I know that feels, bro.
There weren’t two better teams last year than North Carolina and Kentucky. I know when we played each other, it wasn’t the 1 v. 2 matchup everybody wanted. Thanks, UNLV. And I know that UNC lost to Kansas after losing Kendall Marshall to injury, but all season long, North Carolina showed it was at least a strong second, and never got a fair crack at a championship they deserved. There’s no doubt that a UK/UNC final would have been a better game, and while I still believe Kentucky would have won (the second time), it would have been far closer.
Fast forward a year, and 2012’s pair of dominant teams find themselves in unfamiliar positions. Even though both schools have had NIT visits within the last five years, being on the bubble is something that is, and always will be, foreign to both schools. And rightfully so. But each team now sits at 15-6, and has to fight to make the tournament over this last stretch. That’s not something we’re used to.
ESPN’s North Carolina homer, Robbi Pickeral, acknowledged yesterday that the two are in the same miserable boat. And it’s been awhile since college basketball has seen that.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, you’d have to go back to 1974 to find the last NCAA tournament that didn’t feature either Kentucky or UNC. Yet despite their recent victories — each team has won five of their past six — the programs find themselves in precarious positions: No. 10 seeds in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, prior to their overtime victories on Saturday.
Ms. Pickeral breaks down all the reasons for the mutually disappointing years, but the important part of all of this is pretty simple: at least we’re not the only ones in the country who are dealing with unexpected struggles. There are plenty of teams that could be doing better, but North Carolina and Kentucky always expect to do well, and this year, um, aren’t. Neither team is terrible, but who anticipated that both would be so established on the bubble? And that’s why I’m thankful for North Carolina this year. Like OJ was thankful when Ray Lewis was investigated for homicide, I appreciate that all the negative attention is no longer on us this season.
Unlike Duke, Indiana, and Louisville, North Carolina is a team I root against only in championship games, and only because I don’t want them getting any closer to our Eight. Other than that, I believe there’s a tremendous amount of respect in Kentucky for the Tar Heels. That’s why everyone I know is excited to have them back on the schedule in a home-and-home, while nobody’s really clamoring to bring IU back (or at least, not as many). North Carolina, if not our equal, is certainly a peer.
And, ultimately, misery loves company. So thanks, North Carolina, for being a wallflower with us this year.
Also, I didn’t want to take the “Farmer” commercial from the top of the page, so here it is again. If this isn’t the best commercial you’ve seen in the last year, I don’t know what channels you’re watching. Seriously, I don’t have cable. But this is some Mad Men-type stuff right here that absolutely captivated everyone in the room where I was watching the Super Bowl. Legitimately unbelievable, and I’m not even a Ram guy.