Not too long ago, we made fun of Kentucky for being possibly the worst team ever ranked number one in the preseason. They failed expectations mightily throughout the year thanks to immaturity and bad luck. It was hard to argue with their 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament — not based on talent, but on the season’s results.
Now? Depending on what happens next weekend, we might have to put this team among some of the greatest ever assembled.
Of course, that’s ridiculously high praise, and I won’t go as far as saying they’re better than the 1976 Indiana team, or the UCLA teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s. But based on the path they took to get to this point (and the teams they need to beat to win the title), they’ll have to be in the conversation.
Some people are saying Kentucky already went through “the toughest road to the Final Four in NCAA history.” That’s certainly arguable, but let’s face facts: They beat a talented 9-seed in Kansas State, a previously undefeated and undeniably good 1-seed in Wichita State, the defending champion and certainly under-seeded 4-seed Louisville, and last year’s runner up, 2-seed Michigan. Just for comparison’s sake, Florida’s route that went through a 16, 9, 4 and 11-seed was… easier.
Now, Kentucky will have to face Wisconsin, which just knocked off 1-seed Arizona, to get the championship. And despite UConn’s incredible run so far, Florida is still the favorite to meet the Kentucky-Wisconsin winner in the title game.
If Kentucky faces and beats those two teams, here’s how they will have won the championship:
-Beating two 1-seeds, including the tournament’s best overall team.
-Beating two 2-seeds, both of whom were experienced and well-coached.
-Beating a team that certainly could have been a 2-seed (Louisville), which also happened to be their greatest in-state rival.
Kentucky’s run also speaks to the great parity of the nation’s teams this year. Despite most people having a high-seed like Florida or Arizona (or under-seeded MSU) winning it all, nobody felt like their picks were a slam dunk.
Regardless, if their road to the Final Four wasn’t the toughest ever, their road to the championship definitely will be. Hey, turns out that preseason number 1 ranking was pretty smart after all. Unless they lose to Wisconsin, in which case, burn this article.
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