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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Can Kentucky win it All?

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There's been a lot of talk in the national media that says Kentucky will go undefeated and win its ninth national championship. For the members of the Big Blue Nation, it seems there is hope, but the thought is laced with cautious optimism.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I've watched a lot of other teams to determine who I should worry about (this is a birthright of the Big Blue Nation), and have decided that there are none who can beat us if we play at our best. However, any team can falter at any time. The University of Mississippi basketball team showed me just how ridiculous the idea of an undefeated season is. And, they did it on our court.

I've maintained all along, in my own mind anyway, that the likelihood of a 40-0 season is a goal (John Calipari started all this talk a couple of years ago) and, while possible it is improbable. It is a good thing to have such a goal because it gives a team focus. However, the goal of an undefeated season is a secondary goal. The prime directive is another national championship. Winning number nine is fine. Doing it without a loss makes number nine historical. I think dreaming of an undefeated season is a good thing for our fans and our team. Goals are always important because they are things to strive for.

If Kentucky's fate is to go down, then let it be during conference play or the conference tournament. A loss in either or both does not hurt the Wildcats except in the eyes of the media and the haters. We know how fickle the media is and we know that haters are going to hate, no matter what. Kentucky is going to have to falter badly before the NCAA Tournament for anything less than a 1 or 2 seed.

Fast forward to the Big Dance in March.  In a perfect world, the Final Four would be made up of four one seeds. The last time all four # 1 seeds made it to the Final Four was in 2008 when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA made it. I've gone back to 1979 and cannot find another instance when four #1 seeds made it to the finals.

I have come up with is a list of teams who I see as capable of a number one seed: Kentucky,  Duke, Virginia, Louisville, Villanova, Arizona, Gonzaga and Wisconsin. Duke, Virginia and Louisville will have to settle their differences in the ACC regular season and in the ACC Tournament.  Only one will be a one seed.

However, in the tournament lesser teams have come up with big wins. Any team, then, is capable of having one magic moment. And, any team with a sense of entitlement can go down very quickly. You also can't forget that the final game last year involved a seven and an eight seed. Connecticut and Kentucky showed how teams can get a hot hand during the tournament. Could West Virginia or some other team knock the Cats out of the tournament again like 2010?

There are only three teams who have yet to lose: Kentucky, Duke and Virginia. There are twelve teams who have one loss.  There are thirteen teams with two losses. Kentucky finished last season with a 29-11 record after losing to Connecticut in the final game. The Huskies finished their season with a 32-8 record. Both teams entered the tournament unranked.  Obviously, the same thing can happen this year. It takes a run of luck to win a championship and it takes a hot team. Take a night off and you're most likely out of the tournament.

One thing I am sure of this year is that defense is going to determine who wins it all. Through Thursday games, Kentucky is allowing only 0.77 points per possession followed by Louisville (0.80), Virginia (0.84), Wisconsin (0.87), Arizona (0.87), Villanova (0.89), Duke (0.90), and Gonzaga (0.91).

While defense is emphasized, it still takes offense to win games, unlike football. Duke is averaging 1.24 points per possession followed by Gonzaga (1.23), Wisconsin (1.19), Virginia (1.18), Kentucky (1.16), Villanova (1.13), Arizona (1.11), and Louisville (1.06).

Gonzaga leads these teams in Effective Field Goal Percent at 59.1% followed by Duke (58.7%), Wisconsin (55.5%) and Arizona (55.1%). Defensively, Kentucky is holding their opponents to an EFG% of 35.8% followed by Gonzaga (43.6%), Wisconsin (44.4%), and Arizona (43.6%).

Here's the EFG%, Free Throw Rate, Offensive Rebound% and Turnover % numbers for the eight teams:

EFG%
FTR%
OR%
TO%

You can compare Kentucky versus Duke, Virginia, Louisville, Wisconsin and Arizona offensively here and defensively here. I can't bring myself to believe that Gonzaga or Villanova will garner a #1 seed, so I left them out, plus statsheet.com only allows a comparison of six teams. If I had to choose the #1 seeds right now, I would pick Kentucky, Duke, Arizona and Wisconsin.

The bottom line is that someone is going to have to overcome Kentucky's defense and depth. The only way I can see that happening is if Kentucky takes the other team for granted AND has a bad night both offensively and defensively. That's happened against Ole Miss, yet we still won.

The questions for you is will this Kentucky team win number nine and will they go undefeated in the process?