The 2021-22 Kentucky Wildcats are doing something we haven’t seen in decades with this program. Something so impressive, not even the title-winning Anthony Davis-led group in 2011-12 pulled it off. Neither did the beloved 38-1 squad from 2014-15, nor the 2009-10 John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins group.
On Tuesday night, Kentucky won its 11th straight game against Vanderbilt to improve to 13-3. While UK has been knocked off thrice this season (by a combined 17 points), John Calipari’s team leaves no doubt when it’s winning time. Bet you didn’t know it: all of Kentucky’s wins have come by double digits. That hasn’t happened this deep into a season for UK since at least the 1990s. Here are Kentucky’s win margins through 13 games.
40 vs. Robert Morris25 vs. Mount St. Mary’s18 vs. Ohio25 vs. Albany34 vs. North Florida28 vs. Central Michigan12 vs. Southern29 vs. North Carolina35 vs. Western Kentucky27 vs. Missouri44 vs. High Point15 vs. Georgia12 vs. Vanderbilt
Add ’em up, slash by 13 and you get Kentucky winning by an average of 26.5 points. In overall margin of victory (22.5), the Wildcats rank fourth nationally, thanks to the three losses coming by eight (vs. Duke), four (at Notre Dame) and five (at LSU). While UK still lacks the résumé as of today to validate a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, we should take note now that this team is showing optimistic long-term signs for March success. Dominating opponents by wide margins in victories portends to March success.
Kentucky also has an All-American candidate in Oscar Tshiebwe, who on Tuesday became the first UK player since Patrick Patterson in 2008 to score at least 30 points and grab at least 10 rebounds in a game. Guards TyTy Washington and Kellan Grady have combined to shoot 43.6% from beyond the arc. It’s an A-level offense and a B-level defense that is improving.
As for the great Kentucky teams that couldn’t win at least each of their first 13 games by double digits, the Wall/Cousins team started 19-0 but had four of its first nine decided by single digits. The 2011-12 Anthony Davis-led team had two games in its first 13 wins decided by single digits (and a 15-1 start through 16 games). The 38-1 team that lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin in 2015 had three single-digit results in its first 16, but then again won every game until April.
This team isn’t as good as those teams. Maybe it won’t be a top-five team under Calipari — but it has a chance to be. Maybe it can be as good as the 2010-11 Final Four team. That’s the one that came closest to doing what this season’s squad has done. Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and company had just one of its wins in its 13-3 start be decided by single digits. That team’s average win margin through 16 games: 22.7 (or: almost four points fewer than this year’s team).
If Kentucky remains healthy, I think the chances are high that, come Selection Sunday, this will be one of the 8-10 best teams in the field of 68.
Last undefeated team historically strong in March/April
We made it just barely over the two-month mark of the season before all teams took a loss. On Tuesday, in a span of less than three hours, USC and Baylor were knocked from the ranks of the unbeatens. The Trojans fell in a close one to Stanford, while Baylor became just the third undefeated No. 1 team in the past 20 years to blow a 15-point lead at home to ends its undefeated streak. It was also the first time in more than 10 years Baylor lost a game in which it held a 15-point lead.
Being that the Bears were technically the last unbeaten crew, they became just the fourth team in the last 50 years to win a national championship and follow that up by lasting as the final unbeaten in the ensuing season. The others, via NCAA statistics:
1990-91 UNLV (lost on March 30 after 34-0 start) 1991-92 Duke (lost on Feb. 5 after 17-0 start) 2001-02 (lost on Jan. 6 after 12-0 start)
Over the years, I’ve kept data handy on when and how the final unbeaten teams have lost. This goes back 30 seasons. Sometimes the final unbeaten wins the national title. Most times, like last year, it doesn’t. But if you’re the last one to lose, history suggests you’re making it to the second weekend, minimum, come Big Dance time. Here’s the evidence.
