The reason behind Kentucky's struggles

Updated: January 29, 2013, 8:01 PM ET
By Seth Greenberg

What's the biggest theme to emerge in college basketball this season? Teams that have experienced players who are invested in their programs have established themselves as the elite teams in their respective conferences and in the nation. In contrast, some of the higher-profile teams that have struggled have done so in large part due to a lack of experienced, invested players.

The best example of the latter is the Kentucky Wildcats. If there was one program in the country that might be expected to overcome a lack of experience, it'd be the one that has hauled in the No. 1 recruiting class in three of the last four seasons. But while most fans probably credit super-freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (the top two picks in last season's NBA draft) with being the biggest reasons for the Wildcats winning the national title, Kentucky would not have won it without the leadership of three upperclassmen who were invested in winning. Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Terrence Jones helped coach the locker room and played with the sense of urgency you need to navigate the season.

Last season, when the Wildcats faced adversity, they had the maturity and experience to regroup and respond with a run. Their NCAA tournament game against Iowa State was a good example of this. Cyclones star Royce White was imposing his will, and the game was tied at 42. Instead of playing not to lose as the heavily favored team, the veteran leadership of Kentucky took over. Jones and Miller made back-to-back baskets, then Jones found Davis for an alley-oop. At that point, the game was effectively over.

If you put that core group of upperclassmen with this season's current group of freshmen, you probably wouldn't have a team on the same level as last season's title winner, but the Wildcats would be a Final Four team. Unfortunately for coach John Calipari, UK, which faces a critical conference matchup Tuesday night against the Ole Miss Rebels (9 p.m., ESPN), does not have a group of experienced upperclassmen this season.