Late Friday night, Kentucky will begin its quest for its ninth national championship, and while, as a diehard fan, you’ve probably already broken down the bracket every way you know how, I spent my afternoon charting out this Cats’ path to the Final Four and am ready to share my thoughts. Sure, Kentucky’s draw isn’t ideal, but upon further examination, it could be a lot worse.
Let’s jump right into my take on the South Region, starting with a St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail and a look at the bracket:
1. This is a really fun region
Just look at the different coaches we’ve got in this bracket: John Calipari, Roy Williams, Steve Alford, Gregg Marshall, Archie Miller, Mick Cronin. Heck, even little Richard Pitino is in there, along with one of the trendiest coaches in college basketball right now, Middle Tennessee State’s Kermit Davis. Add in Malik Monk, Lonzo Ball, and Justin Jackson and you’ve got some major star power in the South.
2. America will root for Wichita State if they play Kentucky
This Wichita State team isn’t nearly as good as the squad that Kentucky upset in St. Louis back in 2014, but if they make it past Dayton (no small feat) and Kentucky beats Northern Kentucky, get ready for all of America (outside of the Commonwealth) to get on the Shockers’ bandwagon. Not only are they playing big, bad Kentucky, there’s the whole “revenge” factor for the 2014 upset, which is especially easy to rally around when you consider their mascot looks like this:
I mean, who doesn’t love a shock of wheat with a face on it? That thing is so weird it’s lovable.
3. Wichita State/Kentucky would also be the Mychal Mulder Bowl
As our own Drew Franklin outlined for you a few weeks back, the plan was for Mychal Mulder to go to Wichita State. Gregg Marshall started recruiting Mulder at Vincennes University before anyone and Mulder would have signed with the Shockers if not for a rule from his coach prohibiting players from signing with schools in the fall of their sophomore year. So, Mulder had to wait until the spring, and by that time, he had a new suitor named John Calipari. Game over.
So, keep that story in mind should the Shockers and the Cats make it to the second round; you know Mychal will.
4. Middle Tennessee State will beat Minnesota (and maybe Butler)
Looking for a 5/12 upset? Look no further than 12-seed MTSU, which is led by the aforementioned new star on the block, Kermit Davis, who may end up filling one of the coaching vacancies in the SEC if the Blue Raiders make a run. MTSU pulled off one of the biggest upsets of last year’s tournament by knocking off 2-seed Michigan State and haven’t let up this season, rolling to a 30-4 record, which includes wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Need more reasons to root for them? Their star player’s name is Giddy Potts and they’re playing Richard Pitino’s team. Go Blue Raiders.
5. I’m going to eat more than one St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail
Why did I want Indianapolis for Kentucky’s opening rounds? You’re looking at it: the famous St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail. The spicy treat has been known to set mouths on fire, and even if I have to sit at the bar by myself, I’m going all in.
6. Indy will be insane
Kentucky and Louisville may not be in the same region, but they’re both playing their opening round games in Indianapolis, which will make Naptown a bizarre battleground with no actual battle. It’s not like the two teams are playing each other, but given what happened the last time the two teams were in Indy, that probably won’t do much to squelch the hostility.
7. I feel better about the potential Sweet 16 UCLA rematch that I probably should
Yes, UCLA beat Kentucky in Rupp, but remember how weird that game was? It was early in the afternoon, Kentucky didn’t play a lick of defense and just seemed…off. The Cats had no energy, in part because the player that often brings the most energy to the team, Isaiah Briscoe, had no energy, which he went to Calipari’s office to apologize for afterwards. Back in December, Willis and Hawkins weren’t contributing at the same level they are now, specifically Willis on the boards. Willis has turned into one of Kentucky’s most reliable rebounders, a sentence I never thought I’d type. With Willis helping to contain TJ Leaf, Briscoe engaged, and a little bit of vengeance coursing through their veins, I like Kentucky’s chances vs. the Bruins.
8. We’d have to get LaVar Ball on the show
Lonzo Ball’s outspoken dad is everywhere these days, so would he come on KSR to talk about his son should the Cats and the Bruins meet again? As Ryan Lemond said loudly enough for all of Jeff Ruby’s to hear on Saturday night, DOES A FAT BABY FART? I’d love to hear LaVar and Matt go back and forth, especially since LaVar said today that he would have killed Michael Jordan one-on-one back in his day. Ha!
9. If Kentucky makes it, Calipari’s return to Memphis will be a story
If the Cats make it to the Sweet 16, it would be Kentucky’s first time playing in Memphis since John Calipari left the Tigers to come to Lexington in 2009. As you may remember, that was not the easiest of breakups for Memphis fans, most of which still hold a grudge for Cal. I know Cal’s gone back to the city of on his own since 2009, but this could make for an interesting storyline. We may even have to make a field trip to the Memphis basketball offices to visit The Door and do a podcast with Les Smith, the beloved reporter who helped us keep watch:
10. Bring on UNC
Yeah, we may have preferred Gonzaga, but I’ll take another game vs. North Carolina if it’s even half as entertaining as the first. Obviously, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox were great vs. the Tar Heels in December, but as I just said about the UCLA rematch, Kentucky is a different team now. Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins combined for only three points and three rebounds vs. the Heels in Vegas, while Wenyen Gabriel had four points. That questionable four spot that haunted Kentucky early on and during the conference stretch doesn’t seem so questionable now.
Plus, is everyone forgetting that UNC scored only 43 points vs. Virginia only two weeks ago and lost to Duke by 10 on Friday? The Tar Heels are talented and they do have experience, but if Kentucky makes it to the Elite Eight, they’ll be rolling on a wave of momentum that could be hard to stop. Count me in for another classic. Also count me in for ribs at Rendezvous and breakfast at Brother Juniper’s.