I watched the UK/Wichita game on Sunday. It was an awesome offensive college basketball game. It was thrilling. It felt like I was watching a heavy weight fight. Wichita State hit big shots. UK drew fouls and made free throws. Back and forth- back and forth, for 40 minutes. Absolute great game. No question.
I’m hearing folks saying it felt like a final four game. We had two great college basketball teams going at it for 40 minutes on the biggest stage. In fact, that game was so good that you could make the argument that these were the two best basketball teams alive in the tournament.
On one side, you have Wichita State, the unbeaten but unproven mid-major whose best win was a 5 point win over Saint Louis in early December. The round of 32 was their chance to prove they could play against the big boys.
On the other side, you have the University of Kentucky, a storied program coming off an early NIT exit, with a 10-loss team that was supposed to go 40-0. The greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball (you may have heard). They closed out the season rough, losing three of four, but made an improbable run through LSU and UGA (the 3rd seed in the SEC!) to the SEC championship game where they gave Florida everything they could handle. They were looking like Calipari finally had it all figured out.
These two teams meet, play a great game, and the conclusion (obviously) is that both teams are great.
Here’s the problem with this narrative: 1) Wichita State was unproven because they didn’t play anyone all year, and 2) UK was not a good basketball team until the SEC tournament, where their big wins were over the #58th and 72nd ranked teams according to kenpom.
Prior to the tournament, these teams were rated #5 and #21 in chances of winning the tournament (according to kenpom’s log5). What's changed since then? They played a great close game against each other.
How do we know UK is great? They beat Wichita State in a close game. How do we know Wichita State is great? They played UK close. It’s circular reasoning. (Don’t even get me started about how this works in college football).
Let’s contrast that to our game. It was brutal, ugly, and awesome. It was everything we’ve come to love watching Pitino coached teams. We held them to less than .75 points per possession. That’s insane defense.
Let’s be honest- if you’re a columnist- which story is more fun to write? "Wichita State/UK play a game for the ages" or "UL out uglies the ugliest team in college basketball?" Hell, I don’t even want to read about the UL game. It was ugly.
Everyone seems to be picking against us on Friday (well, everyone except Vegas and statistics folks). The numbers haven't changed and Vegas hasn't changed. The only thing that has changed is the narrative.
I say: Don’t trust the narrative.
We’re a better team than UK, and we will win on Friday night.