UK Men's Basketball

40-0? As Madness begins, Calipari says Kentucky faces different kind of questions

Coach John Calipari, waved to fans as he was introduced at last year's Big Blue Madness. Going into Friday night's Madness, Calipari says he can't afford the luxury of thinking about having an undefeated season.
Coach John Calipari, waved to fans as he was introduced at last year's Big Blue Madness. Going into Friday night's Madness, Calipari says he can't afford the luxury of thinking about having an undefeated season. Herald-Leader

There's something missing as Kentucky prepares for the 2015-16 basketball season. The customary standout players are in place. So, too, is John Calipari, newly gilded as a Hall of Fame coach. The Cats are, of course, contenders for another national championship.

So, what's not there?

Oh, yeah, there's no talk about college basketball's first 40-0 record. Unlike the past two years, undefeated goes unmentioned.

Not entirely, Calipari said at UK Media Day on Wednesday.

"You know, you can bet on that in Vegas now," he said, "that we can go 40-0 this year."

The odds of Kentucky winning every game this season are 30-1, he said.

"Someone came up to me when I was out there and said, 'You know you're 30-1 to go 40-0.' What? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

However intelligent, such speculation should be almost routine. Kentucky fans do not need to be told that college basketball has not had an unbeaten team since Indiana in 1975-76.

Before the 2013-14 season, Kentucky had a team that The Wall Street Journal likened to a death star. Opposition supposedly was futile. Then UK lost to Michigan State in its third game, staggered to the finish line of the regular season, then mounted a stirring Final Four run. The Cats lost 11 games.

In 2014-15, Kentucky had so many players that Calipari devised a platoon system of substitution. The Cats won their first 38 games before losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

Last season's experience with a roster bursting with talent makes this season's floor leader, Tyler Ulis, doubt the plausibility of a 40-0 record.

"It would be great to do it," he said. "But, you know, that would be tough. Last year we didn't even do it with the team we had."

Ulis dismissed the notion that the lack of 40-0 talk relieves the Cats of undue pressure.

"Not really," he said. "Because we don't really think about that."

Teammate Marcus Lee suggested the talk of an undefeated record served as motivation.

"I see it as expectation at Kentucky," he said. "Something that pushes you."

Calipari has made no secret of his desire to just once coach an undefeated team. "Will that happen?" he asked before the 2013-14 season. "I don't know. Every game we play, we play to win."

As for the upcoming season, Calipari seemed to say he cannot afford the luxury of thinking about an unbeaten record. When asked what his biggest coaching challenge would be, he said, "Figuring it out."

Calipari rattled off a list of questions he needs to answer: Should UK press? How should UK attack zones (the defense he expects opponents to use)? How does UK defend pick-and-roll action?

"I know what we've done in the past. and it's been successful," he said. "But do we do it now?"

There doesn't seem to be a low-post threat like Karl-Anthony Towns. So how does UK get scoring opportunities around the basket?

What if a zone is the best defense Kentucky plays? "I would play zone if it's the best thing for these individual players and give them the best chance to have success," Calipari said. "Why I don't like zone is when you turn on a TV and watch the NBA, they don't play zone."

Finding answers to these and other questions seems the aim of the next few months rather than properly launching another attempt at an undefeated record.

Of the answers he seeks, Calipari said, "I don't know yet, and that's why I said in November it's going to be kind of ugly.

"We're not turning-it-over ugly, which is normally what it usually looks like to me. We're not turning-it-over ugly because we've got good guards. Our turnover-to-assist ratio ... is really good right now in practice. That's because our guards have the ball the most. But the other stuff, defensive principles, habits. Oh, my gosh. Rebounding, toughness, rotations, communication. How much time do I have to keep going on this?"

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