If Kentucky fans learned one thing last season, it's to be careful how much of the hype to buy into. Educated by a 21-12 season and a first-round loss in the NIT, Cats fans enter another season that's accompanied by enormous expectations and high rankings. Here are three reasons to jump in and embrace the hype, and three reasons for caution:
Re a s o ns to g o a ll-in o n the Cats
1. Talent. Kentucky Coach John Calipari may be prone to hyperbole — strike that; Calipari is prone to hyperbole — but he's absolutely right about one thing. You can't win without good players. And by the studious analysis of all the recruiting experts, the ones who make a living by becoming experts on such things, Kentucky has the greatest assemblage of freshman basketball talent in the history of the universe. Or something like that. Sprinkle in an Alex Poythress and a Willie Cauley-Stein, and the Cats have the horses to make history.
2. John Calipari, chemistry professor. To the unimaginative eye, the Kentucky coach is dressed in that same dark suit every game. Usually he wears a tie, but sometimes not. But what Calipari really dons is a white lab coat to go with his coaching whistle. He's a chemistry professor. No coach in all the land is better at getting high school hotshots to check their rather sizable egos at the door and play for the good of the team. Players first.
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3. The time is right. Longtime hoops observers will tell you that overall, the great game ain't what she used to be. Teams are watered down as one-and-doners make a quick exit from college parties to NBA payrolls. In the past, it might be difficult for a team built almost entirely of freshmen to dominate a college basketball season. But this isn't the past. This is the precious present. Experience is nice, but scarce. Back to No. 1: Talent rules.
Rea s o ns f o r the c a ut i o n f l ag
1. The season of 2012-13. It was at this very time last year that Kentucky basketball was said to have the No. 1 freshman class, with a national championship coach, a top three ranking and a real, live shot at being the first college basketball team to repeat as champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007, and the second since Duke in 1991 and 1992. Instead, the best-laid plans hit a trap door, and a season of promise ended in a tiny Pittsburgh gym with a loss to Robert Morris. A cautionary tale if ever there was one.
2. Not every team is UK's 2011-12 team. There is a No. 1 recruiting class every year, but not every team has an Anthony Davis. Not every team has a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Not every team has the will to win that Calipari's title team exhibited. The current collection of Cats is said to have some of the same traits, but the proof is on the court. Potential is a wonderful thing. Production is a much better thing.
3. If it was easy, everyone would have done it. That 40-0 talk? Forget it. No college basketball team has gone unbeaten since Indiana in 1975-76. That ninth banner? That's something you hang after the season, and there was a span from 1998 to 2012 before UK hung No. 8. Does the current team have the moxie, the outside shooting, the intestinal fortitude to wear the bull's-eye — "We're everyone's Super Bowl" is Calipari's favorite line — and win it all? It won't be easy.