There are three reasons a recruit goes to Kentucky: To win, to play with great players and to get to the NBA. A combination of all those factors lured the Wildcats’ four starting freshmen to Lexington, and under John Calipari’s coaching, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein are just starting to roll, learning to thrive playing the college game. Chris Mannix breaks down what each brings to the team.
Over the last three years 21 players have been selected in the first round of the NBA draft after finishing their freshman seasons. Nine (42.9%) have been from Kentucky, and the trend will likely continue with this year’s group. Says one NBA executive from a Western Conference team, “I’ll be watching Kentucky all season. It’s NBA U” (page 46).
The Kentucky Wildcats survived an intrastate showdown with the Louisville Cardinals in the national semifinals and a furious rally from the Kansas Jayhawks in the national championship game to win their first NCAA basketball title since 1998. The champion Wildcats appear on the cover of the April 9, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. This is the twelfth time that Kentucky basketball has appeared on the cover.
Kentucky, which started three freshmen and two sophomores, proved to everyone that a team this young could be poised enough to win a championship. The victory also put to rest the question whether coach John Calipari could win “the big one.”
The accomplishment was a team effort, conceived by Calipari and implemented by his team. Senior writer Kelli Anderson writes, “The Wildcats led the nation in blocked shots (344), field-goal-percentage defense (37.4%) and scoring margin (16.8 points), but the stat Calipari likes to tout the most was this: He had seven players who put up 20 points a game in high school, yet none of them averaged more than 9.3 shots this season. And all seven led the team in scoring at least once.”
Commentary on Twitter on National Championship night:
Seth Davis: @SethDavisHoops
“Lotta debate ahead but I say this is the best team of this millennium. Fla ’07 is second. NC ’09 is third.”
Andy Glockner: @AndyGlockner
“Good ballgame. Congrats to Kentucky, very worthy champ. Kansas was game, but not quite good enough.”
Amanda Younger: ayounger45
“Regardless of how you feel about Coach Cal/Kentucky, there’s no denying the best team in college hoops won.”
Andy Staples: @AndyStaples
“Anthony Davis made 1 of 10 shots. He also won Most Outstanding Player. He deserved it.”
Tim Layden: @SITimLayden
“2011′s Lamb: UConn’s Jeremy with door-slamming dunk. 2012′s Lamb: Kentucky’s Doron with 3 key threes”
Richard Deitsch: @RichardDeitsch
Sixteen years ago this week, Antonie Walker was on the cover of SI under the headline BLUE HEAVEN
The 2012 NCAA Final Four features a quartet of storied programs, led by coaches who have all been on this stage. Of the four teams, Ohio State has suffered the longest title drought. The Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft, who hopes to lead his school to its first national championship since 1960, appears on the national cover of the April 2, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
At the beginning of the season, many predicted that Ohio State, Kentucky and Kansas would reach the Final Four, but not many saw Louisville getting this far. The Cardinals hadn’t been ranked in the top 10 since December, ended the regular season 2–4 and had been hit with a raft of injuries. But after overcoming an 11–point deficit to beat Florida, they have reached the pinnacle of college basketball (page 34).
Louisville coach Rick Pitino told Sports Illustrated senior writer Kelli Anderson, “I never wanted a Final Four more than for these guys. They give me every single thing they have in their bodies. They are just the most incredible team to coach.”
Louisville will be facing stiff competition in New Orleans in Kentucky, Ohio State and Kansas.
- Kentucky: Anthony Davis wasn’t the only Wildcat to receive national honors, fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took home one of his own when he was named the Southern Regional’s Most Outstanding Player.
- Ohio State: While Kentucky is led by freshmen, the Buckeyes are led by their sophomores. Point guard Aaron Craft sets the tone with his dogged defense and competitive approach.
- Kansas: Kansas center Jeff Withey has gone from bench warmer to the anchor of the Jayhawks’ basketball team, and he proved his worth mightily by outplaying North Carolina’s dominant duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson in Kansas’s win in the regional final.
On the Tablet: Seth Davis breaks down the Final Four.