John Calipari Rethinks an Undefeated Season
Right after the Kentucky Wildcats won the 2012 National Championship, Coach John Calipari said that he would like to have an undefeated season before he leaves coaching. Yep, to be part of a short list that includes the ’72 Dolphins and the ’76 Hoosiers is his dream. But, now he says that’s unlikely to happen.
He’s a smart guy. And smart guys know that undefeated seasons are a thing of the past. We’re talkin’ 37 years since the last undefeated college basketball team. Bob Knight’s bicentennial crew started four seniors and one junior. These days, hardcore UK fans might be forgiven for asking, “What’s a senior?”
And that’s my point.
No team can legitimately contemplate such a feat in the era of one-and-done. Nowadays, for a team to go undefeated, you’d have to have players as talented as, say, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, stick around for four years. But when 17-year-olds’ names are being uttered by NBA team owners, fuhgeddaboutit.
I like what Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis said on the subject. When Indiana won the title in 1976 and finished 32-0, there had hardly been any media coverage leading up to the historic victory. And, even at that, media coverage in 1976 for college basketball was incredibly light. It was almost like, “Oh, you know what? That team just went undefeated. That’s pretty cool.”
Now, you have Internet and 24 hour sports coverage from at least four different ESPN networks, not to mention any number of ways we get updates on our smart phones. When something major happens, we know about it instantly. Plus, college basketball is a much bigger deal now that it ever has been.
I say all that to say this:
The pressure created by the multitude of media outlets that are at our disposal is far too great for young teams to handle when it comes to the notion of an undefeated season. Teams are just way younger than they have ever been.
Yes, Kentucky is one of the youngest teams I have ever seen, but kids leave early for the NBA all the time, from all over the country. Truly great players never stick around for four years. And John Calipari knows that. And he knows that’s what it would take for an undefeated season.
And he knows the model he has built at UK precludes that from ever happening again.