TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

March 19, 2013

Wildcats need to look forward instead of up

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The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — With the NCAA Tournament brackets set and the selection show behind us, I have to admit that this year was the first time I can really remember being as interested in how the pairings were laid out.

Not that I haven’t paid attention in the past, but I guess due to the fact that Kentucky’s uncertainty as far as being in or out of the tournament was in question.

Sure, I remember when the Wildcats failed to make the dance in 2009, but no one really expected them to make it that season and to be honest, I didn’t really care.

This season, as bad as they played at times, I still feel like Kentucky should have been in the tournament. If for no other reason, they are the defending national champions. In addition, the fact they would draw more fans than some of the schools’ enrollment total means the NCAA is losing out on a ton of money when it comes to ticket sales.

I love the way the NCAA Tournament is done, but a free ride for the defending champion is something I feel like the NCAA should have done a long time ago. I just imagine that teams would want to have knocked out the defending champ in the process of becoming the new champion.

In the grand scheme of things, the way this year’s team has played is the price Kentucky fans have to pay if they want to continuously be the gear that drives the one-and-done machine.

Yes, we are getting some of the top high school basketball players in the nation on a regular basis. But that doesn’t always mean you’re going to have the best college players in the nation once they get on the court together.

A lot of times I feel like high school players are overrated based on whom they’ve played against and the talent level they are surrounded by.

For example, we have some very talented players in the 13th Region and by watching teams day in and day out, I feel like I’m a fairly good judge of our local talent. We’ve seen players dominate a game or even a tournament, but even though we may feel like that person is one of the best we’ve seen, you have to look at the competition that player is facing.

I’m not by any stretch taking a shot at our local talent, but I am saying that you have to consider the strength of a team’s schedule when evaluating what we consider to be a “great player.”

In the end, bringing a group of great players together doesn’t always mean that you’re going to have a great team. The Wildcats have a very talented group of players on this year’s roster, but they’ve probably never had to play as a team or depend on four other teammates to win a game.

When you get to the Division I level, you’re no longer playing against teenagers and underclassmen who are in awe of your ability to drive the lane and throw up some circus shot. Nor are they impressed by a 7-foot kid jumping over a defender that is a foot-and-a-half shorter than him to dunk the ball.

The problem with this year’s Wildcats was not only the fact that we, as fans, were in awe of them from the word go, but the fact they were in awe of themselves on a continuous basis.

Instead of making plays, they were more interested in who was watching when they were trying (and failing) to make those plays.

Basketball isn’t a game that can be played while your team is looking up at the big screen. If coach Cal can get his team to look forward next season, this time next year we’ll all be laughing all the way to another national title.

• On another note, I want to apologize for omitting Lynn Camp's Skylar McFarland from the box score of Sunday's 13th Region All-Star game. McFarland played well and finished with 16 points in the game. Again, apologies to he and the Lynn Camp staff.