Kentucky's Tournament to Lose

Kentucky Men's College Basketball

It's Kentucky's Tournament to Lose.

Does That Make the Tournament Less Interesting?

Say what you want about John Calipari.  His teams are always in a championship position.  As head coach of UMass, Memphis, and now Kentucky, Calipari has taken every program he has coached to at least the Final Four.   He is not always well-liked or admired.  He is often considered a blow-hard full of coachspeak who does not run his programs or recruiting practices according to NCAA guidelines.  UMass and Memphis had to vacate their Final Four runs from the Calipari era due to violations.  Be that as it may, Calipari’s in-game coaching is among the best in the country, and he is without a doubt the best recruiter in the nation. 

Thanks to their coach, the 2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcats are in the midst of a historic run.   They head into the NCAA Tournament without a loss, looking to be the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to cap an undefeated season with a championship.  With nine McDonald’s All-Americans in his lineup, he essentially has a “starting 10.”  They are nearly impossible to match-up with in terms of size and depth, and they play a stifling defensive style that puts shooters on their heels.  They have had a few close calls, but they are 34-0.  They are the clear favorite to win Kentucky’s second national title under Calipari.  So the question is:  if this team is so dominant, is there really any point to watching the Big Dance this year?

There is great risk of an anticlimactic feeling if Kentucky hoists the trophy on April 6th.  You’ve spent all this time watching quality basketball in the hopes of great drama.  You are assured a smattering of some early-round magic.  But really, if Kentucky wins, won’t it feel like a waste of time to have wished for some team to mar the Wildcats’ unblemished season?  They began the as the favorite in November, and they end the year as champions.  Whoop-di-doo.

As a sports enthusiast, I am excited every year for the NCAA tournament regardless of near-certain outcomes.  It is the greatest American sporting event.  However, I do think that the bracket is simply a formality this year.  Kentucky has the most talent.  They have proven it on the court all season.  Love him or hate him, Calipari is one of few coaches who could handle that many egos so masterfully.  Kentucky should be the team cutting down the nets this year.  To me, a national championship game featuring the Wildcats will be the least interesting contest of the entire three-week spectacle.  I’m more interested in the other 60 games. 

All that being said, we need to remind ourselves of the college basketball mantra that will hold as true 100 years from now as it does today:  It’s March.  The skies open up, mythical creatures rise from the underworld, and Earth’s equilibrium is off-kilter.  College basketball’s giants can fall.  Everything that Kentucky represents – history, exceptional talent, dominance – is vulnerable, if only by a miniscule amount.   Sure, it’s unlikely that they lose.  But tell that to UNLV against Duke in 1991.  Tell that to Georgetown against Villanova in 1985.  Those Wildcats played lights out.  They shot over 75% and took down the mighty Hoyas.  Who’s to say that cannot happen again?  Look, not advancing Kentucky to the championship on your bracket is bad business.  Smart money is playing the odds.  I’ve accepted that all those future NBA stars will be standing on ladders on April 6th.  Unless, of course there is a rip in the space-continuum and everything we know about the 2014-2015 version of the Kentucky Wildcats is wrong.  The uber-talented, history-makers take a tumble in the tourney.  Hey, it could happen.  It’s March.


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