Maybe it’s because it’s August and there isn’t much else to talk about, and maybe it’s because anything written about Kentucky on the internet is sure to garner clicks, but it seems as if Kentucky going undefeated in 2013-2014 has become a thing that everyone is talking about.
Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com said he thinks Kentucky will go 40-0 on Kentucky Sports Radio last week. Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News and Nicole Auerbach of USA Today both penned responses that more or less list the hurdles that the Wildcats will have to clear to make it that far.
The guy that started all of this?
Well, John Calipari.
“We’re chasing perfection. We’re chasing greatness. We’re chasing things that have never been done in the history of our game,” Calipari said during a May news conference. “I don’t mind a little pressure. I’ve had it my whole career. I’ve had the gun to my head for 20-something years. And you know what? I’m at my best when the gun is to my head.”
And frankly, the chatter isn’t unwarranted. Kentucky has seven or eight guys that could end up being first round picks whenever they enter the NBA Draft, which is as much talent as we’ve seen on one team in recent memory. They also happen to play in the SEC, which is a league that offers up just one other team — Florida — that has a real shot of being a Final Four team. If Jeronne Maymon can’t get healthy, Missouri’s newcomers don’t mesh with their returnees, and LSU doesn’t live up to some of their offseason hype, there’s a chance that UK and UF are the only two tournament teams in the league.
That makes for an easy stretch run, doesn’t it?
But there are a couple of things to remember here:
1. There’s a reason no one has gone undefeated since 1976: It’s not an easy thing to do, especially for a team that’s essentially made up of freshmen and unproven sophomores. Every single game that Kentucky plays this season will be the biggest game of the year for whoever they are playing. It’s been like that since John Calipari arrived in Lexington, but that a) doesn’t make the process any easier and b) has nothing to do with the crop of newcomers coming to campus this season.
2. Michigan State is going to be really good: Trips to North Carolina and Florida are going to be tough games to win, and beating the defending national champs in Rupp is not going to be an easy thing to do, but I’d say that the most difficult game on Kentucky’s schedule this season will be their November 12th matchup with the Spartans in the Champions Classic. The Spartans are not only a top five team in the country and a favorite to win the Big Ten and make the Final Four, but they are a veteran group whose core has been together for a couple of years now. They’ve been through the ringer together. They also happen to have arguably the best game-planner in the country in Tom Izzo.
Kentucky is young. This will be the first time that this group of freshmen is playing on a college game on national TV against a team that’s any good. It will be at the United Center, and will be the third game that the Cats play in a five-day stretch. That’s a tough matchup that early in the season.
3. Are there enough shots to go around?: I’ve said this time and again, but the single biggest concern I have for Kentucky this season is that there may simply be too much talent on this roster. The reason that the 2012 team was so good was that their two best players — the top two picks in the 2012 NBA Draft — were essentially glorified role players. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis didn’t need to get a certain number of shots. They defended and they hustled and they set the tone for that team.
And this year’s group has more talent than the 2012 team. No one can convince a star to play a role like Coach Cal can, but this will be his toughest job to date.
Honestly, I hope that Kentucky makes a run at going undefeated. How much fun will their matchup with Florida to end the regular season be with a perfect regular season on the line? Imagine a Final Four with Kentucky playing Duke or Louisville with an undefeated record on the line. That’d be awesome.
It’s not often that we see history in sports, and that’s fun for fans (and for writers!!!), but if we’re being completely honest, I think that 40-0 is going to be much more difficult to achieve that Big Blue Nation realizes.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.