At the beginning of this college basketball season, the question on everyone’s mind was: Can Kentucky go undefeated?
Well, so far, so good.
On Saturday afternoon in Lexington, the Kentucky Wildcats completed a perfect regular season, defeating the Florida Gators 67-50 to move to 31-0 on the year.
Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of special college basketball teams, but we haven’t seen anything quite like Kentucky—at least not for a very long time.
Since Indiana had a perfect season in 1975-76, Kentucky is only the sixth Division I school to head into postseason play undefeated, and the first school from a power conference to do so.
That accomplishment already puts the Wildcats on a short list of the best college basketball teams in history.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
For some perspective, just think of all the spectacular teams that couldn’t accomplish that: The 1991 and ’92 Duke Blue Devils (32-7, 34-2); the 1990 UNLV Rebels (35-5); the 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels (32-2); and the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats (34-2), to name a few.
Those teams all had great coaches, future superstars and a big spotlight on them, just like Kentucky has this season. But none of them were able to survive the entire regular season—with the constant traveling, trials and trap games—without a blemish.
This year’s Kentucky squad has, though.
Now, if the Wildcats can accomplish what all of those teams did and win a national championship (and the SEC tournament), they won’t just be special—they’ll be legendary.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, perhaps it’s time to take a breath and appreciate the history that this team has already made.
Even its biggest rivals think that Kentucky’s regular-season excellence should be celebrated, no matter what happens next. As reported by Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal, Florida coach Billy Donovan, owner of two national titles and his own 30-game winning streak that ended in the Final Four last season said:
For them to do what they’ve done is truly remarkable and shouldn’t be taken lightly. People want to discredit or discount what happens in the regular season and they want to put all the emphasis on the NCAA Tournament in terms of measuring success all-time. With a team like Kentucky, that’s done what they’ve done, that shouldn’t be the case.”
As Donovan mentioned, many have dismissed Kentucky’s accomplishments during the regular season. That’s due to a plethora of reasons, but it’s primarily because of Kentucky’s roster is full of future NBA players. The thought is that with that much talent, winning is a given.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
But that’s ridiculous. A team full of stars—particularly 18- and 19-year-olds who are used to being the top dog—does not always equal perfection. In fact, so often in college basketball, having too many stars leads to loads of dysfunction.
Not on the 2014-15 Kentucky team, though. As Christopher L. Gasper of The Boston Globe points out, this Wildcat squad isn’t a patchwork of all-stars; it’s a true team. In fact, with so much talent, individual playing time and stats are sacrificed for the greater good:
Calipari has taken a team with nine McDonald’s All-Americans and obvious NBA agendas and gotten them to sacrifice their talents and their statistics for the greater good of winning. That alone makes Kentucky a special team in a one-and-done era of college hoops where some games feel like a collision of individual agendas.
No Kentucky player averages more than 25 minutes per game. Only two players are averaging double digits—sophomore Aaron Harrison (11.3 points per game) and freshman shooting guard Devin Booker (11 points per game).
The stats that Gasper points out are all the more impressive when you realize that Kentucky has three players—Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Devin Booker—who are projected to be NBA lottery picks in the 2015 draft, according to ESPN Insider Chad Ford.
That’s what makes Kentucky so much better than everyone else—not just its depth of talent but its ability to use all that talent in a cohesive way to overcome adversity and achieve a common goal. ESPN Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman points out the key characteristics of this exceptionally talented Kentucky squad:
With the world watching and waiting for them to fall, Calipari and his all-star cast have survived every test that has come their way for the past four months.
This season, the Wildcats have won in every possible way: They embarrassed Kansas, then-No. 5 in The Associated Press Top 25, in the third game of the season 72-40. In January it took them two overtimes to take out Texas A&M. They won a game when they scored 110 points against Auburn two weeks ago, and they won a game when they scored only 56 points against Columbia in December.
No matter the challenge, Kentucky has found a way during a grueling regular season, and that should be applauded.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
But now, the focus rightfully shifts to postseason play and the bigger picture.
After all, Kentucky lost in the NCAA tournament final last year, and nobody wants to feel that disappointment again. Calipari and his players are proud of what they have achieved so far, but make no mistake about it; they want to win a national championship.
If there’s any question that’s what they’re after, just read the shirts: Kentucky is 31-0, but not done.