(Record before L)Lost toFinal RecordNCAAT outcome1991-92 DUKEFeb. 5 (17-0)@ UNC34-2Won title 1991-92 OKLAHOMA STATEFeb. 5 (18-0)@ Nebraska28-8Sweet 16 1992-93 VIRGINIAJan. 20 (11-0)@ UNC21-10Sweet 16 1993-94 UCLAJan. 30 (14-0)@ California21-7First round 1994-95UCONNJan. 30 (14-0)@ Kansas28-5Elite Eight 1995-96UMASSFeb. 24 (26-0)vs. George Washington35-2Final Four 1996-97KANSASFeb. 4 (22-0)@ Missouri34-2Sweet 16 1997-98 UTAHFeb. 1 (18-0)@ New Mexico30-4Title game loser 1998-99UCONNFeb. 1 (19-0)vs. Syracuse34-2Won title 1999-2000SYRACUSEFeb. 7 (19-0)vs. Seton Hall26-6Sweet 16 2000-01 STANFORDFeb. 3 (20-0)vs. UCLA31-3Elite Eight 2001-02DUKEJan. 6 (12-0)@ Florida State31-4Sweet 16 2002-03DUKEJan. 18 (12-0)@ Maryland26-7Sweet 16 2003-04SAINT JOSEPH’SMarch 11 (27-0)vs. Xavier (A-10 tourney)30-2Elite Eight 2004-05 ILLINOISMarch 6 (29-0)@ Ohio State37-2Title game loser 2005-06 FLORIDAJan. 21 (17-0)@ Tennessee33-6Won title 2006-07 CLEMSONJan. 13 (17-0)@ Maryland25-11NIT 2007-08 MEMPHISFeb. 23 (26-0)vs. Tennessee38-2Title game loser 2008-09 WAKE FORESTJan. 21 (16-0)vs. Virginia Tech24-7First round 2009-10 KENTUCKYJan. 26 (19-0)@ South Carolina35-3Elite Eight 2010-2011OHIO STATEFeb. 12 (24-0)@ Wisconsin34-3Sweet 16 2011-2012 MURRAY STATEFeb. 9 (23-0)vs. Tenn. State31-2Second round 2012-2013 MICHIGANJan. 13 (16-0)@ Ohio State31-8Title game loser 2013-14 WICHITA STATEMarch 23 (35-0)vs. Kentucky (NCAAT)35-1Second round 2014-15KENTUCKYApril 4 (38-0)vs. Wisconsin (NCAAT)38-1Final Four 2015-16 SMUJan. 24 (18-0)@ Temple25-5Ineligible 2016-17GONZAGAFeb. 25 (29-0)vs. BYU37-2Title game loser 2017-18 VILLANOVADec. 30 (13-0)@ Butler36-4Won title 2017-18 TCUDec. 30 (12-0)vs. Oklahoma21-12First round 2017-18 ARIZONA STATEDec. 30 (12-0)@ Arizona20-12First Four 2018-19MICHIGANJan. 19 (17-0)@ Wisconsin30-7Sweet 16 2018-19VIRGINIAJan. 19 (16-0)@ Duke35-3Won title 2019-20SAN DIEGO ST.Feb. 22 (26-0)vs. UNLV30-2No tourney 2020-21GONZAGAApril 5 (31-0)vs. Baylor31-1Title game loser 2021-22USCJan. 11 (13-0)@ StanfordTBD??? 2021-22BAYLORJan. 11 (15-0)vs. Texas TechTBD???
Tuesday also marked the fifth time in the past 40 years that multiple final unbeaten teams fell on the same day. The four previous years (1992, 2006, 2018, 2019) all included the eventual national champion. (Stat hat-tip to ESPN).
There’s been five teams in the past 30 years to be the last one standing and go on to win the national title. Will Baylor or USC be the sixth?
First losses for the final teams to lose come away from the last unbeaten’s home venue 73% of the time. The average record of the final unbeaten team since 1991-92 right before taking its first loss: 20-0. USC and Baylor fell short. Not accounting for 2020, 12 of the 34 teams to lose last on the latest date (34.3%) have made the Final Four. Excluding 2020, only two teams have been the final to lose and not make the NCAA Tournament: Clemson in 2007 and SMU in 2016. (SMU would have made it if not for a postseason ban.)Removing Clemson and SMU from the equation, the average number of NCAA Tournament wins since 1992 for the last teams to lose: 3.5. Only four times did the last team fail to even win one NCAA tourney game. The most common exit for the last unbeaten team is the Sweet 16 (eight times). Average final record for the last unbeaten team: 30-5.
