Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What would "perfect" mean?

       College basketball is not as popular as it once was. Even though March Madness still captivates a nation because it's the only legalized sports gambling this country has outside of Nevada, the regular season maybe aside from a Carolina-Duke game feels mainly meaningless. Except when a team is running the table like Kentucky did. They're 34-0, and a pretty safe bet to go 40-0 and win the National Championship. In the age of one and done and transiency, what would a perfect season mean for the sport? 

      Wichita State went undefeated until they were bounced by Kentucky in the third (second) round of the tournament last year, and almost no one thought they could actually win the national championship. The fact that Kentucky was their 8 seed proved that on Selection Sunday. This Kentucky team feels different. Yes, they've been scared by Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU but that means little since they throttled teams like Kansas, UCLA, Texas, Louisville and many others. But have they really been tested the way a Duke, Villanova, or even Wisconsin has been tested yet? That feels irrelevant, because the Wildcats are that good. They've made good teams look ordinary, and ordinary teams look like your local Y team. 
    Because of that, picking them to win the National Title seems like a mere formality. And when the subject of 40-0 and an undefeated season is brought, its importance feels lessened. When Indiana did the same trick in 1976 (with an also undefeated Rutgers reaching the Final 4), that team became one of the all time greats. Many of the other legendary teams of tournaments past such as the early 90's UNLV teams, John Wooden's UCLA dynasty, the 1992 Duke team of Hurley, Laettner and others all have a place on the pedestal that seemingly this Kentucky team will be denied if they go 40-0. Some might say its not even the best Kentucky team of all time. But for what it would signify, 40-0 would mean something entirely different today than it meant in 1972, 1974, or even last year.

   With the NCAA bandying about a proposal to make freshman ineligible for football and men's basketball again (mainly to stop the one-and-done players that have made this Kentucky team so dominant), a super team of would-be NBA players like Kentucky's current iteration would be impossible. Yes, it would probably mean college basketball as a whole is a more level playing field, and that top teams like Duke and Kentucky are being used as a 1 year D-League, but assemblages of talent like Kentucky's would never be seen again. And what they are doing defies description and expectation, even if they were expected to be a transcendent team this year. 

  Wisconsin, Arizona, Duke, Villanova, or maybe some other team could be able to beat them at their best, or when the Wildcats are on an off day. But that seems unlikely. In an age when college basketball is sometimes slow, plodding, too transient, and often dull, Kentucky has changed that. Watching them is satisfying, because a group of immensely talented players has come together to play incredible team basketball, and they all feel a duty to win it together, not just themselves. No team of one-and-done players has ever felt like this.

  This team is a Haley's Comet type of phenomenon. It goes past you in the blink of an eye, and you may only have one chance to see it in your lifetime. If the NCAA has its way, there will never be a team like this years Wildcats ever again. And while the sport may benefit from it, it benefits from one team being so hard to stop, and one that can do something that so many thought would be impossible. 

   40-0 and "perfect" would mean Kentucky and John Calipari have best used college basketball's current system to absolute perfection. "Perfect" would also mean the case of scenarios that lead to this team's formation, and how the college basketball world may never see it again.

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