Believe the Hype

Kentucky's vaunted freshman have grown into a real championship threat
March 31, 2014

One casualty of Kentucky and Wichita State's round-of-32 classic was history: The 78--76 upset ended the top-seeded Shockers' bid to become the first perfect national champion since Indiana in 1975--76. But winning allows the Wildcats to continue pursuing another record, one that the NCAA doesn't officially track. Since the NCAA expanded to include at least 64 teams, in '85, the high mark for percentage of minutes played by freshmen on a Final Four team is 68.5, set by Michigan's Fab Five in '92.

Coach John Calipari has doled out 74.5% of Kentucky's minutes to his greatest-ever-on-paper freshman class, and he has started five first-years—James Young and twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison at guard, with Julius Randle and either Dakari Johnson or Marcus Lee in the frontcourt—for 18 of 36 games. Michigan's Steve Fisher used an all-freshman starting lineup for 15 of 34 games.

The Kiddie Cats and the Fab Five faced wildly different expectations. In the fall of 1991, no one had seen a recruiting class like Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, but with no precedent for freshman dominance, the Wolverines were ranked 20th in the opening AP poll. After a 20--8 regular season, they entered the '92 NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed, before losing to Duke in the national title game. The Wildcats opened this season at No. 1, drawing speculation that they might go 40--0. (T-shirts were printed!) "I wish people would have just seen us as a regular team," Johnson says, "because we had so much to learn." They went 24--10, fell out of the AP poll before Selection Sunday and received a No. 8 seed. Like the Fab Five, it took Kentucky until mid-March to grow up—and now these freshmen are also a real threat to win the NCAA championship.

PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO/SI (RANDLE)The Kids Are All Right They have fallen far short of expectations, but Julius Randle (30) and his fellow first-years can still make history in Indianapolis.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)