INDIANAPOLIS – The Wildcats lit up the Champions Classic and a bitterly cold 15 degree night on the plains of Indiana by sending the fifth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks to a 72 to 40, 32 point demolition, the fourth-worst loss in the program’s storied history. For clarity, this is University of Kansas, the second most winningest program in college basketball history, not Fort Valley State. This was John Calipari’s milestone 600th win, and it will be remembered by the Big Blue Nation as an epic performance and bell weather that this edition of the Cats can be truly and historically special. Calipari entered the post-game press conference and spontaneously began, “No, we’re not that good”, before taking his seat. Thing is, this performance may have been the best defensive display seen by the BBN, in many a moon, if not ever.
No one in Banker’s Life Field House was left questioning the feasibility of Cal’s platoon system on this night as the continuous rotation of long, tall and talented Wildcats constantly turned up the defensive pressure on the Jayhawks. “We kind of bum-rushed them a little bit”, Calipari said. “And every time they looked, there were more tanks coming over the hill.” Tanks? More like bulldozers.
The defensive numbers tell the dominant story. 11 blocks and numerous other altered shots around the rim led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Marcus Lee with four each. This is tempered by at least four more blocks that were taken away by questionable foul calls. When the Jayhawks did get a shot up at the rim, very few were converted. Kansas shot 8 for 33 (24.2%) in the first and 3 for 23 (13.0%) in the second half for a total of 11 for 56 (19.6%) for the game. That is THREE field goals in the second half. THREE! Inclusive of going 0 for 7 from three point land. As great as those numbers are, the most telling stat of the night was Kansas going 3 for 21 (14.2%) from inside three feet. That is 14.2% on layups and shots at the rim, by major college, 5 star talents. No shot went uncontested by the Cats. Kansas had to earn 15 of its 40 points (37.5%) from the foul line due on those contested shots. The pressure was withering, and it was evident in the Kansas players. Those of us in the arena could see and feel the intimidation. Interestingly enough, Cal noted that he did intend to play some zone in the game, but “when I saw the way we defended, I said Nope, not playing any zone today.” No need.
The result could have been so much more lop sided if the Cats would have played better offensively. A major detractor of the platoon system is that it does not allow the players to get in an offensive flow during the game and affects consistent shooting. Kentucky, by no means, played their best offensive game, shooting 25 for 58 (43.1%) and only 6 for 18 (33.3%) from three point land, with most of those 12 missed threes in the first half being open looks. A few of those go down and the game was done by the 4:00 time out of the first half. Despite the shooting numbers, the offensive effort was impressive in the balance of the contribution of each of the players. All 10 of the platooners played between 17 and 21 minutes, each scored in both the first and second half, each scored between 11 and four points, led by Dakari Johnson’s 11, and each had at least 1 rebound, let by Willie Cauley-Stein’s 10. That is Balance.
Are Cal’s Cats as good as they looked on Tuesday Night? The hype this is now going to escalate to astronomic levels. The talk of an undefeated season will only mushroom and there is now evidence that it is entirely possible. The Cats will likely lose a game, or maybe two, somewhere during the grueling and pressure packed season to come. However, if they put on such a dominant defensive display and balanced offensive performance as they did here Tuesday night, they will not lose their last game of the season on April 6th, just down the street at Lucas Oil Stadium, back here in the plains of Indiana.