Final Four Season in Review: Kentucky Wildcats
RECORD: 38-0 (18-0 in Conference)
COACH: John Calipari (2014-2015 NABC Coach of the Year)
2014-2015 SEASON: At the start of this season we knew that the Wildcats were going to be good, we didn’t know they could possibly be the greatest college Basketball team of all time. Last offseason the program and John Calipari worked their recruiting magic to bring on 6’11 man-child Karl-Anthony Towns along with McDonald’s All-Americans Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and smooth shooting Devin Booker. Kentucky started the season with a very impressive 13-0 run with big wins over #4 Louisville, #5 Kansas, #6 Texas and #21 North Carolina. Things got a little hairy in January as the Wildcats had two back to back over time scares against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Kentucky would rattle off another 9 games before another scare against LSU in February that saw Kentucky win by only 2 points. Other than that, this team has looked indestructible. The beauty of this team and their success is not the ridiculous amount of talent, but it is the unselfish way they are winning. This is a team packed with all future NBA players, all superstars in their own right and all ready to put on for the world to see. Yet this team has not one player averaging over 11 points per game or more than 25 minutes per game. Under the floor generalship of sophomore guard twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison and the experience of Junior of Willie Cauley-Stein, this is a team that checked their egos at the door and are only concerned with one thing: winning. Kentucky clearly established their dominance not just in the SEC but all of NCAA basketball with a perfect regular season record of 34-0 earning themselves a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
NCAA TOURNAMENT: Powered by 21 points and 11 rebounds from Karl-Anthony Towns #1 in the Midwest Region Kentucky easily disposed of #16 Hampton 79-56. In the third round Kentucky faced a tough #8 seeded Cincinnati that eventually fell to Kentucky 64-51. The Wildcats shot a putrid 37% from the floor and was outrebounded 45-38. Calipari was quoted as saying “I always like it when my team shoots 37, 36, 35 percent and wins in double digits. It shows them they don’t have to make shots to win. You can miss them all. No, you can’t miss them all. You can miss most of them, and you can still win games if you defend, you rebound and you play that way, make your free throws, and they did.” Kentucky became the first NCAA team to go 36-0 and advanced to the sweet 16 to meet West Virginia. WVU Guard Daxter Miles Jr. guarantees victory, team shoots 24%, Daxter Miles Jr. and WVU get obliterated by Kentucky 78-39 to advance to the Elite 8 and face off against tough #3 Notre Dame. Kentucky and Notre Dame fought back and forth all game (20 lead changes and 12 ties) with Kentucky ultimately winning on a pair of Andrew Harrison free throws with 6 seconds left 68-66. Karl-Anthony Town showed why he was one of the top recruits this off season with a monster game 25 points (17 in the second half) 5 rebounds 4 assists and 2 steals. Kentucky will now move on the Final Four to face #1 seeded Wisconsin for the right to advance to the National Title Game.
Willie Cauley-Stein is the absolute anchor to the masterful defense played in Lexington KY. The Kentucky Junior Forward was one of 10 Wooden All-Americans named and was the only one selected not averaging double digits (9.1 PPG 6.5 RPG). He was selected based on his defensive abilities. Leading all Kentucky players with 44 steals on the season, Cauley-Stein is the only 7 footer in the country to rank in the top 215 nationally in steals per game. Cauley-Stein also loves to step his game up against better competition as his offensive output increases significantly against top quality opponents (11.6 PPG and 8.4 RPG in seven wins over ranked teams). If Willie Cauley-Stein is defensively locked in, there is no team that can beat this Wildcats squad.
OUTLOOK: Kentucky may be favored to beat #1 Wisconsin, but this will be the true test of the season for Kentucky. When it comes to the size advantage, Wisconsin equals that out with their own 7 footer in first team All-American Frank Kaminsky (22.8 PPG) in tournament. Cauley-Stein and Towns will have their work cut out for them. However with Cauley-Steins superb defense and the size of Towns and Lyles, they could easily and effectively equalize Kaminsky. Notre Dame exposed Kentucky in the fact that they had real trouble adjusting to shooters that stretch the floor, The real concern for Kentucky is going to be facilitating Sam Dekker. Dekker is averaging 21.8 in the tournament and has been a absolute sniper from the three (13 of 27 made). He also has the ability to penetrate the lane and finish or get himself to the line. This is going to take a full team effort for Kentucky to win, and that is Kentucky’s style. Kentucky will play as a team and find themselves on their way to the National Title game.