While it’s typically bad form to pronounce one’s favorite team as being better than a team in which the consensus crowd has already crowned “the odds-on favorite to win it all” (a team that one irrationally exhuberent blogspert suggested could be UNC’S “best” ever), I also understand that so-called experts, most conventional wisdom, and especially the gasified pundits of each are almost always wrong.
That fact is based on a number of recent studies and books detailing such startling results.
And so, I have always thought to call it like I see it after taking in all the information available to me, despite a chorus of boos, nay-sayers, bombastic homer-screamers, and even the kind gentle under-the-table nudge from friends, that say, “I understand how you might see it that way, but it’s better to take a wait and see.”
So, all homer-ism aside, and with honest almost-certainty, I believe Kentucky will be better than North Carolina again this year, and most particular by season’s end (in College Basketball of course).
TAKE SPECIAL NOTE that I am not so arrogant to say “Kentucky will beat UNC this year”. God only knows, but we all agree that the best TEAM does not always win it all (as my mind drifts to counting out Benjamins after the 1995 NCAA Cats vs.UNC loss).When these titans lock horns, both team’s fans KNOW that they are CAPABLE of winning, or losing it all (as my mind drifts to a bar in Hilton-Head, SC in 1984 counting out Benjamins after an unusual “lid over our basket” in the NCAA UK-Georgetown tilt).
But, here I am talking about which team is/will be better this year.
Just for fun, pretend you’re the Captain in a pickup game vs. Roy Williams, with all of the 2011-12 Carolina and Kentucky rosters standing, waiting to be chosen for some 5-on-5.
Roy picks first: Harrison Barnes, and you counter with Anthony Davis. Roy grabs Tyler Zeller so you give a nod to Terence Jones. OK, Ole’ Roy quickly says he’ll take John Henson…
Hmmm… but with some hesitation you decide on Michael-Gilcrest next, leaving Darius Miller and Doron Lamb on the table with Teague and Wiltjer, along with Marshal and, uh…Strickland, Mcadoo, Bullock and P.J.Hairston.
Who does Roy take next? In my mind he has to take either Miller or Lamb, as they appear to be the two best players left on the table. He tabs Lamb and you gladly grab Darius, leaving Marshal for Roy and you “stuck” with Marquis Teague. Stuck with Marquis Teague? Wow, what a game huh?
Well, the point is that when it comes down to it, Kentucky is holding the edge in talent, at least through the first five or six players, wouldn’t you agree?
CAVEAT: Blindly patriotic as many fans are, these choices would likely go differently with everyone in Chapel Hill. It’s ALSO at the crux of my argument.
In part ONE,
I mistakenly used statistics to prove that Kentucky was the better team last year as well. I mistakenly assumed “possession basketball” was WELL understood as simply: as long as you have the ball the other team cannot score, and you can. If you turn it over, you no longer have it. If you fail to get a rebound, you no longer have it. It’s ALL about offensive efficiency..
But then, AS we all know… liars figure, and figures lie.
What surprised me most was that even many Kentucky fans were unwilling to buy MY facts, laid out clearly before them, which argued/showed/proved with calm rationale that The Cats were better than the Heels during the last season, AND especially when it counted most: On the court in their final head-to-head game.
My reason was questioned, my arguments mangled, my integrity laid open to serious doubt.Astoundingly, I was also vehemently accused of over-gratuitous self-promotion by one writer whom I know to be an excellent writer himself, and whose mantle is surely safe and secure without an embarrassing lam-basting and undressing of my honest post.
Lemme’ jus’ say that I don’t write about Kentucky basketball to win any awards, or get free tickets, to keep an erection, or even for money or it’s ensuing imaginary PRESTIGE.
For me, the occasional atta-boy when warranted will suffice, yet my “feel good” piece garnered a barrage of simple-minded questioning and unreasonable ridicule… the likes I haven’t heard since third grade. Ouch! And from BIG BLUE fans to boot! Oh my?
I simply love the Cats and I like to write. I don’t apologize, because I’m not too dumb for either of them. But, I love honest criticism, so it was right that I should not have touted my previous posts. But it wasn’t shameful. It was merely an effort to get some real feedback.
Okay… happily my ego is still WAY more than intact.
This is Part 2, who many readers begged for with seemingly veiled delight.
