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Embracing Greatness


We knew coming into this season that this Kentucky team was going to be very good. That much was not a mystery. When you return the majority of a team that goes to the National Championship Game, add Four McDonald’s All Americans and give them a summer trip to work out the kinks, it isn’t surprising that the end result is a team that can be special. But while very good was never in doubt, the question of great, or even elite, was still an open one. We all saw the talent, but the legacy of the start of last year still lingered. A pessimist might see the loss of last season’s best player (Randle) and best shooter (Young) and think, “well maybe they will struggle a bit until they hit their stride in March.” After the nation’s mockery of 40-0 pronouncements last year, it seemed foolhardy to suggest that such a thing was possible this time around, no matter how much talent Calipari had stocked up. The cold, snowy night in Dallas and the putback dunk in Fayetteville had us all slightly skeptical and trying our best to temper the excitement. We saw a team in the Bahamas with the potential for greatness, but we all remained a little leery and scared of uttering any phrase that could jinx what was to come. Grand preseason pronouncements were, for once at least, not coming from the Big Blue Nation until Missouri’s state motto could be realized and the evidence was in front of our face.

That evidence is now here. There is no reason to hide it anymore and attempting to play humble is no longer honestly possible. It is time to embrace facts. This team is on the path to being historically great. The game Saturday in Chicago was one of the most thorough, dominating performances of my lifetime. 24-0…41-7…a 40 point win over UCLA and it never felt that close and could have been so much worse. What we are seeing this season is not only something that hasn’t come along very often in UK basketball history…it hasn’t come along very often in college basketball history. In my lifetime, college basketball has certainly never seen a team this deep and has almost certainly never seen a team this elite defensively. As of this moment, Kentucky has the best adjusted defensive efficiency rating since Kenpom has begun keeping the statistic (2001). They have the greatest string of double digit defeats to start a season in UK history. They lead the nation in every meaningful defensive statistic and they are putting on performances against blue blood programs that are almost difficult to comprehend. Think about these facts:

— Kentucky beat UCLA and Kansas, two teams of the highest pedigree in college basketball, on neutral courts by a combined 73 points.

— Kansas and Texas, two teams ranked #5 and #6 that UK handled with relative ease and the favorites in the Big 12, have not lost a game besides their loss to Kentucky.

— Kentucky held UCLA, a program with more championships than any in college basketball history, to the fewest points in a half IN THE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM…and not only that, they cut the record in half from 14 to 7.

— Kansas, Texas and North Carolina are all three currently ranked in the Top 12 in the Kenpom numbers…yet Kentucky beat them by a combined 59 points.

— UK lost a returning Junior starter that at times has been projected as a first round draft pick and proceeded to win its next two games against UNC and UCLA by a combined 55 points.

The performances almost boggle the mind. When the Cats demolished Kansas to open the season, many argued (or hoped) that it said more about Kansas than it did about Kentucky’s greatness. When UK was able to handle Texas and UNC, the thought remained that the Rupp Arena advantage and other less dominant performances (Columbia and Boston) suggested that UK was great, but vulnerable to the right test. However the game in Chicago has removed all doubt from all but the most die-hard of UK haters (talking to you Gottlieb). Mike Wilbon said the UCLA game was the best the most amazing he has seen in 35 years. Seth Davis has called UK going undefeated a “real possibility.” And Dan Dakich has gone on record and predicted that Kentucky will go 40-0. We now know this Kentucky team is certainly great and the only question that remains is if they are on a crash course for historically elite status.

