Last night the Kentucky Wildcats put a thrashing on the ostensibly homestanding South Carolina Gamecocks, 86-52. It was the third straight colossal beatdown for the Cats, who'd won their last two games by a collective 49 point margin. Things are clicking on all cylinders. If the SEC coaches and writers were to honestly hand out post season awards tomorrow, the Cats could argue that all six of its top players deserve to be first or second team all conference. Outside of an on occasional lapse in 3 point defense, this team has no discernible weakness. Things are going awfully well. With seven regular season games left, and Kentucky sitting at 23-1, its hard not to compare this year's squad to the talent laden 2009-2010 team. Led by the incomparable John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, that squad finished 35-3, with its only blemishes being two road SEC losses and a heartbreaking Elite 8 defeat at the hands of West Virginia.
Any comparison between the two teams has to start with a caveat. This year's SEC schedule is heavily backloaded. Kentucky still has to face the Florida Gators and Vanderbilt Commodores twice each, and a date with Mississippi State in Starkville still looms. The Cats could well fall a couple of games short of Cal's first UK team's 29-2 regular season mark. I hate to jinx it, but with each passing game that looks increasingly unlikely. With that said, I thought I'd break the two teams down today.
This year's team is averaging 78 points per game. They average 39.9 rebounds, 13.3 assists and a whopping 9.4 blocks a game. Kentucky shoots .486 overall and .369 from the three point line. Threes account for 20.2% of their makes, making for an adjusted field goal percentage of .535.
The Unbelievables averaged 79 points to go along with 40.7 boards, 14.7 assists and a shade over seven blocks. Though they shot .479 from the field, they were a more pedestrian .333 on the trey, with an AFG% of .531. In a somewhat surprising statistic, the 2010 team relied a little more on the 3 pointer, which accounted for 21.9% of their field goal makes.
As you can see, its hard to draw so much as a slice from those numbers. This team shoots and block shots better. Led by Wall, the 2010 team shared the ball and scored slightly more. But who am I kidding, you didn't click on this link to read raw numbers, you wanted these two teams broken down man by man, and to see someone stick their neck out on the line about which group of players is better. We'll do just that after the jump
Theoretically, Anthony Davis is a forward, but he is the unquestioned man in the middle for this team. Comparing Davis and Demarcus Cousins is tough. Cousins was a fantastic player. His offensive skill set was the envy of any big man, with an array of post moves, range, touch and the footwork of a very large ballerina. He was also a ferocious rebounder and competitor who gave the 2009-2010 team an edge. Cousins averaged 15.1 points and 9.8 rebounds in a scant 23 minutes a game. That's mind boggling. But Boogie didn't do for his team what Davis does for this one. Simply put, Davis is a transformative player. His shot blocking ability puts this team on a plateau it otherwise couldn't reach. He is a human eraser whose mere presence makes everyone around him a better defender. His other numbers (13.9 and 10.1) don't quite reach Cousins', and it does take him 30 minutes a game to get them. So what. The best thing about Davis and his 30 MPG? He can stay on the floor and do what he does without getting in foul trouble. It sets him apart from Cousins as well as other big shot blockers and it a big reason why. . .
ADVANTAGE: 2012, slight
Another tough battle between two likely long-time NBA players. We all remember Patrick Patterson as the likable superstar who expanded his game and sacrificed his own numbers for the good of the 2009-2010 team. His unselfishness and ability to turn himself into a stretch-the-floor three point shooting big man and more complimentary player was a big part of the 2009-2010 team's success. Terrence Jones, in contrast, has had a little tougher journey settling into his role this year. At times Jones looked lost after injuring his finger earlier in the season. Based on his recent production, however, those days appear to be over. Jones is Kentucky's most fearsome offensive threat. When he gets it going, you can almost see opposing coaches thinking, "Here I am worrying about Davis and I forget they have the best 6'9" guy in the country". Though his averages this year (12.5 and 6.4) aren't the numbers Patterson put up (14.3 and 7.4), that is partially explained by his injury and this year's team having more weapons. All in all, I think he is a bigger headache for the opposition. Still, it is hard to place Jones ahead of Patterson, whose leadership was so important to the 2009-2010 team.
