*This is the final edition in a four-part series this week where we will have four writers arguing the national championship credentials for the only NCAA teams left in March Madness: Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville. First, it was Ohio State. Then, we brought you Kansas and Louisville. Finally today, it’s Kentucky.*
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It’s time to consider that next year’s Rising Star Challenge during All-Star Weekend could be littered with Kentucky Wildcats.
Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could all be first-round draft picks come June should they enter, and how many starting lineups could those four crack right now in the NBA? At least two could get serious looks at starting burn. A case could be made for four.
Those are arguments for the months ahead – or right now if your name is Gary Williams – but excuse me for engaging in them early. That is because this debate about who will win the NCAA championship this weekend is passe. Done. This is all a prologue to a well-known ending.
Understand: Louisville, Kansas and Ohio State are fantastic teams, but Kentucky is so much better. The center of the ‘Cats power is firmly in its, well, 7-foot center, Davis. He’s helped the team break the NCAA record for single-season blocks, beating the 2004 UConn squad. It’s not much of a leap to see how that translates into Kentucky’s national-leading blocks per game (8.6) and field-goal percentage defense (37.5 percent).
We’ve been hiding from this conversation all year. Rightfully, you don’t talk this way at the start of the year when John Calipari rebuilds with another freshmen class, no matter how many stars are next to their names. It’s the last weekend in March and the Wildcats have earned a place in the discussion of not only best of this year but best of all time. They’re certainly the best team ever for how young the roster it.
From Davis to its do-everything swingman (Jones) and on up the lineup, it’s been incredible to see a team that’s been together for less than a year mold this well. The offense isn’t perfect and lacks a dead-eye three-point shooter outside of Lamb, but plays with a mental toughness and a defensive energy that ultimately lead to points. When they’re rolling (see: Baylor game tape) it’s a beautiful and scary thing. Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the loss that UK is better than the Duke team Baylor lost to in a regional final two seasons ago. That team won a national title.
With nearly every member of the team holding legitimate NBA dreams, agendas could have long ago been set that Lexington was simple a means to an end, that even in the Bluegrass State, the call of the NBA is greener. Instead Calipari deserves credit â€” no matter what Bobby Knight believes â€” for unleashing a team whose cohesiveness defies even super glue. There’s been nary a peep about infighting or “get-me-outta-here” talk from the lottery picks in waiting. It’s like they’ve taken the criticism of Calipari â€” all he does is bring in top recruits, but doesn’t win The Big One â€” personally.
It’s true the title does to a degree hinge on Davis’ left knee, which buckled slightly during the South final win over Baylor. It looked bad when he went down, and he briefly stepped aside before returning ala Mateen Cleaves.
When he checked back into the game the trepidation was over, and so was this debate.
What is the key for Kentucky this weekend?
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