The Kentucky Wildcats are not the best team in college basketball
The Kentucky Wildcats are closing in on men's college basketball's first undefeated season in 40 years. Just two more wins — against Wisconsin in the Final Four, and then against Duke or Michigan State in the national championship — and they'll finish an extraordinary 40-0. The Wildcats feature five players who could go in the first round of this year's NBA draft. They are, according to some, perhaps the best college hoops team ever.
But here's the thing: The Wildcats are not even the best college basketball team this season. That distinction belongs to the Connecticut Huskies — the women's team, that is.
On Monday, UConn beat Dayton 91-70 to earn an eighth straight trip to the Final Four. UConn now needs just two wins to capture a third straight national title. It would also be their fifth in seven years.
This is the greatest basketball dynasty of the past generation. Full stop.
The Huskies are absolutely unfair. They are a video game team with all the skill sliders maxed out. Consider how far Kentucky is above its competition. UConn would be like a Kentucky to that Kentucky team.
Don't believe me? On the year, Kentucky is beating opponents by an average margin of 20.8 points. That's extraordinary. Except that UConn's average margin of victory is more than twice that: 42.5 points per game. And while a handful of other men's teams are averaging margins of victory in the same vicinity as Kentucky's — Gonzaga, at 17 per game, comes closest — UConn's margin is nearly double that of its closest competitor.
Though UConn opened the season with a 102-43 pounding of measly UC Davis, the Huskies aren't just feasting on cream puffs. In February, they blew out South Carolina — the third-ranked team in the nation, and a fellow top seed in the NCAA Tournament — by 25 points. Last weekend, they whooped a strong Texas team (that began the year 13-0) by 51. The Huskies' only loss on the season came in a fluky 88-86 overtime defeat on the road to then-sixth-ranked Stanford.
Sure, that one loss stands out against Kentucky's unblemished record. But Kentucky just barely survived several scares that could easily have ended their perfect season months ago. A middling Mississippi team took them to overtime; a Texas A&M squad that didn't even make the tournament forced Kentucky into two extra periods; a potential game-winning three from LSU rimmed out at the buzzer.
Much has been made of Kentucky's historic potential to run the table. But UConn has five perfect seasons in the past two decades, including back-to-back perfectos in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. As for Kentucky's bid to be the first men's team to go 40-0? UConn finished with that exact same record last year.
With all due respect to those other incredible UConn teams, this one, despite its one loss, is probably even better. The Huskies have led opponents by an average of about 25 points at halftime this year, compared to about 20 points for the last two title teams, as FiveThirtyEight's Carl Bialik noted. That's partly due to an easier strength of schedule after moving from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference two years ago, but it still speaks to UConn's unparalleled dominance.
None of this is intended to diminish Kentucky's amazing season. I'm pulling for the perfect record, and have written before about why the Wildcats don't deserve all the hate thrown their way. And of course, men's basketball remains a far more competitive sport overall. But consider how historically dominant Kentucky is this year. UConn is that team year after year after year.
With the Final Four set to get underway later this week, Kentucky has a 53 percent chance to go all the way, per FiveThirtyEight. UConn has an 80 percent chance to do the same. Kentucky is an amazing team and an absolute joy to watch. But relative to the competition, they simply aren't as thoroughly, reliably unstoppable as the UConn women.