40-0 is possible for Kentucky basketball.
Like the 1972 Miami Dolphins, four UCLA basketball teams and a thoroughbred named Seattle Slew, inconceivable perfection in sports can happen and has happened.
In its distinguished history, Kentucky basketball already possesses two undefeated seasons. The first came in 1912 when E.R. Sweetland led the Wildcats to a 9-0 finish. Adolph Rupp led the other perfect Wildcats to a 25-0 record in 1954. These perfect seasons are certainly captivating in the history of Kentucky basketball, but neither team ended the season as NCAA champion, a title the Big Blue Nation desperately desires and could rightfully anticipate.
The Wildcats certainly do not have to win every game to capture the national championship crown, but some matchups will be more important than others this season. A victory over Louisville was certainly more important than the annihilation of Robert Morris last season, despite the sugary sweetness of revenge the latter victory entailed. Every Wildcat victory soothes the souls of Big Blue Nation citizens, especially victories in March. However, after the improbable run in last season’s tournament, the Wildcats were probably not quite as charming in the eyes of the rest of college basketball.
Kentucky’s jersey design department may want to consider adding a giant circle with a dot in the middle just under the player names. Why? The Wildcats could have bigger targets on their backs than ever before. After obliterating the aspirations of four championship-caliber teams, returning seven players from the rotation, adding the No. 2 recruiting class and becoming the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, the Wildcats will be hunted.
Kentucky’s predators may fall victim to the roar and bite of the Wildcats, because if last season’s improbable run in the NCAA Tournament is an indication, dauntless Kentucky has one goal in mind.
Returning to the title game and winning will be a tall task. Luckily the Wildcats have three 7-footers. To reach the championship, Kentucky must either defeat or compete at a high level in key matchups during the regular season, because a “win is a win” is not a winning cliche. Despite Coach Cal’s efforts last season to subdue the pressure and proclaim to the world that every matchup is the same, some games are just bigger than others.
Top Five Regular Season Matchups for 2014-15 Kentucky Basketball
Assuming the recent academic fraud investigation of North Carolina basketball spurred by the comments of former Tarheel Rashad McCants does not result in Roy Williams being told he “McCant” coach next season, this will be a key matchup for the Wildcats.
UNC defeated the Wildcats on December 14 last year in Chapel Hill. This year, the matchup between two of the most prolific programs in college basketball history will take place in Lexington. Winning this matchup is important for Kentucky basketball, not only to avenge a loss, but also because the Tarheels should pose an early season challenge.
North Carolina is just behind Kentucky with the No. 3 freshman class in the nation. The Tarheels are returning a quality point guard in junior Marcus Paige to accompany five-star freshmen Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson. A victory against UNC is exactly what the Wildcats will need early in the season, assuming the plantar wart on the foot logo of North Carolina that is the Rashad McCants accusation is removed by December.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
Date: Nov. 18
The point of this game is to remind the world that college basketball has returned before television networks reposition the focus back on college football. For the Wildcats, this is more than just an opportunity to promote Kentucky basketball. This is a chance to gain experience against what could be a title-contending team.
The head coach for Kansas may be beside him (Bill) Self after the Jayhawks squandered a championship chance with an incredibly talented roster yet again, but losing Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid may be a blessing.
With the hype surrounding the Jayhawks subdued, Kansas returns an excellent roster. Two focal players for Kansas, junior forward Perry Ellis and sophomore Wayne Selden are returning. Five-star freshmen Cliff Alexander, the No. 3 player in the nation, and Kelly Oubre, a small forward from the one-and-done factory that is Findlay College Prep, will be quality players. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Alexander may give Kentucky a taste of its own Julius Randle medicine.
Fellow KU freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is quietly a highly-touted guard from Ukraine and a five-star player. By the end of the season, Mykhailiuk may have played well enough for half of the nation to learn how to pronounce his name.
Kansas may be even more frightening than last season. Kentucky needs to use this opportunity to strike fear into the Jayhawks, because this same matchup may occur in March—or early April.
Locations: Lexington and Fayetteville, Ark.
Kentucky defeated Wisconsin, Michigan and previously-undefeated Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats also beat villainous Louisville in the tournament and in the regular season. A normal person, let alone a member of the Big Blue Nation, would assume two games against NIT-darling Arkansas would have resulted in two victories with relative ease.
One would assume.
Arkansas defeated Kentucky in overtime. Twice. The first upset came from a buzzer-beating dunk and the second came in front of the Wildcat faithful in Rupp Arena. Arkansas owned the Wildcats last season, which is more laughable than painful to think about now.
Arkansas is almost Kansas, in terms of spelling, and the two games against the Razorbacks are even more important than the Kansas matchup. Kentucky needs to defeat the Razorbacks at least once, if not to improve their record, to impede chaos.
The Razorbacks certainly should have received an NCAA Tournament invitation, but beating the Wildcats twice never should have happened. Or maybe those losses made the Wildcats stronger and losing to Arkansas twice will propel Kentucky to the championship game again. Either way, this matchup should be circled on the calendar of every member of the BBN.
Date: Dec. 27
Louisville versus Kentucky, red versus blue, Pitino versus Calipari. This matchup is literally made into a calendar. For the Wildcats, another victory against Louisville would mean seven wins in the past eight matchups.
Kentucky has dominated Louisville like a cat would dominate a small bird in a dorm room.
Little needs to be written about the importance of this matchup for the Kentucky Wildcats. Beating Louisville once again may seem easier than usual, after the Cardinals lost seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock.
However, Louisville will find a way to reload its roster. Would-be NBA lottery pick Montrezl Harrell, seniors Wayne Blackshear and Chris Jones are returning for coach Rick Pitino and six lesser-known freshmen will be in the mix for the Cardinals.
As always, this game will be captivating, compelling and crucial for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Way-Too-Early Prediction: UK 74 Louisville 65
Locations: Lexington and Gainesville, Fla.
Florida beat the Wildcats in Lexington, punished Kentucky in Gainesville and just squeezed past UK in the SEC championship game. All three losses were painful in their own, excruciating way. Losing at home is rare for Kentucky, losing by 20 is embarrassing and losing the SEC title game is heartbreaking.
30 percent of Kentucky’s regular season losses came against Florida last season. In the last two years, the Wildcats are 1-4 against the Gators. The bright side? Kentucky was not the only SEC team that faltered against UF. Actually, every SEC team was the victim of the Gator chomp last season.
Regardless of the perfect SEC season, the Gators fell to Connecticut in the Final Four. Winning the SEC Tournament does not guarantee an NCAA title and losing the SEC Tournament title game does not mean a championship is out of reach, a la 2012 Wildcats.
For Kentucky basketball, avenging three losses against Florida would be magnificent, upsetting Louisville fans again would be delightful and finishing the regular season undefeated would be legendary.
As satisfying and chill-inducing as those accomplishments would feel, winning the national championship would be nine times better.
To begin reading the position previews for Kentucky basketball beginning with point guard, click here.