The casual college hoops fan may not remember as clearly as the Big Blue Nation does, but on Selection Sunday during this year’s NCAA tournament, Kentucky, the storied pinnacle of college basketball (and, I can’t lie, this author’s favorite team reason to live), received an 8-seed. That was basically the Tournament Committee’s way of saying, “Good luck, pricks!” while aiming to reward their darling Wichita State unbeatens a relatively easy big-ticket confidence victory in the second third round. (Can we please restore numerical sanity and designate the play-in games as “Round Zero”? Sounds patriotic, right?) But the Cats had other plans.
They first beat a testy Kansas State team in the opening game, then those undefeated 1-seed Shockers in an instant classic. Somehow, each following game was even classic-er: a wild comeback to beat ultimate arch rival and 4-seed Louisville, then Aaron Harrison’s last-second three-ball to top the mighty 2-seed Michigan for a trip to the Final Four, and then the Harrison repeat triple (when down by 2, this time) to knock off a Frank Kaminsky-fueled Wisconsin at the buzzer for a spot in the title game. The improbable waltz through The Big Dance fell one short, though, as even unofficial assistant coach Drake couldn’t provide enough juice and Kentucky ran out of gas (with probable difference maker Willie Cauley-Stein injured on the bench) as the Shabazz Napier UConn freight train was just too much for them in the final. But it was one hell of a run. All this from a group of heavily hyped elite kids who, despite their admittedly unfair preseason #1 ranking, were written off as prima donnas lacking the maturity to click and gel when it mattered most. Even the BBN haters have to admit that watching Harrison drain bullet after bullet and an unknown and un-scouted Marcus Lee come off the bench to surprise everyone with multiple put-back against Michigan were the highlights of an amazing tournament.
Unless of course you’re a Huskie.—Pat McGuire