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UK basketball: Can one game make a season?

Travis Herro (Mont Dawson Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

Can one game make a season? Can a blowout loss to a rival like Duke ruin the entire basketball season? Or can a neutral court win in convincing fashion over the North Carolina Tar Heels create a guaranteed great season? How about a 13-point win over the hated Louisville Cardinals at the Yum Center? Does that create the necessary good feeling needed to stamp a season as successful?

The truth is that no individual game marks the beginning or ending of a great season — unless it is the National Championship game.  Even then there are a lot of other factors that must be taken into account to judge if an overall season should be deemed a success.

By acknowledging that position it can also be acknowledged that  Kentucky losing the SEC season opening basketball game to Alabama in Tuscaloosa is not the end of the season. Conversely had UK beaten Alabama by 15 points in Coleman Coliseum that would not have signaled the beginning of a great season.

It might have shown that on a continuum of games the team was continuing to improve but unfortunately for all in involved basketball improvement doesn’t occur in a linear fashion — at any level. It always occurs in ups and downs, stops and starts, erratically in a game by game fashion. Individual players improve but not always at the same pace or in the same areas. While one player may be improving in free throw shooting another player may improve his perimeter defense.

Those improvements may not complement each other in one particular game but taken game by game, improvement by improvement they can collectively move the team forward towards success at the end of the year. The key is to not lose sight of the ultimate goal — overall individual and team improvement over time – that will allow a team to compete for and win a conference or national championship.

So back to the original question. Can one game make a season? Win or lose. Does that one game determine if the season is successful? Winning the National Championship would be considered the pinnacle of success for a college team but would losing one — or not even getting the opportunity to play for one — be the mark of a team’s failure? And if losing that one game is considered the mark of failure does that mean losing to your rival is also the mark of a complete failure as a team and a coach?

None of those scenarios should be used to determine if a team’s overall season was successful. Here’s why. At the end of every game there is only one winner and one loser. Those winners and losers are determined by many factors — some of which can be controlled by the players and coaches and some of which cannot. Great coaches work to control every variable they can. They practice certain game situations, they teach fundamentals of the game, they control player’s diets and workouts and scheme development and on and in.

But they can’t control the emotions of a particular player on a particular day. They can’t control the crowd noise or playing conditions or even the officials that will call the game. And they can’t completely control the performance level of an opponent’s players on any given day. They can work hard to attempt to do that but sometimes opposing players step up and play above their normal performance level in one particular game and there’s not much a team can do — other than sticking to a good game plan and giving an all out effort — to change that.

So at the end of the day success should really be determined by the overall achievement of the team. Did they perform better than expected, did they improve as individual and team players and yes did they win a championship — be it a division or conference or national championship or even a bowl championship?

Make no mistake that competitions are about winning. That’s why they have a scoreboard and keep score. But sometimes winning and success get confused. A player or team can be a success and still not win a national or conference championship. If not, a then there are 318 other schools in Division I college basketball that have no reason to play this year.

3 comments

  1. If one either wins or learns, then the educator in me says let’s lose, lose, and lose some more.

    I believe that losing teaches how to accept losing first and foremost.

    If the only time a coach can break through and teach his players is following a loss, then there is something rotten in Denmark, and that smell comes from the head. It may eventually affect the entire body, but to stop the rot, the head must be removed.

    Now to Keith’s question, a season should not be measured by its peaks or its valleys but its average quality of play. Teams will play better than average about 1/2 of the time and that same team will play poorer than average about 1/2 of the time. Comparing the average levels of Teams A and B gives a reliable expression of the relative difference between those teams.

    Most years, the statistical noise created by the random ups and downs calms down after 5 to 8 games, and at that point the mean, the average becomes a reliable measure. Most years, that calmed down initial value compares with small variations to the average for a team at the end of the season. However, some teams can change their statistical profile at some point in the season, and usually that change occurs gradually. This year, it is entirely possible, and I believe likely, that this UK team’s statistical profile changed on a quantum level after their 6th game, the Alabama loss notwithstanding.

  2. The measure of success for UK basketball is winning championships, SEC, and then the NC, plain and simple IMO. It has come to be expected at Kentucky as the main measure of success in my view. Certainly no individual game marks the ending of a season quite like a loss during the NCAA tourney to a team many fans believe UK should have beaten. Worse still would be if UK was not one of the 65 teams or so selected to play in the big dance. That would be a disaster for UK, and a development that would send many in this state to the brink of despair. While there are going to be losses along the way at times in this day of abounding talent everywhere, UK should never lose to Duke by 34. Since this has already occurred, the success of this 2018-19 UK team will be measured on how well they finish.

  3. We have bigs who are selfish and lazy. We have only one or two players who consistently show effort on the defensive end. This team is a bunch of prima donnas who want it to all be about them and that’s why this team is doomed to an NIT appearance AGAIN.

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