Kentucky Wildcats: Does “Air of Invincibility” Haunt the Cats?


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There are a ton of theories and story lines concerning the Kentucky Wildcats perfect season, but I found one of the more interesting ones in the New York Times.  The article talked about the fact that this is the first time in several years that there has been a clear favorite heading into the NCAA Tournament since the 1991 UNLV Running Rebels.  I realize that Wichita State was undefeated last year, but they were not the prohibitive favorite that the Kentucky Wildcats were.

Because of the fact that Kentucky and that UNLV team were such prohibitive favorites, the article talks about the “Air of invincibility” which occurs because that team has rolled through the regular seasons and they have a sense that they can not be beaten.  Both Kentucky and UNLV were coming off a National Title game which may lead to this sense of invincibility, but unlike UNLV, Kentucky was not defending national champions.

"On the Wildcats’ two most recent trips to the national championship game, there was at least uncertainty. Could a freshman-heavy team long on talent but short of experience withstand the pressure of a national championship game?"

"The 2012 team succeeded, beating Kansas in the final. But last year’s Kentucky team was schooled by UConn, a defeat that may have been the impetus for several top players, including the twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, to return for another shot. That has made this year’s unbeaten and top-ranked Kentucky squad, bolstered by a new crop of star freshmen, seem like the perfect storm in basketball: youth, experience and talent."

There was another comparison between the Wildcats and the Rebels that really does not apply, in my opinion.  While both teams were undefeated, the Rebels were rarely tested in 1991 and Duke make have shaken that air of invincibility in the championship game by giving them that close game.  Remember, UNLV rolled the Blue Devils in the previous National Title game.

"A year earlier, U.N.L.V. had set a record by defeating Duke, 103-73, in the final — the largest margin of victory in championship game history. When Duke and U.N.L.V. met again in the semifinals in 1991, many expected a similar beating.“When you go back and look at that team, they were dominant, they didn’t have a close game,” Hill said. “They didn’t have a close moment that year.”In the rematch, the Blue Devils came up with a plan that did not involve trading punches.They would try to keep the game close, with the idea being that they had played several close games during the Atlantic Coast Conference season while U.N.L.V. had more or less coasted, at one point winning by an average of 32 points a game. When the game got tight late, they hoped, the experience of having been in close games might swing the result."

This Kentucky has been tested a few times this year and have gone to overtime on back to back occasions against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.  In addition, they have been down a couple of the occasions on the road when defeat looked certain.  I thought that the LSU and the Georgia games would end in a loss, yet the will to win of this team pulled them through the test.

The one thing that IS different between the Kentucky and UNLV teams is the age that we live in.  Back in 1991, there really was no alternative media rather than the networks and ESPN.  No blogs.  No twitter.  No social media.  There is more pressure on this Kentucky Wildcats team to be perfect is much more than on UNLV.  In part, of all the media and as John Calipari calls it “clutter”.

That however, is a whole different issue and not what the NY Times article is talking about.  In regards to that, I think that this Kentucky Wildcats is a motivated and confident team, but I do not think that the “Air of Invincibility”  would apply in this case.  In this respect, losing in last years title game would make sure of this.  This team knows that this ride can end in a second and this is part of what drives them.

Next: Revenge Scenarios in the Sweet 16

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