I love Quora. With the possible exception of Twitter, it is my favorite social network/Web 2.0 thingamajig, primarily because it’s so smart. Tech nerds and early adopters parry thoughtful questions and legitimate answers while I sit back, follow hobbyist topics (travel, journalism, podcasting, video games, New Orleans), refresh my timeline and take it all in. It is glorious.
College basketball is still a fledgling topic on the network -- Quora is more popular by the day, but it remains dominated by a certain geeky aesthetic -- but every now and then, a really interesting college hoops discussion breaks out. Recently, in a cross-reference between “college basketball” and “sports hypotheticals” (are you salivating yet?), one of the more interesting questions of the 2012 postseason got its due.
That question: “Could the Kentucky Wildcats beat an NBA team?”
My answer? Maybe!
The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats were a remarkable college basketball team. They mixed insane talent with selfless balance. They dominated on defense but were even better at lacing the nets. They featured the surefire No. 1 overall pick (Anthony Davis), a surefire top-five pick (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), two possible or even likely lottery picks (Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague) and two more potential first-round draftees (Doron Lamb, Darius Miller). This type of team doesn’t come around often in the one-and-done era. Frankly, this type of team -- which trailed opponents for fewer than 10 minutes in six NCAA tournament games combined -- doesn’t come around often in any era.
Kentucky wasn’t merely talented. It wasn’t merely cohesive. It was both. It was everything. We’ve been over this before.
Which should only go to highlight the immense difference in talent, maturity and sheer basketball ability between the college ranks and the NBA. A team of rookies is always at a disadvantage against a squad of fully developed grown men, career professionals, guys who have for years honed their abilities and their bodies to compete at the highest level of the sport. Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said it best before the Final Four:
“Look, it’s absurd. I mean, people will say, ‘Oh, Kentucky, you know’s, got four NBA players.’ Yeah, well the other team’s got 13. “Could anything happen on a one-night thing? I mean, I suppose, you have major upsets all the time. So, maybe, but it’d be rare and in a series it’d be a joke. It wouldn’t be close. That’s just the way it is. John Calipari’s got a lot of talent; he does not have 13 NBA players. He just doesn’t. And even if those guys all are, they’re all NBA rookies. I mean, when has that ever been a success in the NBA? So, no, they’re not going to win."
Former college and NBA coach Larry Brown disagreed, telling Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden he “disagreed” with Van Gundy. “I think they could beat about 15 NBA teams,” Brown said.
First of all, with all due respect to Larry Brown … no. Stop.
The real question is this: Could the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats beat the Charlotte Bobcats?
The Bobcats, as you may know, are currently 7–49 this season. They’re seven games worse than the second-worst Eastern Conference team, the Washington Wizards, and nine games worse than the West’s last-place franchise, the New Orleans Hornets. The Bobcats, thanks in large part to Michael Jordan’s inept management, are the worst franchise in the NBA.
The Bobcats’ current starting lineup is as follows:
PG: D.J. Augustin
SG: Gerald Henderson
SF: Corey Maggette
PF: D.J. White
Compare that to Kentucky’s:
PG: Marquis Teague
SG: Doron Lamb
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Terrence Jones
C: Anthony Davis
See what I mean when I say maybe? It’s non-committal because it’s hard to factor in the sheer physical and tactical advantage any group of NBA players is going to have over five 18- to 22-year-old players. And for as good as Teague was in 2012, D.J. Augustin is a real-deal NBA point guard. He’d eat Teague alive.
But the rest of that lineup is awful. Biyombo is a still-figuring-it-out rookie in his own right, more raw than even Anthony Davis. D.J. White is a journeyman NBA power forward at best. Gerald Henderson is a man on the floor, but he’s Gerald Henderson. Same for Corey Maggette, but that’s when Maggette even pretends to play hard.
Any other team in the NBA, Kentucky loses 98 times out of 100. But the historically bad Bobcats? With that lineup? I’m not so sure.
Sure, it might not be a 50–50 proposition. But 2012 Kentucky has more than a puncher’s chance in that fight, right? And if not, why not?
I don’t know the answer. But like all good sports hypotheticals, I do sincerely love the question.