While it's typically bad form for one to pronounce their favorite team as being better than one that the consensus crowd have already crowned as "odds-on favorite to win it all", (a team that one irrationally exuberant blog-spert suggested could be UNC'S "best" ever), form isn't what I'm after here.
I also understand that the so-called experts, most of conventional wisdom, and the gasified pundits of any group, are almost always wrong. That is a fact, based on a number of recent scientific studies and books detailing those startling results.
And so, since 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 the like; these ideas are my own objective/subjective viewpoint.
With all homer-ism aside, and with an honest almost-certainty, I believe Kentucky will be better than North Carolina once again this year, and most particularly by this season's end (that is in College Basketball of course).
TAKE SPECIAL NOTE that I am not so arrogant to say that "Kentucky will beat UNC this year". God only knows, but we can all agree that the best TEAM does not always win the National Championship (as my mind drifts to counting out a stack of Benjamins after a certain 1995 Cats vs.UNC NCAA game).When these titans lock horns, both teams and fans KNOW that each are CAPABLE of winning or losing it all, (as my mind now drifts to a bar in Hilton-Head, SC in 1984, as I'm counting out even more Benjamins after a second half meltdown in a UK-Georgetown NCAA tilt)
No, here I am talking about which team is/will be better by season's end, 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 around, waiting to be chosen for some 5-on-5 pickup basketball.
Roy picks first: Harrison Barnes, so you counter with Anthony Davis. Roy grabs Tyler Zeller so you give a nod to Terrence Jones. OK, Ole' Roy says he'll take John Henson. With some hesitation you decide on Michael Kidd-Gilchrest next, leaving Darius Miller and Doron Lamb on the table with Teague and Wiltjer, along with Marshall and, uh...Strickland, Mcadoo, Bullock and P.J.Hairston.
Who should 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 Marshall for Roy and you are "stuck" with Marquis Teague. Stuck with Marquis Teague? Wow, what a game huh?
Well, the point is that when it comes down to it, I think 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 might go differently with folks in Chapel Hill. It's ALSO at the crux of my argument.
In part ONE, I mistakenly used statistics to try and prove that Kentucky was the better team last year as well. I mistakenly assumed "possession basketball" (some say "offensive efficiency") was WELL understood as meaning: As long as you have the ball the other team cannot score, and your team can. If you turn it over, you no longer have possession. If you fail to get a rebound, you no longer have possession. It's ALL about offensive efficiency. That is: did you score when you had the ball?
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 these facts, laid out clearly before them, which argued/showed/proved with rationale and reason that the Cats were better than the Heels during the last season, especially when it counted most: On the court in their final head-to-head game.
Yet my reasoning was maligned, my arguments mangled, and my integrity insofar as basketball knowledge laid open to serious doubt. Somewhat astoundingly, I was vehemently accused of posting an over-gratuitous self-promotion by one writer, of whom I know to be an excellent writer himself, and whose mantle is surely safe and secure without embarrassing and lambasting me as a common nit-wit.
Lemme' jus' say that I don't write about Kentucky basketball to win awards, or get free tickets, to keep an erection during sex, or even for money or it's ensuing imaginary PRESTIGE.
For me, an occasional atta-boy if justified will suffice. Yet in my mind, this "BBN feel good" piece garnered an unusual barrage of over-the-top questioning and unreasonable ridicule, the likes of which I haven't felt since third grade. And from BIG BLUE fans to boot! Oh my?
I simply love the Cats and I like to write. I won't apologize for these perversions, because I'm not too dumb to enjoy either of these endeavors. On the other hand I love honest criticism, and so it was my error in judgment to have touted my previous posts. But shameful it was not. It was merely an effort to get some real feedback (and maybe an atta-boy!).
That said... my insufferable ego is still intact, and I'm recovering nicely. No, permanent damage has been done.
This is Part 2, which many readers begged for with a curious but devilish delight?
Part Two relies on reason and fact, but isn't entirely based on undeniable empirical evidence as was Part One; rather something a bit more insipid.
Growing up as I did the son of a gambler, I believe I have acquired some knowledge/wisdom through which observation-experience-feeling and gut are involved, though not exactly quantifiable. And some of that could be wrong.
But again the numbers, via the statistics, point to Kentucky's dominance over Carolina again, in so far as that can be measured this early in a season. And as I'm reminded each day, the game is not played on paper.
