2013-’14: The Undefeated Season?
10/16/2013 09:52 AM
By Mark Krebs
Over the summer, there was a lot of chatter among this young, star-studded Kentucky team about hunting down a ninth National Championship. Many thought it was a little ambitious, but as Big Blue Madness closes in and the season gets underway, it seems as though the expectations are actually growing.
Just last week, John Calipari talked about setting the bar high for his guys and mentioned that they will be shooting for the very elusive, the very perfect… Undefeated Season. Honestly, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Coach CaI has said multiple times in the past, “… before I retire, I’d like to coach a team that goes 40-0.”
But could this be the team? Could this be the season?
I mean, why not? After all, Indiana did it for crying out loud! It can’t be that hard, right? Well, not so fast.
The entire landscape of college basketball has changed since 1976 when Indiana went undefeated. They did it back when the season was only about 30 or 32 games long as opposed to about 40 today. Also, the parity in the game now is far and above where it was in the 70’s (take that Hoosiers).
Since that ’76 season, only a few programs have gotten close, but none have actually done it. The ’91 UNLV team came the closest only losing one game late in the NCAA Tournament. Listed below are a few of the 2-loss seasons since ’76. They include:
- 79-82 DePaul (3 years in a row)
- 81-82 North Carolina
- 86-87 UNLV
- 91-92 UNLV
- 94-95 UCLA
- 95-96 UMass (Coach Cal’s team)
- 95-96 Kentucky
- 96-97 Kansas
- 98-99 UConn
- 03-04 Stanford
- 04-05 Illinois
- 07-08 Memphis (Coach Cal’s Team)
- 11-12 Kentucky
As you can see in bold, Calipari and Kentucky haven’t been too far over the years. Calipari’s had a chance with three different schools – most recently the Anthony Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist 2011-2012 season. What if Kentucky’s game against Indiana went differently that year, and they pulled out a victory? Would they have had more incentive to beat Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament? It’s crazy to think about, I know.
It’s even crazier thinking about what it must take to motivate the #1 recruiting class every year. Maybe something as big as going undefeated is what it really takes to inspire these young guys in the one-and-done era. What better legacy could one leave behind? That’s why Coach Cal wants to do it. That’s why these players want to do it. However, there’s a fine line between working towards perfection and not getting discouraged when and if you drop one during the season.
And if we look at this next season for the Wildcats, there are certainly a few potential pitfalls.
Internally, the Cats aren’t very deep at the point guard position. Andrew Harrison is a stud, but what if he gets into foul trouble? Can Polson and Hawkins pick up the slack on the offensive end? Let’s also not forget that most freshmen go through growing pains during the season, and this team is made up mostly of freshman (talented, athletic, and strong freshmen but freshmen nonetheless). Can they handle getting everyone’s best shot every minute of every game?
Externally, the game against Michigan St. in Chicago stands out as one that will be a dogfight. Izzo always puts a physical, experienced bunch on the court. It will be a tough test against a preseason top-5 team for this young Kentucky squad. Louisville will be UK’s most talented opponent, and it will probably be the most hyped game of the regular season. Thankfully, it’s at home. The roof may explode off of Rupp. Also, the away games against North Carolina and Florida are always hard-fought and close. These four games are the only games where Kentucky may take a hit and I wouldn’t be surprised.
Nevertheless, Kentucky does have the team to beat this year. They have the highest potential, the most talent, and (on paper) Coach Cal’s best chance to date at a perfect season. They’re a well-balanced team with a lot of depth at almost every position, and that bodes well for a big run late in the tournament. If Kentucky can go undefeated through their difficult non-conference schedule, the nation could be seeing the first 40-0 season right here in the Bluegrass.