Will Purdue ever play Zach Edey and Trevion Williams simultaneously?
On Dec. 12, with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation, one of the rarest occurrences in college hoops happened: Purdue’s (arguably) two most important players were on the floor together at the same time. It was the first time this season* Zach Edey and Trevion Williams shared the court. The only other time it happened also came in a late-game, specialized situation — when Williams threw this flawlessly executed full-court pass to Edey in the final seconds of Purdue’s home loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 3.
That play took 1.6 seconds off the clock, so here’s the tally:
Total seconds Purdue has played this season: 36,300 (605 minutes).
Total seconds Edey and Williams have played together: 3.7.
Ten years ago, this would have been unthinkable — if not considered coaching malpractice. But given that the 7-4 Edey and 6-10 Williams are traditional bigs (who have combined to shoot seven 3-pointers this season, all of them coming from Williams), it’s not advantageous to play both at the same time. Matt Painter usually swaps one for the other. The two combine for 37.8 minutes per game, with Edey always starting and Williams almost always being on the floor for the majority of the end of competitive games. Williams averages 20.7 minutes, Edey 17.1.
Purdue still ranks in the top 10 of the polls and has the No. 1 offense, according to KenPom. So this stratagem is working. But does it mean it will always be the plan? Is Painter open to playing both bigs?
“Yes, I would do that,” Painter recently told me. “We’ve worked on it before in practice with what we have. We exposed that lineup [defensively]. Now, when shots go up we’re in a good position, but everything else — ball-screen D, transition D, some matchups — it’s tough. But I don’t rule anything out.”
Painter studies his rotations a lot and tracks efficiency trends of what works. He told me he’s not averse to playing Edey and Williams at the same time, but to this point there has not been an impetus to do so. (He’s also not new to this, as some of his former teams have had two good-to-great bigs and he’s treated them like hockey line shifts.) What’s clear: if Purdue’s facing a team that has a viable stretch 4 and/or and high-level scorer from the outside that Williams or Edey would have to guard, Painter won’t play both at the same time.
“You’ve gotta be able to play people that aren’t as good at shooting,” Painter said. “Or somebody, where, one guy I can shoot but he’s like a guy who averages six points. He makes one 3 a game.”
My guess: I think Painter is waiting to use both at the same time, but treating it like a football coach who keeps a couple of great plays in his pocket until deep into the season. There are certainly significant offensive advantages to having both on the floor alongside a talent like Jaden Ivey and a 3-point threat in Sasha Stefanovic. The longer Purdue keeps its two best bigs separate, it means opponents can’t even tape-scout against this scenario should it arise in a big game.
I think we see Purdue eventually deploy both these behemoths for stretches in games down the road, but at this point, it’s not worth it.
*Williams/Edey stat provided by Ken Pomeroy’s research.
The Court Report’s mailbag! Find me on Twitter, toss a question and I’ll answer some each week.
If such a team were to knock off Duke, Kentucky, Kansas or UCLA in the title game (not that all of those are Vader-level), then I think that would enhance the storyline. I think Gonzaga winning the national championship would inspire a similar national response to what Georgia did in football this week. If we’re to try to make a closer analog and pick a school that already has at least one national championship to its name but has gone at least three decades without winning it all — while still not being a traditional blueblood — I think the answer is Georgetown.
This is rhetorical. No school has the historical coaching roster in men’s basketball to match Kansas. When the inventory of the damn sport (James Naismith) doesn’t even crack your Rushmore, you’re the all-time best in this category. It was great to see Roy Williams return to Lawrence on Tuesday as well. There are few examples in major college sports where one coach has left a program after such a high level of winning — on his own accord — to go somewhere else, and in doing so create little-to-no animosity because of it.
