Tuesday, April 23, 2024

How did Kentucky, Duke find such struggles in 2020-2021? Let us count the ways

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The last time there was an NCAA tournament without Duke and Kentucky, there really wasn’t an “NCAA tournament,” and the term “Final Four” was not yet a staple in the sports lexicon. It was just a small group of accomplished basketball teams that would come together and play hoops until UCLA was crowned national champion.

The 1976 NCAA Basketball Championship went without the Wildcats or the Blue Devils. It wasn’t as bad back then that either of them was out, as it was still a time when the tournament field had recently been freed from its restriction to conference champions. and successful independents. Duke hadn’t been successful since 1966; it was Kentucky’s second missed tournament of the 1970s.

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It’s a big deal now. Under John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky and Duke have won three of the last 10 NCAA titles. Duke has participated in all tournaments since 1996; Kentucky has only missed twice since 1992. And that’s a sudden drop, because if there had been a tournament in March 2020, chances are each would have been at least a No.3 seed.

So what went wrong?

Why is Kentucky 5-11 and seventh in the Southeastern Conference? Why will Duke go 7-6 in his first game against rivals North Carolina this season, with neither ranked for the first time since February 1960? Some of us weren’t even born when this game took place.

The answer: a lot.

Recruitment. It starts here for the Blue Devils and Wildcats. Although they have entered the season, with recruiting classes # 1 and 3, it is important to understand how the methodology of these rankings works. Landing an abundance of five-star and four-star players is a big deal, even if one of them doesn’t change the game like Anthony Davis or Marvin Bagley – or, more specifically, Cade Cunningham or Evan Mobley.

“I think the fundamental difference is that when you count on one-year-olds, first-graders, there’s a big difference between the infallible pro – Cade Cunningham, John Wall – and the kid who is fair. half a step down, “said 247 Sports recruiting analyst Brian Snow.” Especially when you’re up against guys aged 22, 23. “

None of the freshmen from Duke or Kentucky are averaging even 14 points per game, and only three of those players are in double digits. And that’s with seven of them starting regularly.

Cunningham and Mobley both did Sporting News mid-season All-America team. Cunningham chose to attend Oklahoma State, where his brother was hired in 2019 to be an assistant coach. Mobley chose Southern California, where his father was hired as a coach in 2018.

Additionally, two of 2020’s top five prospects, goalkeeper Jalen Green and big man Jonathan Kuminga, have chosen to accept offers to join the G League pathway program.

It was much more difficult to get the best players.

The promising players they got, like Brandon Boston in the UK and Jalen Johnson at Duke, struggled in some areas.

“It’s not that transformative type of talent. It’s really good talent,” Snow said. “They can’t be the best player on your team at 18, and I think Duke and Kentucky are up against that.”

Retention. Perhaps the biggest problem that has developed is that so many players entering these programs think that just being recruited by them magically turns them into elite professional prospects.

Hey, it happened for some. Kentucky had three players ranked outside of the top 30 in their high school classes (Eric Bledsoe, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyler Herro) turned into first-round draft picks. Justise Winslow was the 13th player in his recruiting class and the NBA’s 10th pick in the first round a year later.

But it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Some have been judicious about their project prospects; PJ Washington stayed in Kentucky for his second year and became a lottery pick. Immanuel Quickley became the 2020 SEC Player of the Year and a Knicks first-round pick. Grayson Allen stayed with Duke for four years and became the 21st pick in the 2018 Draft.

These are however exceptions. There have been more players like EJ Montgomery, who went undrafted after averaging 4.8 points and 4.6 rebounds for his two-year career in the UK. And why not? He scored 4.8 points per game. He now plays in Lithuania for Nevezis Optibet and averaging 2.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.

Duke’s Cassius Stanley is averaging 12.6 points and shot 36% of 3 as a rookie last season. He lasted until the 54th pick in the 2020 Draft. He played eight games with the Pacers, but will now join the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the G League.

They seem to feel the pressure or the expectation to immediately succeed as potential candidates because of where they have chosen to go to college. Duke has had four players since leaving 2018, with eligibility still to be selected in the second round, and two more who were not drafted. Kentucky had three of those players selected in the second round and three others were not drafted.

“Some of the kids decide to go to these places, and all they want to do is rent Duke or Kentucky, not buy Duke or Kentucky,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla told SN. “They may like Coach K or Coach Cal, but they don’t really want to join the program.”

Evaluation. With Ashton Hagans leaving Kentucky after his second season, the Wildcats secured the signing of point guard Devin Askew of Mater Dei in California. Although he had to reclassify to enter college in 2020, Askew was positioned for the job (and responsibility) that has belonged to stars such as Wall and Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s not good enough to handle it. Askew averages 6.6 points and 2.9 assists despite playing 30 minutes per game.

None of Duke’s freshman guards, DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach, even shoot 34% from a distance of 3 points.

They can become actors who can make a difference. But they have to stay for that to happen.

Pandemic. Calipari said on his radio show Thursday that he had always believed in the developmental time the UK spent in summer and early autumn in the years before COVID-19 had such an impact on how college sports work in 2020. But seeing everything that was compromised underscored its importance.

The many young players from both programs haven’t had the opportunity to go through the typical summers or preseason, and most importantly they haven’t had the experience of playing in shows or closed scrums.

It made it harder to be ready for the season.

Planning. As he neared the start of the season, Calipari warned that he was past the Young Wildcats’ hours and fans should be patient. Even he underestimated how wrong he was in this department.

With the timeline curtailed due to the pandemic, the UK has lost a number of the ‘buy games’ usually held at Rupp Arena which help make money at the sports department and help the team survive. calm down in the demands of the hoops of the big conferences.

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The Wildcats played only one game against a major opponent, Morehead State. All other games have been against a major opponent. They haven’t had the chance to feel comfortable with the system, with their roles, with the idea of ​​playing Division I basketball. Winning is a habit, just like losing. It is clear which one has become the most familiar.

Duke had similar issues for different reasons. He faced off against Coppin State and Bellarmine, but three similar games were canceled due to COVID protocols; one was to be postponed, but when Krzyzewski became concerned about how the pandemic was affecting his players, he canceled the game so his players could take a Christmas break.

And so the 2020-21 season hasn’t been a holiday either.

“There is no doubt that the older teams that come into this particular season are slightly less affected,” said Fraschilla. “The level of talent at Duke and Kentucky has not been able to overcome the drawbacks that have developed due to the pandemic.

“There has been adversity every day, in so many different forms. And the fact that these two recruiting classes, by Duke and Kentucky criteria, are below par. But such an important factor, for me, is that their competition figured out the only way [for] these teams to compete is to build older teams that can compete with young and talented teams. “


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