Yesterday, Wayniac Nation’s own Mike Dunton gave a pretty convincing argument on why you should be rooting against the Kentucky Wildcats to get to that illustrious 40-0 and win the NCAA Men’s National Championship. Well, folks, I’m hear to tell you that Dunton is stark raving mad and doesn’t know what he is talking about this time.
Let me preface this by making two things perfectly clear. I do not like Kentucky basketball. If you are new to Wayniac Nation, then you are unaware that I am a diehard Syracuse Orange fan. It is my longest sole allegiance in any sport. My disdain for Kentucky is obviously stemmed in the 1996 season. It’s also the reason why Antoine Walker is on my five most hated athletes ever list and why I never cared for Tony Delk or Ron Mercer, and especially that backstabbing Rick Pitino. Jim Boeheim gave Pitino life, and that’s how he repaid him.
I also can’t stand John Calipari. Of course, Coach Cal has become one of the lesser liked coaches, possibly in the history of the game. But my ultimate dislike does not come from the curious ways he has turned around programs like UMass and Memphis and returned Kentucky to dominance. No, my dislike on Coach Cal stems from the one turn he took in the NBA, coaching my beloved New Jersey Nets. His saving grace was that he drafted my favorite Net of all time in Kerry Kittles. He also could do very little with the team in the two and a half years while he was there, and he was supposed to be the savior coming in from UMass. So screw Coach Cal.
That being said, I am rooting for Kentucky to win it all. Why? I have been watching college basketball pretty vividly since 1986. One of the first times I was ever allowed to stay up late and watch a game (of course with a TV in my room, I use the word allowed lightly) was that stupid Keith Smart shot in the Syracuse/ Indiana debacle. I have watched religiously since then, breaking things, cursing out people, and having my stress level from my bracket busting blowing through the roof for nearly three decades. And in that time I have never seen an undefeated season. You know what, I deserve it.
The generation before mine got to see it pretty regularly. It happened twice in the 50s, and then UCLA and John Wooden pretty much forgot how to lose a game for what, 8 years? Then, in 1976 Bobby Knight and his Hoosiers went 32-0 for the last perfect season in Men’s hoops. People also forget that that season, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights entered the Final Four undefeated, which made for a pretty intense March Madness.
My generation? We got the Wichita State Shockers. Exciting Cinderella story, yes. Did anyone think they legitimately had a chance to win it all and go undefeated having to go through Louisville, Michigan, or Syracuse? Unless you went to or were currently attending Wichita State, that answer is a resounding NO.
We live in an era in where the one-and-done rule reigns supreme. I agree with Dunton on the points he made in regards to the rule and its effects on the game, and I also agree that Coach Cal is perhaps the master at figuring out how to win with a bunch of Freshman. Because of the one-and-done rule, we may never have a shot at seeing an undefeated team again. So I repeat, I deserve this.
Should the one-and-done rule change, the only way it would go would be to revert back to the original rule, allowing potential NBA draftees to skip college altogether. There is no way that the NCAA or NBA would ever be able to reach an agreement to make it longer. Should the rule change and go back to allowing high school kids to enter the NBA Draft, our chances at an undefeated season grow even slimmer. In today’s society of YouTube and social media, teams are scouting kids in middle school. LeBron James 10-year old son is basically being harassed by colleges across the nation. Bron doesn’t even know what a college is.
I don’t need to rattle you off stats. If you are filling out a bracket and don’t know who to take because you didn’t pay much attention to this year’s college basketball season, all you need to know is that Kentucky has arguably the best two teams in the nation. You also need to know that Kentucky is so good that Coach Cal doesn’t even need to… recruit kids in a curious manner.
“Hey kid,” Coach Cal could say, “Why don’t you come to Kentucky. We are a legendary program. All I need you for is 40 games. I’ll win you a championship and then you’ll get to go make millions in the NBA by the time you’re 19. If you want to stick around for a second year, I will allow it, but I must insist that by the time you turn 20 that you are an NBA Lottery pick and agree to a million dollar contract.”
Tough sell, huh? It’s not about exposure with Kentucky. They have been a legendary program for an eternity. Ever hear of Adolph Rupp? Kenny Sky Walker? Ashley Judd? Kentucky doesn’t just put out top NBA draft picks, they sustain success in the NBA. Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, and John Wall are amongst the current NBA elite and Anthony Davis may be challenging as the best big in the game.
If you are going to take the I hate Coach Cal approach, that’s fine, but find me a top program who isn’t under the microscope for questionable recruiting practices these days. North Carolina had a rigorous college academic program they seemed to put their basketball players through in order to keep them academically eligible (and Roy Williams suffered no penalty). Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is dealing with it now (although I hope they lessen the blow during the appeal process because it seemed like an all out attack on him and not Syracuse). Like I wrote months ago about Tom Brady and Bill Belichik, everybody tries to gain an edge. Call it cheating, call it immoral, but it’s competitive nature and the more high-profiled a system is, the more aware the public is.
An undefeated season becomes even harder because of the opposite effect from the one-and-done rule. What Gonzaga started over a decade ago, has been continued by coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens and continues with teams like Wichita State today.
These teams build programs of solid basketball players that won’t dash after one year. They learn team basketball and are mostly in it for the long haul. While the Zags, Butlers, JMUs and George Masons haven’t won a title yet, they show what the advantage of a cohesive team of experience with each other can do. And on the march to the Final Fours, they often take out bigger programs. Call them Cinderella stories, call them underdogs, I call them prepared.
Some people will say college basketball has been down, but I disagree. It is “down” because the playing field is leveling out across the nation. Why do you think a No. 12 seed can seemingly always beat a No. 5 seed? It’s because the same ten schools that dominated college basketball are losing players to “smaller” programs that have shown they can win and hang with the big boys. Why go and be the number four guy in Duke when you can be the head honcho of the feel good story of the tournament? There’s your exposure.
This isn’t about the one-and-done, this isn’t about Coach Cal. This is how it’s always been at Kentucky. And once Coach Cal is gone, it’s going to be how it remains. If college basketball has proven one thing it’s that the elite programs don’t simply disappear. So put you’re hatred aside and realize that we deserve to see an undefeated season.