OPINION: Three Overvalued Wins and Tournament Inexperience Doomed Kentucky
For the tenth time in NCAA Tournament history, a 15-seed emerged victorious over a 2-seed. For Big Blue Nation, it's a statistic of which they do not want to be reminded.
KENTUCKY'S 2022 NCAA TOURNAMENT ENDS EARLY
Last night is why the Big Dance is so magical; upsets happen. And sometimes, ENORMOUS upsets happen. Sure, a couple of 12-seeds upset a couple of 5-seeds (New Mexico State over UConn and Richmond over Iowa), but that seems to happen at least once every year.
Oh wait a minute, a 15-seed beat a 2-seed LAST year (Oral Roberts over Ohio State). But again, it is just not common. Seeding began in 1979, so 10 occurrences in 43 years is a low rate. That's not going to make Kentucky Wildcats fans feel any better, and I doubt they'd use the term "magical" to describe what might become the biggest upset of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Saint Peter's 85, Kentucky 79.
IT MIGHT END UP BEING THE TOURNAMENT'S BIGGEST UPSET
One of the best college basketball analysts working today called the upset "historic."
I don't know. Again...TENTH OCCURRENCE. But unless he's just forlorn because he's an expert and he's already lost one of his Final Four picks--and, Lord, he is NOT alone--I get where he's coming from.
BECAUSE Kentucky was such a popular pick to make it to college hoops' final weekend, maybe THAT'S why it's historic? Maybe. But this humble writer--quite a bit removed from the title of "college basketball expert"--never thought this UK team was a Final Four team. And over the last few weeks, I kept wondering why everyone who DOES make a lot of money at the hoops prognostication game seemed to feel, with near certainty, that the Wildcats were just not going to stop until they got to New Orleans.
THREE BIG WINS MAY NOT MEAN WHAT THEY SEEM TO MEAN
I think they seriously overvalued three impressive wins. On December 18th, Kentucky decimated North Carolina 98-69 in Las Vegas. Less than a month later, on January 15th, the 'Cats ran the Tennessee Volunteers out of Rupp Arena to the tune of 107-79. (It's worth noting that the Vols received a 3-seed in the Big Dance and demolished their 14-seed opponent, Longwood, by a score of 88-56.) And then came the Kansas game. On January 29th, the Jayhawks lost at home (very rare) to Kentucky 80-62 after being down by as much as 24 points.
Those three wins led The Athletic's Seth Davis include UK in this list:
But we only SAW that A-game three times in 33 games. In other contests, Kentucky was missing at least one player much of the time. And I guess that's why those "in the know" had every confidence that full-strength UK would just shake off whatever it was that bit 'em over the last month and blitz its way to the national semifinals...based, really, on no evidence at all that that could happen. Somehow those three wins continued to cloud everyone's minds and became a microcosm of the entire season. Why more writers didn't raise the kinds of points The Athletic's Kyle Tucker did is beyond me. He covers Kentucky basketball for that subscription site and he saw a massive downgrade in quality from UK's backcourt over the past month that never seemed to improve. I totally GET this tweet:
Frederick is a terrific shooting guard and a transfer from Iowa but had to redshirt this season. He was part of the Hawkeyes' team that earned a 2-seed in the 2021 tournament.
AN ABSENCE OF NCAA TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE
Speaking of which...no player on the Kentucky team had ever won an NCAA Tournament game before. Fans were excited to see--and rightly so--a group of upperclassmen playing as a unit, enjoying the game, relying on their brothers, and BEING OLD. It's arguably John Calipari's most experienced Wildcat squad. And big man Oscar Tshiebwe still cut through it all with a stellar performance--30 points and 16 rebounds. He's arguably the HAPPIEST player Calipari has ever had, lifting his players up all season long. So it was a little tough watching him so somber in the post-game presser.
The disastrous 9-16 team from 2020-2021 seemed to show that maybe the whole one-and-done experiment had come crashing to the ground. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic had something to do with it; a bunch of freshmen and players new to wearing a Wildcat uniform had almost no time to coalesce before being tossed into the cauldron of the (delayed) college hoops season. But there WERE great teams last season...teams that seemed unaffected by the pandemic. So one COULD make an adept comparison between having two, three, and four-year players and having a collection of newcomers.
SAINT PETER'S SEEMED MORE CONFIDENT
It was great to see a group of sophomores, juniors, seniors, AND super-seniors playing Kentucky basketball. And Calipari admitted his enjoyment of the process as well. But he didn't seem to think about the fact that none of his players had won a game in the Big Dance prior to 2022. And you could see it in their eyes.
It was Kentucky, not Saint Peter's who seemed rattled the whole night. It was Saint Peter's, not Kentucky who never once looked like the game was getting away from them or that they might lose. They seemed motivated by a week's worth of being considered a first-round afterthought and CAME TO PLAY.
THIS KENTUCKY TEAM WAS BLAST, ANYWAY
I really like this Kentucky team. I enjoyed watching them play together unselfishly. I enjoyed their camaraderie. So, yes, it was sad to see them go out like this.
But from a layman's standpoint, I had them exiting in the second round at the hands of Murray State. I just felt SOMETHING unfortunate was coming.
And I was right. I was just one round off.