Kentucky and the Myth of Perfection

7 Mar

Like the lure of the siren’s song, never what it appears to be, but who among us can resist (J.Seinfeld)?”

And so it is with the lure of a perfect season in sport.

Oh, how wonderful it would be to hoist the hardware without nary a single loss. So we fans and those in the press who cover the merriments, believe.

......Calipari.11.5.14.K.Allison.wc.MD.thmb

But ask someone who’s accomplished the feat. They’ll give you the low-down.

That would include a member of the 1972-73 Super Bowl winning Miami Dolphins or Bob Knight’s undefeated, NCAA champion Indiana Hoosiers (‘75-76).

Those were heady, by-gone days.

The question & answer might go something along this line: Q: ‘What’s it like to go undefeated for an entire season? A: It’s great, but not that big a deal. It’s the championship that makes it special, the icing on the cake, so to speak.’

The Patriots almost found that perfect place in history.

They ran the table in the 2007 regular season (16-0), won their playoffs (2-0) but then lost a close one late to the Giants in the big game (14-17 (SB42)). It’s a run New England (and NYG) should be proud of but proves the point: it’s the title, not perfection along the way that gives the achievement, the journey, the memory, that extra-special aura.

As of this write the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team stands at 30-0, having pulled their fat outta’ the fire in a nip n’ tuck road win in Athens earlier this week, where the host Bulldogs gave the Wildcats all they could handle in a 72-64 visitor’s win.

Though the 2013-14 Wichita State Shockers entered last year’s NCAA as an undefeated (34-0), this John Calipari Kentucky team has a feel that’s closer to the 1990-91 defending national champion UNLV squad, coached by the recently deceased Jerry Tarkanian, also started the tournament undefeated and looked near unbeatable.

.......Rupp.arena.1.2.13.c.malder.thmbThe common ground is not in the scoring punch.

Those Runnin’ Rebels often buried opponents with scoring barrages.

But in the point parade, these Wildcats practically bring up the rear, nationally ranked 30th in PPG (75), a chilly 41st in field-goal % (.471) and top scorers Aaron Harrison (11.3) and freshman Dev Booker (11) barely averaging double-digits. Another frosh Karl-Anthony Towns is balanced best at 9.6 ppg and leads the team in rebounds at 6.5 per contest.

It’s on defense where Kentucky emulates those terribly terrific Tarkanian Vegans.

Nobody puts the clamps down on opponents like these bluegrass b-ballers. Most won’t clear the 60 mark (PAPG (#2): 53.2), due in large part to a miserly field-goals allowed % (FGAP) that would make Ebenezer Scrooge proud (#1 / .344).

Contribution, in a broadly shared responsibility, seems the watchword for UK.

The prevailing myth amongst sport fanatics is that a team with perfect record is best prepared to capture the NCAA crown. Run-the-table in the regular season slate (UK v. UF, 3-7 (2pm EST)) and sweep through the largely meaningless, money-grab, conference tourney. Seems reasonable enough.

And that’s why myths are for the movies and Harry Potter novels.

It didn’t turn out as planned for Wichita State in last year’s NCAA, nor those Runnin’ Rebels in 1991 who sought to build a dynasty in the Silver State.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry (Burns).”

........Burns.Robert.wc.ccaBeginning 1991 NCAA tournament play as defending national champs and sporting a sparkling 30-0, UNLV must’ve salivated with anticipation in eyeing Duke as their semifinal opponent, the team they’d dismantled just a year earlier, 103-73, to claim their first title in the most lopsided championship score in tourney history.

But the Blue Devils proved prepared and pulled off one of the great upsets in history, going toe-to-toe with the titanesque Rebels and grabbing the 79-77 victory, and then going on to top perennial Kansas in the final (72-65) to claim their own first crown.

A regular season loss, or two, along the way to the NCAA are not all bad.

A well played but losing effort can stoke the mettle forge that’s needed to run the talent laden gauntlet come March Madness, pin-point weak spots and help deflate over-pumped egos (2 psi?) that grow large with perfection. Makes for a safer driving state.

I’m not saying Kentucky aught lose a game intentionally (tank) or play anything less than their best ball. Heck, no. That’s something Earvin Johnson may advocate and a topic of high-spec in NBA and NHL, but strictly bad play for those with heart and sporting soul.

It wouldn’t help anyway. Mess up the mojo. Besides, the Cats crave el perfecto.

What I am saying, is that if the Wildcats happen to suffer a loss before the big dance, it’s not the end of the world. It may in fact work to their benefit, act as a healthy dose of preventive medicine.

The sporting gods have grown stingy. We haven’t had a perfect season in quite a spell. They were always rare but have become as uncommon as Haley’s Comet. Maybe we’re due for one, or maybe they’ve decided to do away with ’em all together. One can never know these things.

Whether Kentucky has what it takes to make a perfect season, a championship run or some other team’s stars align in mid-March, whatever the fates hold, the gods will crown a winner the night of April 6th and that’s as certain as spring.
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Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: J.Calipari, wc.cca, C.Malder, 1.8.13; J.Calipari, wc.cca, 11.5.14, K.Allison, MD; Rupp.Arena, wc.cca, C.Malder, 1.8.13; R.Burns, wc.cca; Straight.Shooter.brand, citrus.fruit
Posted: 3.6.15 @ 11:28pm EST

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