Posts tagged with Kentucky Wildcats
The Kansas Jayhawks had a terrific season. I think they were ranked high in the preseason polls and picked to win the Big XII due more to their reputations and history rather than true talent. Yet, the Jayhawks played to their ranking and preseason predictions. They won their 8th straight conference title and were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season. They earned a number 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While these accomplishments don’t seem like a surprise, I have to honestly admit they really exceeded my true expectations.
KU featured a fine starting five and a very thin bench. When the season started, Tyshawn Taylor had more career minutes played than all of his teammates combined at Kansas. Jayhawk fans are used to a solid rotation of 8 or 9 almost every season. This team played its bench only when it was necessary. Yet, they found a way to succeed and play to the seemingly unrealistic preseason predictions. Mirroring the toughness of their head coach, Bill Self, Kansas fought and scraped their way to success. Few games were easy or runaways and the Jayhawks seemed to be playing from behind much of the season. They found a way to win game after game.
The NCAA Tournament followed the established pattern for the Jayhawks. They didn’t play well in the first halves and those kids were able to turn things around in the second halves, making furious comebacks in several postseason games. Even in the championship game, the Jayhawks struggled early and found themselves digging themselves out of a hole late.
Kentucky is a fine team. There has been little doubt the Wildcats were the best team throughout a down year in college basketball. They were young but talented and athletic. Coach John Calipari got them to buy into his system and to play defense, a deathly combination for the opposition.
There is no doubt Kentucky was more talented and athletic, player for player, than Kansas. The Wildcats dominated the first half and it was all the Jayhawks could do not to be blown out and embarrassed. KU popped out of the locker room after the half just as they did several other games. Kansas made a couple of shots and made a couple of defensive stops. In my opinion, the key play of the game was when Jeff Withey failed to get an easy dunk through the cords early in the second half. KU had cut into the lead and their fans were just starting to feel the momentum swing. If that dunk goes down, who knows if the outcome would have been different. So much happened after that play. Immediately though, UK scored a basket and snuffed the Jayhawks’ growing momentum. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming Withey for this loss. Without him, KU would never have been even close to the championship game. It just happened to be his missed dunk that I felt was the key.
From that point, KU ever so slowly scraped their way back into the game but never really gained that feeling of momentum. The Wildcats seemed to be on the verge of allowing the Jayhawks back into the game mentally but with that failed dunk, Kansas seemed to lose a little something. They eventually cut their deficit to 5 points but never closer. UK kept them at arms length and eventually outlasted the comeback.
But that missed dunk wasn’t the only missed opportunity for the Jayhawks. KU missed 3 dunks and 13 lay-ups through the course of the game. The fantastic Anthony Davis had a lot to do with Kansas’ tightness around the rim. Still, KU only lost by 8 points. If KU had cashed in on just a few of those missed chances, things could have been much different. Make the dunks (the highest percentage shot possible) and just a couple of the missed bunnies, then maybe there would have been a different result in the outcome.
It is futile to play the “what if” game. It serves no purpose and it does take away from a great performance by the Wildcats. I mention these key blown opportunities because it shows that the game wasn’t that far from having a different result.
I heard a talking head yesterday speaking about how this only proves that Kentucky is the best program and how John Calipari is by far the best coach in college basketball. All of his arguments sounded pre-written. I think if KU would have won, this guy would have just replaced Kentucky with Kansas and John Calipari with Bill Self. His arguments would have held weight for whichever school and coach, depending on who won the game. He went on and on about now it wasn’t even close to which school and coach was best. He said no one could argue the point anymore. My point is that the discussion is still closer than this guy wanted to admit. Three dunks and a couple of lay ups and who knows. Kentucky had a fine season and played a heck of a championship game and they deserved the title but KU wasn’t that far behind.
Bill Self proved that he must be counted among the game’s finest coaches. He has shown in the past that he is a top notch recruiter and has been able to get top players to adhere to his system. He proved this season he could coach a team with less talent but with huge hearts and still win. Coach Self and this team should be very proud of their season and the final results. I know the fans are. The worst thing is that we now have to wait seven months for the next edition of the Kansas Jayhawks.