Last week, Kentucky basketball signee Marcus Lee made his goal for the 2013-14 season crystal clear — perfection.
“I think that’s what we’re all thinking right now. One of my goals is to go flat-out undefeated. That is my goal — to be the best team out there, hands down…
I think my class is just a team full of non-quitters. They just refuse to lose and refuse to quit, especially with the twins (Andrew and Aaron Harrison), Julius Randle. They just refuse to lose.”
Sounds good, but you have to wonder how the holdovers from UK’s 2013 class will react to those words. Were some members of that class “quitters?”
Randle, another one of the six McDonald’s All-Americans John Calipari is adding this offseason answered “Why not?” when asked if 40-0 is a goal for Kentucky next season.
Well, what else is he going to say? Trying to win every game should be the goal of every team in the country. Randle also added that he and his fellow signees “haven’t done anything or proven anything” yet. The aforementioned Aaron Harrison said his team would “proclaim” that a national title is on the way, “but it is not about words…. it is about what you do out there on the court.”
That’s a better approach than Lee’s. Especially considering that UK’s last class of guaranteed winners didn’t guarantee on-court wins at all. In fact, a first-round NIT loss at Robert Morris served as the ultimate comeuppance for a group that never seemed to realize that listening to Calipari is part of what helped Kentucky’s three previous teams reach the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and then the national championship.
That loss at Robert Morris should also serve as a scarecrow moving forward. It should ward off the slightest bit of overconfidence. Hell, it should be the first thing Calipari shows his new recruits when practice starts later this year.
All that said, for Lee and for Big Blue fans who are already dreaming of a perfect season, just how realistic are the Wildcats’ chances?
If you go by history… not very.
Going back 40 years, here’s a list of some of the best teams to finish undefeated or with one loss:
* UCLA finished 30-0 in 1973, winning John Wooden’s seventh straight national title. But that team played 10 fewer games than are required in this era.
* Indiana went 32-0 in 1976, the last major team to run the table in college basketball.
* NC State went 27-0 in 1973, but the Wolfpack was barred from the Big Dance due to NCAA sanctions.
* A year later in 1974, NCSU went 30-1 with David Thompson leading Norm Sloan’s team to a national title.
* Indiana completed a 31-1 season in 1975 with a two-point loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament regional finals serving as the only barrier between the Hoosiers and back-to-back undefeated seasons.
* Indiana State notched a 33-1 record in 1979, losing only to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament finals. Many feel basketball’s modern era began with that Larry Bird/Magic Johnson showdown.
* UNLV finished 34-1 in 1991, losing only to Duke in the national semifinals.
There have been other squads who’ve come close, but those are arguably the best of the bunch from 1973 forward. And of those seven squads, only one — UNLV — came close to finishing undefeated within the past quarter-century.
Calipari’s 2008 Memphis team came within a number of missed free throws in an NCAA finals loss to Kansas of etching a 39-1 mark. Instead, the Tigers did finished 38-2. The NCAA then stripped them of those 38 victories due to Derrick Rose’s ineligibility.
Calipari’s 2011-12 championship-winning club also finished 38-2. UK’s only losses a year ago came in a one-point loss at Indiana and in the SEC Tournament finals to Vanderbilt. The Commodores beat the Cats by seven.
An optimist would say that ten more points scored in the right games might have given Kentucky an unbeaten season last year.
A realist would say that the Kentucky also beat North Carolina by a single point, Tennessee by three, and Florida by three. A bad break here or there and the Wildcats might have finished 37-3 or 36-4 rather than 38-2.
If Kentucky fans and Calipari’s new class of hotshots want to set 40-0 as a goal for next season, there’s not a thing wrong with it. Winning should be the goal. But winning them all is not a legitimate goal. No team has accomplished the feat since Indiana in ’76 and the game has changed more than a little since the nation’s Bicentennial.
Dream about it, wish for it, aim for it, Kentucky. Just don’t expect it.
And if you’re a freshman who’s never stepped on a college court before, it’s probably best not to talk too much about it, either. Somebody grab Less a copy of that Robert Morris game.