This will be Kentucky's third Sweet Sixteen in a row. The last time that happened in Kentucky history was 2001-2003, when Tubby Smith took two consecutive teams to the Sweet Sixteen and one to the Elite Eight. Notably, John Calipari has already exceeded that by taking his first to the Elite Eight, second to the Final Four, and third to at least the Sweet Sixteen (and hopefully onward to the Promised Land).
Our first foe in Atlanta will be the Indiana Hoosiers. Much has been made of the fact that UK lost their first game of the year to the Hoosiers in Bloomington, a game marred by fan misbehavior. Hopefully, this next contest will be of a higher quality on the fan side, and a game that fans of both schools can be proud of.
While Indiana's fan following is very impressive and passionate, it is unlikely that they will outnumber, or even be competitive with the Blue Mist down in Cat-lanta, a town that Wildcats fans have long since adopted as Lexington South. By the thousands, they will go to the heart of the Old South to cheer on this team that has seemed unbeatable in their first two NCAA tournament games.
But Indiana represents a different challenge from the first two teams. In the first place, their coach, Tom Crean, is very good friends with John Calipari, and has a good understanding of what Kentucky's tendencies are. Not only that, Crean has the better part of a week to prepare for UK, and that is an advantage that the Iowa St. Cyclones simply did not have.
Both IU and UK are different teams than the two that met on December 10th of last year. At that point in time, the Wildcats were winning mostly on talent, and their execution on either end of the floor was very shaky and inconsistent. That game was played at a blistering 70-possession pace, a pace which greatly favors the Hoosiers. I don't think we'll see that from Kentucky this time, as the Wildcats have been extremely adept at keeping ballgames in the 65-67 possession range, which is clearly their comfort zone and gives them maximum opportunity to wring the most out of their prodigious talent.
It will be very interesting to see how the Wildcats are able to match up with the Hoosiers the second time around. The first time, UK had a lot of trouble containing the Hoosier's outside shooting. The Hoosiers were 9-15 from distance and built up a big lead, but a furious defense-spearheaded comeback by Kentucky gave the Blue and White a chance to win that game anyway. Doron Lamb missed a critical free throw on a 2-shot foul that put Kentucky up 2 with 5 seconds to go. Indiana got down the floor and Christian Watford buried a wing three to defeat the Wildcats by 1.
That was then. This is now. Now is the reality that the Wildcats are the unquestioned best team in college basketball, having dispatched every foe but 2 in 36 games. Now is the reality that Anthony Davis, a much more limited player on December 10th, 2011, is the odds-on favorite to win at least one major Player of the Year award. Now is the reality that Marquis Teague, in spite of some lingering inconsistencies, is a vastly superior player to how he was then. Now is the reality that the disappearing act by Terrence Jones in that game has given way to an all-American late-season performance.
Now is a lot different, and Wildcats fans like it much better this way.