It seems just about every March you hear someone around these parts say that this is “KU’s year.” You might even hear some reasoning behind the assertion. Every year it goes something like this…
“They just have a complete team. They are battle-tested. They have all the intangibles. There are no holes on this squad. They have tournament guards. This is the seniors’ last chance. They’re focused on the prize.”
Bla bla bla bla bla.
No matter what Digger Phelps or Jay Bilas or Seth Davis or your co-worker at the water jug will tell you, the NCAA tournament is not decided by measuring those factors. If it were, KU would have more than three national championship banners hanging in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse, and, most likely, ’88 would not be among them.
Instead, this tournament is decided by players making plays. It’s decided by hunger, sweat, intensity, drive, and guts. Upsets happen this time of year because a team’s will can often overcome a team’s talent. Your school may not have five McDonald’s All-Americans but it can still box out, out-hustle, and out-prepare another group of 18-22 year-olds. Coaches and players like to think that these are the factors that they can control in a tournament, and it’s true. If a team embodies these qualities and has the talent to compete, it can dance for a long time.
But then there are those things a coach and team cannot control, but still must overcome to reach a championship.
First, there’s the bracket and venue. The term “neutral floor” is thrown around so often in college basketball without any real basis. Playing UCLA in its back yard for a chance to go to the Final Four might come to mind. Perhaps playing the Championship game in Kemper Arena may also ring a bell. Then there is luck. A Final Four match-up against George Mason sure beats one against Kentucky, no matter how much America is behind the underdog.
But that’s the great part about this tournament. There are so many unknowns, and there is always room for that miracle run. KU knows all too well, both on the giving and receiving ends. The unknowns make CBS pony up billions to keep it on their network. The unknowns make the office bracket pools so much fun. The unknowns give those #10 to #16 seeds a reason to ask the “what if?” questions.
Can you blame them?
This has been an interesting year in college basketball. There is no team that is infallible. Sure, Kentucky and Syracuse have put together a ton of victories. But do those matter beginning March 15th? Not at all. I’d give Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio State, and Duke 3 out of 10 against the Wildcats if played today on a neutral court in mid-January. Probably 4 or 5 against ‘Cuse.
But this isn’t mid-January. It’s the month of madness.
I guess this is why I’m not all that much afraid of Kentucky. We’ve seen too many instances of incredibly talented freshmen not being able to gut out tournament victories for big blue nation. And with the overall #1 seed out of the tournament, it is a complete crap shoot this year.
So, back to the original assertion we have all heard. Is it KU’s year?
I’m not sure. But I’ll say this. I feel more confident with this team than I did last year. And the year before that. And those teams were pretty damn good (more on what I think of KU’s postseason chances later this week).
For now, let’s take a deep breath and get ready. The madness is nearly upon us.#kubball, Basketball, Kansas, Kentucky, March Madness, One shining moment