Whenever a dominant team embarks on a run through the NCAA Tournament, the debate begins anew: Could a great college team ever beat a cellar-dwelling NBA squad?
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who led Butler University to a pair of Final Four appearances before jumping to the NBA in 2013, is better suited than most to answer this question. He was asked to weigh in on the matter following a historically dominant win by the undefeated No. 1 overall seed Kentucky Wildcats against West Virginia in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. Thanks to a roster stocked with top-tier NBA prospects like Karl Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats enter the Elite Eight at 37-0. They have beaten opponents by an average of over 20 points per game this season and are the favorites to cut down the nets as national champs.
But could they top a struggling professional team like the New York Knicks (who the Celtics meet at Madison Square Garden on Friday night) or the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Stevens didn’t think there was much room for debate during his weekly interview with Zolak and Betrand on 98.5 the Sports Hub on Friday.
“No,” Stevens said repeatedly when asked if a top college team, even one as dominant as Kentucky, could win a game against an NBA team. “Obviously, there are a lot of great college teams and many kids on many teams will grow up to be great NBA players — but, no.”
Stevens bluntly added, “It’s a totally different game,” before apologizing to the hosts for putting an abrupt end to the discussion.
Count SMU coach Larry Brown, the only coach to win a title in the NBA and the NCAA, among those who believes the Wildcats are good enough to beat an NBA team. He went even further earlier this month, suggesting Kentucky could make the 2015 NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Kentucky coach John Calipari seemed to agree more with Stevens than Brown as recently as November when another coach suggested his team was ready for the NBA.
I hear Coach Briggs got excited after the game last night. Let me be clear: If we played ANY NBA team, we would get buried. ANY.
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) November 10, 2014