Not even a game played and we're talking about Kentucky going undefeated. Fundamentally, it's fine with us, because it's going to put pressure on a young team and from everyone else's point of view, that's a positive. In every other way, though, it's stupid.
Well, almost every other way. We'll give John Calipari credit for becoming the lightning rod. Given the inevitable frenzy among the fan base, he's probably really smart to do that.
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But that aside, it's really getting ahead of things. Let's look at some potential problems.
Schedule: First, the SEC has abandoned divisions. So they're playing everyone at some point.
That includes trips to Vandy, Arkansas, LSU, Missouri and Florida. Is Kentucky more talented than all those teams? To be sure. Have the freshman played through February? Obviously not. Have they any idea of the basketball tradition at Missouri? Unlikely. Of the Littlejohn-like intensity possible at LSU? Probably not. Are they prepared to go to the final game of the regular season at Florida undefeated? That would be a huge game, and not at all an easy one. We might point out here the great value of Dorian Finney-Smith's versatility. Keep an eye on him vs. Kentucky. He's a tremendous asset.
The non-conference schedule features some highly challenging opponents.
Kentucky plays Michigan State very early, and the Spartans are very well coached and have significant experience: Tom Izzo has eight upperclassmen and five sophomores to take against Kentucky's eight freshmen and two sophomores.Â Kentucky does have the rare upperclassmen in seniors Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood, but they're not going to be big factors, particularly on the road.
We're not impressed with Baylor's Scott Drew as a coach but he recruits well and has consistently had talented rosters. They'll be dangerous at home.
UNC hosts Kentucky on December 14th and while UNC has a ways to go, it's another talented team and a program which expects success. If Dean Smith were still coaching, we'd absolutely put this down as a UNC win, with or without PJ Hairston.
Finally, Louisville visits. The Cards always are a tough opponent and with a national championship in their pocket and some tough veterans returning, who in their right mind would be talking about going undefeated? This is an extraordinarily intense game every time out, and every time those folks read about Kentucky going undefeated, they're getting more and more irritated.
Opponents aside, there are other issues Kentucky will have to overcome or avoid.
Health: No one can predict injuries. With Kyrie Irving, Duke was set to go undefeated a few years ago. His injury ruined that opportunity.
UNC, remember, had a phenomenal team with Phil Ford at the helm. In one season - we're thinking junior - UNC had at least two critical injuries to deal with late, one to Ford and one to (we think it was) Tom LaGarde. You just never know.
Team chemistry: Calipari is busy praising Julius Randle at every turn, and that's fine...but what about Alex Poythress? Just a sophomore, he's already been replaced. How's that going to go over? What about Marcus Lee? Derek Willis? Dakari Johnson? All those guys could conceivably play at Randle's position. No matter how you look at it, though, there are only 120 minutes per game for frontcourt players and 20-30 are likely to go to Willie Cauley-Stein. If Randle matches that, that leaves around 60 minutes a game for the rest.
This leads to a more basic question: assuming UK starts Randall, twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Cauley-Stein and a wing TBD, who sits? Calipari has been calling Randle an alpha-beast, but all of these guys are alpha players. Egos are going to be a challenge.
Finally, Kentucky may have a problem which could be unique, and that's the twins.
By all accounts, both are hugely talented and they may lock up the backcourt. That could really limit James Young (see above issues). Everyone has problems, but Kentucky has less than most. Still, guard depth is not great. Once you get past those three, it's basically Polson and Hood.
But here's a potential pitfall with the Harrisons. Like a lot of twins, they're extraordinarily close. There were some stories/comments during their recruitment though that suggested this could be both a strength and a weakness, that they could be sort of a team within a team.
If all these things go perfectly, Kentucky has a shot at 40-0. But even if they do, there's another significant hurdle, and that's the fans.
Obviously Kentucky fans will pack the arena and follow the team wherever it goes. But as Sun Tzu teaches, your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness: imagine the situation in Rupp if - let's pick January 18th and Tennessee's visit - the Vols have pushed undefeated Kentucky into a tight game, at least some of the freshmen have hit the feared Freshman Wall, and the fans are worried. At that point, the crowd works to Tennessee's advantage.
We saw this in a different sense in 1991: UNLV was unbelievably good and came to Indianapolis with a perfect record. Yet that experienced, defending national championship team was the tightest group there, and it wasn't close. Expectations wore on them.
We're not saying Kentucky can't go undefeated. We're just saying everything has to go your way.