I cannot say much new about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. For a kid with his pedigree to come in and play with such passion and selflessness is as refreshing as it has been important to his team. But he isn't just a spark plug. He has lottery pick talent. Michael is a relentless rebounder and a better finisher in this open floor than anyone discussed here not named John Wall. His motor is legendary. In contrast, the starting SF for the 2010 team was a not quite ready for primetime Darrius Miller. I love Miller, and could argue convincingly that he deserves to be a first round draft pick in the NBA. But he was an afterthought in the starting lineup as a sophomore, averaging 6.5ppg in about 20 minutes.
ADVANTAGE: 2012, big
Eric Bledsoe came to Kentucky with expectations that he would backup John Wall at point guard for a year, then blossom into a long-term solution at the position. He had other plans. From Day One, he established himself as a better than advertised shooter and elite athlete, very capable to holding his own against anyone in the country at the two guard spot. He took pressure off of Wall by giving other teams a second lightening quick player to worry about and serving as a backup at PG who didn't give teams much of a break. Kentucky has a two headed monster at the position now, and it is formidable. Doron Lamb is the coolest customer you'd ever want to meet, lethal from the 3-point line, but equally comfortable scoring with a series of pullups and floaters. He'd be averaging 18 points a game on many other NCAA tourney-bound teams. Lamb is an underrated defender, but not the ballhawk Bledsoe was. Eric was also a better passer and ballhandler.
Its hard not to make this comparison without also mentioning Miller, but since depth is a separate issue, I'll hold off.
ADVANTAGE: 2010, by a whisper
Here is where things start to get dicey for this year's squad. After struggling with decision making and perhaps some selfishness issues early on, Marquis Teague has made great strides this year. He is a good passer and very good penetrator. Though he isn't the field general some had hoped for, he has improved his assist to turnover ratio and hey, he's led a pretty darned potent attack this year. Like the rest of the team, he hustles and defends his butt off. Teague has a great future. But he isn't John Wall. The most talented UK player in a generation easily takes this one. Hopefully his recent pro struggles don't cause people to forget how truly special he was as a college player. The most anticipated UK recruit since Rex Chapman never disappointed, was a great teammate and defender, and may have been good for a few extra points a game as others were so in awe of his otherworldly talent. Whenever things weren't going well, he willed us to wins, almost like he could do anything he wanted on a college court when he had to. Kentucky will likely be a top program for the rest of my life but I'm not sure I'll see another John Wall.
ADVANTAGE: 2010, big
A bit of a dichotomy here. Though the 2010 team ultimately takes this category, I'd argue both teams have/had good depth. They are just different kinds of depth. In Darius Miller, 2012 version, this year's Kentucky squad has a sixth starter. At 6'8" with a lethal outside shot and the courage to drive to open spots, Darius creates a huge matchup problem for most college teams. The fact that he can come in for Lamb, Miller or Teague makes the Cats hard to plan for. Kyle Wiljer has had his moments as a shooter and scorer, but his best years are probably ahead of him. Still, he has to be guarded at at 6'9", can get a shot off. Eloy Vargas has proven serviceable in spurts. I frankly hoped he'd progress more since last year. In sizing up the fifth option starter and first guy off the bench this year's Kentucky team is superior to 2010's. Position 7 may be a close call. But the party ends there.
The 2010 squad was Olympic diving well deep. Nine guys played double figure minutes and ten played essentially every game. They could come at you with two defensive stoppers (Ramon Harris and DeAndre Liggins), a lethal shooter (Darnell Dodson) and two legit shot blockers (Daniel Orton, who for all his faults averaged 1.4 blocks in thirteen minutes a game, as well as Perry Stevenson). Here's a stat. Josh Harrellson played more minutes in his first five games as a New York Knick (100) than he did that entire year (88). That, my friends, is some depth.
Advantage: 2010, moderate to big.
In college basketball, everything comes down to the tournament. The 2010 team was dominant, but failed to make the Final Four. The team captured the imagination of a great basketball starved Commonwealth and is still deservingly beloved. Ultimately, this team will be judged by what happens in March and barring catastrophe, it will be what happens in the tournament's final two weeks. So, I'll be the first to admit that this is not only an academic exercise, but also of questionable relevance. Still, after trying to stack these two teams up I'd say that the 2009-2010 team comes out ahead by the narrowest of margins. If the game is played 10 times, they win 6, with Cousins and Davis, Patterson and Jones batting for the ages, Gilchrist being the most important guy on the floor but the 2012 shooters ultimately bowing out to 2010's athletes more often than not.
Agree, disagree? Let's hear from you, BBN.
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