By Andrew Kahn
The 2014-15 Kentucky men’s basketball team, ranked No. 1 and stocked with nine McDonald’s All-Americans, has dominated so far against overmatched competition. We’ll have a much better idea of where they stand when they play No. 5 Kansas tonight. No matter how well they perform, don’t expect an undefeated season or think they could beat an NBA team.
Earlier this season, Georgetown College lost to Kentucky 121-52. Its coach, Chris Briggs, said after the game that Kentucky “could have beaten some NBA teams tonight, there’s no question in my mind. I knew they were good coming into this game, but sitting out there watching it on the sideline, honestly I don’t see how they’re going to get beat this year…If they play like they did tonight, they’re an NBA playoff team.”
Briggs was a student manager and graduate assistant at Kentucky for five years, so he is familiar with the program. Still, he shouldn’t have been surprised that his NAIA team, whose tallest player is 6’8”, couldn’t hang with the ’Cats. Larry Brown, on the other hand, is a Hall of Famer who has coached a variety of big-time college programs and NBA franchises. He told USA Today’s Eric Prisbell, “If you take their first and second teams and split them up, they’d probably have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation…John [Calipari] should go 45-0 with that talent.”
The undefeated talk, based on basic probability alone, is irrational. After winning the 2012 National Championship, Calipari told ESPN, “I would like to coach an undefeated team before I’m done with this. Why? Because it can’t be done, so let’s chase that.” Says ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: “They can beat every team they play, but winning all those games is a totally different deal. Possible? Yes. Probable? I wouldn’t bet a nickel on any team doing it.”
Kentucky vs. the 76ers
This year’s Philadelphia 76ers could be the worst NBA team of all time. They are 0-10 after another blowout loss last night. They have just three-first round picks on their roster, the fewest of any NBA team, and the most undrafted players (seven). Philadelphia is an anomaly, and yet still superior to any college team according to some experts. Noting that you have to account for injuries—former lottery picks Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams have missed action this season—P.J. Carlesimo, a former head coach at the college and NBA levels, said, “I don’t see current college teams, even Kentucky, who is very special, [beating an NBA team]. People aren’t familiar with how good even the perceived lesser pro teams are.”
Philadelphia has several lopsided losses but also took Chicago and Houston (combined record: 17-5) to the final possession. “[A college team] wouldn’t be able to beat any D-League team,” says NBA scouting director Ryan Blake. “The D-League has many players on the cusp of making the NBA with the majority of players having tons of professional experience.” So Kentucky couldn’t beat an NBA team? “Of course not. Let’s get serious,” Blake says. “No chance,” says Bilas.
Reggie Theus, who played and coached at both levels and is currently the coach at Cal State Northridge, also says there is no chance of a college team beating an NBA squad. “You don’t win with young guys in the NBA necessarily. It’s been proven over and over that veteran players win. Every level you go to you have to learn to play all over again. It takes some time.” He said a squad like Kentucky might be able to compete with an NBA team, but not win. He referenced the difference between the Olympic basketball teams that used college players as opposed to pros.
Carlesimo thinks the youth, inexperience, and physical immaturity of a college team would be too much to overcome, especially in this one-and-done era. “There might have been a time when you had those college teams that were together for three, four years and had 21- and 22-year-olds who were more mature physically [that could have competed with an NBA team]. They were better basketball teams than today.”
And yet there are still those, like Brown and Briggs, who are mesmerized by Kentucky’s talent. DraftExpress.com lists six current Wildcats on its 2015 mock draft, all in the first 32 picks, and three for 2016. Chad Ford of ESPN thinks 10 Kentucky players could get drafted next year. This current Kentucky squad does have more high school All-Americans than many NBA teams and could wind up with more lottery picks than some, too.
Calipari should know better than anyone. Not only does he, you know, coach these guys, but he has NBA coaching experience as well. After the Georgetown College game, he sent this tweet: “I hear Coach Briggs got excited after the game last night. Let me be clear: If we played ANY NBA team, we would get buried. ANY.”
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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