With a 67-50 win over Florida, Kentucky complete the first stage of their grandiose plans in 2015: Winning the SEC, going undefeated in the regular season and making it look easy in the process most of the time, looking as close to unbeatable as we’ve seen in a very long time.
John Calipari gave guys like Sam Malone (not from Cheers), Brian Long and Tod Lanter a chance to play one minute before they say goodbye to college basketball in front of 24,428 fans inside the Rupp Arena, who have seen some bad displays against Florida in previous years, but were delighted to see something completely different from the deep, big and resilient group representing Big Blue this season.
As always, it wasn’t too flashy, with only six 3-point attempts and just two players scoring in double figures. Karl-Anthony Towns with 14 points, emerging as the team’s most important players over the last couple of months, and 14 points from Trey Lyles, who has become much more than an X-Factor. More like THE factor for Kentucky on a lot of games, but team defense has been the biggest thing for teams to handle this season.
Kentucky end the regular season with a winning margin average of 21.2, the second best in the last 15 seasons. Duke in 2010 (21.5) and Kansas in 2008 (21.0) won the national title. Kentucky are doing the right things, and winning in such a dominant way it’s going to be shocking not seeing them at least in the Final Four for a seconds straight year, this time playing for the championship, regardless of their opponents, as huge favorites.
In early December, it felt as if Kentucky might actually lose a game this season. They were able to beat Columbia by only 10 points. A couple of weeks later came a tough 8-point win against Louisville. Their SEC play began with two overtime games, barely getting by Ole Miss and Texas A&M. But that was where the close games ended.
It’s not that Kentucky won by a landslide every time, but it was quite rare to see them entering the final five minutes without the game already in their pocket. Except for their 71-69 win against LSU on the road in February 10, all their wins came by at least 7 points since the win against the Aggies, and usually by double digits and constantly with bruising, efficient and almost perfect defense that very few teams have been able to solve.
People are right when they say that all these wins and statistics won’t mean anything without an SEC tournament win and doing the same in the NCAA tournament. But this Kentucky team is quite aware that this is just the beginning, and going undefeated is just the bonus, not the actual matter they were assembled for. They haven’t shown any signs of wavering off course or letting the pressure get to them. They have all the makings of a team about to make history.