Kentucky Wildcat Basketball: The Heat is On


Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

After defeating the Mississippi State Bulldogs 74-56 on Wednesday night, the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team moved to 28-0 on the season (15-0 in SEC play).  With only 3 regular season games left, there are fewer and fewer games with which they can have a “good” loss. As the calendar gets closer to March, the games have moved from can’t lose to must win. And now the spotlight gets even brighter. This won’t be the first Wildcat team to head into the NCAA tournament as the favorite to win, but they could possibly be the first one to be playing for perfection.

With each win, the circus around the Cats is only going to grow. ESPN has made plans to show head coach John Calipari’s post game pressers live on TV. And one would assume that the Worldwide Leader would send a reporter to cover the Cats as they finish up the regular season and get ready for post season play. The media spotlight is going to intensify as well as the internal and external pressures.

The last NCAA team to go undefeated, the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, didn’t have nearly the distractions that the Wildcats will have to face. There’s Twitter. There’s Facebook. There are the dozens of fan blogs. There’s the ESPN factor, which has 24 hours each of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and the SEC Network to analyze, review and break down even the tiniest detail with this team. Not to mention the local media coverage that only figures to keep the poking and prodding the players and coaches for some sort of new angle. Not too many teams could withstand such an onslaught, but I believe this team can. For one simple reason.

John Calipari.

After the Cats won the 2012 NCAA Title, Coach Cal stated that he’d like to go 40-0 and win the NCAA title. Folks laughed. And when the 2013 team was eliminated in the first round on the NIT, they laughed some more. When the 2014 team looked dreadful for most of the season, the national media really laughed. But then the Cats put together one of the more dramatic NCAA Tournament runs in history and the laughing stopped.

Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

With veterans returning (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson) and talented and wise-beyond-their-years freshmen arriving on campus, Cal has assembled a team built to do what most assumed impossible: Run the table and win the title. The team is unselfish. The team is deep. How deep? One of the forgotten guys on the season, Trey Lyles, shook off his mini funk by scoring a team high 18 points vs. Mississippi State. Most importantly, the team has embraced the ideas of making history.

This 2014-15 edition may not run the table and get to 40-0. They may not win the school’s ninth NCAA title. But the possibility that this team could do those things isn’t as foreign as a concept as it was 36 months ago. And that just shows how determined Coach Cal is to prove his detractors wrong. So as the spotlight gets brighter and the pressure increases, Big Blue Nation shouldn’t worry. This team was built for this.