December 07, 2009
The Hunt for the Most Interesting Team in the World is the Dagger's 2009-10 countdown preview series. Check out the overriding principles here.
Last year's record: 21-13, 8-8 SEC
2009-10's toughest games: North Carolina (68-66 win), at UConn, Louisville, at Tennessee
Primary attraction: The Wildcats might not be as good as the Jayhawks, but with a new coach, an insane fan base, and a man named John Wall, they will certainly be 2009-10's most interesting team.
Three items of undeniable interest:
1. Why? Well, why? Why are the Wildcats and not the Jayhawks 2009-10's most interesting squad? The answer has to do with the parameters of this preview in the first place, which we set out a long, long time ago (it took us a little while to finish, in case you hadn't noticed). Frankly, the Jayhawks are a better team. Few would dispute that. But in terms of sheer interest, they're slightly less intriguing than the Wildcats, who fired former coach Billy Gillispie in the offseason and hired incumbent savior John Calipari. Calipari's first move -- after the whole vacated Memphis wins thing, of course -- was to drag along a bevy of his former Memphis recruits. Next, he landed No. 1 recruit John Wall, who is already proving why he is seen as the favorite at the top of next year's draft class. The Wildcats aren't nearly as deep as the Jayhawks, and on sheer talent, Bill Self's squad wins the day. But if you want a team to capture your interest for five months -- and knowing Calipari, maybe year-round -- the Wildcats deserve to be atop the list.
2. But seriously, stop emailing me now. Kentucky fans, I say this with love: You guys are absolutely nuts. This is both a good and a bad thing. It's good when you fill tents and pack Rupp Arena for Midnight Madness, which is basically just a dunk contest and 10 minutes of lazy exhibition basketball. It's bad when you exalt John Calipari and insist what happened at UMass and Memphis won't happen at your school, despite all indications to the contrary. It's good when you show up and make hundreds of passionate, if occasionally incoherent, blog comments. It's bad when you attack reporters' credibility (and hair) merely for writing a pretty obvious truth.
There are a lot of fan bases in college hoops, many of them filled with the types of rabid people you'd love to watch a game with in a bar. Whether your like the Wildcats or not, you have to respect Big Blue's passion. And, at times, be totally terrified by it.
3. John Wall alone is worth the price of admission. I mentioned Wall above, but this bears repeating: Even if you have no interest in college basketball, you ought to keep your eye on John Wall, because he is the NBA's next big thing. He has it all already: The quickness and ability to blow by any defender in the country. The hops to hang in the air and draw the foul -- Wall is reaching the foul line at a prodigious rate. The savvy to take the ball in hostile situations and handle it with confidence. As he showed in Kentucky's 68-66 over North Carolina on Saturday, the relative cool to manage late wins. In short, he's Derrick Rose with a slightly better jump shot, and if you compare the two's college careers after eight games, Wall is arguably more accomplished.
These are the reasons Kentucky is about to become the most hated basketball team in all of college basketball. Year after year, they're going to get players who do things like this.
Given the way UK's fan base acts (again, for better and for worse) and given the prevailing opinion about John Calipari (that he's a great basketball coach who too often skirts the recruiting low road), people are not going to like these Wildcats for very long. The novelty will wear off, and nationally, they'll be the team everyone loves to hate (second only to Duke, who seems to have a lifetime achievement award in that category). Kentucky fans and John Calipari will be just fine with that. So will I. Because hatred is still interesting, and there's little debate that the 2009-10 Wildcats are as interesting, grotesque or otherwise, as any team in the last decade. Don't expect this to change.