Kentucky is the best 8 seed in NCAA tournament history
That headline is not a typo. It is a fact. To call Kentucky an eight seed is downright insulting and has been before their nail-biter against then perfect Wichita State. As some of the players pointed out on Selection Sunday, the NCAA didn’t screw Kentucky over by making them an eight seed, they screwed everyone else.
The Wildcats posed a questionable 24-10 record heading into the tournament, making an eight seed seem like a proper fit for an inconsistent, young team. But the problem with their record is that they were far better than 10 losses could ever try to belittle. They never lost by more than five points in their ten losses, aside from two miserable beat downs issued by a Florida team that was untouchable for the better part of four months. Even then, it took a national title contender in UCONN to take them down. Kentucky’s other losses were almost justifiable to growing pains, including one epic overtime upset where Arkansas buried them at the buzzer off a put-back dunk–arguably the play of the year– due to a failure to box out by Kentucky freshman, James Young. As John Calipari put it, that’s just what freshman do.
While it’s far from accurate to deem Kentucky “Cinderella,” they do deserve some type of title in that realm for the pitfalls they’ve been able to overcome in the tournament. The Wildcats have won each tournament game by single digits, with their largest win against ninth seeded Kansas State in the opening round, a game they only won by seven. The succeeding wins have been even tighter with a two-point margin against top seed Wichita State, a five point victory over in-state rival Louisville, a three-point stunner against two-seed Michigan and a one point thriller against another two seed in Wisconsin. The focal point of those last three being a deciding three-pointer by freshman guard, Aaron Harrison.
Harrison has been an assassin for the Wildcats throughout the tournament. He’s stepped up his behind-the-arc shooting percentage from his regular season 33% to 54%, his ability to facilitate has shown greater with two additional assists per game on average throughout the tourney and he’s been the sole possessor of the killer instinct that players dream of having for his squad during the tournament. Even with a hand in his face, Aaron Harrison has been untouchable.
Don’t forget about the big man, Julius Randle, either. The future lottery pick has come up huge for the ‘Cats throughout the season averaging a double-double with 15.1 ppg and 10.5 rbg this season, a rare feat, especially for a freshman.
Of course, these guys just didn’t come up out of nowhere. For those of you that are long-time fans of Ballislife, you know that we’ve been covering them since their high school days. For those of you new to the program, enjoy. These guys have had a professional career in the making for a long time now.
Don’t let this piece fool you, though. Expect a dog fight tonight when Kentucky squares off against UCONN for the whole thing. UCONN, a story of their own being a seven seed, has taken down a one, two, three and four seed this tournament on their way to the championship, including top-seeded Florida. In fact, out of all three of Florida’s losses this season, UCONN has been responsible for two of them, due majorly to their defense. Expect a defensive battle, possibly some bad shooting, as tends to be tradition in domes during the Final Four and a force on both ends to control the offensive glass. Kentucky has been the top team in the country all season on the offensive boards, grabbing 43% of their missed shots.
If it happens to come down to a last shot for Kentucky, you can bet that UCONN will be ready to shut down Aaron Harrison, but don’t be surprised if he still manages to get the shot he wants for a chance to win. After all, this tournament isn’t the first time he’s hit big shots. According to his father:
“He’s been hitting game-winners since he was in fourth grade. His first one, he was about 10 years-old and it was as far as that shot against Michigan. I swear.”
Feature Image: David E. Klutho-Sports Illustrated
Game Day Sports Media
Andy Lyons-Getty Images