In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past four months, Kentucky has been the best men’s college basketball team in the United States.
In fact, the Wildcats are getting better at the right time. They steamrolled their way through the Southeastern Conference tournament, destroying Florida, Auburn and Arkansas to improve to 34-0, 21-0 overall against SEC foes.
Only six games stand between John Calipari’s squad and immortality. As dominant as Kentucky has been through the years under Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Calipari, it has never finished a championship season undefeated. It went undefeated in 1952-53, but the Wildcats were banned from the postseason due to numerous NCAA rules violations.
Kentucky is 34-0, two more wins than Indiana had in 1975-76. Those Hoosiers of Bobby Knight were the last major college men’s team to complete a season undefeated. In those days, there was no conference tournament in the Big Ten, and IU had to win five games, not six, to claim the title.
UNLV came very close to running the table. The Rebels of the late Jerry Tarkanian won the national championhip in 1990 and defended that crown with vigor and gusto the next season, destroying eveything in their path. However, UNLV played in the terrible Big West, which is nowhere near the caliber of the Big Ten and SEC, and the Rebels were hardly challenged, save for a Feb. 10 meeting with No. 2 Arkansas in Fayetteville, until the tournament. And even then nobody came close as UNLV easily reached the Final Four.
Then came Duke. The same team which lost the 1990 championship game 103-73, when the Rebels set records for the most points and widest margin of victory in a championship game, records which still stand.
Coach K and Duke were not inimitdated by the brash and overly cocky Rebels. He wouldn’t allow it. Neither would point guard Bobby Hurley and center Christian Laettner, who stared down Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and company and shocked UNLV 79-77. Two nights later, the Blue Devils won their first national championship by defeating Kansas.
Duke’s best team came into the 1999 championship game 37-1, but it lost to Connecticut.
There is no reason why Kentucky should not cut down the nets three weeks from today in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. Who is going to stop them?
Kansas? Right, the same team which lost 72-40 in November. Not happening.
Notre Dame? The Irish won the ACC championship, but haven’t been able to consistnetly play at an elite level.
Wichita State? Don’t make me laugh.
Wisconsin? Frank Kaminsky may be the natoinal player of the year, but the Badgers aren’t equipped to play Kentucky’s type of game.
As for LSU, which choked away a golden opporutnity to defeat Kentucky last month in Baton Rouge by going scoreless over the game’s final four minutes, I don’t know what to think. Yes, the Bayou Bengals almost beat Kentucky and have some impressive road wins over West Virignia and Arkansas, but this is the same team which lsot to Auburn twice, Mississippi State and Missouri. Yeech.
The Bayou Bengals and North Carolina State is an even match. LSU might even be able to slip by Villanova in the second round. But which LSU team shows in Pittsburgh? Okay, I’ll split the baby: LSU defeats NC State, but loses to Nova.
Kentucky will steamroll, in order, Manhattan, Purdue, West Virginia and Kansas to get to the Final Four. Wisconsin wins the West to face the Wildcats in the national semifinals. Oklahoma emerges from the East and Iowa State from the South to set up an all-Big 12 semifinal.
The Cyclones oust the Sooners and have the privilege of being Kentucky’s 40th and last victim of the season.