But we in the BBN don’t actually need the national talking heads to tell us their opinions. We have watched elite basketball for decades and we know the best when it is front of our face. And at this point, it is beyond clear that his team is special in ways we simply may never see again. It almost boggles the mind. How can a team have nine (ten with Alex) players that are all destined to play in the NBA, but are all willing to sacrifice minutes and personal glory to allow their fellow players time to shine? How can a team have this much length and athleticism at EVERY position, allowing it to play defense at levels that opposing coach after opposing coach says they have never seen before? How can a team have no obvious weakness, not only playing tough defense, but sharing the ball as well as any group in over a decade? How can a team have all that talent and also be made of a group of genuinely good kids who are as high level off the court as they are on the court? How can all of those factors come together at once, in one season, with a coach at the top of his game, followed by a fan base unmatched in the sport and still find a way to dazzle us and produce multiple performances that leave us shaking our head?

It is time to embrace it. These are the proverbial good old days for Kentucky basketball and this may be a team for the ages. That doesn’t mean perfection is certain. Kentucky could still be shocked next Saturday by Montrezl’s punches and Rick’s hair plugs in the hardest game left on the regular season schedule on the road at Louisville. The Cats might end up in some random game on the road in February on the SEC where a team hits 13 threes and rides the wave shocks the world. Even worse, it is possible that in the NCAA Tournament, UK has the worst run of luck imaginable and trips up against an inferior team in a one game scenario that will seem as arbitrary and unfair as it is heartbreaking. Any of those things may happen. But it doesn’t change the simple fact. This team is already one of the best to ever wear the Kentucky uniform. 1948, 1951, 1978, 1996 and 2012 stand at the mountaintop of UK teams because of the way their titles were won, followed closely by a group that includes 1949, 1958, 1966, 1984, 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2010. It is nearly impossible to forsee a scenario where this 2015 group is not certain to be at least at the top of the second list, and potentially the top of the first one as well. At this point only two moments of this season truly matter…the one where they lose their first game (if it happens) and the NCAA Tournament. Those games are for history, while the rest are simply for entertainment.

I don’t know what the future holds. Due to the randomness of the NCAA Tournament, I don’t know if it is even certain that this team wins #9. But here is what is assured. We are watching a group that we will remember forever and we are seeing things that will never be repeated. It is rare to get to watch greatness…it is rarer still to realize it while it is taking place. Our great fortune this year is we are being treated to both.

Article written by Matt Jones

28 Comments for Embracing Greatness

  1. UKfaninLou
    10:46 pm December 21, 2014 Permalink

    Well said, as always. Enjoy the ride, BBN. Merry Christmas to us!

  2. Dave Ball
    10:46 pm December 21, 2014 Permalink

    FYI…”Mardi Gras Miracle” is on the SEC network…starting the 2nd half now…ooh, love this game…1994 with Pitino on the sidelines…great comeback

  3. Dave Ball
    10:50 pm December 21, 2014 Permalink

    how on earth can you forget the 1954 undefeated 25-0 team (who won the Helms National Championship and boasted two future NBA Hall of Famers) who refused to play without their top 3 who were deemed “graduate students” by the NCAA and thus ineligible to play in the NCAA tournament…

  4. Dave Ball
    10:57 pm December 21, 2014 Permalink

    and as a side-note to that 1954 team….UK beat eventual ’54 champion LaSalle by 14 earlier in the year and probably would have won the whole thing had Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey, and Lou Tsioropoulos been allowed to play

  5. rainman
    11:09 pm December 21, 2014 Permalink

    How very Milleresque of you Matt!

  6. BTownUKFan
    11:10 pm December 21, 2014 Permalink

    I remember the 1996 team, they were an offensive juggernaut, there press and transition offense would win games in the first 15 minutes. But Mark Pope and Antoine Walker would both be defensive liabilities. Delk would not be strong enough to hold the Harrisons and would struggle to get his shot off. That leaves Jeff Shepard, Derek Anderson, Anthony Epps, Walter McCarty and Ron Mercer to to all the heavy lifting. I don’t know that the 96 team could score inside at all. The more I think about it, the more I like this team!!
    GO CATS !!

    • ukbradstith
      11:42 pm December 21, 2014 Permalink

      You don’t remember delk. Dude was solid muscle. He could drop step and dunk it. He got up on his jump shot. This team might be better, but delk would be the best guard on the court.

