By Josh Wiggins
PSDC March Madness Contributor
Kentucky is absolutely stacked with talent this year. You will be hard pressed to find anyone to argue against that. This lineup is filled with future stars that have undoubtedly been well coached with John Calipari at the helm. If placed on vast majority of their opponents’ rosters, the Wildcats’ starters (maybe even some of their bench players) would be the star player for their team. As a result, expect Kentucky to be the most popular choice for NCAA champion as brackets are filled out.
What makes a champion? Are championships won based on the talent level of the team, especially that of its key players? Or is it more dependent on team’s experience and ability to execute?
Kentucky has gone 30-0 this year: an impressive feat no doubt. In some cases, the games haven’t even felt like a fair fight with Kentucky looking like the juggernaut they have the potential to be. Other times, the players have struggled to remain on the same page, both with one another and their coach. In the end, they have managed to pull out a victory in all of these instances despite seeming out of sync at best.
Why does this happen? With so much talent on one squad and a coach we expect to get the most out of them, why do the Wildcats have these subpar games?
My opinion? The system combined with the youth on this team. Having a system where the offensive burden is spread across a bunch of players is great, especially when you don’t have the luxury to rely on one or two key players to lead the scoring effort. However, none of Kentucky’s players fit into that category. On a less dominant team, these guys would be expected to lead the offensive effort, putting up at least a few more buckets per game if not more. Hell, they probably spent their entire high school career doing nothing but putting up a highlight reel of scoring, which for some of them was last year. Calipari is asking his players to do something different than they have ever had to do. Now, combine that with the youth leading this team. This is not the Fab 5 by any means, but it certainly is a younger team compared to past champions. Asking these young men to fit into this system requires both experience and maturity, at least one of which they are a bit short on.
This is not to say that this team is incapable going through this tournament unbeaten; they certainly can. Look at the 2012 Kentucky roster, and you will not see a ton of experience there either. However, if you look back at recent history, only two teams with this lack of experience have won the championship: Kentucky in 2012 and Florida in 2006. That Florida team boasted Joakim Noah and Al Horford as part of a core of sophomores and juniors that had played together for two years, so using that as part of an argument for Kentucky is questionable. And still, those teams were the exception, not the rule. Every other recent champion has been led by at least one senior and generally a group of upperclassmen. That is not a fluke.
March Madness is the biggest stage that any of these kids have played on. The entire country is watching and winning six games in such a short time against quality opponents is not easy. In quite a few games this year, Kentucky has been able to more or less force a win with raw talent above all else. The problem is, that doesn’t seem to work as well against the best teams in the nation. In order to beat a team like Wisconsin, Villanova or Virginia, an off game is not an option. At their best, I will take Kentucky over anyone, no questions asked. But I don’t feel nearly as comfortable guaranteeing that the Wildcats will be firing on all cylinders in every game, especially when the spotlight is shining brightest.
Kentucky is the most talented team in this tournament.
Kentucky will not win a championship in 2015.
Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshuaLWiggins