By now, the vast majority of the Big Blue Nation has either read, or at least heard, about the article from Rolling Stone's Michael Weinreb penned "Is Kentucky Killing College Basketball." While it is pretty clear that Mr. Weinreb is far from a college basketball expert, I do think he was briefly onto something.
He started down the right path with this comment;
"part of the problem is that Kentucky has found a way to dominate in an era when college basketball itself is mired in sluggish and largely unwatchable play."
His problem is that he went into the opposite direction from there. He went on to basically say that the ‘Cats were beating teams with authority coupled with indifference, that they were stockpiling talent so scary that it did not feel like college basketball. He likened it to entering a cheat code on a video game. He went on to pose the question asking if Kentucky was killing college basketball and possibly initiating debate and reform on how to fix the game in the future. However, Kentucky is not killing college basketball; they may actually be saving it.
For some time now the landscape of college basketball has been evolving into a players first landscape. No longer can an abusive coach like Bobby Knight succeed by forcing their will onto players and turning them into the coach's minions creating a "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" situation. Today's game requires a different approach, and while there are many out there doing it well, nobody is doing it better than John Calipari.
Coach Cal's "players first" mentality and servant leadership methods have ultimately culminated in this season's "quest for perfection." He has been coaching this way his entire career, but not on the brightest stage until 2010. The validation of his methods started in 2012 when he was able to get the #1 (Anthony Davis) and #2 (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) pick in the draft to settle for being literally the fourth and fifth offensive options on a team that won a national title.
Winning with great kids is probably the hardest thing to do in college sports. Coach Cal seems to have perfected it. Shame this is ignored.— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 2, 2015
Having those guys come together as one unit was a significant achievement, one that few could ever accomplish. Having said that, Cal came into 2015 with an even bigger task at hand: take TEN of those guys and have them not only give up shots, but give up playing time. He had to potentially ask two or three of those McDonald's All-Americans to watch from the sidelines.
The tweets and articles came fast and furious in the preseason that Kentucky would have another team turmoil on its hands with all the egos in tow. While there are many, a few of the BBN's favorite antagonists got in on the action:
@RobDauster @EvanDaniels Those bigs gonna be pissed sitting on bench regardless. I think Marcus Lee may be odd man out again.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) August 11, 2014
Hope Trey Lyles makes the most of his seven minutes per game next year.— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) April 14, 2014
Over the course of this season, UK has not only come away from every game unscathed, but they have had fun doing it... all the while nobody averaging more than 26 minutes per game. These Wildcats come into the game with a defense first approach on their way to a historically good unit. Not only have these McDonald's All Americans sacrificed shots and playing time, they have adjusted to prioritizing defense above offense.
With all the success on the court, the ‘Cats are just as impressive off the court. The team has a collective GPA of 3.1; they have done community work as a group by working at a Salvation Army in Lexington for Thanksgiving. Not to mention virtually every member of the media raves about the respect and politeness the team exudes during interviews.
Recently, Jay Bilas was on College Gameday discussing just this point and said Kentucky was doing it the right way.
Jay Bilas says not only is Kentucky really good, they "do the things the right way" off the court as well: http://t.co/by8xLn9A3z— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) March 1, 2015
Kentucky doesn't really fit the stereotype, either. We say "the scourge of the one and dones" and "the one and done is ruining college basketball." You've got all these players going to Kentucky, they have sacrificed their minutes, they have sacrificed scoring, and they are winning. They play together, they play hard and they share the ball. How many guys at Kentucky have been suspended? None. How many have been arrested? None.
They are doing it the right way. You don't like it, that's your business. But I'll tell you what, those are really good kids that have done a great job. And if they'd done it somewhere else, everybody would be praising the sacrifice and what great kids and all that stuff.
This brings me to my contrasting point, if my opinion is that Kentucky may actually be saving college basketball, what is hurting it? There is an epidemic of "blue bloods" leaving a stain on this 2015 college basketball season. The kids from Lexington are certainly the brightest, if not one of the only shining beacons of this season and without their story, we could be having a very different discussion about this year.
The Jayhawks and Bill Self have had more than their share of off the court controversy this season. Before the season even started Conner Frankamp decided to leave the Jayhawks team in search of more playing time. Frankamp said this about his decision,
"We have many good guards and so many big-time players. I want to be at a place where I could play a bigger role."
Unfortunately, Self apparently could not get Frankamp to buy into a bigger picture and he went elsewhere.
Later it would come out that Kansas assistant coach Jerrance Howard had been arrested on a marijuana charge last summer, and kept it quiet until February and at that point he was suspended for two weeks.
Most recently, you have the Cliff Alexander situation as well. Alexander came into Kansas as a top five overall recruit, and even received pre-season all-American praise from Jeff Goodman. This year has not lived up to expectations for Alexander and now he is being benched pending an NCAA investigation. The details are being kept quiet for the time being so we can only speculate as to the severity of it.
Louisville began the season as a top five team and many pointed to the UK-UL game in Louisville that could be the biggest hurdle for the Wildcats. Over the past two months a cloud has settled in over Jefferson County, and starting guard Chris Jones was first suspended for fighting. Jones was then reinstated for the next game, only to be dismissed from the team altogether after a police report surfaced charging Jones and two others with rape and sodomy of two different women. The handling of this situation, and the program's knowledge of it before the dismissal, are still a bit of a mystery as the program claimed it was hardly a big deal before the police report surfaced.
There was also the public undressing of Shaqquan Aaron by Coach Pitino claiming Aaron to not be a "Louisville man."
"He just doesn't have a Louisville attitude. He's not a Louisville man in terms of the way we practice, the way we go about it. Can he get there? If he doesn't, he'll be at another school. That's the way it will be. He's never going to step on the court until he gets that attitude."
Syracuse and Jim Boeheim have been in the middle of an NCAA investigation spanning back eight years,. As a preemptive measure hoping to earn some political capital with the NCAA, they have a self-imposed NCAA tournament ban for this year. Although it is a rather disingenuous gesture, especially considering the Orange were certainly NOT heading to an NCAA birth when this was decided.
The inner workings of this investigation include issues with the student-athlete academic services, issues with academic internships, violations of the schools internal drug violation policy (10 player were allowed to play or practice when they should have been ineligible), and possible impermissible benefits. The decision by the NCAA is expected any day now and it is becoming evident this could be bad for Syracuse.
Coach K dismissed Rasheed Sulaimon in January and it became known in February that he was involved in two separate sexual assault complaints during the 2013-14 academic year. The school newspaper uncovered the allegations (not anyone in the national media) and while details are sparse, and Sulaimon could ultimately be cleared of any wrong doing, the fact is that it is a cloud over the program. Especially considering the coaches supposedly knew about this since March 2014.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you know about the scandal at North Carolina. The 18 years of academic fraud and false classes have put THREE UNC National Championships and a significant amount of wins effectively up in the air. The scope of this scandal is a little too big to really grasp and probably will not be fully understood for years to come.
So, in a year when it seems like there is a black eye on most every program that regularly is in the national championship discussion, it is the most talented, best behaved, most unified TEAM from Lexington that is not only doing it better than anyone on the court - and just maybe off the court as well.
The bottom line to all of this is that many different guys came out of high school as demi-gods. They decided to come to a program together that is bigger than themselves. They have sacrificed the name on the back of the jersey for the name on the front. They are examples of what a student athlete should be on and off the court, and they are having fun doing it. Truth be told, I think it would be wise for Mr. Weinreb to change the title of his article to "Is Kentucky Saving College Basketball?"