Kentucky basketball is floundering, and many students demand a change


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari walks off the court after the No. 19 Kentucky vs. Missouri mens basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. Missouri won 89-75. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Tyler Russell, Reporter

Kentucky basketball is struggling, and it is struggling badly.

The Wildcats started out as the No. 4 team in the country in the AP Top 25 preseason poll but have quickly plummeted to the point of not even receiving a single vote, and not even looking close. 

Many are pointing fingers at players and trying to find someone to blame for this mess of a season thus far. Could it be the coaching? 

For some Kentucky fans, it’s now become about doing their best to push head coach John Calipari out of Lexington.

Where did it all go wrong? Calipari took Kentucky to four final fours, one of which resulted in a national championship in 2012, and also has had numerous winning seasons.

The idea of moving on from Calipari really found its footing last March when Kentucky was stunned by the No. 15 seeded Saint Peter’s Peacocks. Even then, it seemed like an outrageous idea to many, but in the wake of the 2022-23 season and the struggles that have come with it, many on campus are hopping on board with that way of thinking. 

“You go to Alabama on the road, get blown out and then you lose to the worst team in the SEC at home. It is kind of a rough look,” Kentucky sophomore Landry Gray stated. “I don’t want to lose confidence on the team yet, but it is kind of looking like we are going to have to if Cal can’t straighten them out.”

Kentucky was embarrassed by Alabama, being run off the court 78-52, in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 7. The team followed that up with an enraging loss to the struggling Gamecocks from South Carolina on Tuesday.

With those performances, some have chosen to look deeper into the coaching aspect of the sport and placed the blame for this mess of a season on who has been playing.

One Kentucky fan and student, Conor Morrisard, simply stated, “stop playing (Sahvir) Wheeler.”

Wheeler, the starting point guard, has struggled this season, turning the ball over numerous times and making questionable plays. 

“The way he (Calipari) is coaching now is how he’s coached forever, and it is just not working anymore,” sophomore Brady Stephenson said. “(Basketball has) evolved to where it’s more than just the paint play. If you don’t have shooters on the court, then it’s just going to be a cluster-mess.”

To add to Stephenson’s claim, five-star freshman Cason Wallace currently leads the Cats in 3-point percentage right now with 41.9%, yet he is still averaging less minutes than Wheeler, who has one of the lowest field goal percentages on the team with 41.5%.

As a result, there is much contention as to which of the two truly deserves to be the starting point guard.

While the 2022-23 season has failed to live up to expectations, it may be safe to assume that, even with the struggles, the vitriol towards Calipari may not be as pronounced as it is had Kentucky been successful in recent seasons.

With the NCAA Tournament being canceled in 2020, and Kentucky following that up by missing the “big dance” entirely in 2021 for the second time under Calipari, many fans breathed a sigh of relief as the Cats finished the 2021-22 season as a No. 2 seed heading into the tournament.

Now though, with the aforementioned loss to Saint Peter’s, many fans feel as though they haven’t properly seen postseason basketball from Kentucky in three seasons.

Now, with the current team not on track to make the tournament barring a turnaround, four years may simply be too long to ask fans to be patient.

“For the potential we have, we usually don’t live up to it,” Kentucky senior Caleb Smith said. “We haven’t in the last, I’d say two or three years possibly. I know we have a good recruiting class coming in next year, so I hope it goes good, but I don’t know.”

While the majority was critical, Calipari does still have his supporters on campus.

“I think he’s a good coach,” freshman Conor Morrisard said. “You shouldn’t take him for granted even though we’ve had some bad losses. He’s better than most coaches you’ll find out there.”

Several others like Morrisard still have faith in “Coach Cal” to turn this year’s team around, but regardless of how many are still in his corner, it’s increasingly clear that more and more fans are becoming frustrated with the state of the basketball program.

With rumors swirling about Texas potentially hoping to poach the Hall of Fame coach, it’s no stretch to say there’s a large portion of the Kentucky faithful actively hoping the Longhorns do so.

Whether or not Calipari and Kentucky are on a downward spiral that the pair will be unable to overcome is uncertain, but each passing game sees more and more fans reach their breaking point.

With a matchup against No. 5 Tennessee scheduled for Saturday, Kentucky has a pivotal opportunity to get back within the good graces of some fans, but it also has just as much of an opportunity to be embarrassed in rival territory all over again.

Tipoff against the Volunteers is scheduled for noon EST and can be viewed live on ESPN.