|Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14), Terrence Jones (3) and Anthony Davis should have a busy spring. (US Presswire)|
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Bruce Pearl once beat John Calipari when he had a top-ranked team and three times beat Billy Donovan when he had eventual national champions. So if anybody knows how to topple giants of this sport, it's the former Tennessee coach turned vice president of marketing for a Knoxville-based wholesaler.
And even he has no idea what to do with these Kentucky Wildcats.
"How good are these guys?" Pearl asked during a halftime chat at Rupp Arena. "I don't know what Tennessee team I could've brought in here and won with."
Me neither, BP. Me neither.
The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats beat the eighth-ranked Florida Gators 78-58 here at Rupp Arena late Tuesday and solidified their reputation as the country's most talented and dominant outfit. They led by 12 after one half and were never threatened in the second. They shot 53 percent from the field, held Florida to 35 percent shooting and cruised to a 20-point victory against the school most considered to be their only real threat in the SEC.
"It's fun winning by 20," said Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague, who finished with 12 points and 10 assists while his counterpart (Florida's Erving Walker) was limited to no points and one assist. "We enjoy this. We want to go out and beat everybody by as much as possible."
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They're pretty much doing it.
The Wildcats have handled their past four opponents by 24, 25, 34 and 20 points en route to building a 2½-game lead in the SEC standings. They've been a blast to watch and a nightmare to play against. "They murdered us," Florida's Bradley Beal said. But that quote could've just as easily come from LSU's Justin Hamilton. Or Tennessee's Trae Golden. Or South Carolina's Malik Cooke. Because UK has murdered all of those teams over the past few weeks, impressively and convincingly.
"Kentucky has six guys who are gonna be first-round draft picks," said Donovan, the Florida coach who knows a thing or two about first-round draft picks. "I don't know if [anybody else] has six first-round draft picks."
The best of those picks is Anthony Davis.
He's ridiculous in lots of ways.
The 6-foot-10 freshman has one long eyebrow and two longer arms, and he uses the latter to catch lobs and block shots. I can't tell you how many dunks he had against the Gators because I lost count in the second half. But it felt like he dunked 40 times. And I can't tell you how many shots he altered against the Gators because I lost track in the first half. But it felt like he altered 80.
At one point late, I stopped watching the game completely to ask an NBA evaluator in attendance for the negatives on Davis. I assumed there must be at least one. So I asked the question. A few seconds of silence followed.
"I don't know," the man said. "Maybe what kind of offensive player he'll be [in the NBA]?"
Translation: Davis will be the No. 1 pick in June.
But will Kentucky be the national champions in April?
That's a question that'll be debated from now until the time Kentucky either loses in the NCAA tournament or cuts nets on a Monday because skeptics still exist. They've seen Calipari not win it all with immensely talented rosters before and just assume something will go wrong again at some point, and I guess that's fair. But there's no denying this team that's merely a Christian Watford buzzer-beater away from entering Saturday's tilt at Vanderbilt with a 25-0 record is built like a champion. The Wildcats have the size, speed and athleticism to top anybody. They have shooters and dunkers and a group of young guys who seem completely bought in.
"When you get into the tournament it's a [win-or-go-home] deal and anything can happen in one game," Donovan said. "But if they went all the way, it wouldn't be surprising."
Which brings me back to Pearl.
The former Tennessee coach stood on the baseline at halftime genuinely impressed by what he was watching and engaged in a conversation about it. He talked about individual players and the way he might try to guard them, and he pointed out that Calipari's famous dribble-drive offense doesn't really show itself too much anymore. Pearl suggested that's a good thing for Kentucky, given the personnel.
Then he thought for a moment longer and tried to come up with a school that might prevent Calipari from winning his first national title and the Wildcats from winning their eighth.
"Maybe Syracuse with that zone in a dome?" Pearl said. "I don't know."