Not that this Kentucky team needs it, but it also has history on its side heading into the Final Four.
In case Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the most dynamic starting five in the nation are not enough, this year’s Final Four field bodes very well for Kentucky’s chances to win it all.
The advantage—from a historical and arguably a competitive standpoint—lies in the seeds of each team.
Louisville—UK’s opponent on Saturday—is a No. 4 seed. Ohio State and Kansas are each a No. 2 seed. That means Kentucky—the top overall seed heading into the NCAA tournament—is the only No. 1 seed in this Final Four.
Recent history shows that when a team is the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four, its chances of taking home the title are pretty good.
Just two years ago, Duke was one such team. The Blue Devils went to Indianapolis as the only No. 1 seed (West Virginia was a No. 2; Butler and Michigan State each a No. 5).
Duke survived the furious late rally by hometown-favorite Butler to win the championship. As well as who they had to play to win it all, not having to face another No. 1 seed certainly helped the Blue Devils’ chances.
Just like 2010, this year’s Final Four is hardly an uncommon occurrence.
Since 1990, there have now been 10 Final Fours (including the current one) with only one No. 1 seed. It is the most common configuration of teams—in terms of seeds—during that time. Of the previous nine instances this has occurred, the lone No. 1 seed has gone on to win it all six times.
Prior to Duke in 2010, the others to win the title were Michigan State (2000), UCLA (1995), Arkansas (1994), Duke (1992) and UNLV (1990).
Three teams—Duke (2004), Texas (2003) and North Carolina (1998)—lost when they were the only No. 1 seeds in the Final Four.
Obviously, historical trends do not guarantee Kentucky anything. The ’98 UNC team went into the tournament ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. That team lost, however, to Utah in the national semifinal.
Look at the two sets of teams though, and see which one Kentucky fits best.
Among the first set, the ’92 Duke, ’94 Arkansas and ’95 UCLA teams lost a total of eight games combined. Those teams were among the most dominant of any during the past 20 years. Kentucky is currently 36-2.
Within the second set, ’03 Texas and ’04 Duke each lost seven and six games respectively. While each had an excellent season, neither team was an overwhelming title contender—somewhat like Michigan State was going into the tourney this year.
Which group does this year’s Kentucky team fit better into? Certainly it is the first group.
Of course, Kentucky will need to take care of business in New Orleans, starting with Louisville on Saturday.
Only once has a No. 4 seed advanced to the title game in the past 30 years: Arizona in 1997. That team beat three No. 1 seeds to win it all.
Kentucky has incredible talent, defense and history on its side. But until next week we won’t know which group this team will ultimately fall into.
Will it be with the ones that took full advantage of a favorable Final Four? Or with the few that couldn’t finish things off after an outstanding season?