As I’m writing, this national championship game between Kentucky and Connecticut has yet to begin. As you’re reading this, the game is over and a champion has been crowned. Despite the result, I think we need to appreciate the beauty of this tournament and the runs these two teams are on. However, the more amazing and surprising run has been that of the Wildcats, which everyone needs to take a step back and recognize for what it is.I’ll start off by saying I’m not trying to hop on the bandwagon here. I’m not a Kentucky fan, nor am I trying to pan myself off as one. As someone who watches college basketball intently and analyzes the sport, I won’t try to say I thought the Wildcats were a good team. I thought they were a bunch of underachievers with no chemistry who would lose their first tournament game to Kansas State. With all of that said, I have no problem admitting that I dead wrong.
After watching NCAA tournament after NCAA tournament, I’d like to think I have a pretty decent idea of what trends work in the tournament (of course, my bracket hasn’t reflected that). Kentucky is a team that broke several of those trends.
First, they were underachievers in the regular season, and despite making it to the SEC tournament finals, I had a hard time saying they were on a roll. Second, they had plenty of NBA talent, and as we saw with other teams that had top NBA talent (Duke, Kansas and Oklahoma St.), they didn’t do as well as many thought they would. Finally, they were an underachieving and talented team in an 8-9 matchup. Since the 8-9 matchups are technically supposed to be the ones with the least discrepancy in talent between the two teams, a team like Kentucky usually doesn’t have the mental fortitude to pick up the win. Or beat the likes of Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin and maybe even Connecticut. Or so we thought.
Kentucky has broken that mold. They’ve come together at the right time, with a variety of players stepping up. Julius Randle has been the constant. The Harrisons are spending their time either playing their best basketball or hitting huge shots. James Young has played well more consistently like we thought he could play. And Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress are providing great presences down low — evident by the team’s insane offensive rebounding efforts.
And how could we forget about the shots? Yes, the game against Wichita was an instant classic, but how can you not be amazed by what Aaron Harrison is doing? Against Louisville, Harrison hit a corner three to put the Wildcats up for good. He outdid himself against Michigan, when he pulled up from deep with the clock winding down in a tie game, hitting an amazing contested three — a shot I wondered may be one of the greatest NCAA tournament shots I’ve ever seen.
Then Wisconsin happened.
Down two, the clock winding down again and a man in his face, Harrison hit arguably the most amazing NCAA tournament shot I’ve ever seen live — and maybe the biggest one I ever will see. And for those reasons, I applaud Harrison and his teammates for the show Ware put on — a show I couldn’t help but enjoy.
I’m not telling you to hop on the UK bandwagon. I’m not telling you to riot in the streets if they won the whole thing — pretending your reason is that you were a fan all along or you picked them from the beginning. All I’m asking is that you appreciate and respect this team for the way they’ve grown and enjoy the electrifying and entertaining moments as they happen (unless, of course, you love UConn or hate Kentucky).
If you’re a true fan of the sport of college basketball, there’s no shame in that.