Save superlatives about Kentucky, OK?
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BY NORMAN CHAD
Special to the Sun-Times
Owing to my good sense and busy conjugal schedule, I never watch college basketball until the madness that is March. Thus, I rely on trusted hoops associates to keep me abreast of developments and recently was apprised of the fact that Kentucky is unbeaten, unbeatable and undoubtedly headed to status as the greatest team ever assembled.
Really? So many issues at hand here. As a courtesy to my readers, I will deal with them one at a time.
Before we consider Kentucky’s eminence, let us consider John Calipari, the source of this high-flying marvel. Praised — rightly so — for being a one-and-done coaching wonder, Calipari has an ability to mold terrific team play, even though key parts of his team are in town for just a semester or two.
Not to disparage Calipari — I’m sure he is a great ‘‘educator’’ within the modern context of an institution of higher learning bent on athletic repute — but the fact that he is so revered indicates how our Sports Nation has been in a reverse Darwinian evolutionary cycle for generations.
What a cultural undertow we routinely have accepted:
Before 1972, freshmen were ineligible to play men’s basketball at the varsity level. In 2015, one-and-done is the standard at a basketball powerhouse such as Kentucky. So we’ve gone from not letting players play for one year to not expecting them to stay beyond one year.
The freshman ineligibility rule was based on the quaint, ancient notion that it takes a year for an incoming student to settle in academically and adjust to college life. Heck, when I was admitted to Maryland, it took me two years just to figure out where to park.
OK, so how great is this Kentucky team?
Sources tell me that every player on Kentucky is at least 6-11 — or appears to be at least 6-11. Boy, that’s an awful lot of tall General Studies majors under one Rupp Arena roof.
During its season, Kentucky — employing Calipari’s two-platoon system — typically has taken 30- and 40-point leads against the opposition. But I am reminded of what the late, great Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson used to say: ‘‘No team is as good as it looks when it wins, no team is as bad as it looks when it loses.’’
So, being a lifelong skeptic, I have to conclude that, despite the Wildcats’ apparent prowess, they remain an underdog to become the first unbeaten NCAA Division I men’s basketball champion since Indiana went 32-0 in 1975-76.
I’ve been wrong before, but months ago I penciled in Kentucky for a loss at Florida on Feb. 7. Earlier this month, Kentucky had back-to-back games against Mississippi and Texas A&M that went to overtime and double overtime. Math is not Couch Slouch’s strength, but that tells me if either opponent had scored one more point in regulation, Kentucky would have lost.
And Kentucky trailed Columbia 25-23 at the half last month. Columbia! If a school that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships can outscore Kentucky over a half, then a school that does offer athletic scholarships certainly can outscore Kentucky over a game.
Which brings me to the preposterous belief propagated several weeks ago that Kentucky is so good, it could beat the NBA’s 76ers. Please.
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