KRAVITZ: Look out '76 Hoosiers; here comes Kentucky

Bob Kravitz

Maybe the best thing about Kentucky's run toward college basketball perfection is this: It's got us talking again about the wonderful 1976 Hoosiers team who, 39 years ago, became the last college basketball outfit to go undefeated on its way to a national title. It's got us fondly remembering Scott May's incredible talent, Quinn Buckner's ethereal floor game, Kent Benson's dominance, Bob Knight's brilliant leadership…and the list goes on.

That was the most special of all special teams, untouched, undaunted, pulling off a feat that hasn't been touched in nearly four decades.

Until now.

Make you a deal: I'll take Kentucky and give you the field, give you the other 67 teams in the NCAA Tournament. You've got Duke and Jahlil Okafor. You've got Gonzaga, who has a real chance to get deep in the tournament this year. You've got Notre Dame, the most dangerous and compelling of the five Indiana-based teams in the field. You've got ‘em all. The Wildcats did not cut down the nets when they won the SEC Tournament – John Calipari claimed they flat-out forgot – but it says here they'll be cutting down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium the evening of April 6.

This will be a coronation for the greatest college basketball team since the 1976 Hoosiers – although, if you talk to IU players from back then, they will tell you the 1975 team might have been the best one.

That team blew out opponent after opponent until Scott May broke his arm and IU lost in the Elite Eight to (of course) Kentucky.

Still, the '76 team was special, with three Hoosiers being taken in the first 11 picks in the next year's NBA Draft. It was a selfless, beautiful team to watch, a team that ran a motion offense and seemed to be competing more against itself and its own view of perfection than it was against opposing teams. Like most teams of that era, they were an older group, filled with seniors and juniors who grew up and cut their teeth in the Knight system.

It's intriguing, 39 years later – right here in IU's backyard, no less – that Kentucky is making a run at the Hoosiers' mark with such a different type of team. The Wildcats are dominated by freshmen who all earned McDonald's All-American status. While IU's team grew up together, Kentucky's team are a bunch of massively talented Hessians who are going to be one and done, heading to the NBA shortly after the conclusion of the season.

And yet, there are similarities, as there are always similarities with teams who enjoy massive dollops of success. Like the Hoosiers, the Wildcats share the basketball. Like the Hoosiers, the Wildcats place the team before the individual. Like the Hoosiers, the Wildcats play stifling defense. Like the Hoosiers, the Wildcats are exceptionally well coached, even if they've been built in a way that probably inspires a sour stomach in Knight.

I'm quite sure that if – when – Kentucky finishes off this coronation, there will be plenty of conversation of over who had the better team. I'm not going to be part of that conversation, simply because I think it's a waste of breath. The landscape of college basketball is completely different now than it was in 1976. Back then, players stuck around for four years. Young adults played the game. Now, for top teams, it's about the best of the one-and-done crowd. We're talking about teenagers – massively talented teenagers, but teenagers nonetheless.

It would seem to make sense that 22-year-olds would consistently beat 18-year-olds, but today's athletes are better than they were 39 years ago.

Let's just say, it would be fun to consider what kind of game the '76 Hoosiers and the '15 Wildcats might play in a fantasy matchup.

The bottom line is, you have to appreciate greatness when it comes your way, however rarely.

I could see it coming back in November, the night the Wildcats dismantled Kansas by 32 points in Indianapolis: Here, in part, is what I wrote that night:

"The following question popped into my basketball-addled head midway through Kentucky's 72-40 dismantling of No. 5 Kansas Tuesday night at Bankers Life:

"Who's going to beat these guys this season?"

Seriously, who's going to have the size, the depth, the talent and the dumb luck necessary to knock off a UK team that is ridiculously, insanely talented even by Kentucky's lofty standards?

Undefeated? Yeah, they can go undefeated.

I'll take it a step further. They will go undefeated, and they will enjoy a historic coronation here in Indy in March at the Final Four."

Nothing has happened in the last couple of months that would change my mind. They've blown people out. They've played a few close games. They've overcome some small deficits. They've been on a mission to become one of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball.

I've never sensed that the '76 Hoosiers are anything like the 1972 Dolphins, who have a team-wide champagne toast when the last undefeated NFL team is knocked off. But they've got to know now, on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, that they will soon be joined by another forever team. These next three weeks, we will be witnesses to history.