Can anybody beat Kentucky?

By Steve Sell
November 19, 2014

Let’s just forget about March Madness and the Final Four.

Pencil in Kentucky against Duke for the NCAA national championship and bypass all the formalities.

In Tuesday’s Champions Classic that brought together four of college basketball’s most rarefied-heights programs, what I took away most was that Kentucky belongs in the NBA, Duke is its most serious challenger — if there is indeed one — and the Kansas Jayhawks are still looking for the number of that truck that ran over them.

Kentucky made the Jayhawks look like Public School No. 6 and, predictably, sent KU fans streaming to the Internet message boards to proclaim that the sky has officially fallen.

The Wildcats’ length reminded me of the days when Jacksonville trotted out a 7-2, 7-0, 6-10 front line and made it all the way to the NCAA Finals before losing to legendary UCLA and coach John Wooden.

Time and again the stubborn Jayhawks took the ball to the basket. And time and again Kentucky swatted the ball into the cheap seats. Apparently Bill Self’s young team has yet to master the art of the ball fake, which is a forgotten fundamental in the college game.

KU fans, however, shouldn’t despair. Kentucky is going to do this to a lot of teams. But the humiliation of the worst loss of Self’s Jayhawk career and the fourth-worst loss in the history of this blueblood program was a bitter pill for its fans to swallow.

KU will be fine. Self will coach up this young team and it will again be in the hunt for a Big 12 championship. But it has seen first-hand how high Kentucky has set the bar. It realizes it’s light-years from being on the same level.

Perry Ellis isn’t going to curl up into a ball every game and disappear like he did Tuesday. I’m sure when he looked into the mirror this morning after his 4-point, 2-rebound “effort,” he’ll grit his teeth and go back to work.

Heralded freshman Cliff Alexander played hard, but at some point at 6-8 (stretching it?), he’s got to realize he’s not going to score over three 7-foot players.

Frank Mason? 1 of 10 from the field and showed no signs of being the team leader that he has to be. Jamari Traylor? 0 of 6, though he did battle for seven rebounds. Traylor always looks like a muscular guy, but he was like a twig snapped in two by the massive Kentucky wave of big men.

Wayne Selden was the closest thing to a Player of the Game for the Jayhawks. His line: 4 of 12 and 9 points.

This game, though, was more about Kentucky’s greatness than KU’s ineptness. John Calipari has so much talent that he has broken it up into two teams, both of which beat the Jayhawks. Every position is manned by a future NBA player, which after this game is where I thought this team should be playing.

At one point the Wildcats had a pair of 6-6 guards on the floor with a front line that went 6-8, 7-0 and 7-1. With the wingspans, it was like 7-0, 7-5 and 7-8. 

I’m sure if the teams meet again in the NCAA Tournament, Self will come up with a different plan of attack. The Jayhawks got down so far so fast that a zone was out of the question. I think most of all they would just have to ramp up their toughness. I don’t know how many times the passive Ellis stood and watched helplessly, one reason he spent as much time sitting by Self as he did on the court. Traylor and Landen Lucas battled, but quite honestly they’re somewhat limited. The game was simply too big for Hunter Mickelson and he wasn’t even a thought until garbage time.

What’s scary is that Kentucky won this game by 32 even though it shot only 43 percent from the floor and 62 from the line. What’s it going to do when the shots are falling? 

I also watched the Duke-Michigan State game and while the Spartans hung around, you never had the sense they could win. Duke’s Jahil Okafor could start for any NBA team right now and the Blue Devils have plenty to go with him. I’m not sure they have enough to challenge Kentucky, but who does?

Larry Brown might not have been too far off when he said that Kentucky should go 45-0. Of course, the Wildcats won’t play that many games. But that “0” could be right.


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