It’s certainly possible the talent level of this year’s blue blood enrolled five stars is less than what it’s been recently. But I think lackluster coaching, in combination with newness, is hitting certain programs harder than expected. Yes, there’s overlap in the freshman/newness venn diagram. And yes, rankings don’t always correlate to actual college performance. But I think the correlation is strong enough for this argument.
In Kentucky’s case, I’m not sure how to distribute blame. Is it the players? The cream of this year’s Lexington newbies is five top 40 recruits (including #5 and #8) and Wake transfer Olivier Sarr. Cal tampered (allegedly) with/just landed 2019 #31 Oscar Tshiebwe; last year’s #24 recruit remains on the roster. All of that (mostly) paper talent is 5-10 with a loss to horrible Notre Dame and a blowout to Georgia Tech. Is it Calipari? Cal may be more salesman than coach, but it does take some level of coaching chops to turn freshmen, no matter how skilled, into a team over the course of a season. Until this year Calipari’s been able to do it.
Duke’s a different story. The cream of this year’s Durham newbies is four top 40 recruits, and the roster includes last year’s #12 and #29. My personal school of thought is Coach K’s been mailing it in since he switched to the one-and-done model. Now that his ones aren’t good enough to be done, he’s got a problem. This year’s five stars aren’t as good as 2018’s, but that doesn’t excuse the 6-5, 4-3 record. I put this entirely on K, especially with the ACC down this year.
Newness affects UVA the way inexperienced one-and-done recruits affect other schools. Hauser, Murphy, and Beekman are extremely skilled players, but they’re newbies as far as executing Virginia’s schemes during games. Check out the Hoos’ performances against San Francisco, Kent State, and Gonzaga. Or don’t. Yeesh. But unlike Cal and K, our coaching staff has been putting in work. Quality coaching has turned things around – raise your hand if you think Virginia would absolutely boat race San Fran and K State if we played them now. And no way does Gonzo score 98. I’m chalking this up to coaching.
Has Covid played a part? I’d say yes to some degree. Lack of practice affects inexperienced teams the most. But if those teams are well-coached, they’ll show improvement over the course of a season. K and maybe Cal are no longer coaching. Bennet and Roy Williams (mentioned in a couple of posts above) are.