Point Blank – March 25
On Understanding Kentucky, “One and Done”, and those Senior Moments this team will never have (they might have finished #4 in 1974)…The best there ever was, Point Blank version…Will tonight's tempo cause the Cavs to sing the blues?
These have been fun times in terms of watching the modern Sports Mediaverse cover this year’s NCAA Hoops season, once again with many apparently feeling that they have to hype stories beyond their merit in order to get heard (remember back to that post-Super Bowl column, and the litany that were framing the Pete Carroll/Darrel Bevell pass play as “the worst call in the history of professional football”). These are indeed different times, both on the court and on press row, so before the Sweet 16 gets underway, how about a chance to take a deep breath and do some thinking out loud yourselves. Some of you may even enjoy the nostalgia nearly as much as I have in putting this one together. There is a notion being spread across the various media platforms that that this Kentucky team might be the best in college basketball history. They aren’t, it isn’t even close, so let’s get to work.
John Calipari’s Wildcats have been the best team in the nation this season, and have a damn good chance to cut down the nets in Indianapolis. I was even on record in these pages back in November saying that they had a chance to be the best defensive team of all time, had Alex Poythress not been injured, and instead given the opportunity to stay with that platoon system all the way through the schedule. Those groups of five going against each other in practice every day would have produced something special. Sadly that did not get to happen, which would have been a joy to both watch, and to see the betting markets attempt to cope.
But now some reality. Earlier this week I was asked by an AP writer to help establish some perspective as to where this team really does fit into the historical landscape, and not only was it fun to reach back through the memory banks (and beyond), it was also enlightening in terms of better understanding the changes in the sport. It is all about the “One and Done” era, and why my all-time Top 10 does not include a team more recent than 1996.
Here is what you can honestly say about Kentucky this season – those are great young basketball players. But can you say they play great basketball? No. Great basketball is not nearly as common in this era because it is so difficult to get a group to play together for several years, and it becomes even less likely when some of the best players are at least partially auditioning for the NBA, instead of giving their all to blend with their teammates. These Wildcats are a product of this era, a time in which the #1 team is not as good as past #1’s, nor is the #2 compared to past #2’s, et cetera. Understand one of the ramifications of that - they are prevented from reaching a higher level because the opposition can not challenge them as greatly as it might have in the past (and that was sure as hell the case in the SEC this season). Yet if they finish 40-0, they will be exalted as being at a special place in the annals of the sport by the 2015 keyboard strokes. That would be wrong, but as always, when the media sells an improper narrative, it can create pointspread opportunity out there somewhere.
Now the fun part, and you can play along. I decided to go a step further to see just where this team does fit among the all-time greats, and it did not take long to see that even at 40-0, cracking the Top 25 or so would be difficult. In the process, I found several individual seasons in which they would have rated no higher than #3 (1982, 1984 and 1991), and one in which they would have been no better than #4 (1974), without probing deeper into many of the campaigns. This is all subjective, of course, and the ratings of my Top 10 below are certainly under that heading. But here is what I do not believe should be even up for debate – this year’s Kentucky team, as is, would be a clear underdog against the bottom team on this list (if booking with my own money I would open UNLV or Georgetown around -6). That is not to take anything away from what these Wildcats are accomplishing, but instead to point out that the teams on this list were physically and mentally much more mature, and played the sport at a higher level of sophistication.
The Point Blank All-Time Top 10:
1. 1968 UCLA
2. 1976 Indiana
3. 1973 UCLA
4. 1956 San Francisco
5. 1982 North Carolina
6. 1992 Duke
7. 1996 Kentucky
8. 1974 N.C. State
9. 1991 UNLV
10. 1984 Georgetown
And yes, it is the 1991 UNLV team listed properly; although those Rebels did not win the National Championship, they were better than their 1990 edition that did. The same case could be made about Georgetown – perhaps the 1985 team that lost to Villanova was as good or better than 1984, but one of the two versions certainly belonged. There are also the usual concessions to style in listing #1 through #10, despite the fact that there was just an eyelash between some of them (#2/#3, #7/#8 and #9/#10). There is also a “cluster” factor in play to generate more interest, only using one particular version of a team, limiting UCLA to one of the three Alcindor championships, one with Walton, etc.
So there you have it – a group that this Kentucky team might submit an application for membership if the current sophomores stuck around for two more seasons, but one that would struggle mightily against as is, given their current level of experience. Those that wish to contribute your own list are more than welcome…
In the Sights…
I don’t believe Cleveland is supposed to be favored at #764 Memphis. In fact, no visiting team in the league should be on this court. The Grizzlies were -3.5 on this floor against Golden State back in mid-December (the pre-Jeff Green days), and won 105-98. They were -2.5 against Atlanta in early February, and won 94-88. On a night when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both on the floor, they were -4 and handled Oklahoma City 85-74. But there is more than that.
While Cleveland has indeed improved defensively, are the Cavaliers ready yet to grind at a slow tempo in this kind of setting? Note that this has been a black hole this season – just 3-12 ATS in games in which neither they nor their opponents reached 100 points. And 100 is not an easy attainment at the pace that Memphis sets here - over the last 10 home games neither the Grizzlies nor their opponents have reached the century mark. There are +2’s to be found in Las Vegas this morning, but anything on the plus side brings value to the host.
As the Round of 32 becomes the Sweet 16, here are the reviews from the weekend action, with plenty of food for though as the Thursday and Friday tipoff’s approach –
The Tourney Journey #7 – Sweet 16 sugar to the winners, while a Top Seed shoots its own foot…Has Calipari shortened his rotation…Survive and Advance, the Sequel?...Tokoto, took control…Irish eyes were smiling (though some had to hold back tears)…
The Tourney Journey #8 – Eight more spoons full of Sugar (none helping San Diego State’s shots go down)…The legacy guys bring out their membership cards…Archie Miller was right, it just worked out wrong…”Rock, Shock, Jayhawk” becomes the new Sunflower State chant…
The complete Point Blank Archive.