Perhaps here’s where you can gut me for my outlandish ideas. Why? For a large part my PART TWO reasons are not entirely based on undeniable empirical evidence, but something more insipid. Growing up as I did a gambler, I think I have acquired some knowledge/wisdom through observation-experience-feeling and gut.
Much of it was wrong.
But the numbers, the statistics, also point to Kentucky’s dominance again, in so far as they can be measured this early in the season. And always needless to say, the game is not played on paper.
Some reasons, while rooted in fact are harder to pin-down. I mean, why is it that sometimes late in the game we are happy/unhappy when a certain player is fouled? Especially when evidence would suggest that another would not be a better choice? Gut.
3 PT. SHOOTING-CAROLINA (and) 3 PT. DEFENSE
Where has anyone read or heard that UNC has finally figured out how to shoot the three? Couple that with an opponent that will guard the three better than you have yet seen at Kentucky, there will likely be some clanking on Franklin this year. Roy does not have a reliable 3 pt shooter in his arsenal, unless one of their vaunted Freshman steps up and takes over quickly. OH yeah, Roy Williams loathes to play Freshmen… The Heels do not shoot free throws very well either, as great FT shooting teams go. They better get lots of layups. Uncontested.
3PT. SHOOTING – KENTUCKY (and) 3 PT. DEFENSE
Simply put, our TWO best 3 pt. bombers are back in Lexington. Miller and Lamb (Move over Travis, Lamb may end up as best EVER at Kentucky) are on the all-time list. One year older, wiser, sharper, and more confident. Some other guys can step out and knock it down (Anthony Davis for one), and one did so last year for shits and giggles (Terrence Jones). They say the BIG FRESHMAN can really shoot the three, perhaps better than Lamb… and that it’s also hard to teach six foot ten… as in KYLE WILTJER. UNC has not shown it can stop a good 3 pt. shooting team.
Yet Kentucky is primarily a DEFENSIVE TEAM, mind you. One of the best last year, but quicker a foot this year. Calipari is known for his coaching tenacious defensive intensity. Free Throws are a question, though the guys we kept (Miller, Lamb) were two of our better free throw shooters last year and we shoot it way better than do the Heels. All said, we should shoot Free Throws tad higher percentage-wise this year. Big UK advantage.
Carolina is talented big and deep. Kentucky is talented big and deep. How deep must a team go? Ten guys can play at any given moment. True, UNC could field three strong starting lineups. Who cares? It might come in handy sometimes, but not when these two juggernauts meet. Both teams have long talented pine and enough firepower to interchange their parts. Toss-up with UNC a slight edge if Armageddon breaks out.
Last year Carolina held the advantage in the paint. This year, not so much, if any. Carolina loved to rebound and run. Kentucky will love to rebound and run too this year.We’re a tad quicker than Carolina’a front line as long as Zeller holds down the middle and Gilchrist is playing. No more advantage UNC. Advantage Even.
As in guard. Carolina has had some minor turnover issues but Avery Marshal ought to change that with a year under his belt. He can run, handle the ball, make the correct pass, and… blow the shot. With Marquis Teague, Kentucky will see it’s bigs more involved than ever, as he doesn’t love to shoot unless he’s finishing. But, he CAN shoot.He sees the court well much like Marshal, makes the right pass and finishes well on the break (better than Marshal). His test will be in the half-court D-D… can he run the offense without making unforced errors, over committed dribble-drives, or drill the shot when the defense steps back and begs him to fire? Watch his brother Jeff play and you’ll see how Marquis might progress…. he steadily progressed as a shooter and now he can knock down the shot, play fierce D and will stand toe-to-toe with any NBA Point Guard. By seasons end as a better shooter who sees the court as well and makes great decisions, Marquis will follow Jeff to the league. Even.
Harrison Barnes, no doubt SUPER, but can be erratic. Anthony Davis, for sure is not for sure but is definitely most likely. Mike-Gilchrist, is absolutely positively a player any coach would cherish. Doron Lamb will not be silenced. John Henson, a rebounding muppet show who has gained upper body strength and will be tough to control. Tyler Zeller, the Scarecrow or the Tin Man, but not the Wizard. Terrence Jones, early maturity, high yield, compound interest…bankable. UK holds a slight Super Star advantage.