Yet some reasons, while rooted in fact are hard to pin-down.
I mean, why is it that sometimes late in a game we are happy when a certain player is fouled, when the statistical evidence would suggest that another one would have been a better choice? Call it gut feeling.
3 PT. SHOOTING-CAROLINA (and) 3 PT. DEFENSE
Where has anyone read or even heard that UNC has finally figured out how to shoot the three? Couple that with having an opponent that will guard the three better than we have yet seen at Kentucky, there should be some metal-clanking on Franklin St. this year. Roy still does not have a reliable 3 pt shooter in his entire arsenal, unless one of the vaunted freshmen steps up now and takes over quickly. OH yeah, Roy Williams loathes to play freshmen..? The Heels do not shoot free throws very well either, as good FT shooting teams go. Once again, they had better get lots of layups, dunks, and chippys. Uncontested ones.
3PT. SHOOTING - KENTUCKY (and) 3 PT. DEFENSE
Simply put, our TWO best 3 pt. bombers are back and as Cawood would say, playing "string music in Lexington K-Y". Miller and Lamb (move over Mr. Ford and Delk), Lamb may well end up as the best EVER (%-3 pt.) shooter at Kentucky. And, one year older, wiser, sharper, and more confident. Some other guys can step out and knock it down (Anthony Davis for one), and did so last year just for shits and giggles (Terrence Jones). They say Wiltjer can really shoot the three, and perhaps better than Lamb. As it's also hard to teach six foot ten, guarding him should prove especially difficult by players known to usually camp near the painted area and close to the exits (Henson, Zeller). And UNC has yet to show that it can stop a good 3 pt. shooting team.
Yet, Kentucky is primarily a DEFENSIVE TEAM, mind you. One of the best last year (9th), still a bit quicker a foot this year. John Calipari is known for coaching tenacious defensive intensity. Free Throws are a question here too, though the guys who stayed (Miller, Lamb) were two of our better free throw shooters last year and we already shoot FT better than do the Heels. All said, we both should shoot Free Throws tad higher percentage-wise this season. But in all this could be a big UK advantage.
Carolina is talented big and deep. Kentucky is talented big and deep. How deep must a team go? Only ten guys can play at any given moment. The buses that carry teams are huge. It's true, UNC could field three strong starting lineups. Who cares? While it might come in handy sometimes, probably not when these two juggernauts meet. Both teams have a long talented pine forest on their sidelines, and enough players-in-waiting to interchange parts and re-tool during games if needed. Toss-up, with UNC a slight edge, but only if hacking Armageddon breaks out.
Last year Carolina held the distinct advantage in the paint on paper (the actual game looked different). This year, the advantage is not so much, if any. Carolina loves to rebound and run-out. Kentucky will love to rebound and run-out just as much this year. We'll be a tad quicker than Carolina's vaunted front line when Zeller holds down the middle, and Gilchrist Davis, and Jones are all but blurs of light, like Friday night coeds heading toward Two Keys. No more advantage UNC. Inside advantage... Even.
As in guard. Carolina (last year) had some minor turnover issues but Kendall Marshal ought to change that with a year under his belt. He can run, handle the ball, make the correct pass, and... blow the easy shot. With Marquis Teague, Kentucky will see it's bigs become more involved than ever, since he doesn't love to shoot except when finishing. But, the truth is 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? If you have watched his brother Jeff play, you'll see how Marquis might progress.... Jeff steadily progressed as a knock-down shoot,r and now he can actually knock down the shot, play fierce D, and will stand toe-to-toe with any NBA Point Guard. By seasons end as he becomes a better shooter and sees the court better to make good decisions, Marquis will soon follow Jeff to The League. Point guard matchup...Even.
Harrison Barnes is no doubt SUPER, but can be erratic. Anthony Davis, for sure is not for sure but is definitely a most likely future NBA All-Star. Mike-Gilchrist, is absolutely positively a player any coach would cherish. Doron Lamb... well, like Anthony Hopkins, he will not be silenced. John Henson, a rebounding muppet show who has gained upper body strength, will be tough to control. Tyler Zeller, sometimes plays like either the Scarecrow or the Tin-Man, but hardly ever the Wizard. Terrence Jones, with early maturity, higher yield, compounded interest...should be UK's most bankable note. To my eyes, UK holds a slight Super Star advantage.
