Ron Seibel

Kentucky has all the right pieces

I’m not a fan of seeing the same teams over and over in championship situations.

Having to watch the same teams year in and year out gets boring quickly. For example, while this year’s Super Bowl turned into a fantastic finish, I wasn’t all that pumped to see New England again, nor was I all that excited about Seattle’s return to the big game.

For all of the upsets in the early rounds, college basketball is notorious for having many of the same teams appearing in the Final Four annually. While there’s all the excitement one could want in earlier rounds, the Final Four seems to always include some combination of Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.

With Duke and Kentucky both playing in Indianapolis this weekend, we’re set for another overdose of blue.

Normally, I’d yawn.

That said, Kentucky’s run at perfection is remarkable. The collection of players the Wildcats have put together this season is just the right combination to produce the first unbeaten NCAA Division I men’s basketball champion since the 1970s.

This Kentucky run is all about head coach John Calipari piecing together a lineup that combines some one-and-done talent with a few experienced players who put their NBA plans on hold to form the nucleus of a team that few in NCAA history can match. He might take some darts when it comes to recruiting, but this is an exceptional group.

Let’s face it: A talented 7-footer can cut and run for the NBA at any time, becoming a near-instant lottery pick. But Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t go for the quick money. He’s in his third season with the Kentucky program, surviving a disappointing 2013 season and recovering from a broken ankle suffered during last year’s tournament.

Without Cauley-Stein pairing with 6-foot-11 freshman Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, Kentucky doesn’t go through the season undefeated. They might have not even reached Indianapolis.

This isn’t a team with a big-time scorer. Fewer than two points separate the top five players, and the single-game high by a Kentucky player this season was Aaron Harrison’s 26 against Mississippi early in SEC play. The Wildcats haven’t had anyone blow up the scoreboard, but they don’t need to have anyone do that when they have so many scoring options.

Kentucky hasn’t been challenged much this year, but the Wildcats have responded well in those situations. Kentucky shut down LSU in the final four minutes of the Wildcats’ 71-69 win Feb. 10 in Baton Rouge, and they also kept Notre Dame off the scoreboard for the final 2:35 of Saturday’s 68-66 Elite Eight victory.

Georgia also experienced Kentucky’s lockdown defense when the teams met March 3 in Athens, seeing a six-point lead with 5½ minutes to go flip to an eight-point loss. The Wildcats held the Bulldogs to a single bucket during that closing stretch.

Other games that were seen by some as potential trap games simply didn’t go that way. Florida kept things close for a half in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament before Kentucky pulled away, and the Wildcats tore through West Virginia in the Sweet 16 following some pregame bulletin board quotes by the Mountaineers.

Simply put, Kentucky has done everything it has needed to do to get to where it is now. The Wildcats’ depth makes them a difficult out, even at this stage of the tournament.

Kentucky winning a title isn’t new. But two more wins will place this Kentucky team among the all-time best. And that’s worth watching.

Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or rseibel@macon.com

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