The last two national champions in college basketball both hail from the state of Kentucky. That is where the similarities end.
These two programs could not be any more different than... well... blue and red. Kentucky is a program run by a coach who believes championships are won on the recruiting trail. Pull in as much NBA talent as you can, and then worry about what to do with it later. Sometimes this approach works really well, sometimes not.
When it works well, it works really well, such as in 2011-12 when UK lost only two games all year and barely broke a sweat winning the NCAA Tournament. But sometimes it doesn't work so well when your entire team enters the NBA Draft and you must start over again with a team full of true freshmen, such as the 2012-13 season.
Louisville takes the "old-fashioned" approach by recruiting some NBA talent, but mostly going after guys who will be there for three or four years. This means always having some veterans in the mix and never having to rely on guys who were playing against high school players the year before.
Which is the right way? We'll know more after next season. There is a very good chance that the state of Kentucky will celebrate for the third straight year. The question is will the participants be wearing red or blue?
Louisville returns enough players from this year's national championship squad that they have to be considered a contender again. With guys like Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Kevin Ware and also four incoming four-star recruits, this team will be loaded. They have talent. They have experience. They have the right attitude.
It's not hard to root for Louisville when you see guys who are in the program for three and four years. They come in as freshmen, give it their all for four years and leave with championships. On senior night in Louisville when Russ Smith and Luke Hancock are playing in their last game as Cardinals, there won't be a dry eye in the house, just as there wasn't this past year for Peyton Siva. That's college basketball.
At Kentucky, it is cool to watch all of this future NBA talent putting on a show. The problem is, the fans only get to see these guys for a short time and then they are gone. It's such a revolving door at UK that coach Cal is the big star. Oh sure, they hoot and holler for these guys as loud as they would a team full of seniors. But even the most die-hard UK fan would have to admit that it's hard to watch these guys come and go so quickly. Of course, it is all good as long as they are winning championships.
This year, Kentucky is hauling in a class that makes even all of their other No. 1 classes look weak. They have six (as of now) McDonald's All Americans among their eight incoming freshmen. According to ESPN's College Basketball Top 100, five of them are among the top nine players in the nation. They still have a chance to make it six because the top player, Andrew Wiggins, could still end up in Lexington.
This class is so good that UK will likely be the preseason No. 1 ranked team when the polls come out. That is amazing for a team that lost in the first round of the NIT the season before.
It will be very interesting to see how all of these players such as Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Julius Randle, all of whom have been told how great they are their entire lives, will handle being one of the guys next year. And will the returning players such as Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein just move over and let these freshmen take their minutes?
Sometimes competition is a good thing. Guys with competition tend to play at a higher level to keep their starting jobs (or take away a starting job). But sometimes it can lead to bad blood and bad team chemistry. You can have 13 future lottery picks on your roster, but there is still only one ball and only five of them can be on the court at once.
So when the Cards and Cats meet next year, it will be a battle between "Old School" vs "New School" with the rest of college basketball watching to see which one wins out. Most of the rest of college basketball will be hoping the Cards win. But if UK ends up winning it all again, you can bet Cal will have a lot of copycats coaches trying to recruit "one and done" players.
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