THE INTANGIBLE FACTOR, THE COACHING EDGE
Coaches. They deny, but then they lie. Roy Williams was for a long time the guy who couldn't win the BIG ONE, but over-and over, "he didn't care". He handled it well, but you must know it hurt him to understand that he needed to leave Kansas to finally get it done. Carolina was the right FIT for Roy and everyone knew it. In his element, he got it done quickly, though he claimed it hadn't entered his mind. Now, it's as if those years never happened. They don't pencil him in, they ink him in, they now expect him to win it all again and again. But is he as hungry as he was in 2003? I don't think so. Listen to him speak. He now knows his place is secure, he's a Hall-of-Famer already. He wants to win for his team, not for the Carolina faithful. He is sad, but not destroyed when he loses, and he always loses with a certain class. But hungry, he is not.
In contrast, John Calipari didn't shine Adoph Rupp's shoes for 20 years, just waiting for his day to inevitably happen. He's been making it happen every day for years, and with much longer odds than Roy Williams ever knew existed. He doesn't care about Championships he says, only his players individual successes. Nice copy. I believe him, but only to a degree. The degree that he wants to win one so bad he can taste it. And now, he will if he stays at Kentucky, if only because it's the right FIT. He understood that to get it done he must leave Memphis.
Vindication is one step away, though he suspects no matter what he does, the questions will follow him, and sour it's sweet taste. Calipari had some great mentors, safe to say, and one is Rick Pitino. He followed his every move, he even perfected his moves. It's true that most mentors eventually become resented by those chose to imitate them, and this is no exception. He wants to step out of that man's long shadow once and for all, and he understands how close he is to feeling that bright warm sunshine.
Calipari has softened through the years, and for the better I think, while Williams it seems has hardened. He's become harder to reach and feels the power of being adored, and he knows the bitter pain of fan betrayal. Being at the top of the heap can make a man feel an invincible power at times. Williams is wary of who gets too close and then slams his door shut, where he once was an open book with an open door, and a genuine guy... until early last year when the betrayals began.
Calipari wants to feel that invincible power too, but I think he'll act the opposite... become kinder and gentler, and more approachable once he finally wins it all.
Which one is hungrier, we ask? Who needs it, wants it the most? Which Coach has to have it for his own personal vindication? Who would like more than anyone on the planet to look his nay-sayers in the eye... with just a wink and a smile? Calipari understands that every cut, every bruise, every unkind and untrue word, every slap to the face will be his to own to relish and savor.
It's remarkable how he has played the coaching game with such focus on class, devotion, dedication, and the will to succeed. Who else could have weathered John Calipari's own storms? He's a man to emulate, not vilify. Of course he's made mistakes, and he's paid heavily their unending price. But he has stayed his course with dignity, just waiting for the last laugh.
He has slayed the dragon, saved the Princess from ruin, and now he will not trade the white horse for anything that resembles a CHANCE TO FAIL. Rest assured Nation of Blue... your time and his have met... fatefully at that crucial moment: when we both needed each other the most. No matter what (like his once mentor Pitino), he has saved Kentucky Basketball for Kentuckians and will forever be deified in the hearts and minds of those who understand the thing that is Kentucky Basketball.
Coaching edge: John 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 they 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 much the same team that suffered Carolina's worst EVER ACC road thumping last year at Georgia Tech, who at the time was a true Rambling Wreck. Some of these UNC guys played in the NIT just one year before, leading to questions of will to win and talent enough to do so. Those who compare this team to UNC 2009 are blind or ignorant, an insult to that great team. There is zero to compare, especially once they suit up and step on the Dome's golden floor. Actually, I see Duke as ACC champs in March 2012. Advantage to UK in Chemistry by season's end, with UNC advantage in November..
THE all- BLUE PLAN
Unlike any team before, this 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 clearer, helped recruit them to play around him. Darius Miller is the anchor, the heart, the foundation (think Chuck Hayes, Pat Patterson). These recruits choices, their high school all-star playing decisions, their signing with UK and timing all speak to a grand plan. A plan from a Championship plan book. NOW is fruition time.
Fittingly, in the end, it may have been Rick Pitino who demonstrated this lesson to John Calipari back in the mid-90‘s...
That is: Leave NO STONES un-turned. The rest? It will all take care of itself.
THIS KENTUCKY TEAM MAY BE THE ULTIMATE COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAM, THE BEST EVER TO PLAY THE GAME.
(many thanks to Glenn and Ken for their formatting help)