Kentucky Basketball: 2014-15 Wildcats May Be Talented, But They're Not Yet A Team

Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. makes for a very talented bench all by himself. - Jonathan Daniel

Trying to keep it real months before the season starts.

Sometimes, I like to call the off-season the "silly season." That’s when we can get the weird, the odd, the sophistry and the downright crazy. Today, we have competing recklessness, in my humble opinion, from Dick Vitale, and response, from John Clay. First, let’s go over to dear ol’ Dick, since he provoked the Clay response:

Here’s a thought for you: How high would Kentucky’s second team be ranked if it played together at a different school? I believe the talent off the bench would be ranked in the top 15 in America. I will go out on a limb and say Kentucky’s A-team is numero uno, Kentucky’s B-team is No. 12.

This will be the most talented team that Kentucky has ever put on the floor. There have been a number of exceptional teams in the Bluegrass State gracing the court at Rupp Arena, and Rick Pitino had a lot of talent with the 1996 national championship club. But he did not have nine McDonald’s All-Americans.

Okay, well I can see that — but only in the basketball off-season. Seriously, how silly is it to rank a team’s backups? I just can’t wrap my mind around how irrelevant that is. Not that I blame Dick for looking for something to write about, I have that same problem all the time. Sometimes, there’s just not much news, so you drive yourself crazy having something to say and nothing to talk about. I feel you Dickie V., but this is not useful. I suppose as hyperbole it is impressive, and it may even be true. But it’s not going to be true, because that team will never take the floor except as backups, in all probability.

John Clay engages in the opposite, really, of hyperbole — he understates the case. There is no question whatever that this is the most talented team Kentucky has ever put on the floor, taken in toto, and considering the way we measure talent at this point in the season. Here’s Clay’s objection:

Can’t agree. Not yet anyway. I’ll stick with UK’s 1996 national champs. Remember that the backups on that title team included Jeff Sheppard, MVP of the 1998 title team, and Wayne Turner, point guard on that ‘98 team.

What this does is compare talent with results. You can’t do that. Turner and Sheppard were both very good, no doubt about it, but keep in mind that most of the upcoming season’s backups, if you consider the Harrisons, James Young, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson the starters have already been farther than the 1996 team went until 1996. Not only that, most the likely returning starters for 2015 have already demonstrated their ability by getting to the final game.

Finally, the backups, if we consider the newcomers backups rather than starters, are far more talented on paper than either Sheppard or Turner. Neither Sheppard nor Turner were drafted at any level. They both played in the NBA for very brief stints, but when we talk about talent, we aren’t talking about how good you are as a college player. You can look at it that way, but to me it least, it looks like a dodge. We don’t think of Wayne Turner as being more talented than Rajon Rondo, even though he went much further in college than Rondo ever did, both as a backup and a starter.

Honestly, both these arguments have their merits, but they are both ultimately misguided. The only thing that really matters is how good these guys are together, because the last time I checked, college basketball was a team sport with at least five players playing together as a team to accomplish a team goal. That’s what 1996 did, and that’s what prompts Clay’s objection. Vitale saw what happened last season, knows what’s coming in and is understandably bullish. But in the end, there is one thing for sure — 1996 played as a team. 2015, as currently constituted, never has, not even once. Talent is important to a degree, but talent without teamwork gives you the 2013-14 regular season.

If last year taught us anything, it’s not to count our proverbial chickens before the NCAA Tournament starts, and the interesting thing is, it taught us that both in the pre-season and post-season, possibly for the first time in history. So I say put away the woo-hooing and tut-tutting, gentlemen.

Let’s just wait and see, shall we?

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