Tag Archives: John Calipari

Why are blue blood college basketball programs struggling?

A blue blood is someone who is wealthy and powerful. In terms of college basketball, the phrase describes programs that have consistently produced postseason success, won championships and sent players to the NBA.

However, blue blood programs like Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have suffered through varying degrees of struggles during the 2020-2021 season. 

What has caused this decline? The answer is multi-layered.

The number one problem could be the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused not only games to be postponed, but has had lasting effects on players who test positive. 

Former Duke star Jayson Tatum said he has struggled to breathe since returning to the floor after a bout with COVID. On the gridiron, Myles Garrett expressed similar sentiments. 

When it comes to tangible statistics, consider Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic, who tested positive for COVID in January and since returning has scored a total of four points after leading the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage. 

“I’ve talked to Mike (Krzyzewski), Roy (Williams) and all the guys I’m on the (NCAAB) committee with and a lot of people are talking about the exact same things and I don’t think you can appreciate it unless you have kids going through a tough time with the COVID,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo told local reporters during his weekly press conference on Feb. 18. “They always say mental health, it’s hard to handle yourself mentally with all the things that have been thrown at them this year (with the pandemic) so then you lose a little bit and it gets exacerbated. There’s no question about it.”

UNC sits at 13-7 while Kentucky, Duke and MSU (¾ of the Champions Classic) combine for a 26-29 record. A far cry from when these three teams were in the Final Four six seasons ago. 

But is COVID the sole reason behind the struggles? No, fans can also easily forget the importance of offseason practices, preseason exhibition games and the camaraderie of being in a team setting… all of which has been stripped away in the world of social distancing. 

Another interesting note is that the three blue bloods mentioned above rely heavily on either freshman or players that didn’t play over the past few seasons. Duke and Kentucky have gone the “one and done” recruiting route but their players never got a chance to assimilate into college basketball action before the season started.

Duke, Kentucky and MSU have also all used freshmen guards like A.J. Hoggard, Brandon Boston Jr. and Jeremy Roach to lead their teams. 

Conversely, the teams that lead the ACC, Big Ten and SEC have been able to rely on upperclassmen talent at the guard positions. Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, Alabama’s John Petty Jr. and UVA’s Kihei Clark have all had big impacts. 

With that being said, how many years have teams like Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, UVA and Iowa finished above the blue bloods in the standings and in the AP Top 10? Not only are the blue bloods struggling, but teams who haven’t enjoyed the same level of consistency over the past 20 years are now having all-time seasons.  

We talked about the lack of offseason, COVID-19, the importance of veteran guards and the emergence of new conference threats but should the blue bloods be worried long term? Probably not.

Longevity means something. Duke and MSU have made the NCAA tournament 24 and 22 consecutive years, respectively. That doesn’t happen by accident. John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats followed up missing the NCAA tournament in 2013 with a championship appearance in 2014, after winning the championship in 2012.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari (pictured sitting in the team huddle) talks to his team during the 2013-2014 season. Just a season prior, his team missed the tournament. Will the Wildcats make a similar turnaround next year?

In statistics, we would call the 2020-2021 season an outlier for the blue bloods so if you’re a fan of those teams… don’t worry it will probably get better and if you aren’t… enjoy the misery of some of college basketball’s elites. 

2020 NBA Draft Preview: Tyrese Maxey 6’3 198 G-Kentucky

What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): The lightning quickness in the lane jumps out when watching video on Maxey. His slender frame and ball handling abilities allows him to get to places that other guards can’t get to on the floor. Uses screens to get open off the ball (1st half, Michigan State ‘18).  Big game player. In games versus top-ranked Michigan State and the third-ranked Louisville Cardinals this past season, Maxey had his two best scoring games against those opponents (26 and 27 points respectively). Despite a subpar shooting percentage from beyond the arc during his freshman season, Maxey does show NBA range and strong shooting mechanics (83% free throw percentage). The Kentucky guard  is listed at 6’3″ but isn’t incredibly long despite being a willing rebounder (4.3 per game). 

Weaknesses: Size and position fit are the major question marks with Maxey. Can he guard opposing shooting guards at the next level? If he is asked to play point guard full time, he will have to improve his 3:2 turnover/assist ratio. Evidenced by his shooting numbers, Maxey settles from time-to-time and would be better served tweaking his shot selection. 

Maxey -a second-team All-SEC selection- shot 83.3% from the free throw line in 2019-20.

Other Notes:

  • Attended South Garland High School (Tx.).  He was rated as a top 15 recruit by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports. 
  • Father, Tyrone, played basketball at Washington State and previously served as the Director of Player Development at Southern Methodist University. 
  • Was named Texas Mr. Basketball in 2019 and played in the McDonald’s All-American game, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit.
  • 2019-2020 (31 gms, 28 sts): 14.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.2 AST, 43% FG,  29% 3FG, 83% FT

Time to get NASTY (Our Summary): When it was crunch time, Kentucky head coach John Calipari entrusted Maxey to make plays. Scouts will rave about his late game heroics but how will he hold up defensively at the next level? We believe Maxey would enjoy the most success if paired with a taller guard like Dallas’ Luka Doncic or Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons. Look for the Kentucky guard to start his career as a spark plug off the bench, who can get opposing guards in foul trouble. At 6-foot-3, can Maxey play the shooting guard position? Teams will question his ability to play the point guard spot, but he showed himself well at the position during his final regular season game against Florida (at that position). In that contest, Maxey finished with seven assists and just one turnover.