Kentucky Wildcats to Pundits: How Do You Like Us Now?
The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament are over, and the seeds have been set for the Sweet 16. There have been miracles and disappointments; a tidy group of proto-Cinderellas have tried on the glass Nikes and found them quite comfortable, thank you.
Everybody's office pool bracket is a train wreck, and a lot of folks in the Lawrence, Kansas area will not be touring the Budweiser brewery and climbing the Gateway Arch as previously expected, and instead are gazing across vast empty fields and dreaming of what might have been.
Almost nothing that the pundits have foretold has come to pass so far, and one of the most obvious examples of that, other than unanimous final four pick Kansas' ungraceful exit, is the complete and utter failure of the Kentucky Wildcats to fold under the pressure of the tournament atmosphere.
Two weeks ago, you couldn't turn around without seeing another scribe or talking head say that the 'Cats were too young, too immature, untested, bound to implode under the pressure cooker a one and done situation would cause. The SEC tournament, they said, would expose these Wildcats as Kittens.
That didn't happen.
So the media guys backtracked. OK, they said, UK escaped defeat in Nashville, but only because the SEC was so weak; surely they would get their comeuppance in the NCAAs, facing those teams from the "power" conferences that were certain to dominate. The consensus "most likely number one seed to lose" was Kentucky.
In the words of Toby Keith, "How do you like me now?"
In annihilating their first two opponents, Kentucky looked like a team of destiny, and across the media spectrum you could hear tunes changing as fast as my car radio when they have the audacity to play Bette Davis Eyes on the local classic rock station. God, I hate that song. Kim Carnes sounds like a goat being strangled. And how could that qualify as "Classic Rock" anyway...I'm sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, team of destiny.
And lo, the pundits saw the light. Of course Kansas tanking like...oh, I don't know, Kansas? ...didn't hurt.
(Q: What's the quickest way to eliminate KU from the NCAA Tournament? A: Give them a No. 1 seed.)
Now UK is the de facto choice to win the whole shooting match, especially with Purdue's Hummel long gone, Michigan State's Lucas finished for the rest of the tourney, Syracuse's big man Arinze Onuaku likely to remain out for Thursday's game, and Duke likely to remain Duke, which is to say too slow and streaky. Vegas, too, has come around, making UK a 2-1 favorite.
Cooler heads cry out that it's too soon to crown the 'Cats champs, that tough competition awaits in the forms of West Virginia or Washington, that a three point shooting team like Cornell could make life hard for the Wildcats. Look no further than KU and UNI, they warn.
To those cooler heads I smile, and sadly shake my head, because that's all you can do with the delusional. I mean, have you seen the Wildcats play? Yes, I am talking to you, Doug Gottlieb.
Gottlieb continues to ride the Big Red coattails of Cornell, hoping that the Ivy League champs can pull off the greatest upset since the original David vs Goliath, and he can look like the smartest guy in Bristol for a day, or at least as smart as Jay Bilas. Sorry, Doug, not gonna happen. Even Bilas has jumped the Cornell ship at this point.
Don't get me wrong; Cornell is a good college team. I had them winning two games in my bracket, and if they were playing another college team, one could give them the benefit of the doubt, the old "on a given night" whatnot.
But Kentucky is a professional caliber team in collegiate uniforms, coached by a professional caliber coach under a collegiate contract, and surrounded by the famous and influential, just like professional athletes. Everybody but the equipment manager is a projected first round pick in the NBA draft, and I hear he's likely headed for Spain.
After UK's second round blowout over Wake Forest, local sports media in the N'awlins area proclaimed a preference for the UK starting five over the NBA Hornets' five. Realistically, that's a conversation you could have in a lot, and I mean a lot, of NBA cities, and not one that Cornell can be wedged into, try as one might.
Basically the same goes for the rest of the remaining teams in the tournament. There are several teams with two or three good players, which is pretty much necessary if you want to go far in the Dance, but no one has the top to bottom talent and athleticism of UK. They are like an NBA team, with the extra added benefit of stifling defense. Every night a new player takes center stage, whether it be Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, Patterson, Dodson, Miller...my, but the list does go on and on.
Freshman jitters and trouble keeping their cool, two of the things some seem to think will be this team's downfall, have yet to rear their ugly heads; in fact poise and maturity appear to be hallmarks of the tournament version of this team, as was ably demonstrated against Wake Forest hack master Chas McFarland.
The contributions of the reserves coming off the bench have opposing coaches standing in the coach's box in a puddle of their own flop sweat, trying to find one position where they have any advantage, and ultimately failing.
I'm not saying the Big Red have no chance; I mean, even the Washington Generals beat the Globetrotters, once, after almost 2,500 losses, so it could happen. But I don't think the Tournament Committee has set aside time for two thousand plus games, so...
There remain a few out there who continue to tout UK-Cornell as a potential game for the ages.
They point out the proximity of the Cornell campus to the game venue (55 miles), the size of the Big Red's frontcourt (7' and 6'7"), the overall GPA (probably 8.25), anything to make this game look like something other than the inevitable 15-point defeat for Cornell. They keep pointing out the Kansas game. "Remember," they opine, "Northern Iowa beat Kansas."
One problem: Kentucky is not Kansas.
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