    • Time Expired
      12:07 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      I would not trade this team for any UK team I have witnessed in my 66 yrs. The 96 team was maybe the best team in college history till now. The 2012 team may have been very close to the 96 team but this years team is on a totally different scale. There are just no weak spots on this team because defense is one constant that can overcome any cold shooting night. I am just amazed by what Cal has accomplished with this talent and the chemistry that this team has. If any team can go 40-0 this is the one and if they don’t then it will never happen by anyone.

    • BTownUKFan
      8:39 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      ukbradstith I remember Delk, he was 5 inches shorter and at least 30 pounds lighter than the Harrisons. Who is he going to dunk on….WCS? KAT? Even the Harrisons are getting blocks. This team is bigger, more physical and more athletic from top to bottom. Plus it would be Pitino against Calipari. The 96 team lost twice, one of those was to Calipari…and…he’s beaten Rick 5 of the last 6 times he’s played him. I have all the respect in the world for the 96 team, I loved to watch them jump out on teams but I don’t think they could go 40 minutes with this team.

    • RealCatsFan
      9:20 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      BTownUKFan, one thing about Delk was that he had extremely long arms and would play much bigger than his height would predict. I always jokingly said if the dude had a neck he would be 6’5. 🙂 Still, I hear what you guys are saying, and it would be interesting to see how these teams would match up. Can someone plug it into the magical game simulator?

    • BTownUKFan
      10:18 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      Other other comment on the 1996 team. The person on that team that was probably the most critical but does not get the recognition because he did not have a pro career was Anthony Epps. The toughest player on the 96 team !! He pulled our bacon out of the fire more than once and it looks like his daughter has his DNA !!
      GO CATS !!

  7. catfan74
    12:16 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    I believe this team is the best team, and possibly most physically dominant team, Ive seen in 30 years, and could be historically great. However, remember when Cal said the players would hear “noise”. All this talk of how great this team is, is “noise”.

    Remember there have been TWO elite of the elite teams, UK 1996, and UNLV 1991. The Runnin’ Rebels, entered the season as defending national champions and entered the tournament unbeaten, but lost in the final four to Duke.

    UNLV was considered “the best team ever assembled”, but was unable to close it out. All Im saying is, enjoy the ride, and quit talking about “historically great”.

  8. Casper
    2:11 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    i don’t think there has ever been a team with this height, mobility and quickness. has there been a 7 footer with WCS’ speed mobility and quickness? it is amazing how much improvement we have seen in the returning players. and how fast the freshmen have gelled. when Cal gets KAT into high gear… well I don’t care about 40-0, I just want #9. if Tyler and Marcus return, we get #10!

    • Casper
      2:16 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      sorry, i was assuming a Poythress return to join Lee and Ulis for #10.

  9. UKBlue1
    2:15 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    For everyone in BBN; no more complaining what so ever. No matter what happens, what Cal has done there are no words to explain what has happened or is happening. We have been blessed with two major runs in UK history: Rupp run & now Cal run. No other program in the country has ever had what we have had or are presently experiencing which makes us UK. From recruiting, to game play, to the tournament, to putting kids in the NBA; we will never experience this kind of run ever again in our life times. Life, this present run & time are all fleeting commodities; appreciate & embrace all 3 while we have them because all 3 are too short to be a hater or complainer. If others especially outsiders want to hate or complain let them, we have something & are apart of something they will never have, what else are they supposed to do then hate & complain about UK, Cal, and us the BBN. And if you do get the urge to complain, just remember what it is like & how it felt when Billy was in charge. Enjoy this run, we’re just getting started Bro. We Are UK We Are the BBN

    • sammydog
      8:44 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      I would add Pitino’s run here to that list. Regardless of how BBN feels about him now that felt like a golden age to me as well. It was so much fun. The program was on life support when he took over. Worse than the Gillispie disaster. His style was breathtaking at the time. If we didn’t win every game by at least 20 it was a disappointment.

