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Can Anyone Beat The Kentucky Wildcats?


Can anyone beat Kentucky? That is the question now that we're more than halfway through the college basketball season. So far, the Kentucky Wildcats have not lost a single game. And if they make it through the season undefeated, that would mean they're the first team to do this in nearly 40 years. Joining us now is Nicole Auerbach. She covers college basketball for USA Today. Welcome.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Hi, thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: So, OK, Kentucky is undefeated. We know that. But just how good is this team?

AUERBACH: Well, they're really good. You know, they're on pace to be a historically good defense. Like, they might be the best defense of the modern era. So they're really talented on that end, and then they have incredibly talented players in general. Somehow, John Calipari, their coach, is getting them to play really unselfishly and not care about how many points they're scoring or what they're going to do in the NBA draft. You know, I think they - we're seeing some history here.

MCEVERS: And one of the reasons this team is so great - right? - is that coach John Calipari has mastered how to work the NBA's one-and-done rule. This is where players have to be 19 before they can go play for the NBA. He basically makes it clear that players will be with him for just that one year and then they'll be able to go onto bigger and better things. Why don't other coaches do this?

AUERBACH: Well, I think other coaches can do it to a lesser extent. But they - you know, no one's had, like, an entire roster full of these guys like Calipari has. He just likes the idea of a whole new crop of talented players every year. And now his track record - I mean, he's putting, you know, a handful of guys, you know, in the first round of the NBA draft every year. So, basically, if you want to go to the NBA fast, you want to go to Kentucky. So somehow he's getting them to buy in for, you know, the seven months or however long they're actually on campus. They get to live in this, like, beautiful dorm. You look at these pictures. Like, the dorm is set up for seven-footers. Like, the sinks are really tall. I mean, it's just very convenient. If you want to play basketball and live in, like, kind of a basketball palace and being treated like royalty, you go to Kentucky.

MCEVERS: In recent years, we've seen teams like Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, Wichita State come up in the final four, you know, teams like we never would have heard of before. That team this year might be Northern Iowa. Can you tell us about them and their chances?

AUERBACH: Northern Iowa's a great story. They're in the same conference as Wichita State. I mean, there's legitimate teams. They're mid-majors. They're smaller. Less resources than some of these other schools we're talking about - definitely less than Kentucky. But, you know, you're talking about a team on that level getting that kind of competition against Wichita State twice this season. They already beat them handily. They're going to be hot name. They're going to be one of these teams that people are going to pick as their dark horse - just because they're veteran. They play together. It's exactly the kind of mid-major team that pulls off the upsets in the NCAA Tournament.

MCEVERS: There's one team that probably won't make it to the final four in March, and that is Arizona State. But, you know, the fans at ASU have maybe come up with one of the best ways to rattle the opposing team. They call it the curtain of distraction. This involves sending dancing unicorns or dudes in diapers out from behind a curtain while the other team is shooting a free throw. Have you seen this? I mean, does it actually work?

AUERBACH: Yeah, it's - The New York Times crunched numbers on this, and it actually works. I mean, it's responsible for teams costing themselves points. I mean, I would love to be in on those brainstorming meetings. I'm sure they're hilarious, being like, what can we do to top ourselves? But, like, the best thing is just that, you know, like, it works. That's the funniest thing. I mean, because you could do this, but they're actually forcing people to miss. And they're incredibly entertaining to watch and kind of, like, have to just at least check in a little bit to see what they're doing, or at least Google the videos later. But, yeah, I mean, it's hilarious.

MCEVERS: That's Nicole Auerbach. She covers college basketball for USA Today. Thanks so much.

AUERBACH: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.