In today's offseason update of Bracketology, Kentucky and Louisville are both No. 1 seeds. In our latest way-too-early Top 25, the Commonwealth rivals are ranked No. 1 and No. 2. Both are uber-talented and led by legendary coaches.
So which is a safer bet to win it all in 2014? Two of our writers state their cases:
KENTUCKY (Jason King)
A lot of folks have been asking the past few weeks if I think John Calipari’s latest batch of one-and-dones can win a national championship. My answer: How could they not?
John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were special, Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight performed beyond their age, and Anthony Davis was arguably the best player college basketball has seen since Kevin Durant.
But what we’ll witness in 2013-14 will be foreign even to Kentucky. Never has a college basketball team featured this many gifted players all on the same roster. Six of the top 25 prospects in the ESPN 100 Class of 2013 signed with the Wildcats, including five who are ranked among the top 10. Mix in the return of Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and Willie Cauley-Stein, and as many as 10 UK players could be drafted next summer.
That’s just ridiculous.
Managing this much talent and getting it to jell in such a short time would be a challenge for any coach, but if anyone can make it work, it’s Calipari, who is as good as anyone in the country at managing one-and-dones. His first three years at UK ended with an Elite Eight, a Final Four and a national championship.
Injuries, poor chemistry and a lack of toughness and leadership derailed last season’s Wildcats and kept them out of the NCAA tournament. But the hiatus will last only one year.
The talent in Lexington this season will be too good and too plentiful. Experience can play a huge factor in March, but in the end, when everything else (coaching, depth, size, etc.) is equal, the team with the best players usually wins. And no team will have better players than Kentucky.
LOUISVILLE (Dana O'Neil)
The best player on the floor at this past Final Four wasn't a national player of the year candidate. He wasn’t some wunderkind freshman or even someone hotly recruited out of high school. No, the best player on the floor at the Final Four was Louisville’s Luke Hancock, a transfer who had both the guile and the gumption to star on college basketball’s biggest stage.
That’s the thing about the push to the national championship -- it is the great separator, its winner as strong in intangible qualities as it is in flat-out talent. Leadership, smarts, courage ... those are the things that often show up in our title winner.
Which is why I still like Louisville. I am dazzled by the great talent amassed down the road in Lexington and am by no means dismissing it. Yes, last season’s Kentucky freshmen only went to the NIT, but the 2012 freshmen won the whole thing, so broad conclusions are dangerous at best.
But pushed to pick between the two, I’m going to side with experience. Louisville returns seven players who either started or contributed significantly on a team that won a national title. That doesn't happen very often in college basketball anymore, and on the rare occasion that it does, good things happen. In 2007, the Florida roster collectively decided to return, and the Gators won a second national title. In 2009, North Carolina’s players put NBA dreams on hold, and won a championship.
I know the Louisville players aren't the same caliber. Save Russ Smith, who likely would have been a second-round pick, none really faced an immediate pro career. But the collective experience this pack of Cards returns is every bit as valuable -- and adding a five-star point guard (Terry Rozier) and the junior college national POY (Chris Jones) doesn't hurt.
That’s why I’m still betting on Louisville. Rick Pitino's horse might not have won the Kentucky Derby, but the Hall of Fame coach has the horses to win another title.