If you haven’t heard, you live under a rock. Kentucky is four games away from being the first men’s basketball team to finish with an untainted 40-win season. Since the tournament era began in 1938, only seven teams have finished with a perfect record, most recently 1976 Indiana finishing 32-0. The disparity between now and then is great.
Teams have come close. Wichita State came into last year’s tournament with the same 34-0 record Kentucky boasted this year, ironically losing to the Wildcats in the Round of 32. Then you have to look back to the late Jerry Tarkanian UNLV team in 1991 that finished 34-1, losing in the Final Four to Duke. Clearly, there’s still “unfinished business” as Kentucky is saying, but if they can finish what they started, their feat will go down as one of the greatest team achievements of all-time.
With the expansion of season and tournament play, the Wildcats have already passed the mark for most wins in a season, standing at 36 wins. Assuming they keep dancing through Indianapolis, there’s not much preventing them from continuing their win streak next season. At that point, they’d be eyeing to become the the next UCLA Bruins of the seventies, who produced two perfect teams in 1972 and 1973, winning 88 straight games from 1970-1974. What took UCLA seasons to set the record could be reeled in by Kentucky within just one more season if they can get back-to-back seasons of 40-0, winning 80 straight games.
Of course, that’s assuming too much. The game of college basketball has changed greatly over the last forty years, and it’s that constantly changing dynamic that makes it even more impressive. This is the era of the “one and done.” Who will be on the Kentucky roster next year is unknown. More importantly, who they will be playing next season (and beyond) is in question as well. Being able to sustain successful team chemistry is a feat beyond winning.
Between the ’72 and ’73 Bruins teams, four of their starting five players were the same. Kentucky is synonymous with players staying one season and flocking to the NBA. Will freshman Karl-Anthony Towns take off this season if the Wildcats cut down the net? Could fellow teammates Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins leave for greener pastures as well? It’s not known, but what is known is that coach John Calipari will bring in yet another strong team to the Rupp Arena as he has for the past six years.
Going beyond basketball, though, this Kentucky squad is in a position to be seen as one of the most successful teams of all-time. The last time an NFL team finished without a blemish was the 1972 Dolphins, when the regular season was fourteen games compared to sixteen games now. We were teased by the 2007 Patriots, but they ultimately lost in the Super Bowl. It’s near impossible for an NBA team to finish the 82 game regular season undefeated, let alone sweeping the playoffs. The longest win streak in NBA history stands at 33 by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. The MLB’s win streak record without ties stands at a paltry 21 games in comparison, held by the 1935 Chicago Cubs.
The win streaks keep shrinking by the sport it seems — the NHL record stands at seventeen victories. Excluding college football, where fifteen teams have finished their season undefeated in the last fifteen seasons, fans have been deprived of witnessing perfection.
Your bracket is already busted. Even if you have an unwavering affliction against Kentucky or just love an underdog coming out on top, you better be hoping for this perfect season to happen. Whether their approach in signing pro-hungry recruits is good for the sport is another question entirely. What Calipari and his Wildcats have done thus far is unprecedented, but it could end up being so much more.