Absolutely. Scott Drew is only 51. Let’s say he coaches until he’s 65. He’s at 405 wins now. A conservative estimate over 14 more seasons would be to have him average 23 wins annually. That gets him past the 700-win mark. That, plus one of the all-time program builds, getting Baylor its first national title and three total Final Fours would have to get Drew in the Hall in his first year eligible.
Yes, Iowa State was hosed on a non-call goaltend that should have been. But as for why a goaltend that isn’t called isn’t reviewable, that very issue was covered in a recent Court Report!
Let’s check in on the former five-star prospect, as he likely won’t find relevance again until the Horizon League tournament. Patrick Baldwin Jr.’s averaging 13.4 points and 6.6 rebounds on 37.1% shooting for a 5-11 team. This isn’t going to plan. If he was at Duke he’d be another good piece, but it might’ve come at the expense of someone else committing there who is currently serving a better role for what Duke is capable of being.
After the NIT selection committee heinously didn’t even invite the 24-3 Bruins to their tournament last season, I’m reluctant to predict anything positive for Belmont and its at-large candidacy. But I will answer the Q! The Bruins sit at 28th in the NET — that’s really good. At 11-3 vs. D-I competition, and with a lot of power conferences lacking at-large depth, I would say Belmont can get to Selection Sunday with as many as five losses and still have a case to earn an at-large.
We might have had this in 2020 (Kansas, San Diego State, Baylor, Gonzaga). And in 2021 we flirted with it again (Gonzaga and Baylor, with Houston and Iowa as 2-seeds). All four 2021 Final Four teams (GU, BU, Houston, UCLA) wound up being west of the Mississippi, which was the first time that had happened, by the way. But in terms of No. 1 seeds, it’s never happened before that all top-line teams were based west of the Mississippi River. With Purdue, Auburn and Duke all potential No. 1 candidates, I don’t think it happens in 2022.
• A week ago we broke the news on Murray State joining the Missouri Valley later this year. The MVC isn’t done yet. Sources indicate that UIC is lined up to be the 12th school. I’d expect that union to be agreed to in the near future.
• Speaking of Murray State and the Valley, the Racers host current OVC rival (and future fellow MVC tenant) Belmont on Saturday. The two should be a combined 26-5 when the game tips.
• Tasty WCC action on tap in the next couple of days as BYU finishes out a key three-game stretch against the three other top teams in the conference. The Cougars beat Saint Mary’s last weekend. Next they play at Gonzaga on Thursday, then at San Francisco on Saturday. It’s the only scheduled instance in the regular season a top-four WCC team will play the other three consecutively.
• At this point, it sure feels like what Alabama was to the sport last season Auburn is in 2022 — must-watch style with lottery-pick talent that will be a high-end seed come March.
• Speaking of Alabama, the Tide rank No. 2 in overall strength of schedule, per KenPom. Bama’s opponents have a collective win percentage of .776, the best in the sport.
• Are we all sleeping on Texas A&M? No one can honestly say at this point. But Buzz Williams’ team casually dismissed Mississippi on Tuesday night to improve to 14-2 with a 3-0 SEC record. The rub: A&M’s strength of schedule rates 292nd.
• Credit to the Omaha World for getting this: Nebraska (quietly) awarded Fred Hoiberg a contract extension recently (based off an arrangement from NU’s former athletic director). Hoiberg’s buyout sits at $18.5 million, a laughably high number — and obviously among the largest in college sports. Hoiberg’s team lost at home to Illinois on Tuesday to fall to 0-6 in the Big Ten.
• Loyola Chicago needed double OT to get past Valpo at home on Tuesday (that’s surprising), but in terms of record, the 12-2 Ramblers have their best record through 14 games in the past 50 years. They’ve also won 30 straight home tilts.
• Credit to Southland Conference for its creative “nonconference” scheduling event it pulled off last week. Due to the league being stripped down to eight teams this season because of realignment, there was an eight-team league tournament that was held to give Southland programs three more games. Southeastern Louisiana won the in-season tournament. League play begins in earnest this weekend.