(Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Consistently inconsistent. That was the recurring theme for the 2022-23 Kentucky Wildcats as they sift through the obstacles that cut their season short. It was a roller coaster ride from start to finish. Had this been an actual roller coaster in an actual amusement park, thrill seekers would've gotten right back in line to ride again as soon as the ride was completed. The unpredictability was unprecedented.
Complete cohesiveness was never able to be attained. There were things beyond on-court chemistry. Some things were beyond everyone's control. Daimion Collins' father passed away on Nov. 1. I lost my dad unexpectedly almost two years ago, I'm in my 40's. I can't imagine losing my dad in his 40s just as I was entering my 20s.
Jacob Toppin was struggling and admittedly had never been at a lower point in his life.
The injury bug was a frequent visitor as well. The struggles by all to get on the same page were real. Add in Cal and the staff not always being certain of who to play, whom to play with whom and when to play them and you had yourself a nice recipe for a team that just never would be able to click and get rolling.
But hey, expectations are expectations. The fact that this team was never able to win six games in a row (the number of games required to win an NCAA title) even in the non-conference portion of the schedule is pretty telling. Stats and things are cool, but I don't hang onto every number or dive headlong into every single analytic that's available to be pored over. My little barometer that I've used since I was a kid has always been the schedule itself.
Indiana hasn't been on the schedule for years. UNC comes and goes but you get my point. The marquee conference games regardless of who they are and the two Tennessee games will usually be a decent indicator. An unblemished mark, or just one loss and the result is a pretty good season overall with a legit chance to contend for a championship, which is all you can ask for. There are, of course, exceptions and outliers. The 2014 team only went 3-2 in that span (only played Tennessee once that year too) but got it going late as we all remember and made it to the championship game. The 2017 squad was 2-3 and still made it to the Elite Eight.
This year's team went 4-3 (Louisville was historically bad, and sweeping Tennessee was fun) and bowed out in the second round to Kansas State. Since their seasons ended at the hands of the same opponent I had to look back on 2018 too. They went 2-4 (Louisville was coached by David Padgett, got swept by Tennessee) and in the end bowed out to Kansas State.
January, February, Kentucky. I'm not championship or bust, but Cal and the Cats have some work to do to restore that mantra.