Yes, we have heard it all before, and we will hear it again. That is, until it's wrong.
What am I talking about? The same thing that starts to crop up every year for the last three years: Kentucky can't win the NCAA Tournament championship with freshmen. This time, it is Shane Ryan writing for Grantland.
What about a national championship? Conventional wisdom says that teams who win a title have a fortunate combination of talent and experience, meaning that Kentucky is bound to fall short yet again. To assess the accuracy of that idea, let's look at the last few title winners.
Ryan goes on to list the NCAA Tournament champions from the last 12 years, contending, essentially, that none of them were truly freshman-led (although he really doesn't differentiate this point). His argument is, in essence, that because we have had so few (2003's Syracuse team probably has to be considered an exception) freshmen-led NCAA title winners, the odds are against having another one.
There isn't really anything wrong with this analysis per se. In two tries with freshmen-led teams, Kentucky has come up just short both times. Ryan's argument is that the missing element seems to be experience, but unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're a Kentucky fan), his case isn't all that persuasive, even though his facts are indisputable.
What he fails to mention, and what is usually not mentioned by people taking this "The odds are ..." approach, is that there have been very few teams in history, save the Michigan Wolverines' Fab Five of the 1990's, that resemble any of Kentucky's basketball teams -- supremely talented freshmen playing together unselfishly. With such a small sample to deal with, I think drawing definitive conclusions from history is not particularly convincing.
I think that an argument could be made that last year's team cracked a bit under the pressure of the big stage. That would seem to validate Ryan's point, and in isolation, it does. Kentucky came into that Final Four game off two very tough and emotionally draining wins, one over a big non-conference rival and the other an upset over the top-seeded team in the tourney. This is a team that exceeded expectations to get where they were, and had little margin for error against the best in the country. Ultimately, that margin was just too thin to get them over the hump against Connecticut.
In the 2010 tournament, the Wildcats had a glaring weakness that the West Virginia Mountaineers found a way to exploit -- 3-point shooting. This wasn't really a case of Kentucky collapsing under pressure, but more of a fantastic job of coaching by Bob Huggins, who knew his team could not match up with UK one-on-one - nobody could. So he did what almost every team that is undermanned does now, if they can -- force UK to score against a zone, in this case, the most famous (or infamous) 1-3-1 to be found anywhere in Kentucky lore.
Calipari, to his credit, learned from the first team that you have to have shooters to run his offense. He tried to recruit one late in the process in 2010 (Darnell Dodson -- remember him?), but he didn't really turn out to be any good at consistency, and couldn't defend his position. As a result, Cal tried to trot out Dodson when they needed a zone-buster, but that strategy simply didn't work, and the Mountaineers demoralized the Wildcats.
One could argue that this was a consequence of their youth, and it possibly was, but it was the weakness Huggins successfully exploited that led to the defeat, not really the youth of the team. An older team might not have panicked, as UK did a bit in the end, but we have seen experienced teams do that under pressure as well.
Which brings us to this year's team. Unlike the last two teams, this Kentucky team has no discernible weaknesses at any position. They lack frontcourt depth, but that has not been a problem all year long except very early, in the Indiana game. It could rear its head if Anthony Davis suddenly becomes foul prone, but right now, Davis is currently 43rd n the nation in fewest fouls drawn, averaging barely 2 per contest.
It's also worth mentioning that for the first time in the John Calipari era, the Wildcats have players with Final Four experience -- not just one, or two, but several -- namely, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, and Terrence Jones in the starting rotation, Eloy Vargas on the bench, and Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson as moral support. That is unprecedented during Calipari's reign, and valuable.
So if Kentucky gets to the Final Four this year, I recommend you print out Ryan's article, put it in the shredder, burn the remains, bury the ashes and salt the earth at the point of interment. You heard it here first -- If this Kentucky team makes it to the Final Four uninjured, prepare a place in the Rafters for #8.