LEXINGTON — Will there ever be another undefeated team in college basketball?
Kentucky went 38-2 and won the national title last year, but suffered a loss in December at Indiana. This year there are no major undefeated teams left in mid-January.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said it will be "a very difficult thing" for any team to complete a perfect season.
“One, you have to have a talented team. Two, you have to have some veterans on that team. And three, they have to be a mentally tough team that’s really in tune with each other. In other words, they all have to buy in," Calipari said Monday on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. "That team I had last year, when Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist take your fourth- and fifth-most shots, they bought in to how you have to play to win. That’s a difficult thing.
"Having the most talent, having a few veterans, having them totally tuned in where they’ve all bought in, that’s the challenge. And then you have to have a little luck. You have to have a ball bounce your way here and there. The last few years, if you asked me, there was a North Carolina team that had a chance, maybe a Syracuse team. We had a couple teams that had a chance to do it. I’ve had a couple opportunities to have teams — a team at Memphis, a team at Massachusetts and a team here — that had a chance, but very difficult.”
Buying in has been difficult for Kentucky this year. Even sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow acknowledged that after Saturday's loss to Texas A&M — UK's second Rupp Arena loss this season after Calipari went his first three years at UK without a home loss.
"The only thing that brings about a change is crisis. Now I’m hoping that (the crisis) is Texas A&M, but it may not be. We maybe need to get hit on the chin three or four more times before they look at each other and say it’s not working this way," Calipari said. "You can tell a young man that this is how you have to play for us to win, and he may look at that and say that’s not how I want to play. He’ll nod his head yes, ‘OK, I’ll do it, I’ll do it,’ but in the crunch of the game he doesn’t do it, which, it costs you."
He said again that he has "great kids" who want to "please me and they are looking for affirmation" daily. However, he used two former players — DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson — as players who needed time to buy in. Liggins had 11 points and nine rebounds for Oklahoma City in his first NBA start of the season Sunday and Harrellson emerged as a UK star and has been with three NBA teams in the last two years.
"Well, you know and I know that he bought in here," Calipari said of Liggins. "He bought in that he was going to be the stopper versus I’ve got to be the point guard and have the ball and do all the shooting and all that. It took three years now, but when he changed, it changed his life.
"You look at Josh Harrellson. When he changed and bought in, it changed his life. But it takes time. Josh Harrellson almost got thrown off the team before he bought in. So we’ve got some guys here, they’re good kids, but part of buying in means change how you play, and you’ve got to play harder and compete more and you’ve got to do it full possessions. They’ve never done that, so it’s what we’re going through. But again, that’s part of the growth of a young team and a young team like we have.”
Calipari likely will have a freshman-dominated team again next season. He's already signed five players and got a verbal commitment from Dakari Johnson, the top-ranked 2013 center prospect, recently. He now has the No. 1 prospect at three spots and five of the nation's top 20 ranked recruits coming to UK next year.
Still, Calipari got a laugh when asked on the SEC teleconference if next year's team featuring twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and Derek Willis along with whatever players return from this team could be the one to go unbeaten?
“Ha, I’m worried about today’s practice. You’re talking about next year," Calipari said. "Let me just tell you with our team. A good friend of mine, Mike Gottfried was here. Mike’s a football coach and a football analyst, and he said the one thing your team (is doing), they’re trying, they want to please you and all that, you’re coaching them, but there’s a little lack of trust, and basically that comes back to buying in.
"And the trust is between each other where you (don’t) take chances, you don’t come down and really execute because you’re looking at each other and there’s not enough trust to really figure out, and all come together and everybody do their job, and no breakdowns the last three minutes. That’s what we don’t have and that’s the challenge I have with this team is to get us to that point where we all buy in, both feet it. Now let’s trust each other so we can finish off these games.”