There has been much talk around the college basketball world regarding the dominance of the Kentucky Wildcats. Two popular topics have been whether or not the Wildcats could beat the Philadelphia 76ers in a best-of-7 series, as well as the possibility of Kentucky going undefeated.
John Calipari’s squad has been stellar so far in 2014. Coming into Saturday’s matchup against Louisville, they had won all 12 of their games by at least ten points. And it’s not like all those wins have come against cupcakes, either. Kentucky has pummeled several perennial powerhouses already in the young season.
The Wildcats defeated Kansas 72-40, Texas 63-51, North Carolina 84-70 and UCLA 83-44. They have used a mixture of overpowering defense and solid offensive production to coast to a sterling season so far.
They played the closest game of the season against in-state archrival Louisville on Saturday, narrowly defeating the Cardinals 58-50. The eight point win was the smallest margin of victory all season, and the offense struggled for the majority of the game.
But the defense lived up to its hype, aggressively hounding Louisville all day long. The Wildcats held the Cardinals to only 15 field goals made and a horrid 26% field goal percentage. Louisville managed only one assist all game long, which was the fewest number of assists by a ranked team in college basketball history according to ESPN Stats & Info.
It’s that type of defense that gives the Wildcats a chance at perfection. At the beginning of the year, Calipari decided to implement a platoon system for his team, meaning two groups of five players rotate in and out of the game as Calipari sees fit. He thought that this would be the most efficient way to utilize his star-studded roster, which has nine McDonald’s All-Americans, and it has yielded fantastic results.
Five Wildcats who record significant minutes are at least 6’10”. Freshman guard Tyler Ulis is the shortest player on the team at 5’9”, but every other player who averages at least 10 minutes per game is 6’6” or taller. That size has overwhelmed teams all year, and should continue to do so for the rest of the season. The Wildcats open their conference slate on January 6, and there is not another ranked team on the schedule.
Kentucky has also garnered rave reviews from opposing coaches. After the Wildcats beat Louisville despite turning the ball over 18 times, Rick Pitino had some kind words for their Bluegrass rival.
“I know one thing,” Pitino said after the game. “They’re one of the great defensive teams I’ve seen in my 40 years.”
And after the Wildcats demolished UCLA on December 20, a flustered Steve Alford was even more complimentary of Kentucky.
“I don’t know in my 20 years of coaching at the Division 1 level that I’ve coached against a better team,” Alford said in his postgame press conference. “They have everything. They can shoot the basketball, they’re long, they’re athletic. They present so many problems for you because they’re so deep.”
So it is clear that Kentucky is the most talented team in the country, and it’s not really that close. Even when junior forward Alex Poythress suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice on December 11, the team didn’t miss a beat.
However, the more games they win, the more pressure they are going to feel every time out. They are also going to have a massive target on their backs, as opposing teams are going to do everything in their power to end the streak.
There is a reason that a team hasn’t completed a perfect regular season and won the championship since Indiana did it in the 1975-76 season.
It will be incredibly easy for the Wildcats to get a little complacent as they go through the SEC schedule. They are going to be heavily favored in every one of their remaining games, but if they start taking games for granted, there is a good chance they will lose a game.
But Calipari is taking the right approach to the perfection talks, saying that “they picked the Germans in World War II.” He is going to do everything he can to keep his players motivated and firing on all cylinders.
It is going to be a tall order for the ‘Cats, but if anyone can finish a season perfect, they have the best chance in recent memory. There haven’t been many teams in college basketball history, if any, with more talent than this Kentucky squad.
It is inevitable that adversity is going to come at some point in the season. But when it does, the Wildcats should be able to rely on their depth and skill to overcome it. On paper, they will win every single one of their remaining games, but basketball isn’t played on paper, it’s played on hardwood. And it’s up to Kentucky to continue to work hard and improve so they can make history.
And who knows, they could probably beat the 76ers too.