    • RealCatsFan
      9:29 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      Great post, Blue, and good point, sammy. I will go on to say that, while Cal’s work here at UK will probably not be topped or duplicated, even after he is gone UK will continue to have success and great teams. If nothing else, UK has shown that it is perhaps the most resilient and consistently dominant college basketball program in the country. No other program has come close to having our level of success over the span of time and multiple coaches. We have won titles under Rupp, Hall, Pitino, Smith, and now Cal. Have any other programs come close to this? The only two I can think of would be UNC and Kansas, and I don’t think they have done it with 5 different head coaches. UCLA is nothing without Wooden, and the same can be said about Duke (K), Michigan St (Izzo), and Indiana (Knight). UK just has a unique combination of fans, players, coaches, and tradition that IMO no one else can top.

  10. Leuther
    2:42 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    Welcome finally, Matt, to the party.

    You should acknowlege that many of us basketball bennies in the BBN confidently predicted after the Bahamas summer tournament that this Team could and should go 40 – 0.

    We didn’t need to wait until after blowout wins against Kansas, UCLA, etc. to come to that conclusion. Please get with the program…

    • cats paw
      4:33 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      You should acknowledge that many of you basketball bennies have predicted us to go 40-0 the last 6 yrs in a row! When and if it ever does happen…..that still makes you a lousy prognosticator that no one should listen to!

    • RealCatsFan
      9:30 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      There’s always someone around to drop that turd in the punch bowl, isn’t there?

    • UK Big Board Update
      12:39 pm December 22, 2014 Permalink

      Who the hell predicted 40 – 0 the last six years? Did I miss something? Or are you just making shit up to sound right (again)?

  11. Hicksy
    4:22 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    This team faced every challenge they’ve been given and gone above and beyond our expectations in every faucet of the game. There’s really only one challenge left and that’s to win a true road game. We get our chance this weekend against maybe the best competition we will face in the regular season. I expect them to respond like they have all year. Cats by 7.

  12. cats paw
    4:25 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    Why couldn’t you have held this article till next Sunday? I feel like I’m watching the proverbial free throw where the announcer states the shooter “has made 26 consecutive free throws”…. Then we all know the “CLUNKER” is coming.

    • blubo
      6:51 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

      gonna go out on a limb and say luvall may be a bit overrated. not just because i’m a uk homer, which i am, but mainly because of the schedule they’ve played. after harrell went out saturday it took a 32pt effort by rozier to pull out the win vs a supposed greatly outmanned wku team. they play tough d but don’t have experienced bench to hang with cats. it’ll be interesting to see how they fair in acc vs dook, at va., and improving nc.

  13. CATandMONKEY
    5:28 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    If you watched this team during the Bahamas trip, it was very evident that passing and ball sharing would be hallmarks of their style. In the very first game I saw passing that matched or exceeded what The Cats did during the tournament last year.

    These guys feel confident AND comfortable giving the ball to any guy on the floor. What a ridiculous luxury. Imagine going into work and nobody sucked. These are the good old days indeed!

  14. keiths
    7:27 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    We are just getting started Bro!

  15. jonthes
    9:03 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    And besides losing Alex, though he actually is still a strong part of the team, Towns is feeling his way into what should be the biggest NBA career on the team. This team will be much better, barring another major injury, in March. UCLA used to dominate like this with Alcinder/Jabbar, but they rarely played anyone who was any good and had to win only four games to a title, when the regions were regional and there was noone to challenge them in the West. This team is as dominant as Rupp’s Fabulous Five, which won three titles in four years. Something Cal could have easily done with a steadier Randle and Knight not going shaky for two minutes against UConn.

  16. BTownUKFan
    10:14 am December 22, 2014 Permalink

    I’m waiting for that team that decides to NOT triple team KAT every time he gets the ball and let him have some fun on the offensive end.