Photo Courtesy of CoachCal.com
College sports are loved for many reasons including (but of course not limited to): alma maters, rivalries, game-day atmospheres, and most of all, TRADITIONS. Now here at Kentucky, we claim "The Greatest Tradition in College Basketball." Which I mean..
Most all-time wins, most tournament wins in the past decade, most Conference Championships of any school, second most National Championships, tied for the most NCAA Championship appearances, tied for second most Final Fours, most NCAA Tournament appearances, and most overall tournament victories, most NBA Lottery picks since 2000, most current rostered NBA players... Need I say more?
Sorry, I got off track. I say all of that just to say, Kentucky understands tradition. That led me to thinking; what are some traditions or things that happen when a team is on track for a National Championship. Here's what I found.
It is no surprise that in order to win a title *whispers* "you need to be able to score." Calipari has many quotes that I'm sure fans "love" but one of his favorites is, "You don't have to make all your shots, you just can't miss them all!" Well, his team this year doesn't miss many at all! As of right now, this team is shooting 49% from the field (Highest in the Cal Era) and 35% from deep. The last team to shoot at least that well? 2012. Anyone remember how that team finished?
Speaking of scoring the ball, this is also the first team since 2012 where all five starters average double digit scoring. For the life of me, I cannot remember how that 2012 team did that season... Has to be good, right?... All jokes aside, Calipari's teams are typically known for their defense, but his great teams couple the lockdown D, with lights out offense and it seems that this veteran led team, at its peak, can do just that. In fact, this current team scores an average of 81 points per game, which is the second most since the turn of the century.
"Okay, enough with the stats, nerd." - y'all reading this (probably)
Okay, okay! There is a coincidence that occurs in the MLB that has 100% accuracy so far in predicting a Kentucky Basketball Championship. The Atlanta Braves have won four World Series titles, 1914, 1957, 1995, 2021. We are throwing out the 1914 Championship here since the NCAA tournament didn't exist then but for the other three... Each fall that the Braves have won the World Series, the following spring, Kentucky hoisted another Championship banner into the rafters at Rupp Arena (1958,1996, hopefully 2022). Kentucky has obviously won other championships, but to me, thats the rectangle vs square argument. One can happen to be true without the other. Kentucky can win without a Braves win the previous fall, but the Braves cannot win without Kentucky winning the following spring (ideally). What I am saying here is, if the Cats win it all this year, I am forever a Braves fan.
You know what else I'm a fan of? Having the Final Four in New Orleans. If you didn't know, thats where the 2012 Final Four was and... its coming back to me now... KENTUCKY WON THAT ONE! In fact, center court of that championship floor is in the Cats locker room! Hopefully the Big Easy continues to favor Big Blue!
Other Fun Foreshadowing
We may have already talked about too many Calipari quotes in this article but heres a few more that tend to be good signs. First, he has gone on the record many many times saying that his best teams (2010, 2012, 2015, 2017) never had a bad practice. And guess what? Each of those teams won, or at least could/ should have won the Title. He has now said at least twice this year that the current team also has not had a bad practice. If we are to believe Cal here, this should bode well for UK come March.
One more Cal quote and I'll be done. In the past I have heard him say that throughout the regular season he wants two things to happen. Number one is that he wants to have a minimum of a six game win streak. He says he wants that to happen so the team knows that they can win enough games in a row to cut down the nets. Second, is that he wants at least 5 different players to score 20 points in a game at least once in the season. When you are in the tournament, you never know what kind of matchups you may get, therefore, it is important that you have multiple scoring options, and that guys have the confidence knowing that they can take over a game. This season, Kentucky has checked both of those boxes. They went on a 7 game win streak early this year from November 12th to December 7th. With a few more wins in a row, they will have a second streak as well. The Wildcats have also had six players score at least 20 points this season: Oscar, Shavir, TyTy, Grady, Brooks, and Mintz. Some of them have done it multiple times.
This one may be a stretch, but I know it would make every single Kentucky fan happy. If you have watched any college basketball this season I am sure you've heard the Coach K Farewell Tour going on down at Duke. How could you not honestly, its all anyone talks about *eye roll*. Also if you haven't noticed, both Kentucky and Duke are pretty good this season. Anyway, if you ask basically any UK fan what Duke memory sticks out to them, almost in unison, they say... The Christian Laettner Shot... The Shot Heard Across the Bluegrass. One of the most heart breaking losses Kentucky has ever suffered and they continue to put us through it every season when they play "One Shining Moment."
Its 1992. Philidelphia. Pitino vs Coach K. Kentucky is known as the Unforgetables. A title favorite. Richie Farmer, Jamal Mashburn, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, Sean Woods, Travis Ford! Kentucky and Duke meet in the Elite Eight with a trip to the Final Four on the Line. Overtime. A Hail Mary pass. Christian Laettner shoots. Kentucky's season cut short.
Well, wouldn't fate have it. If either Kentucky or Duke finished this season as a one seed, and the other a two, there is a possibility these two teams meet again. In Phildelphia. Coach K's last season. In the Elite Eight. One day short of the 30th anniversary of the Laettner shot. If that isn't absolutely poetic I'm not sure what is. Kentucky would have its chance to get revenge on Coach K and Duke. Almost exactly 30 years later to the day, in the same city, Kentucky would have the opportunity to end Coach K's career. As he would ride off into the sunset, the Cats would have the last laugh. I was not even alive when that game took place and I still hate Laettner. If you're a Kentucky fan, the idea of that should bring a smile to your face!
Whether you like the numbers or the lore, this year seems to be shaping up into a great season for the Cats. I don't want to get ahead of myself, or set unrealistic expectations for this team or myself, but it seems there is a lot favoring a deep run in March. I hope to see y'all in New Orleans. Go Cats!