By Josh Kramer
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Anthony Davis? I will be the first to say that Kentucky is not my favorite team in the world. To be entirely honest, they are probably my least favorite team in America. Kentucky, also known as the “Big Blue Nation,” is arguably the most tradition filled program in college basketball and their fans make sure that you are fully aware of it. They are the end-all be-all of sports in the Bluegrass State. Either way, there is no denying just how well this team is playing right now.
This year’s Kentucky team has people across the nation saying, “John Wall and Demarcus Cousins who?” Ever since John Calipari stepped foot in Lexington, the target has been on his back. And along with his controversial past, he brought an absurd amount of blue chips to Kentucky. I mean, there have been so many blue chip recruits on the Lexington campus during his three-year run, that he has made the “Fab-Five” sound more like the “Mediocre-Five” on multiple occasions. People say he is a great recruiter, and unless the NCAA tells us differently, we will have to remain under the assumption that he is playing by the rules.
Either way, there has been much discussion of whether this is Calipari’s best team. Well, it is without question the best group that he has had in Lexington. And his two prior teams at UK were not too shabby in their own right (Elite Eight and Final Four). Then of course there was the Memphis team of 2007/2008 that had the National Championship won, but they unfortunately could not make their free throws. It is hard to compare teams from different years, but there is one thing I do know: I cannot remember a more athletic team in the past ten years at the collegiate ranks than the 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats. This team gets up and down the floor as good as or better than half of the current NBA teams. According to Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan, they have six, yes six, sure-fire first rounders on the current roster. That means guys coming off the bench are still first-round caliber players. Scary I know.
Many going into Tuesday night’s SEC Showdown with No. 7 Florida had questioned UK’s schedule. There is no denying that SEC basketball is not even a shadow of what it is in football. But UK played a tough non-conference schedule and thrived, outside of a minor mishap at Assembly Hall. And on Tuesday, they showcased to the world just how good they are. The scary thing is it is still early February. UK is by no means a finished product. Plus the Wildcats, in very uncharacteristic Calipari fashion, shot an incredible 11 of 11 from the free throw line. If this team hits their free throws in March, everyone else is playing for second.
At this point in the year, it appears the other contenders for the number one overall seed are Ohio State, Missouri, and Syracuse. Do you truly think any of these three teams are as good as “Calipari’s Traveling All-Stars?” Ohio State can’t seem to keep their suddenly injury-prone star on the floor. Without Sullinger on the court, Ohio State goes from a multi-dimensional offensive force to a one-dimensional team that will heavily rely on William Buford. Missouri has great speed, but still cannot run with UK. And Syracuse, though arguably the deepest team in America, struggles to rebound the basketball (109th in the nation). Did I mention that rebounding may be Kentucky’s strongest attribute? So the vaunted Syracuse 2/3 zone may give UK some fits if they are having an off-shooting night, but who is to say that the Orangemen can keep UK’s high-flying squad off the boards?
Super freshman Anthony Davis has leapfrogged Thomas Robinson as the frontrunner for the National Player of the Year Award. This youngster that sports the infamous “Unibrow,” is a hybrid between Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. He can change a game on both ends of the floor, but especially defensively. The diaper-dandy is likely to rake in what many are proclaiming the Grand Slam (Player of the Year award, the Freshman of the Year award, the Defensive Player of the Year award, and be the number one pick in the NBA draft).
For the portion of the country that cannot stand the Kentucky Wildcats (full discretion: I am included in this group), the future looks grim. I feel like there is only one team that has a legitimate shot to knock off UK come tournament time and that would be none other than the North Carolina Tar Heels, a team that UK already defeated this season in a thriller at Rupp back on December 3rd. North Carolina is the only squad that can come close to matching up with UK’s athleticism and ability to dominate the boards. Additionally, the Tar Heels can get up and down the floor in a similar fashion to the Wildcats. UNC has shown glimpses. Can they sustain the high-level play? Obviously, they didn’t last night in the final couple of minutes of their rivalry match-up against Duke, but the potential is there. I do not think any team in the country is capable of defeating UK when they are on, and only a handful are capable of defeating UK even on an off-night. The hopes of UK haters rest in the Tar Heels’ hands.
Here’s where it gets scary. Say UK cuts down the nets on the night of April 2nd in New Orleans. Who is to say that Kentucky will not repeat? Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel appear to be on their way to Lexington for the Fall of 2012. There appears to be no stopping the nauseating Calipari train. I think the majority of the country may be in for their worst nightmare.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.