THE INTANGIBLE FACTOR, THE COACHING EDGE
Coaches. They deny but they lie. Roy Williams was for a long time the guy who couldn’t win the BIG ONE, but he didn’t care. He handled it well, but you know it hurt him to know he had to leave Kansas to finally get it done. Carolina was the FIT for Roy and he knew it. In his element, he got it done, though he claimed it didn’t enter his mind. Now, it’s as if those years didn’t exist. They pencil him in, they ink him in, they expect him to win it all again and again. Is he hungry like he was in 2003? I don’t think so. Listen to him speak. He knows his place is secure, he’s a Hall-of-Famer. He wants to win for his team, not the Carolina faithful. He is sad, but not destroyed when he loses, and he always loses with class. But hungry, he is not.
John Calipari didn’t shine Adoph Rupp’s shoes for 20 years waiting for his day to happen. He’s been making it happen every day for years, and with much longer odds than Roy ever knew existed. He doesn’t care about Championships he says, only his players success. I believe him, but only to a degree. The degree that he wants to win one so bad he can taste it.
Vindication is one step away, though he expects no matter what he does, the questions will follow him and sour it’s sweet taste. Calipari had a great mentor, safe to say, in Rick Pitino. He followed his every move, he perfected his moves. Most mentors eventually become resented by those who imitate them, and this is no exception. He wants to step out of that man’s shadow once and for all, and he understands how close he is to that bright sunshine.
Calipari has softened through the years, and for the better I think, while Williams has hardened. He’s harder to reach and feels the power of being adored, and the bitter pain of fan betrayal. Being at the top of the heap can make a man feel an invincible power at times. He watches who gets too close and then slams it shut, where he once was an open book with an open door.
Calipari wants to feel that power too, but I think he’ll act the opposite… become kinder and gentler, and more approachable after he finally wins it all.
Who is hungrier, I ask? Who needs it, wants it the most? Who has to have it for his own vindication? Who wants more than anyone on the planet to look his nay-sayers in the eye… with just a wink and a smile? Every cut, every bruise, every unkind and untrue word, every slap will be his to own to relish and remember.
It’s telling how he has played the coaching game with such class, devotion, dedication, and will to succeed. Who else could have weathered John Calipari’s storms? Here’s a man to emulate. He’s made mistakes, and he’s paid heavily their unending price. But he stayed his course with dignity, waiting for the last laugh.
He has slayed the dragon, saved the Princess from ruin, and now he will not trade his white horse for anything that resembles a CHANCE TO FAIL. Rest assured Nation of Blue… your time and his have fatefully met at that crucial moment: when we both needed each other the most. No matter what (and like his mentor Pitino), he has saved Kentucky Basketball and will forever be deified in the hearts of those who understand the thing that is Kentucky Basketball.
Coaching edge to Calipari.
CHEMISTRY. BIOCHEMISTRY. SYNERGY of systems.
Though Carolina has had a year to jell as a team, the sting of their last loss has had time heal. Yes, they do play together well, and get along well. Roy Williams personally likes this team, always a plus. They are committed, not arrogant… just his style. But don’t forget, this UNC bunch is the same team that suffered Carolina’s worst EVER ACC road thumping last year at Georgia Tech, who at the time was a rambling wreck. Many of these guys played in the NIT one year before, leading to real questions of will and talent. Comparing this team to UNC 2009 is an insult to that great team. There is zero, once they suit up and step on the Dome’s golden floor. Actually, I see Duke as ACC champs in March. Advantage to UK in Chemistry by season’s end with UNC advantage in November..
THE all- BLUE PLAN
Unlike any team before, t
his Kentucky TEAM was built with the word chemistry in mind considering the individual talents involved. These freshmen chose one another (along with Cal) based on each one’s unique ability to provide a major contribution to a Championship team without talent duplicity. This has been in the making for 2-3 years. Each player, selected by hand based on their ability to mesh and provide a single cog in this well-oiled, precision instrument.
Even Doron Lamb, as his special talents became more clear, helped recruit them to play around him. Darius Miller is the anchor., the heart, the foundation (think Chuck Hayes, Pat Patterson).. The recruiting choices, their high school all-star playing decisions, their signing and timing all speak to a grand plan. A plan in a Championship plan book. NOW is it.
Fittingly, in the end it may have been Pitino who demonstrated this lesson to John Calipari back in the 90‘s. Leave NO STONES un-turned. The rest? It will take care of itself.
THIS MAY BE THE ULTIMATE COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAM.