It’s unfathomable that Kentucky, with Player of the Year Oscar Tschiebwe, could possibly lose in the first round of March Madness (Photo Dr. Michael Huang).
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – It’s been a while since Kentucky fans experienced the madness—NCAA March Madness, that is. For all of Big Blue Nation, it’s been three interminable years to be exact.
Last year, a horrific 9 – 16 season ended any hopes of matriculating in March. The year before that, Covid put the sudden kibosh on a much-anticipated tournament run. For those of us keeping count, you’d have to go all the way back to March 31, 2019 (a 77 – 71 upset loss to Auburn in the Midwest region finals in Kansas City) to find the Wildcats frolicking in the Big Dance.
Expectedly, then, Cat fans this year are ready, willing, and chomping at the bit to make up for lost time. They’ll be headed up to Indianapolis in droves to recapture the excitement of old. Evidently, plenty of tickets are still available for the Thursday night session at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. When I last checked on StubHub, you could grab a pair in the balcony for a scant twenty-nine bucks a piece.
WHAT HAPPENS, THEN, IF THE WILDCATS WIN?
A first-round date with Saint Peter’s should offer minimal resistance. The Peacocks earned an automatic NCAA tournament berth by defeating Monmouth 60 – 54 to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. They finished second to Rick Pitino’s Iona squad in the regular season, and the only other notable opponent they’ve played is Providence—to which they lost.
Still, the Peacocks remain a rather “cocky” bunch to say the least. That was obvious at the pregame presser held earlier this afternoon.
“We all have a chip on our shoulder because at the end of the day, we have one mentality,” said 6’7 junior forward Hassan Drame. “Whoever we are playing, they put their shoes on, put on a jersey; we do the same thing. We don’t need the name on the jersey. All we see is a player in front of us just like us.”
Well, hopefully not exactly like them. I see no Player of the Year named Oscar Tschiebwe on their side of the bench. Simply put, Kentucky is bigger, stronger, faster, and more talented than most of the teams they match up with on the court—including Saint Peter’s. As long as the Cats don’t freeze up, they’ll hit the Peacocks with a forceful dose of reality once the ball is tipped.
Suffice it to say, when the Wildcats win, it’ll be nothing more than a formality. Ho-hum. Taking care of business. One down, five more to go.
WHAT HAPPENS, HOWEVER, IF THE WILDCATS LOSE?
Let’s not even go there. It’d be unfathomable thinking Kentucky could stumble right out of the gate against a fifteenth-seeded opponent. Sure, it’s happened before. Nine times actually. Remember Lehigh over Duke in in 2012. Or Oral Roberts over Ohio State just last year. I guess stranger things have happened.
So, if the Peacocks do pull off the monumental upset on Thursday night, there’ll be hell to pay. The commonwealth might just have to shut down. A Kentucky team—regarded by many just a month earlier as perhaps an all-time favorite—suddenly gets sent home early.
If that happens, I’ll be looking for the Prozac. For the second consecutive year, BBN would be the laughingstock of the entire college basketball world. That never sits well with a prideful and demanding fan base. Coach Cal might be so despondent he’d have to resign on the spot. The goodwill garnered by four Final Fours and a National Championship unceremoniously washed away in a quick couple of years of “What have you done for us lately?”
Don’t worry. That’s not going to happen. The University of Kentucky, as the program with the greatest tradition in college basketball, needs a long run in this tournament to get their mojo back. Calipari, as a master psychologist, will have his team playing free and clear. They won’t lose in the first round. They can’t! There’s too much riding on it.
“This year it’s a veteran team,” Coach Cal acknowledged in his portion of the press conference. “Let’s see how they perform. I think they’re ready, but you don’t know. You walk into the game, they’ll all say, ‘how you feel, Coach?’ And I will go, ‘Does it really matter?’ Doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s how they feel.”
I sense it. The players are feeling good. So am I. Let’s play.
See you in Indy.
If you enjoy my writings as a basketball fan, check out my latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . Follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.