This has not been a great year for basketball purists, otherwise known as the old guys at the sports bar who complain about players' tattoos and use corny phrases like “he tried putting a little too much mustard on that hot dog” when someone throws an errant behind-the-back pass. In April, Kentucky coach John Calipari’s “one-and-done” approach finally worked, as the Wildcats won their eighth national title on the backs of mostly freshmen and sophomores, despite the prevailing thought that it takes chemistry and experience to win championships in college basketball. And now, almost three months later, the Miami Heat are poised to win their first NBA championship since Pat Riley held up two middle fingers to the rest of the NBA in the summer of 2010 with his “get three max-contract guys on the team and figure out the rest later” strategy, which critics said wouldn't work because the Heat were too top-heavy and the egos of their three All-Stars would almost certainly clash. (Oh, and let’s not forget about that dadgum girl from Baylor ruining the women’s game this year with all her hocus-pocus slam dunks and what have you.)
Yes, Kentucky and Miami redefined what it takes to win basketball championships this season, and the landscape of the sport as a whole might not ever be the same because of it. But while many will point to Calipari's and LeBron James's first respective championships as proof that the Mayans were right, and will complain that basketball as we know it is gone forever, I, for one, am embracing the change.
There are lies we tell ourselves about the Kentucky Wildcats and John Calipari — comfortable fibs, supported by deceptive history, that help us sleep at night. They certainly make it easier to imagine a national champion from outside Lexington raising the trophy in early April, and they preserve a Manichean black-and-white simplicity that stifles the unpleasant nuances of truth. They are:
1. A team led by freshmen and sophomores can't win a national title. Experience trumps ability in the tournament, at least to some extent. Freshmen-heavy teams like Kentucky will always falter in the big moment because they're not suited to handle the intense pressure to which older players have become accustomed. That's why even the superlatively talented John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins-Eric Bledsoe Kentucky team of 2010 couldn't beat West Virginia and star senior Da'Sean Butler in the Elite Eight.
2. On top of that, Kentucky is perpetually full of great athletes who can't shoot. They lost to West Virginia after going 4-for-32 from beyond the arc, and it keeps them from being truly great.
3. John Calipari's success comes with a price. He's a dirty coach who had to vacate two Final Four appearances — one at UMass and another at Memphis — and he's more of a snake-oil salesman than a true leader. No one doubts his recruiting acumen, but his lack of strategic excellence (and maybe a dose of karma — see Memphis vs. Kansas, 2008) will always deny him the coveted title.
It makes me feel good, reading these words to myself. Unfortunately, they're bogus, and Kentucky is going to win a national championship.
1. Kentucky is second-best in the country at defending shots from inside the arc, holding opponents to a 38.5 percent shooting rate.
2. Georgia can't shoot 3s; the Dawgs hoist them up at 31.6 percent, 267th in Division I.
Long story short, Georgia scored 44 points as the no. 1 Wildcats extended their record to 20-1. The lead was never under 10 in the second half, and Kentucky took another step toward erasing its reputation as road kill.
And yet ...
Let's examine that reputation in-depth and see if it truly deserves to be abolished.