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Every season there has been a key to Kentucky’s greatness. Whether it’s a tweak, the dribble-drive offense or Sam Malone’s headband, there’s always a method to Kentucky’s madness of winning. This year, the Cats are a different team; one unlike we haven’t seen in years. One that keeps winning and can’t seem to lose no matter what is thrown at them. Some SEC teams put up some good fights, but then in the Elite 8 Notre Dame put up the best effort yet. This season, there are two reasons why Kentucky keeps winning and gives the Cats an advantage like no other in the nation.
Let’s all raise a glass today to the guys that have been in the battle rounds of college basketball, experienced heartbreak and loss, and came back hungry for more. To Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, and Marcus Lee, we salute you. When most of these guys had a chance to go in the NBA Draft following last season’s National Championship runner-up finish to Connecticut, they instead decided to stay. They knew what it was like to hang a banner, except it wasn’t the banner they wanted. They are ready to hang THE banner and be the last team standing in all of college basketball. The veterans of this team know the game well and have taken on leadership roles that we haven’t always seen from previous Kentucky teams. The Cats have not one, not two, but seven guys who have been able to mentor and shape the new guys into winning players on and off the court. Without them, this Kentucky team wouldn’t be 38-0. Countless times this season Andrew Harrison has stepped up and put the team on his back and brought them to another win. Against Notre Dame, both he and his brother Aaron made major plays that essentially won the game for Kentucky. Willie Cauley-Stein makes plays on the court, but also sets an example for the younger guys with his volunteer work that he constantly seems to be doing. And then you’ve got Alex Poythress, who was primed for a breakout season. He had a major obstacle come before him as an ACL injury has kept him out the season. Even still, he’s a voice on the bench that never seems to get quiet and that’s something the freshmen can learn from. When the going gets tough, these guys don’t quit, and when you’re a young guy looking up to your big brothers you’re going to act exactly as they do. Winners act like winners, and Kentucky gets an undefeated season.
These four McDonald’s All American’s made the most important decision they would make as high school students when they decided to come to Kentucky. Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Trey Lyles have contributed in major ways to this team that if they weren’t a Wildcat, there wouldn’t even be the thought of Kentucky having a perfect 40-0 season. Freshmen have come to Kentucky before and have been phenomenal athletes, like John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, and Brandon Knight. But they weren’t as fortunate to have older guys to turn to who happen to have championship game experience. When these rookies are offered advice from a veteran on the court, they implement it into their game without a fight. Winning is so important to these guys that they are willing to “listen to their elders” and do what is best for the team and not what is just best for them. They’ve built chemistry with their older brothers that past teams haven’t always been able to do. It’s as if the secret ingredient to unlocking an undefeated season all this time has been the ability of the freshmen to work with the older guys like a well oiled machine. Without them, this team wouldn’t be 38-0. Karl-Anthony Towns is the most dominant player Kentucky has on the inside at 6’11” with an average of 10.1 points per game and 6.6 rebounds. Devin Booker’s ability to shoot the three and reload numerous times down the court gives Kentucky an edge behind the arc that other teams just don’t have. Even after a rough start at the beginning of the season, Booker showed resilience and kept shooting, giving him a 41% 3-point average on the season. Then there is Tyler Ulis’ ability to perform insanely well under pressure and knock off teams like Louisville in his first match up against them. And after the “Where’s Trey” scandal, we knew this team was in it for the long haul. The team that jokes together, wins together and this team has done a lot of both.
There isn’t a secret recipe to having the greatest college basketball team in America, but if there was, this Kentucky team would have all the ingredients. If a team wants to be great, they have to be able to work well together. This team, without a doubt, works extremely well together. They play Super Smash Bros. to unwind for crying out loud and if that doesn’t scream “brothers” then I don’t know what does. Regardless of what haters say about Kentucky being a bunch of one and done’s and having no real team bonding, the only proof we need is in the Cats’ undefeated season. There are two reasons why this Kentucky team keeps winning: the veterans and the rookies. This isn’t just any group of veterans and rookies. These guys are truly special on and off the court. But looking at it now, it seems more like the one reason this Kentucky team keeps winning: brothers.