clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats NCAA Championship was Good For College Basketball

Ladies and gentlemen, this was a perfect team.  Individually they were good, but as a team, they were flawless.
Ladies and gentlemen, this was a perfect team. Individually they were good, but as a team, they were flawless.

We have seen lots of people write the reasons why Kentucky winning the 2012 NCAA Tournament championship was bad for college basketball. The arguments essentially boil down to the idea that if you can recruit enough good players, their level of experience doesn't matter. Neither does the skill of the coach, or the skill of the other teams. In other words, if you can lie, cheat, or bribe your way to a team with several one and done NBA draft picks, you can walk in and take the trophy away from those who try to earn it with lesser players.

In other words, now that John Calipari has won with a freshman-dominated team, anybody can, and everyone will try.

See how easy and facile this game is? If we assume all these good freshmen, we can assume a title. Ipso facto. No real skill involved, just a loaded deck and a gamed system. Don't concern yourself with the man behind the curtain there, folks, there's really nothing to see. The Great Haters of So-called Mercenary Basketball (GHSMB) will tell you what to believe, and you know they wouldn't lie.

Upon closer inspection, however, you might observe a few cracks in this theory. The first crack is provided by the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels, if not for several injuries, could have easily supplanted Kentucky as the NCAA champion this year. They were favored to win it all pre-season, and they had every one of the advantages Kentucky had plus some. In the first place, their roster was more talented and more experienced if you look at the consensus player rankings out of high school. In the second place, they had at least three and possibly as many as five players who could have gone in the first round of the 2012 draft. In the third place, they have Roy Williams, a future hall of famer, coaching their team.

So what went wrong? Well, I mentioned it earlier - injuries. Injuries play a big role in who wins and who loses in late March. Carolina had them, and Kentucky didn't. It wasn't that Kentucky was more talented than UNC, that is demonstrably untrue. North Carolina absorbed injuries to two important players -- Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland -- plus had minor but game-significant injuries to John Henson and Kendall Marshall. That's more than any college team can usually absorb by quite a lot and still hope to get to an Elite Eight, let alone a Final Four.

Second, the 2009-10 Kentucky team that lost in the Elite Eight was arguably as talented as this one, and in some ways more NBA-ready. That team had five players picked in the first round of the draft, four freshmen and a graduated junior. This year, we will see no more than three freshmen enter the NBA draft from Kentucky.

Third, everyone forgets that not all of UK's talent was one and done. Doron Lamb (sophomore), Terrence Jones (sophomore), and Darius Miller (senior) all had something very important to add to the championship mix, and without any one of them, let alone two, it is doubtful that Kentucky could have won. It's also doubtful that UK could have succeeded without Kyle Wiltjer (freshman who will return next year) or even Eloy Vargas (senior).

Fourth, UK had a transformational player in Anthony Davis. Very rarely does a talent like Davis come along, and when he does, the hype is often overstated. This was a rare case in which the hype was an actual understatement, and Davis became a one-man zone defense for Kentucky and wound up a near-unanimous National Player of the Year, allowing the rest of the players to focus on faceguarding their men and erasing their mistakes. UK became a suffocating defensive squad because of Davis' unique and extraordinary skills.


So how is this Kentucky victory actually good for college basketball? First, it exposes the one and done rule even more to criticism, increasing the chances something will actually be done. What form that will take is unclear at the moment, but the momentum is clearly on the side of change. We can only hope that it will be change for the better at this point.

Second, John Calipari with a national title is a good thing because he deserves it. He has been coaching at an extraordinary level for a long time, and coaches that good who work that hard for that long deserve to win a championship. Everybody was happy when Coach K and Roy Williams finally broke through, and everybody, absent a few irrational naysayers with delusions of NCAA violations, is happy that Coach Cal did as well.

Third, the always-absurd notion that a freshman-dominated team could not win a championship has been debunked. Most detractors hold that out as a negative, but they don't consider the circumstances -- it took a transformational freshman player, an extraordinarily selfless and tireless worker in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, three multi-year players, an injury-free season, a future hall of fame coach and a partridge in a pear tree to get it done. This doesn't actually minimize the importance of experience so much as it reveals it as an absolute necessity. Get back to me when a team like the Fab Five actually wins an NCAA Tournament, and then we can discuss if that's really a bad thing.

Finally, this Kentucky championship is good for college basketball because this team was good for college basketball. They attended their classes and never had a hint of academic sloth. They stayed out of trouble and never got so much as a one-game benching for misbehavior. They fought through negative publicity, mostly surrounding Coach Cal, and never said boo. They played like champions literally from day one and almost never woofed, smack-talked, or acted out in any way on or off the court. They were exactly what every basketball coach dreams of coaching -- determined, focused, unselfish players that get along with each other, share the ball and the glory, and pull together for a common goal, and they behaved with a grace and humility far in excess of their meager years.

In short, they were a perfect team. And if that isn't good for college basketball, nothing is.