Who Will Be The Star Tonight?

The UK players yell for the subs at the end of the Auburn game. Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | The Voice-Tribune.

The UK players yell for the subs at the end of the Auburn game. Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | The Voice-Tribune.

This is a most peculiar 27-0 team. Even though UK keeps winning, you never know from game to game what you’re going to get, or from whom.

The 35-point win over Auburn, the 110 points, the 30-4 first half lead at one point, was just classic. Karl-Anthony Towns dominated – 19 points in 21 minutes. Dakari Johnson imposed himself on opponents  and Marcus Lee soared.

But I’m a little afraid to overreact. Last week, I heaped praise on Towns, Johnson and Lee, all of whom then proceeded to disappear against Tennessee.

Willie Cauley-Stein played two games against Tennessee: the first half, in which he was on the court, and the second half, in which he was one of the seven or eight best basketball players in the country.

Against Auburn, though, just about the entire nine played the best basketball they’ve played – individually and together – all season.

See? Peculiar! No two nights are the same.

I think John Calipari said it best last week, when he said not everyone’s going to play well every night, so he always has to find his best five-man combinations. But he has a bunch of great players to pick from.

The UK depth is practically unprecedented for a team at this level. There is no “starting five.” Everybody shares minutes. Everybody shoots the ball. It’s a statistically flat and unimposing landscape.

Can you win that way? By comparison, that undefeated, national championship 1976 Indiana team had a five-man starting lineup that played almost all their minutes.

Quinn Buckner, the point guard, was just elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame, but he was only the third-best player on the team. Kent Benson and Scott May may be less familiar names today, but May was the NCAA player of the year and the second pick in the 1976 draft. Benson was the Number one pick the following year.

Along with Tom Abernathy and Bobby Wilkerson, they all played in the NBA.

Look back at other championship teams. They either had a solidly defined starting five, or a great three-man nucleus, or an overwhelmingly great individual. They may have gone six or seven deep, but a few just went five.

Michigan never won with its Fab Five (Webber-Rose-Howard-Jackson-King), but did win it all with another great five (Rice-Mills-Robinson-Vaught-Higgins). Kentucky had the first Fabulous Five (Groza-Beard-Jones-Barker-Rollins).  and UNLV had probably the most fabulous five (Johnson-Augmon-Anthony-Hunt-Butler).

In 1960, Ohio State had a pretty fabulous five, too – Lucas, Havlicek, Siegfried, Roberts and Nowell. It’s often a Fab Three. In the 1980s, North Carolina had Jordan, Worthy and Perkins. In the 90s, Duke had Hill, Laettner and Hurley. In the 1950s, Kentucky had Hagan, Ramsey and Tsioropoulos, then Johnny Cox, Vern Hatton and Odie Smith.

And then, sometimes, it’s just the Fabulous One! UCLA had Lew Alcindor, then Bill Walton; the University of San Francisco had Bill Russell; LaSalle had Tom Gola; Michigan State had Earvin Johnson; Kansas had Danny Manning; Georgetown had Patrick Ewing; UConn had Kemba Walker.

I’m not saying they were all surrounded by walk-ons from the YMCA league, but none of them was part of a 20-minute platoon. And try taking any one of those away from his NCAA championship team and see what you’ve got left.

The great 1996 Kentucky team, still considered the gold standard around here, had great depth – Delk, McCarty, Pope, Walker, Anderson, Sheppard, Mercer, Epps, Turner. The minutes were spread evenly – seven players averaged 19 minutes or more – though not nearly as evenly as this year’s team.

Nor were the points. Delk averaged 17.8 points per game, Walker 15.2 – you don’t see numbers like that on this team. And if you think back to their tournament run, Tony Delk’s name emerges above all the rest.

If this 2015 team goes undefeated and/or wins the NCAA title, who will they be recalling as the individual star in 10 or 15 years? Very hard to predict right now. Probably depends on the night.