The University of Kentucky is now 38-0, and it comes on the heels of their closest call yet. The 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament affectionately (and accurately) known as “March Madness” is winding down. This means that there are but a precious few teams remaining that can offer a serious challenge to the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky is only two games away from perfection. Two games. That’s not something to be taken lightly. Kentucky would be the very first team to achieve a perfect 40-0 season. The last college basketball team that finished perfectly were the Indiana Hoosiers. That was in 1976.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2015
Winning both their semi-final AND final would make the Kentucky Wildcats a legendary force, one that would be remembered for decades to come. Of course, they have to win first. The pressure is the highest it’s ever been and more than a few opponents would like nothing more than to knock Kentucky down a few pegs and dash their aspirations for perfection.
Notre Dame nearly did just that. With a mere six seconds remaining, Kentucky crawled back from the brink thanks to two free throws. A 66-66 game ended 68-66 and Kentucky rolled on. As disappointing as the loss no doubt proved to be for the Fighting Irish, their sacrifice on the court may have proved to be a huge blessing for those still in the NCAA tournament. While almost winning doesn’t negate a loss, the weaknesses that Notre Dame exposed during that tense game will no doubt be carefully studied. Just in case.
USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson shared tips for how a basketball team could get around the intimidating Wildcats. Anyone hoping to do what is on the verge of impossible will have to “play with confidence.” Although West Virgina freshman Daxter Miles, Jr. talked a good game, the actual game against Kentucky was anything but. His bragging only inspired the Wildcats to humiliate the Mountaineers. Confidence before the game is one thing, but to beat Kentucky requires on-court swagger. Notre Dame tried to bring this, but it wasn’t enough.
Gleeson said that it was important to find a way, any way, to stop senior Karl-Anthony Towns.
“Limit his touches, get him in foul touches. Do whatever it takes.” Towns is considered the “difference maker,” the linchpin that is keeping the Kentucky basketball team together. While shutting him down could weaken Kentucky, is it enough to assume that Kentucky hasn’t already considered this and worked out “in case” scenarios?
Kentucky is a team that has a plan and they refuse to deviate from it for anyone or anything. This was clear weeks ago when the Wildcats marched off the court right after they collected their SEC Tournament trophy. They passed on the tradition of cutting nets. Some thought they were sending a message. The truth? They completely forgot.
This fact is a little terrifying when you stop to think about it. Every other team left in the NCAA Basketball Tournament is thinking about how to stop the Kentucky Wildcats, thinking of ways to break their spirit and get the team off-track.
Perhaps the reason that Kentucky has either handily beat teams or come back from near defeats is because they are dead-set on perfection that their opponents are rendered completely irrelevant. Trash talk becomes fuel; pressure becomes inspiration.
Can Kentucky be stopped? Of course. Near perfection is not the same as actual perfection, a possibility that is only as achievable as the next game. It’s just a matter of whether their opponent(s) possess the confidence, determination, and relentless grit required to force Kentucky to stop playing their game. Even though Notre Dame almost achieved an upset, it can be argued they showed the Wildcats far too much respect and in the end it cost them.
Do you think there’s anyone left that can stop Kentucky, or is the perfect season all but inevitable?
[Image Credit: Joe Robbins/Stringer/Getty Images]