My Old Kentucky Hoax: Are The Cats Really Contenders or Just Fools Gold?
Is Kentucky for real this year?....
A question as old as time itself. Year-in and year-out this question haunts Big Blue Nation. The good news is, since Calipari has been at the helm, the answer to that question more-times-than-not, has been yes. But what about this year? Kentucky hasn't reached the Final Four since 2015 but can this veteran led Wildcat team make a run in March?
What Will It Take?
Before you can ask if a team is a contender or pretender, you first have to ask what is the difference. Let me preface this by saying that I much prefer the eye test over numbers and analytics. There are useful stats when it comes to making predictions in March, but ultimately I believe its like predicting weather, even the experts don't really know what will happen.
Now, what do I believe a team needs to win a championship? First of all they need talent. Check. Kentucky has no shortage of that on this roster at all positions. With stars like Oscar Tschiebwe, TyTy Washington, Sahvir Wheeler, Kellen Grady and a bench that could be a starting five at most schools, UK should be able to win on talent alone in the first round or two. Second is three point shooting. Check. March becomes a guards game and the ability to knock down long-range shots can either punch your ticket to the next round, or be a one-way trip back to Lexington for the Cats. With Grady and Washington both shooting over 40% from deep on the season, there will be a game where their ability to hit threes will be the difference. Third, defense. Check. After the tough fought win against a gritty Texas A&M team, and holding them to 58 points, Kentucky jumped all the way to 18th in defensive efficiency. Fourth is experience. Check.
Wait a second.....
Experience? At Kentucky? Under John Calipari? Trust me, I know, it's weird. This is the oldest team Cal has had or will probably ever have at UK, but that veteran leadership could pay dividends in the tournament. While the players on the roster may not have much experience in the tournament themselves, not enough can be said about how important it is to have players who know how to handle big games and pull out tough wins. Much like the 2012 Championship team, this roster has a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership. Fifth and finally, to make a run in the tournament, you have to have a little dog in you. Once again, check. Kentucky had it pretty easy up until A&M, with all their wins coming by 10+ points. However, the Aggies forced the Cats into a dog fight and Big Blue responded. That win showed Kentucky that it doesn't have to be pretty, and it doesn't have to feel good, as long as you survive and advance.
So, is Kentucky for real this season? Yes. After, what some would call a handful of disappointing seasons and having the tournament runs end a little earlier than perhaps they should have, it is my belief that John Calipari has assembled a team built specifically for March. We know his teams play their best when it matters most, and if this team peaks at the right time, go ahead and book that plane ticket to New Orleans because the Big Blue will be dancing in the Big Easy.
Oh, and luck. You need some luck as well...