What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Yes, you read that headline correctly. We all know that Kentucky is a prohibitive favorite to win this year’s episode of March Madness, but in my world “prohibitive” does not mean “lock.” I know the first weekend of this tournament will feature a Wildcat team that could conceivably finish in the play-offs of the NBA’s Eastern conference (before you guffaw at that, consider that only means being better than Indiana or the MASH unit known as Miami) matched against teams whose players by this time next year will be engineers or accountants, but there’s four games past that in which the Wildcats will assuredly face stiffer competition than they faced in their conference schedule.
That’s why in these last minutes of bracket-filling mania, I thought it might be wise to consider to entirely possible reasons why Kentucky may not be the team cutting down the nets in Indianapolis in three weeks.
1) How Good Are They (Really)?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at how the Wildcats performed against ranked opponents.
When you break this down, you realize one major fact about Kentucky. They’ve only had one opportunity in Louisville to face a “Top 10” team on the road, and that team took a free-fall from #8 in the polls to a #4 seed in the tournament. The same fate befell North Carolina, who is over-rated in that place. Texas went from the Top 10 to an #11 seed. Arkansas comes into the tournament as a #5, but I don’t think they are that good.
This also means that in all of Kentucky’s 34 wins to date, they’ve only faced one ranked team who has continued to look like a contender. Even then, as far as Kansas is concerned, their record suggests they might be another “home court wonder.” Away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have lost to (besides Kentucky) Temple, Iowa State (twice), Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State, and Oklahoma. Granted, The Cyclones and the Sooners both come into the tournament as #3 seeds, but after that, only West Virginia (#5) and Oklahoma State (#9) made the “Big Dance.”
In other words, nobody really has an honest idea of what will happen when they face legitimate “Final Four” talent. One game four months ago is not a real indicator.
2) Everybody Has An Off-Night
No matter how good they are, every team has a bad night, particularly when you are the “King of the Hill.” Everybody, players and fans get all whipped up to take on the big dog on the block, and when you are Kentucky, that means every night you face an opponent who treats that night like it’s the pinnacle of their season.
So far, Kentucky has had three nights just like that, and they haven’t had to take a punch from a worthy adversary on one of those nights yet. Not to slight those teams involved, but to be fair, those post-New Years hangover overtime games against Mississippi and Texas A&M were just that..hangovers that luckily didn’t happen against the likes of Virginia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, or Duke. Yeah, you can tell me all about how LSU gave the Wildcats a serious run, but we all know that was another off-night for Kentucky against a team that lost to Old Dominion and Missouri, the worst “big-conference” team in the NCAA.
3) Let’s Face It…SEC Basketball Sucks
Can you tell me the last NCAA champion not named Kentucky? Pat yourself on the back if you said the two-time champ Florida squad of 2006 and 2007. Now for “Double Jeopardy” where the scores can really change. Can you tell be the most recent NCAA champion not named Florida or Kentucky? You’re on a roll if you said Nolan Richardson’s 1994 Arkansas team. Think you are ready for Final Jeopardy? Want to take a stab at the last NCAA champ from the SEC not already named here?
It’s a trick question…there isn’t one. The NCAA champion has some from the SEC 11 times, and Kentucky accounts for 8 of those. Even today, the SEC isn’t much when it comes to hoops. The pre-season AP poll had only two SEC squads; Kentucky at #1 and Florida at #7. Since then, Kentucky has remained at #1 wire-to-wire, but Florida might as well be in the basketball version of the Witness Protection Program. By Week 4, they were nowhere to be found anywhere in the AP Top 25, and it wouldn’t be until mid-season that Arkansas crept into the #23 spot. Otherwise, Kentucky spent a long stretch as the SEC’s sole representative in the Top 25.
That matters because it was pretty clear that Kentucky was on cruise control for long stretches of their conference schedule. You can do that in a league where nobody cares about basketball. You can’t go undefeated on cruise control in a hoops-crazy conference like the B1G Ten or the ACC. There’s a big difference between mailing in a road win in Baton Rouge versus earning one at notoriously hostile environments for visitors like Duke or Michigan State.
4) They Can be Mis-Matched
As good as Kentucky is, it is entirely possible they can be beaten by size; they really haven’t really faced talented bigs yet. You can’t tell me John Calipari doesn’t wonder about Wisconsin, with 7-footer Frank Kaminsky who can score from anywhere and 6’10” Sam Dekker who can bat any wing defender off the dribble and has posterized more than one NBA player. Suppose that match-up doesn’t materialize. There’s always Gonzaga with it’s twin 7-footers and dueling 6’10” scoring forwards. Kentucky has made it’s bones on defense, but short of that early-season manhandling of Kansas, they haven’t faced a big who can handle the ball yet.
OK, Arkansas fans…here’s your shot to tell me how great Bobby Portis allegedly is…
5) Misguided Goals
Not only is Kentucky aiming for another national championship in 2015, but it seems like this is all about “40-0 or Bust” run. It isn’t enough now they are the best team, and it won’t be enough to be the champion. They want that perfect 40-0 record, setting a record for wins in season along the way and becoming the first undefeated team since Indiana did it in 1976.
So, let’s tie up points 2,3, and 4 with one piece of twine. Ask yourself what happens when Kentucky is down to a team like Virginia team that plays defense like an octopus mating with a set of bagpipes? Or to a Wisconsin team that has the most efficient offense in the country?
Can the mostly underclassmen Wildcats swallow a hard dose of adversity when the first time they will face it comes on national television? Gone are the days of lolly-gagging through the obscurity of the Baton Rouges and the Stark-ghanistans of the SEC. From this point forward, every move they make will have million of viewers…live. Are the Kentuckians ready to step up in a brawl for their life in front of an entire nation against a team that knows it has a realistic shot to win, and more importantly, knows it has something to fight for other than bragging rights?
That officially brings us to the eternal question we get this time of year…when will we get the first #16 to knock of a #1? Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Hampton has as much chance of taking out Kentucky as Kris Humphries getting make-up sex from Kim Kardashian while riding on the back of an albino water buffalo in a Shriner’s Parade in Omaha.
But what if it (gasp) actually happens? Kentucky’s legacy of failure would be greater than of the Buffalo Bills, “New” Coke, and the “Octo-Mom’s” diaphragm combined.
That’s actually the big problem here, because now as we head into the tournament, losing is no longer an option. 40-0 is longer a nicety on the way to a title; it’s all or nothing now. Nobody remembers a one-hitter as a blown no-hitter if the sole runner reached base in the third inning; that’s reserved for the ninth. The Wildcats are now in the ninth, and every opponent, no matter big or small, represents the chance to blow the no-hitter.
6) I Picked Them To Win
Forget everything I’ve just said. If there was ever a reason to not put Kentucky at the top of your bracket, that’s it. A simple walk through my tournament history will tell you all you need to know.