From the N.I.T. to #1


by Paul Jordan

I still can’t really grasp this yet. Perhaps I have to wait till the rankings come out tomorrow but I really can not even begin to describe the whirlwind of a trip we have been on the last year. It’s been too long, but in about 28 hours or so and with that, order is restored in college basketball and Kentucky is back at it’s rightful place.

I have to admit, I was interested as to what team I would see yesterday and I felt that Kentucky needed to send a message with Arkansas. And simply put, Kentucky did. Kentucky came out with a mission and got their most complete performance of the season and handed Arkansas a merciful 101-70 loss. I saw merciful because Kentucky could have easily won the game by 50 or more but as Calipari is not the kind of “jagoff” to beat a team by 75 just for the purpose of doing so. And you have to love the attitude of the players who so clearly wanted the number one rankings. Even though John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are more than likely “one and doners” you can tell from their enthusiasm and their pride that they are Wildcats for life. I know one of the fears I had with the “one and doners” were that they were simply here to waste a year until the NBA came, but this is not the case with Wall and Cousins.

Calipari had one of the greatest quotes of the year after this game about ascending to number one. Most coaches try to downplay the significance of it or say they don’t deserve to be there or other standard coachspeak, but Calipari humbly said:

“They wanted to be No. 1 bad. That’s why they played this way. I told them, ‘Those seven national titles are not a burden, they’re a badge of honor.’ No. 1 in the country is not a burden, it’s an honor.”

The play of the Wildcats this season has even moved UK fan antagonist Pat Forde to write a positive article about Kentucky. About the only criticism that Forde could muster is to point at Kentucky’s schedule and bemoan the Louisville, Connecticut and North Carolina wins because well, now those teams suck. He did neglect to mention that UConn just drilled #1 Texas last night. And that 8-11 Arkansas squad? They actually hung with that Texas squad for 37:30 minutes. Texas clung to an 84-82 lead over the Razorbacks with just 2:27 remaining. Kentucky was up on that same Arkansas team 97-66 with 2:28 remaining.

It’s true, Kentucky has not had the toughest schedule in the country. But they have gone 19-0 with the schedule handed to them. No other team in the country can say that. Make no doubt, with number one comes a even bigger target on your back and UK now faces the meat of their SEC schedule with no real easy games left:

1/26 @ South Carolina

1/30 – Vanderbilt

2/2 – Ole Miss

2/6 – @ LSU

2/9 – Alabama

2/13 – Tennessee

2/16 – @ Mississippi State

2/20 – @ Vanderbilt

2/25 – @ South Carolina

2/27 – @ Tennessee

I think the main thing that has propelled UK’s success is the fact that players like DeAndre Liggins and Daniel Orton are stepping off the bench and playing their asses off. Simply put, this is a team that is 12 deep and each player that comes off that bench is capable of exploding offensively or shutting down an opposing player defensively.

Can any other team say that? No. Will Kentucky go undefeated? Probably not. But at the beginning of the year, I would have said UK had a 20% chance of pulling that task off. Now, I have moved into the 51% category. With this team, anything is possible. Enjoy them Cat fans. They are once in a lifetime.

Keep following www.http://wildcatbluenation.com for the best in Kentucky basketball and football news, rumors, and opinions. By Kentucky fans for Kentucky fans