kentucky? One guy played hard. Jamal Murray nearly beat a team on his own, finishing with 33 points, 27 of them coming in the second half. He hit 7 3-pointers, every big shot and did his best to inspire his team, but one guy against five is typically very long odds.
A year ago, the Cats found themselves being observers of their own game, playing without fire and passion before finally remembering how good they were to win going away.
This team isn’t that team. It’s not nearly good enough to get by without trying hard. Teams sometimes can be victims of their own success, a new group presuming that life is easy because of the uniform it puts on, only to learn that the uniform doesn’t win games.
Kentucky right now looks like a team in danger of that malaise. It’s almost like they think, “Hey, we’re Kentucky. We win.’
The Wildcats need a wake-up call, and no doubt Calipari will provide it.
The numbers: Here’s the proof. Take Murray out of the equation and the Wildcats shot just 12-of-40 for the game. The big number in that: 12.
Eight other guys combining to make 12 shots. That won’t win many games.
Again, take Murray out and the Cats shot 2-of-10 from behind the arc. They were outrebounded by a much smaller team, 42-40. They got beat in the paint, 28-26, committed 12 turnovers which led to 16 Ohio State points, and maybe most telling of all, were beat on second-chance points 13-9.
Why does that last one matter? Because it’s about effort.
Skal is a mess: Labissiere certainly isn’t the biggest problem here. It’s bigger than that, but his continued regression isn’t helping. The big man had two points and five rebounds.
He looked timid, lost and was a complete non-factor. Projecting guys as top draft picks is not an exact science, and frankly, isn't always fair. By all accounts, Labissiere is a good kid who cares, but his motor is nonexistent and until he figures out how to play, he’s going to be more of a liability than an asset to Kentucky.